Whether it be in kindergarten classrooms or economic development board rooms, when asked to describe an ideal community, people collectively centralize their ideas and illustrations around green spaces. Great communities are defined by their great parks.
This week the City Parks Alliance “Greater and Greener” Conference will convene more than 1,000 international leaders in Saint Paul to explore the issues, challenges and opportunities facing 21st century urban communities. Minneapolis and Saint Paul are the nation’s #1 and #2 urban park systems on the Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore index. There is much to highlight and be proud of as urban leaders turn their attention to Minnesota and the Twin Cities.
Conference-goers will tour the Mississippi River Gorge, Green Line parks and plazas, Minneapolis and Western Park sculpture gardens, Como Regional Park, CHS Field, Webber Pool, and many other unique Twin Cities landmarks. Guests will have the opportunity to experience Minneapolis and Saint Paul parks and recreation areas by biking, riding the light rail, kayaking, playing Tuj Lub and Kubb, swimming, constructing a play area, log rolling, and a variety of other hands-on experiences.
Workshop tracks for the conference include:
Youth Development – empowering youth leadership and career success
Planning Healthy Systems – exploring the components of healthy and equitable park systems
The Creative Culture of Parks – integrating historical and modern arts and culture into public lands
And City Park Essentials – exploring topics around sustainable park creation, financing, and management.
We are fast approaching the 10-year anniversary of the passage of the Minnesota Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment which has resulted in investments in parks, trails, habitat, and watersheds. As the illustrations of kindergarteners and development officials instinctively recognize, these recent investments in parks and open spaces positively affect virtually every major element of the livability of our community. In a society and economy where people can increasingly choose where they live, work and pursue education, parks are a leading factor and a competitive advantage.
Parks are economic development assets. People choose to live and work near parks and vibrant spaces. Both private markets and tax bases reflect this.
Research shows parks and recreation services increase the success of students. Participation in quality out-of-school time programs improve academic performance and social competence.
Parks promote public health. Physicians increasingly prescribe and encourage park visits not only for physical fitness, but also for mental and social well-being.
Quality parks connect communities and make them safer. People gather in parks to socialize and get to know their neighbors. As communities gather this Tuesday for National Night Out, take notice of how many of these events are in parks and commons areas.
In Saint Paul, Mayor Chris Coleman is completing his 12-year tenure, where parks and the environment, as well as a commitment to providing equitable access for all residents regardless of age, background or ability, have been central to his agenda for the City. The Arlington Hills Community Center, Frogtown Park and Farm, Como and Highland Pools, Trout Brook Nature Sanctuary and Lilydale Regional Park are among the many prominent “great and green” neighborhood investments made in his time in office.
Following this week where we will highlight and share the City of Saint Paul with our Greater and Greener guests, we will return to the work of planning for the future of our community, including the maintenance and upkeep of our acclaimed existing parks and facilities.
We know from a recent system-wide analysis that maintaining our current park system will require an additional $377 million of investment over the next 30 years.
Balancing the demand for more and more of the coveted recreational spaces with the costs to service and maintain the infrastructure that we already have will be the defining challenge for our park system going forward. We must continue to invest in our green spaces to ensure we maintain the standard that has been set for generations to come.
Mike Hahm is the director of parks and recreation for the city of St. Paul