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Chris Meyer cycles one last round as Park Board Commissioner

The District 1 Commissioner is leaving the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board after a tenure focused on student outreach and progressive, environment-oriented policies.
Image by Shannon Doyle
Minneapolis District 1 Park Board Commissioner Chris Meyer poses for a portrait at Marcy Park on Tuesday, Feb. 16. One of Meyer’s initiatives involves adding more college-age elements, like a dog park and hammocking area, to Marcy Park.

Yousif Abdallah thought his boss, District 1 Minneapolis Park Board Commissioner Chris Meyer, was joking when he said they would be biking to their meeting in Fridley one morning.

An Uber was out of the question, said Meyer, a passionate environmentalist who does not own a car or have a driver’s license. So, both Meyer and Abdallah cycled an hour and a half from south Minneapolis to Fridley for a meeting in full business suits.

“I was drenched in sweat, I was not happy, but I’ll never forget going to that meeting,” said Abdallah, a recent University of Minnesota graduate. “When we told people how we got there, I felt so proud. Chris showed me that you never have to give up your morals and your views.”

Meyer was elected to the park board in 2017, and while he is not running for reelection, he has left his legacy and a lot of calories behind him during the last four years.

From selling Sturgis shirts to running for Senate

Meyer was born in the famous South Dakota town of Sturgis. At one of his first jobs, he worked in a T-shirt factory for $3 an hour.

“[I grew up] in a town of about 6,000 people for most of the year. But for two weeks in August, it was hundreds of thousands,” Meyer said.

Growing up gay and with Asperger’s syndrome, Meyer was acutely aware that he did not quite fit in with Sturgis crowd. So at 18, he moved to St. Paul to start his studies at Macalester College before transferring over to the University of Minnesota.

Meyer became involved in the Minnesota Student Association and wrote opinion columns for the Minnesota Daily. Several of his pieces caught the attention of city officials and neighborhood organizations. His work included op-eds calling out the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association for lack of student outreach and rent ordinances that limited the number of people allowed to live in one house, which disproportionately affected students.

In 2013, Meyer became campaign manager for Minneapolis City Council member Andrew Johnson, alongside now U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar.

Johnson said he was so passionate and dedicated that Meyer even moved in with him for a short time.

“He was actually one of my very first supporters,” Johnson said. “He brings such a strong policy lens to the work and so I think that’s a real value.”

After working on several local and national political campaigns, Meyer ran for Minnesota Senate in 2016. Despite an unsuccessful run for District 60, Meyer was not dissuaded from pursuing politics. He won a seat on the park board a year later.

Park board and practicing what he preaches

While being an avid environmentalist, Meyer also just really loves parks. When Abdallah met Meyer for the first time as a first-year student at the University, what he expected to be a 30-minute conversation on Meyer’s park board campaign turned into a two-hour walk around the city’s parks.

“He can make the most bland subject interesting,” Abdallah said. He later became an intern on Meyer’s campaign.

Abdallah said he also noticed Meyer’s clear passion for student involvement in local politics and commitment to outreach on campuses. He even encouraged students to show up to park board meetings alongside donors and other city officials — and often they would.

“Chris taught me that I deserve to be here as much as you deserve to be here,” Abdallah said. “Like, I’m the same as you, I have the same voice as you guys. I pay taxes, too. I live in the city … I get a say in this. Chris is really invested in the youth.”

LaTrisha Vetaw, Minneapolis Park Board Commissioner At-Large, sat next to Meyer for most of their four years together on the board. The two eventually became friends, despite frequent disagreements on key policy issues, like Meyer’s opposition to stationing police in parks. You can often find Meyer babysitting Vetaw’s dog.

“Chris is the most loyal, honest person I know,” Vetaw said. “He takes a position to listen, but he believes what he believes in.”

Like Abdallah, Vetaw has also been a part of some of Meyer’s hours-long walks.

“He refuses to get in my car,” Vetaw said. “I think I’ve walked his entire district with him.”

What he’s most proud of

Meyer’s bike is his primary mode of transportation.

“Parkways are my highways,” Meyer said. “And I wanted to expand them … That was my original reason for getting involved in the park board.”

Throughout his time as a park board commissioner, Meyer has successfully added and improved bike lanes around the city, and reduced carbon pollution overall in city parks.

He is especially proud of efforts that led to the state public pension divesting from coal and the East of the River Park Master Plan, which outlines the vision for parks in Northeast and Southeast Minneapolis. He also pushed to complete the missing link of the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway Trail.

However, in 2020, the park board came under fire for actions against homeless encampments that grew around the city.

After declaring parks as a refuge for people experiencing homelessness following widespread civil unrest, the park board backtracked and limited the size of encampments on park property. Many individuals were evicted and some had their belongings destroyed. Meyer said he thinks the park board’s actions were justified “in a time of crisis.”

“I stated repeatedly that we should not remove people from the encampments unless we could tell people where they should go,” Meyer said in an email. “… Every time a notice to vacate was issued, staff communicated the shelter options that were available to people.”

Despite his achievements, Meyer is not running for reelection. While he said what’s next is in flux, his dream is to travel the nation evangelizing about the “evil” of minimum parking requirements.

“He brings tremendous value in so many other areas,” Vetaw said. “And I can’t wait to see what he does next.”

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