Why people of color aren’t using Twin Cities parks

The Metropolitan Council met with focus groups to find out why more people of color aren't frequenting Twin Cities regional parks.

Among the top reasons: We're afraid.

Fears of parks
Focus groups mostly comprising people of color told the Met Council their top fears of regional parks. (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Council)

According to a new study from the council, African-Americans fear violent crime, African immigrants worry they'll lose their kids or drown, Asians wish to avoid snakes and bees (and getting lost), and Latinos are concerned about contracting viruses through the water.

Of course, the study dives into other barriers to park use for minority groups, such as a lack of awareness and time.

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I often have wondered how two of the most sedentary people I know -- my parents, immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan -- could have reared children who eventually came to love the outdoors as much as my brother and me.

We grew up in a middle-class Chicago suburb. In our house, the TV was always on, and we alternated between homework, practicing musical instruments, and watching hours and hours of our favorite sitcoms. As a family, we never went camping. Aside from the occasional bike ride, we spent our quality time together indoors, mostly around food.

Today, Tim is a long-haired rock climber who chased the mountains all the way to California, where he now lives. I picked the Twin Cities, in part because my husband and I enjoy the wealth of trails and parks that can transport us to a state of mind far away from the urban center.

My brother and I found our appreciation of nature through friendships in college and beyond. In our experience, exposure is what changed our course from idle to outdoorsy.

The Met Council, determined to attract new park visitors, heard from 263 people of diverse backgrounds -- many of whom suggested reaching out to communities of color through  flyers and park ambassadors. The focus groups also recommended improving safety by adding lighting and bike cops.

Still, a lot of questions remain about how best to introduce park activities to cultures that traditionally haven't embraced them.

Here's how one unnamed African-American woman who participated in the study put it:

“I grew up in Minnesota and we played outside all the time and we were at parks. We loved being outside. We went skiing with the kids and stuff. But if you’re not accustomed to that, there has to be a hook to get you excited to go and then you might want to continue.”

For what it's worth, after retiring a few years ago, my once-sedentary parents started power-walking every day, lost a lot of weight, and moved to the Twin Cities -- just a mile away from a regional park.