It is hard to walk far in Minneapolis without stumbling across a public park. That's one reason the city's park system is nationally acclaimed.
But is it true that every city resident is within 6 blocks of a park? An anonymous reader posed that question to Curious Minnesota, the Star Tribune's community reporting project fueled by great questions from inquisitive readers.
The 6-block claim is trumpeted by guidebooks and the city's tourism bureau. Ensuring residents are within 6 blocks of a park is even one of the guiding tenets of the Park Board's last comprehensive plan.
And it is generally true — with some exceptions. Ninety-eight percent of Minneapolis residents live within a half-mile of a park, according to the Trust for Public Land (TPL), which analyzes park systems across the country. Park Board officials said that is roughly equivalent to 6 blocks.
TPL recently named Minneapolis the nation's top park system for 2020, a title the city has received several times in the past.
Minneapolis has some stiff competition across the river, however. St. Paul, which TPL ranked third overall this year, can boast that 99% of its residents live within a half-mile of a park.
Adam Arvidson, director of strategic planning for the Park Board, said TPL's analysis helps them understand where there are gaps in the system.
"In almost every area where there is an identified gap, we either have existing policy direction or are actively working on providing more parkland to the public," Arvidson said.
The proliferation of parks in Minneapolis today is partly due to the city's historical focus on developing parkland.
"If you have faith in the future greatness of your city, do not shrink from securing — while you may — such areas as will be adequate to the wants of the city," landscape architect Horace Cleveland told park commissioners in 1883.
That early planning for parks before the city grew is one reason Minneapolis has a "superb" system, said University of Manitoba landscape architecture Prof. Alan Tate, author of the book "Great City Parks."
"Most cities expand and then go, 'Oops we need a park.' Whereas [Minneapolis] worked the other way around," Tate said.
David Smith, who wrote a history of the Minneapolis park system, said the goal of having parks within a half-mile or 6 blocks of city residents likely dates to the 1910s. There was growing acceptance at the time that parks were a place for recreation, rather than just relaxation.
"It was kind of a national goal, which very few cities achieved," Smith said.
The city accelerated buying land for neighborhood parks and playgrounds after a 1914 study found the city was lacking in playground facilities. The Minneapolis Tribune reported in 1916 that the Park Board had plans for a playground "within a half-mile of every boy and girl in Minneapolis."