Our city’s parks are the most important asset of Minneapolis. They bring our city high-quality neighborhoods, robust property values, healthful recreation, stable businesses and civic pride. Parks and lakes are our city’s national brand.
In the 1960s, under the leadership of Superintendent Robert Ruhe, Minneapolis neighborhood parks burst into full blossom with new swimming pools, tot lots, ball fields, tennis courts and recreation centers in the 160 park properties that had largely laid dormant. The truth, though, is that those investments — made half a century ago — have exceeded their useful life.
Our city’s policymakers all agree that neighborhood parks are in a funding crisis. They face a backlog of deferred maintenance that already exceeds $110 million. Our recreation center roofs leak; our playgrounds are rusting. In virtually every neighborhood park the need for repairs is evident.
The public senses the depth of need for a major program to fix our broken parks. In response, the group Save Our Minneapolis Parks formed last year to advocate for new funding.
A survey performed for the Trust For Public Land shows that over 70 percent of city residents would support and pay for a 20-year program to refurbish and maintain our precious park investments. Our group has been raising money and hiring staff to gird for a park referendum this fall to bring that vision into reality.
In recent months, Minneapolis City Council Members Barb Johnson and Lisa Goodman engaged our group and offered a compromise solution that solves the park crisis. This compromise provides an additional $11 million annually that is protected by ordinance and that is at a high enough level to fill the annual park deficit. This time frame is key; anything less shortchanges the future. A 10-year plan, for example, won’t do — it will only slow the rate of decline. The Johnson and Goodman compromise wisely allocates just a 1 percent tax increase to build $3 million into the city’s base budget and funds the remaining $8 million with a tax-friendly bonding program, assured for two decades.
Grass-roots advocacy groups have buttressed our aspirations with an admirable demand for strengthened equity measures for disadvantaged neighborhoods. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has responded by equally considering community characteristics (for example, a neighborhood’s economic status) with park characteristics (that is, the number of assets in a park) in spending decisions. We applaud and insist on efforts to ensure that new park funding advances racial and economic equity in the city.
Enactment of this thoughtful ordinance — pending before the City Council — will avoid a full-blown referendum campaign and align the Park Board and the City Council in common cause for the first time in decades.
We are all fortunate to call Minneapolis home. The two of us have chosen to raise our families here, and we have served in elected leadership positions to enhance our peoples’ lives. We love this city. And we know a fair deal when we see one.
Mark Andrew is former chair of the Hennepin County Board and current chair of Save Our Minneapolis Parks. Carol Becker is an elected member of the Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation.