Picnics, walking, fishing, playing on the playground. These are just a few of the activities that Minneapolis-Saint Paul region park-goers enjoy when visiting the Regional Parks System’s 54,000 acres of parkland and 340 miles of trails. However, a 2008 visitor survey conducted in 91 regional parks showed that not all of the region’s communities utilized the great system of parks and trails to the same extent. In fact, nearly 9 out of 10 regional park visitors were White. Considering this vast disparity, the Metropolitan Council set out to make the regional park system a more equitable place for diverse communities.
The Regional Parks System, located in the 7-county Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area, is a vast network of regional parks and trails. The Metropolitan Council is the regional body that provides long-term planning and investment in the system. Uniquely, the regional parks system is owned and operated by ten partner jurisdictions including cities, counties, and special park districts. These partner jurisdictions work closely with the Metropolitan Council to implement the Regional Parks System.
In 2013, the Metropolitan Council engaged in a study to better understand why communities of color were using the Regional Parks system far less frequently. Under the leadership of Raintry Salk, Research Analyst for Regional Parks and Natural Resources, the Council hosted 20 focus groups throughout the region. These groups intentionally engaged over 400 people from diverse racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The Council partnered with community organizations and public agencies to organize the focus groups, including utilization of interpreters and determination of focus group locations. Each focus group session began by collecting demographic data of participants, including their race and/or ethnicity, primary language, gender, number of children in the household and vehicle ownership status. The sessions were audio-taped, transcribed and translated as necessary. The data were analyzed to generate major themes related to outdoor recreation preferences, barriers to park use, and suggestions to enhance visitation.
In 2014, the Metropolitan Council adopted an overarching vision and framework for the region entitled Thrive MSP 2040. The document puts forward five desired outcomes, one of which is equity. Thrive MSP 2040 also put forward the direction to strengthen equitable use of regional parks and trails. To do so, the Metropolitan Council utilized data from their 2013 qualitative study to inform these considerations.
The 2040 Regional Parks Plan, finished in February 2015, includes equity-related policies focus on three domains: 1) funding and investment, 2) planning and design, and 3) information and convening. The specific equity-related policies include the use of a regional park equity toolkit in funding requests, the creation of a regional parks equity grant program, an ambassador program to introduce community members to the regional parks system, and robust community engagement requirements in the creation of master plans for parks and trails.
The Metropolitan Council was successful in including equity principles and policies into its 2040 plan because it had both data to prove that were was disparity occurring and further data to show why the disparity was occurring. Raintry notes that having this data available was very important in the sometimes-contentious terrain of decision making and planning. The qualitative study conducted by the Council provided critical impetus for change, centered community voice and gave concrete ideas for how to further equitable park use in the region. This inspiring work is making the Minneapolis-Saint Paul region a more racially equitable place to live!
To read more from the Metropolitan Council’s study, visit: