Southwest’s parks adapt to changing usage

Multi-use recreation, native plants emphasized in new designs

Washburn Fair Oaks
The concept for Washburn Fair Oaks

In the next 20 years, visitors to Southwest Minneapolis’ public parks will be able to try their hand at curling, rock climbing and a game called gaga, according to preferred concept plans released May 30.

“In urban parks, we’re so limited in space,” said Colleen O’Dell, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s project manager for the Southwest Area Master Plan (SWAMP). “We try to find good ways to have all the elements serve multiple functions if we can.”

The preferred concepts are reflective of that, with designs calling to maximize Southwest’s parkland by adding more multi-use fields, diamonds, sports courts and play areas. The designs are the last batch of concepts to be released before final approval of the master plan.

Seven parks would see new mixed-use sports courts that can be used for basketball, futsal, four square and other hard-surface games. Multi-use fields and diamonds also factor heavily into the plans, with calls for 12 parks to get new fields or diamonds that can be used for a wide range of sports and can potentially be flooded in the winter for skating. In the neighborhood park master plan processes citywide, MPRB planners have tried to strike a balance between play fields and diamonds, O’Dell said.

“We don’t know what the next big sport is going to be, so we need flexible space,” she said.

Four more parks would have a relatively new multi-use feature: climbing boulders that double as seating. Five new splash pads are called for in the preferred concepts, which O’Dell said is a reflection that planners see them as more multi-use spaces than wading pools. Splash pads bring in a wider range of users from small children to teens, she said, and can even be used as play surfaces in the winter, unlike pools. Many of the planned splash pads are at parks adjacent to schools.

In touch with nature

A piece of feedback that stuck out to planners throughout the engagement process was a desire to keep some areas of parks wild, or at least not filled with courts, fields and playgrounds.

“There’s a real interest in naturalized spaces,” O’Dell said.

Initial concepts with more recreation amenities were trimmed back, especially at smaller triangle parks, which in the preferred concepts have few new plans outside of adding native plants and pollinator gardens.

Native and pollinator-friendly plants are a major theme in the preferred concepts. Designs at 26 of the parks call for more native plant species, with more also including rain and pollinator gardens.

Playing in nature is also prioritized, with nature or adventure play areas proposed at 11 parks in the designs.

The designs also call for prioritizing pedestrians over cars. They would remove parking lots at Painter and Fuller parks to add more green space. The concept for Washburn Fair Oaks converts 24th Street in front of Mia into a pedestrian-prioritized “woonerf,” a Dutch word for shared street.

New and unique features

Groups that advocated for unique features were rewarded in the SWAMP, which calls for four new skate parks or spots, two clay tennis courts at Waveland Triangle and the restoration of the seven-pools fountain at Thomas Lowry Park.

Although many of the new features are updates to familiar park assets, some new elements are proposed: a climbing wall at Whittier Park; a bouldering course at Washburn Avenue Tot Lot; an octagonal gaga pit at Kenny Park; outdoor adult exercise equipment at Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Park; and a curling center at Parade Park.

“You need some new and innovative ideas and you need some reliable park features,” O’Dell said.

Funding and final steps

Service area master plans are funded primarily via the MPRB’s capital improvement program and the 20-year Neighborhood Park Plan, which allocates an extra $11 million for maintenance and improvements at local parks through 2037. Additional funding for service area master plans may come from grants, donations and partnerships with private and public groups.

The timing of upgrades is dependent on several factors, including the MPRB equity matrix, planned maintenance schedules and availability of grants and donations.

With the release of the preferred concepts, the process that began in early 2018 is nearing the finish line. After a series of community meetings in June and a public hearing, commissioners will vote on the plan toward the end of summer. The preferred concepts for each park, and a survey seeking feedback, are available at