by David L. Fisher, Superintendent, Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board

From Parks As Community Places: San Francisco, 1998, a publication on the Urban Parks Institute’s annual conference.

Since 1981, David Fisher has been Superintendent of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB), a semi-autonomous agency responsible for maintaining and developing the Minneapolis Park system. Mr. Fisher oversees the Park Board’s Finance, Maintenance and Operations, Planning and Recreation Divisions and their 500 full-time and 1,400 seasonal employees. He is a strong advocate of community participation, neighborhood involvement and partnerships. During his administration, there has been strong emphasis on the development of special programs for youth, designed to help young people have fun, develop life skills and improve their future. Some of these programs are: Recreation Plus+ (RecPlus), Teen Teamworks, Youth in Minneapolis After-School Program (Y-MAP), Youthline, Girls’ Program and Phat Summer. Under his leadership, the Minneapolis park system has grown substantially with land acquisition, development and redevelopment totaling over $140,000,000. Under Mr. Fisher’s guidance, the park system is also part of the Clean Water Partnership, a multi-jurisdictional, multi-million dollar project which focuses on water quality on the Chain of Lakes and non-point source pollution.

Parks are a public trust. They have to be managed publicly, governed publicly and financed publicly. I cannot accept private funding for public parks, and I do not believe that, in general, parks have a money problem. I believe that a park’s budget problems are related to allocation. If you can bring decision-making down to the community level, you will find, as we have found in Minneapolis, that communities will decide in favor of parks and revitalization.

The City of Minneapolis currently has three major initiatives. The first concerns tourism. We sought and received national scenic byways designation for a project we developed, the Minneapolis Grand Rounds system. As a result, the National Geographic Traveler magazine produced an article about travel to Minneapolis. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s view is that anything that promotes parks – or the city – is on our agenda because it helps us talk about the value of parks to communities.

Our second initiative is economic development and property tax base development. We have known for several years that trails, parkways and interconnected trails and parkway systems increase property tax values along those systems. In fact, we can track, through GIS systems, that over the last ten years, property values have increased from 10% to 20%, as far as seven or eight blocks away from those systems. Properties that were not part of that system have declined in value by 20%.

Knowing that important fact, about 20 years ago, we launched a redevelopment of the central riverfront in Minneapolis. To date, we have spent $40 million of public money developing our central riverfront; and to this point, we have about $800 million worth of private reinvestment in the riverfront. Since the Minneapolis Park Board receives five cents on every dollar’s worth of property tax, it is to our distinct advantage to grow the property tax base.

The newest project that we have along these lines is in north Minneapolis, which is an area of declining property values. Here we have developed a plan to link the neighborhood to an existing linear trail and parkway system. The ultimate plan talks about removing 280 homes. Some property owners are willing to be bought out, other properties will have to be taken by eminent domain. But the whole process is made easier by our data and evidence that this initiative will grow the local property tax base.

“If you can bring decision-making down to the community level, you will find . . . that communities will decide in favor of parks and revitalization”

Our third initiative is to develop opportunities for partnering. One of my rules of thumb for partnering is “Always partner with people who have the money.” And, in our city – and probably in your city – the people who have the money are usually the housing authorities.

About eight years ago, Minneapolis decided to let the neighborhoods decide what needs to be revitalized within their communities – rather than the downtown, or the planning department, or the libraries or the schools. The Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) was formed, a partnership consisting of city agencies, the Park Board, the public housing authority, the school board and the county, to help make the city’s residential areas better places in which to live, work, learn and play by facilitating neighborhood-based planning and priority setting. Through this process, neighborhoods are building partnerships with government and other organizations to meet their community’s housing, social service, recreation and transportation needs. The NRP’s funding source ($400 million in downtown redevelopment bonds) was divided among 81different neighborhoods, and each decided how to spend their share. Through that process, we have now gained about $14 million in the last eight years through community-generated park development projects.

The lesson is to partner with those entities or agencies who have the money, and then allow the neighborhoods to make the decisions. We have found that when the decision is left to the neighborhoods, they always choose parks.

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