In 2011, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) created the Community Outreach Department to lead efforts to better meet the needs of under-served communities. Between 2011 and 2016, MPRB began work on 17 initiatives to connect with and serve the diverse neighborhoods in Minneapolis. MPRB then spent six years educating all sectors on their research findings.
In 2016, MPRB and the City of Minneapolis enacted concurrent 20-Year Neighborhood Park Plan ordinances to achieve a shared goal of closing a neighborhood parks funding gap. An important element of the ordinances was a commitment to ensure that data-driven racial and economic equity criteria were used in determining the distribution of funds to its 160 neighborhood parks during the period of the plan.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) is an independently elected, semi-autonomous body responsible for governing, maintaining, and developing the Minneapolis Park System. The MPRB manages 179 parks covering over 6,800 acres of land and water and has an annual budget of $112 million.
In 2011, the MPRB Community Outreach Department was created to lead efforts to connect with and better serve diverse and underserved communities. Between 2011 and 2016, the MPRB began work on 17 initiatives to connect with and serve the diverse neighborhoods in Minneapolis. In 2016, the MPRB and City of Minneapolis enacted concurrent 20-Year Neighborhood Park Plan ordinances to achieve a shared goal of closing a neighborhood parks funding gap. An important element of the concurrent 20-Year Neighborhood Park Plan ordinances was a commitment to ensure that data-driven racial and economic equity criteria were utilized in determining the distribution of funds to its neighborhood parks (160) during the period of the plan.
In 2017 and 2018 respectively, the MPRB expanded its racial and economic equity work, developing specific data-driven measures addressing racial and economic equity for capital investments in its regional parks (19) and discretionary annual spending for its 47 recreation centers.
Driving Force behind Equitable Funding
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board took the lead and implemented equitable park funding for neighborhood parks in 2016, regional parks in 2017, and recreation centers in 2018.
Site Selection Criteria
In creating the equitable park funding criteria for its neighborhood parks, Minneapolis looked at a number of measures for each neighborhood surrounding each park – community characteristics and park characteristics. The community characteristics, by neighborhood, are racially concentrated areas of poverty, population density, youth population, and crimes against person. The park characteristics for each park are park asset condition, park asset lifespan, and proportionality of park capital investment (looking at the last 15 years of capital investments relative to the asset replacement value for each park).
Similar criteria were used for the regional parks and recreation centers with a few modifications. For example, because regional parks draw users from a broad geographic region, transportation access was an important factor. The criteria for regional park investments take into account community characteristics (racially concentrated areas of poverty, park access, neighborhood safety) and park characteristics (historic investment, use intensity, ADA considerations, natural resources, trail quality).
The recreation center allocations are broken down into three categories. First, the same amount of baseline funding is provided to each recreation center for each center to operate at the same, minimum number of weekly hours. The remaining funds, which account for approximately 48% of the total funds available for recreation centers, is accounted for equally between community characteristics and site-specific characteristics.
The community characteristics, by neighborhood, look at the diversity index, health indicators, free lunch program participation, youth population, senior population, vehicle access, crimes against people, and median household income against the city average for each of these characteristics. Site specific characteristics are based on:
- Each recreation center’s operating hours per week
- Number of program hours offered
- Participation per hour of activity
- If the center is a Nite Owlz program site
- If the center has a gym on site
- If the center has a warming room on site
- If the center is a high-use site, outside of the recreation center offerings and hours
Specifically, Minneapolis has established criteria for neighborhood parks, regional parks, and recreation centers. Beginning with the 2017-2022 Capital Improvement Program (CIP), MPRB used equity-driven metrics for selecting projects in neighborhood parks. Beginning with the 2018-2023 CIP, the selection of all MPRB capital projects in the park system are now based on the equity-driven metrics to address racial and economic equity.
Intentional focused equity work began in 2011, with specific equity criteria for how dollars are spent first established in 2016.
How to keep the program running
The city has turned the neighborhood parks and regional parks criteria into ordinances, and the allocation of dollars based on the criteria for all park capital projects and recreation center allocations is part of the annual budgeting process. The MPRB’s total six-year capital improvement plan for all parks is developed and implemented based on the equity criteria.
Tracking the Progress of the Initiative
The ordinances require that the criteria be evaluated each year to ensure that neighborhood changes and possible unintended consequences are examined. As a result, every year the MPRB staff evaluate the criteria and if changes in the criteria are warranted, those changes are brought forward to the Board of Commissioners for updating the ordinances.
Conditions Specific to the City That Made the Initiative Possible
Several conditions helped pass the equitable park funding criteria. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board spent 5-6 years actively engaging in equity work, educating park board elected officials and city residents on the data that had been collected so that when the matrixes were presented to the Board of Commissioners, the board was ready to approve the park funding initiatives. The key ingredient to implementing equitable park funding was the education across all sectors – the Board of Commissioners, the mayor and city council members, MPRB staff, and citizens.
Key Ingredients to Making Equitable Park Funding a Success
Having good data and educating city leaders and staff at all levels is key to success.
Obstacles to Implementing Equitable Park Funding
The main obstacles to implementing equitable park funding can be community will, political will, and making sure people understand that equitable funding needs to be addressed. It is important to understand the political will of your community and embedding equity work in ways that the community has the capacity to implement and add elements as you expand the work.
Can this model be replicated?
The Minneapolis model can be replicated and in fact has already been implemented in Milwaukee Schools and is being replicated in Ashville, NC.
To reference this material, please cite Equitable Parks: Case Studies + Recommendations, City Parks Alliance, 2020.
Equitable Park Funding Research & Strategies
This case study is one of seven, compiled as part of City Parks Alliance’s national initiative to research, curate, and disseminate innovative strategies and models for funding parks and green infrastructure in low-income communities.