In an October 28 Star Tribune Commentary, Charles A. Birnbaum, founder and president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation in Washington, D.C., writes about how the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is considering privatizing, selling off and even giving away precious Minneapolis public park property:
» From Atlanta to Seattle, our nation’s legacy of urban parks are under siege from a variety of threats — expansions by neighboring institutions, new parking lots and new “destination features.” Minneapolis is no exception.
In the age of video games and attention deficit disorder, “open space” has become a dirty word. Parks are seen as a void that must be filled, “programmed” to amuse all comers.
Who decided that strolling under a canopy of trees is not a sufficient experience in its own right? Have we stopped valuing the humanizing scale and tactile marvels of nature? Do we still appreciate our history and public gardens?
This national trend to clutter park grounds with activity-oriented “focal points” is lamentable and perplexing because park users themselves are not demanding change. According to surveys conducted over the past two decades, the majority of Americans visit parks specifically for passive, reflective experiences.
Within an emotional and politically charged atmosphere, small but vocal groups are taking control of the public debate to advance their own narrow agendas — resulting in ill-conceived park redesigns. Democratic spaces are being privatized with partial closing of parks for special events, construction of additions, long-term leases to special interests and private concessions — changing the character of the landscape irrevocably.
These formulaic alterations to our parks have their own needs for long-term maintenance with more parking and more pavement. Strip away the historic. Make way for special interests (this is often the real objective). Today “green” too seldom means a generous sweep of trees and lawn with the songs of birds, and too often means dollars and the ching-ching-ching of cash registers.
Minneapolis is a city blessed with one of the nation’s premier systems of parks and boulevards, yet based on current proposals that I saw on my trip to the Twin Cities last week, it appears that elected park commissioners and their appointed superintendents are today considering privatizing, selling off and even giving away precious public park property. «
Read the rest of the commentary on the Star Tribune web site.