The future of our parks


Minnehaha Falls

Cecily Hines wants to change the way you think about parks.

The President of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation is a co-organizer of a series of talks, starting Thursday, about park design in the 21st century. The talks are part of a broader project to redesign the city's parks system. She says while the Twin Cities may have great parks, they aren't keeping up with the times.

When you look around other cities throughout the country and the world, they're doing incredible things with landscape design and public spaces and park land. We - because we've had such an incredibly wonderful system that's well-maintained and programmed - really haven't been keeping up with visioning for the long term future. The early generations planned and left us an incredible legacy, and we should be doing the same for the future.

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Hines points to changing demographics and social issues; our aging and ethnically diverse population, the economy and the environment are all creating new demands and putting new pressures on city life. Hines says effectively designed parks could address all of those issues.

Parks are not stagnant. Parks can perform many different functions and in other cities you see different types of programming, areas with multiple uses, parks connecting to alternative transportation, and providing storm management.

The first speaker in the three-part series is Jamie Dean, Program Manager of the East London Green Grid, a park system which is meant to revitalize a downtrodden section of the city. Conceived as a "living network of parks, green spaces, river and other corridors," supporters claim it will also "improve public health, enhance biodiversity, and link communities."

Connectivity is a big word in park design. How can parks help people connect with their community, their neighbors, or to other parks? Hines says some of the ideas commonly discussed include public wi-fi access, proximity to lightrail, and safety.

In anything that we consider - you want it to be attractive to people of all ages and all cultures, because the more people that come into our parks, the more vibrant they are and the safer they are. And we have some parks in our system that are very active and very vibrant, and we have others that feel less safe because there's less activity going on in them.

Hines says the challenge we'll be balancing good design and innovation with the need for financial sustainability. Whatever is put into place must be easy to maintain, and long-lasting.

The Minneapolis Parks Foundation is co-organizing the talks along with the Walker Art Center and the University of Minnesota's College of Design and School of Landscape Architecture. Hines says that's because those institutions have shown a high level of interest in and respect for elegant and effective design:

When you look at any kind of problem any kind of aspiration, goal or issue - quality design matters. And it shows. When you enter a space that's been well designed you know it, you feel it, and it feels artistic, but you're not in a museum, you're in a beautiful outdoor space, and you enjoy the beauty of it as well as the functionality of it.

This Thursday's talk is free and open to the public. Tickets will be available at the Humphrey Institute's Cowles Auditorium on the U of M campus starting at 6pm. The talk begins at 7pm.