Mpls parks chief defends racial equity progress

New 20-year plan tackles 20-year work backlog


Jayne Miller
Jayne Miller (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) plans to invest over $65 million in city parks improvements over the next five years.

The MPRB commissioners in May approved a new “20 Year Neighborhood Park Plan” as well as a new “criteria based” system to determine future rehabilitation and capital funding allocations. Allocations will be based on “community characteristics” and “park characteristics” such as park location, population density, youth population, and “proportionality of investment(s)”made between 2000 and 2015.

Each park can score as high as 23 — 12 for the community and 11 for the park itself. “Every park will have its scoring based on these characteristics,” explained Park Board Superintendent Jayne Miller during an MSR interview at MPRB headquarters. “This gives the weight system on how we are going to invest in our parks over the years.”

Twelve city parks are scheduled for park improvements, including Folwell Park in North Minneapolis — $342,642 on “playground and site improvements” in 2017.

“We’re almost 20 years behind in backlog of work,” stated Miller. “It is my expectation that it will take 20 years to get through the neighborhood park system to replace things the way we should replace.”

There is an additional $11 million coming annually from the City of Minneapolis for park improvements ($3 million for operations and $8 million for rehabilitation) — “an historic agreement,” noted Miller. “We never had an agreement like this with the Park Board and the City. It protects our funding streams for the next 20 years.

“We will evaluate this every year,” said Miller of the Park Board’s new system. “Just because the park scored high doesn’t mean every year they get money. It’s just where we are going to spend the money first.”

Community members over the years have questioned how the Park Board prioritizes its spending on neighborhood parks and raised other racial equity issues. During its May meeting, there was a brief verbal confrontation between Park Board President Liz Wielinski and Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds in this regard, which later resulted in an apology by Wielinski.

Asked about the timing of the new plan, the superintendent stressed, “This isn’t a response to people who raised issues. We have been working on this since January. People are raising issues and they don’t have the facts — [they aren’t] speaking from factual information.”

Blacks currently make up 12.08 percent of the MPRB workforce, an increase of three percent since 2010. Asians (from 2.45 percent to 3.6 percent) and Latinos (from 3.3 percent to 3.8 percent) also saw modest growth during the same five-year period.

“Decisions that we make as an organization since I’ve been here [Miller was hired in 2010], whether it’s who we employ or our service delivery, we focus on serving all of Minneapolis,” said Miller on her organization’s racial equity efforts.

Although the North service area has the Park Board’s lowest number of parks and recreation centers, compared to the other three areas — Northeast-Southeast, South and Southwest — it had the second-highest investment ($1.6 million) in recreation centers and programs in 2015. However, the North’s slated $8.5 million in park capital improvements (2015-19) is the lowest allocation among the four areas.

An “Our Parks” series of meetings and community dialogue sessions is planned for July. Voices for Racial Justice Executive Director Vina Kay and State Sen. Bobby Joe Champion are among many community leaders and elected officials invited to participate, said Miller.

“I think it is important to have those discussions,” said Champion.

Kay told the MSR by phone, “I want the organization to be more explicit in this area” rather than being forced to do so.

“Every year we have been doing more and more on racial equity,” said Miller. “This is a longstanding issue in this country” as well as in Minneapolis, she said. “It’s not going to get fixed overnight. It’s going to require continual focus.

“I am really proud of the work we’ve done to date,” said Miller. “We still have more to do.”


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