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Race Quotas For Parks: Seriously?

The Metropolitan Council never saw any human behavior it didn’t want to change. It wants to change the way we get from one place to another, where we live, and where we work. It also isn’t happy with the way we use Twin Cities parks. The Star Tribune headlines: “Racially equitable use of parks is the goal, with big dollars at stake.”

What, exactly, is “racially equitable use of parks”? Are members of some races barred from the region’s parks? Of course not.

A politically charged push is taking shape, with millions of dollars at stake, to break down barriers that are making Twin Cities parks and trails feel to some like white people’s preserves.

Barriers? What barriers? There are no barriers, actually. The “problem” is that a higher percentage of whites than minorities make use of metro area parks and trails.

The main evidence of park disparities in the Twin Cities metro area remains a 2008 survey of the racial and ethnic makeup of visitors to major regional parks and trails, such as the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis or St. Paul’s Como Park.

The “Chain of Lakes” is simply a set of walking and bicycle paths that go around, and connect, Minneapolis’s major lakes: Calhoun, Harriet, Isles and Cedar. Anyone who wants to walk, or run, or bicycle or rollerblade around any of these lakes is welcome to do so. There is nothing stopping him or her.

While blacks make up nearly 7 percent of the metro area’s population, they account for less than 3 percent of regional park and trail users. Percentages for Hispanics look much the same.

Whether a person spends time in parks or on walking or bicycle trails is entirely a matter of choice. No one makes you throw a frisbee or have a picnic in a park, and no one stops you if you choose to do so. Has the Metropolitan Council noticed that there are racial “disparities” with regard to nearly everything? Whether it is going to the opera, attending a soccer game, fishing, or sitting outside to watch a fireworks display, there is no activity that people engage in in equal racial proportions. Are these all problems that need to be fixed by an ever more intrusive government?

What exactly does the Met Council intend to do to encourage or compel more minority residents (or, I guess, fewer whites) to use the region’s parks and trails? The Strib never answers that obvious question, although it does refer to “a picnic table problem,” i.e., park picnic tables aren’t big enough for multigenerational immigrant families. Apparently it hasn’t occurred to the Met Council that such families–or any other groups larger than six–can just use more than one table.

This is one of those “problems” that is unlikely ever to be solved. People will continue to spend time in parks to the extent that they feel like doing so, and that impulse may or may not be equally shared from one ethnic group to another. In the meantime, the real key is probably found in the Strib’s observation that there are “millions of dollars at stake.” Of course there are! Money is power, and for whatever reason, the Met Council has control over plenty of money.

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