How race-based covenants shaped Minneapolis park placement

As a PhD candidate at the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota, Rebecca Walker knew the research into the racial covenants that had restricted some neighborhoods in the Twin Cities.

The U’s own Mapping Prejudice Project had already shown a stark growth of racial covenants, which restricted some neighborhoods to whites-only, during the first half of the 20th century.

"And just from a really quick overlay, if you look at the parks that opened during the time when covenants were used," she told FOX 9's Rob Olson, "you can see that there’s this really close spatial match."

Her research, recently published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers, began in 2020. It took a deep dive into Minneapolis property records and Park Board archives to reveal a connection.  

"From there we just started seeing these transactions between the developers of the racially covenanted neighborhoods and the Park Board, again and again and again," she said.

She found 73% of the parks built between 1910 and 1955 were within one block of at least one of these restricted neighborhoods.

And the discrimination was far from hidden.

"You can see in newspaper advertisements from the time, they would include the language of the racial covenant in the advertisement, so it was very clear that they were marketing these properties exclusively to white people," said Walker.

"And in the same advertisements, we see them including maps of the proximity to new parks…and so they were really intentionally pairing this idea of "green-ness" and this idea of "whiteness" as part of their marketing strategy."

For the developers, getting new parks near their new neighborhoods certainly helped sell homes.  And for the Minneapolis Park Board, they were certainly eager to add to the park system as the city grew.

Developers would often contribute land or money to help build those parks.  The Park Board was happy to take it.

Whatever the motivations of the time, the end result, says Walker, was a huge disparity of who had easy access to parks.

"The bottom line was that the outcome of this was incredibly racially unequal."

The Minneapolis Park and Rec Board isn’t blind to this history.  In 2016, they were the first parks agency in the country to adopt ordinances to address racial and economic equity.  There is ongoing work to make sure long-term investments into park improvements are thoughtful in how they attempt to reverse racial disparities.

"This is an important topic to us as we continue our work to dismantle inequities in the park system," a Park Board spokesperson told FOX 9.