This summer, Folwell Park has experienced a higher than usual occurrence of “youth violence” (so described by Folwell Neighborhood Association (FNA) contract staff). Large groups of unruly teenagers have been gathering at the park, frequently favoring a poorly-lit area known as “the hill.” The police have been called many times. Folks have become fearful of using the park.
Reclaiming Folwell Park
The FNA reacted by holding a stakeholder meeting on August 27 to brainstorm how to work with multiple partners to develop strategies to connect with the youth and their families. To seek ways to stem the current dynamics that have the capacity to turn an otherwise peaceful bunch of kids just hanging out at the park into a violent and intimidating mob.
While this is a deeply complex problem that is not going to be resolved overnight, attendees at the August 27 meeting were agreed that some impactful steps could be taken immediately to address two glaring issues:
- Folwell Park has always been inadequately lit, most especially south of the restroom building (the hill). More lighting for this area is not included in Phase 1 of Folwell Park’s improvement plan. The paths here are also very icy in winter, making walking after dark extremely treacherous. Installing additional lighting on the hill would deter criminal activity (a point made strongly by Folwell’s crime prevention specialist Bill Magnuson), and would help foster a safer environment.
- A shipping container that had been parked by MPRB maintenance staff next to the toilets enabled kids to climb up onto the building roof, creating safety concerns for the kids themselves, the risk of medical expenses for their families should someone fall, and potential liability for MPRB and the City. A known issue by MPRB Folwell rec center staff that had, quite inexplicably, been allowed to continue all season. The container needed to be moved immediately.
Asking for what we need
This writer volunteered to ask MPRB to provide adequate lighting for Folwell Park. While an email of August 27 to District 2 MPRB Commissioner Kale Severson remains unanswered, I did get a positive response to my request after presenting at MPRB’s Open Time on September 4. I was immediately directed to Chief Jason Ohotto, Director of Park Safety and Security, and also assistant superintendent Michael Schroeder, MPRB Planning Services. Schroeder told me that MPRB were aware of Folwell’s need for more lighting and were already seeking solutions. Chief Ohotto was very generous with his time and I learned that they had seen a marked increase in youth-related incidents throughout the Minneapolis park system over the late summer months. Folwell was not alone in facing this particular challenge.
Getting what we need
Despite assurances at the August 27 meeting that immediate relocation of the ill-placed container was in hand, it took a strongly-worded email copied broadly to MPRB management and board members to actually make this happen. I have been assured by MPRB Operations that, next year, the container (which houses MPRB maintenance equipment) will not be placed alongside the restroom building. Problem solved!
MPRB have already taken some initial steps to bring more light to Folwell Park. While the speed with which they acted was laudable, the results were, sadly, lamentable. Two small LED lights were affixed to the underside of the eaves on the restroom building that were reported to be directed at the dark area of the hill. Upon closer inspection during daylight hours and after dark, these lights do nothing whatsoever to illuminate the hill (nor can they due to their restricted location under the roof line). Although the path directly in front of the now-closed toilets is certainly better lit. This work seems to have been carried out without clear direction and a real understanding of either the issue or the layout of the park. Which is of concern.
However, MPRB project manager, Dan Elias, reported at FNA’s Neighborhood Night on September 16 that MPRB is aware that the already-installed lights do not solve the problem and they are working on installing additional lighting as quickly as possible. Further illumination of the dark areas on the hill are still a priority for MPRB, and Operations staff are hoping to find a quick solution that truly enhances the safety of this part of Folwell Park. Although, designing, bidding and constructing these improvements will take time due to City-mandated standards and policies related to contracting. We are assured that MPRB is listening. Progress!
Updates on improved lighting for the hill will be posted on the FNA Facebook page (Folwell Neighborhood Minneapolis). In addition, Commissioner Severson told Folwell’s Neighborhood Night attendees that folks can contact him directly if they have questions, concerns or an idea to share. He can be reached at email@example.com or 612-230-6443, ext. 2.