Minneapolis’ renewed efforts to tackle juvenile crime began this week with a series of “pop-up parks” aimed at getting teens off the streets.
In Jordan Park on Tuesday evening, families gathered to play yard games, draw with sidewalk chalk and jump rope on the second day of pop-up festivities involving free food, music and games.
The remaining pop-up parks will take place at various locations across the city for the next eight weeks from 4 to 9 p.m. every day but Sunday. Volunteers from the city parks and recreation agency bring a truckload of games and activities aimed at getting 12- to 17-year-olds together with neighbors and away from the violence on many city streets.
About three-quarters of the events will be held in north Minneapolis, which consistently records higher violent crime rates than the rest of the city. They’ll be held at existing recreational facilities, areas that are perceived as dangerous for kids or on vacant lots and blocked-off streets where there are no parks nearby.
Many North Side residents still reeling from a fatal shooting in broad daylight on Sunday applauded the program Monday, but said the real problem comes after dark and after the temporary facilities shut down.
Engaging teens after 10 p.m. and enforcing the city curfew would be a more beneficial crime deterrent, said resident Shuleka Luckey. “I want to be able to walk the streets at night,” she said.
Last year, Minneapolis police made 180 juvenile arrests for violent crime that included offenses such as aggravated assault, domestic aggravated assault and robbery. Juvenile victims of these crimes were more than double that number, according to police data.
City officials hope these parks will encourage neighbors to get to know one another and invest in their communities.
“What we know from research is that when kids don’t have anything to do that’s social and positive, they’ll find antisocial and negative things to get involved in,” said Sasha Cotton, Minneapolis Youth Violence Prevention coordinator.
One goal for the pop-up parks is to connect kids with at least one caring adult who can act as a mentor and help them make good choices. Informal mentorships can often have the most impact, Cotton said.
On Tuesday, resident Yushica Bryant and her family took turns playing double Dutch on the sidewalk. The pop-up park event gave her family access to activities — like a jump rope — that they may not otherwise have at home. “We haven’t double Dutched in years,” Bryant said.
Pop-up events can help build community and provide fun — even if only for a day — but will do little to solve the problem of juvenile violence, said youth social worker Sarah Klouda. “It’s a start,” she said, but teenagers probably won’t go to an area outside of their immediate neighborhood because it can be dangerous.
Leaving the area “could be a life or death situation for those kids,” said Klouda, a case manager at Teens Alone. “That sounds extreme, but it’s their reality.”
Cotton, who spearheads the pop-up parks program, said the parks will be located in a range of communities so kids don’t necessarily have to cross into an area where they feel uncomfortable. “We’re really trying to carve out a space for them to do whatever it is that they want,” Cotton said, “as long as it’s positive and pro-social.”