Our regional parks and trails are rightly treasured for their beauty and variety—and it shows. Visits to regional parks and trails in the seven-county metro area grew to 48.7 million in 2014, the most recent data available. That’s about 1.5 million more visits than the year before.
Although the number of park visits continue to climb, a Council survey has shown that regional parks and trails visitors do not represent the overall population makeup of the region, specifically for communities of color.
Following through on the commitment in its Regional Parks Policy Plan, the Council is striving to build on the existing work of partner agencies to strengthen equitable use of the Regional Park System.
Partners working to create an equity toolkit
A starting point was first in a series of scheduled discussions with partners as well as concerned groups and individuals on equitable use of regional parks and potential use of an Equity Tool Kit to support it.
WHAT IS EQUITY?
Equity connects all people to opportunity— across race, ethnicity, income, age, and ability. Equity expands options for housing, transportation, and recreation.
For the region to reach its full economic potential, all residents need to be able to access opportunity.
“What we’re talking about,” said Bill Weber, Metropolitan Parks and Open Space Commission member, “is fine-tuning our regional parks to respond to population changes in our region.
“For example, we’ve learned through interviews that many New Americans are not familiar with regional parks or may not feel entirely comfortable there. Families may not find the accommodations they want or need. By making our regional parks and trails feel inviting and welcoming, we help make sure they serve everybody.”
What will be in the Equity Tool Kit is still open for discussion and further development. It may include a collection of best practices to advance equity. It may include a list of questions that all partners can ask themselves as they strive for greater equitable park use.
Determining if parks are performing well for everyone
How can you determine when park use is more equitable? Lisa Tabor, president of CultureBrokers LLC, which is consulting on the Council’s parks equity project, said that measures are essential. They’re needed to determine whether the regional parks system is performing well for all key stakeholders.
FUTURE POPULATION, FUTURE PARK VISITORS
- By 2040, 40% of the population will be people of color, compared with 24% in 2010.
- The region’s population is also getting older. More than one in five residents will be age 65 and older in 2040, compared with one in nine in 2010.
She noted, by way of illustration, “If a specific stakeholder group accounts for 10% of the total regional population, you should ask if they make up very close to that percentage in park visitation. If not, then why not? There are proven, practical techniques to measure equity and assess results.”
Michelle Kellogg, Equity and Inclusion Project Manager for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, offers a perspective from one of the regional park partners. “We value the diversity of our community and have internal initiatives under way to address and improve equity,” she said.
“The Council’s project is unique because jurisdictions and communities are working together to develop an equity tool to be used by all of the implementing agencies,” said Kellogg. “This cross-jurisdictional effort to advance equity in the regional parks with measurable impact may be the first of its kind in the field of parks and recreation.”
Successful parks system results from strong partnership
The Council oversees planning and funding of regional parks, while 10 cities, counties, and special park districts, working as partners, acquire and develop parkland and operate the parks for the public use.