In a recent measure by the Trust for Public Land, the city’s park system got a perfect 5.0 score, the highest in the nation for the second straight year among the 60 largest U.S. cities. The trust looked at median park size, the percentage of land dedicated to parks, per capita spending, how many residents could reach a park within a 10-minute walk and the number of playgrounds available per 10,000 city residents.

But the city’s Park and Recreation Board wants to go beyond those measures to better meet the needs of underserved residents.

One of those groups is the disabled. The board teamed up with Peggy Halvorson, an activist with People for Parks, to create the first universally accessible playground in the city.

People for Parks and the Park Board raised nearly $1 million to build the playground, located in the Wabun picnic area at Minnehaha Park. It will open in early July. A campground-themed jungle gym, a quiet sensory area and sand pit can all be accessed by a wheelchair and are safe for those with walkers or canes.

“This will allow both the child or the parent to be able to use the full playground in the way that they can’t in other parks,” Park Board Superintendent Jayne Miller said.

Halvorson, who lives in Edina but uses Minneapolis parks, does not have any disabled family members. Her passion for the playground arose after she noted that kids and parents with disabilities could not fully participate at city playgrounds.

“The more I read about inclusiveness, the more wrong it seemed that kids would watch their siblings and couldn’t participate,” she said.

Currently, Minneapolis playgrounds all meet the American with Disabilities Act standards, which call for paths and ramps for wheelchairs that give at least 50 percent access to the playground. But at the new playground, more than 90 percent of the equipment is accessible to those with mobility problems.

Children don’t have to be transferred out of wheelchairs to use equipment. The surfacing is soft enough to cushion a fall, and the play areas do not have much grass or sand, an impediment for wheelchairs or someone who uses a walker.

Focusing on the underserved

The Park Board is also making significant investments in low-income areas and those well-populated by communities of color. It is diversifying its staff and meeting with communities to try to understand their needs, Miller said.

“We are really focusing and making significant investments in those economically challenged and diverse communities,” she said.

Next summer, for instance, the board plans to open the first naturally filtrated swimming pool at Webber Park in north Minneapolis, an area with no access to lakes.

In the past five years, the Park Board, in collaboration with community partners, has spent $7.1 million in the Phillips neighborhood, including renovating the Phillips Community Center. It also built a community and cultural center in East Phillips, complete with an artificial turf field.

Liz Wielinski, the Park Board’s president, said there will be an additional $2.5 million invested in the community within the next five years.

“We want to make sure that the children of Minneapolis have a safe and fun place to play,” she said. “There is still room for, and a need for, improvement.”