Racial Equity Questions Heat Up Interest In Minneapolis Park Board Races

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There’s a lot more interest in the Minneapolis Park And Recreation Board (MPRB) election this year than in years past. Questions have been raised about how the board’s vast resources are being used or not used to promote racial and economic equity in the Minneapolis parks system.

With about 6,800 acres of land in 179 properties, the park board is the largest land owner in the city of Minneapolis. It has an annual budget of more than $100 million and even has its own police force. It has about 500 full-time employees and 17,000 temporary/seasonal employees.

The League of Women Voters Minneapolis Civic Buzz for October featured a discussion on ways the park board and citizen groups, such as Parks and Power, work toward racial, cultural and socioeconomic equity in the Minneapolis parks system.

The speakers were the lead organizer with Parks and Power Jake Virden and Joelle Allen, who is a Multicultural Engagement Strategist with KP Companies. They discussed where initiatives at the park board stand and what needs to happen next.

Parks and Power started as a neighborhood group that pressed the park board to keep its promise to invest capitol into Peavy Park just south of downtown Minneapolis.  The idea being that improving parks can help solve a lot of problems including racism and unemployment.

Virden says he grew up in northeast Minneapolis where he witnessed a lot of “in your face racism.” He said in his father’s generation “black people weren’t allowed in northeast Minneapolis and it was violently enforced.” Virden says his generation was integrated and the parks “is where we learned to love each other,” and get past racism.

Allen says while diversity and inclusion may be the “buzz words” in this campaign, she wants to elect candidates who will take action in those areas and not just list it as another plank in their platform. Allen says by ordinance, the park board is required to use data to drive its capital investments so they lead to racial and economic equity. She says that’s why the board’s 20 year plan gives priority to 33 parks that are located in areas of poverty. “That is putting your money where your mouth is.”

While the Minneapolis park system has been named best park system in the country by The Trust for Public Land for five years in a row, the board acknowledges that investments in parks have not been equally distributed across the city, and that parks in areas with concentrations of poverty and minority populations should receive priority. Recent criticisms of the park board have focused on issues of equity, especially racial equity, coming from individuals and organizations.

Where park board candidates stand on the issues

There is a park board election this year so there is increased interest in the progress being made in these areas.

The League of Women Voters Minneapolis asked all park board candidates to fill out a questionnaire and has posted the answers on their website. Here are the links.

Editors note: An early version of this story erroneously identified Joelle Allen as with Parks and Power. The UpTake regrets the error.

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

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