If you live around the University of Minnesota, there’s a good chance you live within a 10-minute walk from a park. Luxton Park is nestled within Prospect Park southeast of the Twin Cities campus, the East River Flats Park surrounds its heart, and Van Cleave Recreation Center sits in the Como neighborhood.
With so many parks within range, how accessible are Minneapolis parks to those who need accommodations? For now, they’re OK, but set to get better.
The Minneapolis Park board began another round of park accessibility inspections in 2014, according to Minneapolis Park and Recreation project manager Elise Niedermeier. After assessing the 207 sites within the park system, plans were adopted in 2015 to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The last time parks were reviewed in this way was nearly 25 years ago. Niedermeier said, “The updates have been a long time coming.” It’s not just that failing to comply with ADA standards could result in a fine, but the ADA standards only cover very basic accommodations, such as ramps and paved walkways. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is working with the Minneapolis Advisory Committee, Services for the Blind, and ARC to prioritize ADA accommodations while looking for additional areas to improve, such as programming and playground accessibility.
For many parks, such as Van Cleve Park, much of the updating will be done to the exterior doors and bathrooms, which lack accessible stalls and automatic doors in the front of its recreation center. The paved sidewalks and ramps surrounding the park already guide visitors with disabilities to playgrounds and basketball courts. Although the deep sand and many ladders of the playground are not accessible to all, these amenities are not regulated by the ADA.
Funding for these projects is through a joint ordinance with the city of Minneapolis as a part of the 20-Year Neighborhood Park Plan that was adopted in 2016 to promote and develop the parks’ surrounding communities. Niedermeier praised this plan as “historic” for directing an additional $11 million annually to the park system and showing that “park development is something that communities will support when given the chance.” The funding will be directed to three major areas through 2036: rehabilitation, capital investments and park maintenance, which includes the accessibility updates.
Van Cleve and 25 other recreation centers around Minneapolis will see updates this year. A draft of the ADA action plan by the park board is slated to be released this spring and will be open for public comment.
Although accessibility is not included in nationwide park evaluations, Niedermeier emphasized that the parks would not be great if they were not available to all Minneapolis residents.