Park Board looks to up student engagement

The Minneapolis Park Board’s Community Engagement Policy is currently receiving feedback to improve equity and input throughout city parks.

J.D. Duggan

A revamped community engagement policy will attempt to bring equity and diversity to the forefront of the Minneapolis Park Board’s plans in the coming months.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Draft Community Engagement Policy is still receiving feedback from students and other residents around the city, with a touring exhibit of the draft expected to reach recreation centers and public libraries this month. The policy is updated every five years and will guide how the Park Board communicates with the regions and groups affected by different park projects.

“As people read the policy, trying to see themselves in it, I think, is an important part of the feedback,” said Carrie Christensen, project manager for the policy.

While the Park Board already engages with University of Minnesota staff on park planning, Christensen hopes to collaborate formally with the University student population through discussions with student government and other campus organizations.

MPRB Commissioner A.K. Hassan said while the engagement model does help the Park Board collect feedback, the scope of viewpoints can always be broadened. He said building equity and gathering diverse voices are among his primary focuses.

Each large project by the Park Board requires a specific written plan that guides community engagement. For the upcoming community engagement policy, planners need to explicitly state the populations who use the park and how to best reach them. These populations could be based on culture, age, interest or another affiliation, such as student group involvement.

“If we’re doing a project around the University of Minnesota, in the past we haven’t explicitly stated we have to engage with student populations,” she said. “But moving forward, we’re going to more explicitly state the stakeholder groups that we are wanting to engage with … for the project.”

Grant Simons, government and legislative affairs coordinator of local advocacy with the Minnesota Student Association, said he has been in discussion with members of the Park Board to bring a consistent student voice into the discussion.

In the past year, the Mississippi Gorge Regional Park Master Plan was presented in Coffman Memorial Union as part of a student engagement effort. The East of the River Park Master Plan features a student on the community advisory board. Some parks also feature bike tours and online engagement, which students are encouraged to join.

Despite these recent efforts, Simons said he hopes the collaboration will become more established and continuous instead of working on a project-by-project basis. He hopes to connect the Park Board with student groups involved with landscape architecture, horticulture and forestry.

The Park Board can use this engagement to better understand what University students want and would use in a green space, Simons said. With more input from community members, parks become more active spaces — making them safer.

“That’s their main focus, they’re reinventing how the areas around campus look,” Simons said. “Like Bohemian Flats, no one goes there. They go down there to, like, sit on a picnic blanket. But what if you could zipline across the Mississippi River? And that’s … one of their proposals.”