Walking the Green Path: Claiming Our Green Space

Minneapolis Parklet

By Daniel Swenson-Klatt | Updated March 27, 2023

We said goodbye to our city parklet a couple of weeks ago.  It spent the summer “parking” in the parking lane of 37th Street, providing three shady tables just off the busy pathways of Nicollet Avenue. I am already missing it.

The city of Minneapolis had five parklets in action this summer, bumping out into the street to form quiet, flowery seating amidst the rumble and speed of the streets.  As an attempt to provide additional outdoor green space and to test out traffic calming options, the parklets are an experiment that is getting some notice.  We had overwhelmingly positive reactions from its users, although at times we could tell that its placement created challenges for drivers navigating the corner of 37th and Nicollet.

My early days, growing up, took place in the small suburb of North St. Paul.  I lived on a block that did not have a sidewalk, was lined with a variety of mature trees, and had quiet side streets that often became our game fields.  There were two undeveloped lots that became de facto parks until my middle school years when someone had the audacity to build houses on them.

I lived among gardens, had a lake a few blocks away to walk to, and with a short bike ride could venture into farmland, woods, and meadows that had never been developed.  This immersion in green space and natural settings was a privilege I didn’t truly value until much later in life.

My first year out of college, I lived in Canton, a southeast neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland. That year changed my understanding of the value of green space. Completely built out in row houses, the concrete sidewalks and back patios nearly eliminated all green space in that part of the city.  The local city park, Patterson, was heavily used because it was an oasis of green for the entire neighborhood.  Residents did what they could to put out containers of flowers and dig up small patches to put in a tree but to find cool green spaces was a challenge.   I missed my green space terribly.

Minneapolis has been blessed with an awesome park system, a dedication to tree-lined streets, and a willingness to stretch the definition of what makes green space.  Green rooftops, greenways, parkways, pocket parks, urban agriculture, boulevard gardening, and the recent additions of parklets are all a sign of a commitment to balancing our urban footprint within the natural world we inhabit.  Yes, there are some who scoff at the costs and effort to green the space we live in, but having lived without easy access to green spaces; I recognize the health costs of not providing them.

With the turning and dropping of leaves and the coming snow, we’ll find ourselves missing the ability to stretch out on the warm grass and soak up sunshine and fresh air.  We’ll do our best to bundle up and sit outside for winter events, but we will secretly, and not so secretly, long for a return to the warmth that lets us relax outside in our green spaces.  We’ll dream of seeking out another green space or perhaps have the luxury of getting away to a green space during the winter months to recharge our bodies’ desire for a green connection.

The Kingfield neighborhood recently lent its support to a young man who offered to organize the construction of a neighborhood parklet as an Eagle Scout project.  He hopes that the parklet could live and migrate around the neighborhood to support our small businesses and offer new green space within the neighborhood.  Our test run this summer has given me a stronger desire to see this project come to fruition.  If you’d like to get involved in constructing the parklet, please contact me, and I’ll pass your name along.

We are not the only ones who benefit from adding more green spaces to our city landscape.  And as we know, the pollinators we depend on for our gardens and flowers are always looking for more green space, and they depend on us to help provide it.  It is our connection to these vulnerable actors in our food chain that I worry about.

I watch our local food systems struggle to provide for us, as they come up against global corporations hungry for short-term profits and big market shares.  These corporations are willing to sacrifice our environment to satisfy shareholder greed.  We must be loud consumer voices and not spend our money where it goes to destroy the spaces we long for.   We must be strong civic voices who organize our governing leaders to stop offering handouts that cost us all when we have to clean up their messes.

We make green spaces in many small ways.  Dropping a small seating area onto the street may seem like an odd way to make a point.  But once upon a time, that very patch of asphalt was a flowing green space of prairie or woodland, and at its heart it still is, waiting for us to reconnect. Walk this green path, claim a green space and reconnect with the wonders around us.  I look forward to sharing the journey with you.

Walking the Green Path is a series of stories by Daniel Swenson-Klatt, the owner of Butter Bakery Cafe, about what it’s like to run a small business focused on sustainability and building community.

Daniel Swenson-Klatt is a writer, community activist, and owner of Butter Bakery Cafe located in South Minneapolis.

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