Something I Said: Elliot Park: Nice places to take your kids

Elliot Park in South Minneapolis has, over just the past few years, gone from an eyesore at best and a dangerous place at worst to a very valuable community resource. Elliot Park in South Minneapolis has, over just the past few years, gone from an eyesore at best and a dangerous place at worst to a very valuable community resource.

Used to be that you hated to even walk by, much less would you consider taking your kid to the swings, jungle gym and such. During the warm months, if you passed Elliot Park in the morning, a compliment of bums would be scattered all over, sleeping on benches, the ground and, of all things, on the equipment where children were supposed to be able to play. Throughout the day, you could not walk across the park without someone trying to sell you crack. And, of course, there were the hookers who hung out, waiting for johns who would get them high. There were so many assaults that muggers seemed to be working a night shift. And an 11-year-old girl was one of more than a few rape victims. The place was just awful. The very reason for having a park, somewhere for children to safely play — without being exposed to an unsavory element — was pretty much undone.

Nowadays, it's like somebody went through the place with a broom. Granted, you still got some listless loafers that treat the park like it's an open-air lounge, but not nearly as many as before. And, importantly, not only can kids have a nice, safe time, but there is a list of programs and activities that offer them fun filled exercise as well as a chance to learn more about life than what goes on at a street corner. And they hardly cost any money at all. For instance, if you stop by the Elliot Park recreation center, you can walk away with registration forms to enroll your child in any one of a bunch of constructive undertakings. There's something called "Summer Field Trips 2004" through which kids age 8 to 12, for a measly $6 a trip, can go to Grand Slam Arcade (7/2), North Commons Water Park (7/16), Doyle's Bowling Lanes (7/30) and the Minnesota Zoo (8/13). In June and July, there are swimming field trips to Calhoun Beach, North Commons Water Park and N. E. Water Park a cost of no more than $3 a pop. There is even golf (for free) and tennis (full scholarships available simply for the asking. And there's no need to feel nervous about not being right there, yourself, watching over your youngster.

So, the obvious question is, What happened? Well, dad as I hate to say anything good about gentrification, there's such a thing as giving the devil his due. Between the East Village apartment buildings, an expansion by North Central University and attendant, stepped up police patrols, it's addition by subtraction. You could see a gradual but nonetheless clear change take place. First, the school bought Lee's Liquor Store and shut it down to open a bookstore for the students. That immediately cut down on panhandling rummies and folk who'd by their beer at the liquor store and then go drink it in Elliot Park. Later, as construction workers started breaking ground for the sprawling East Village complex, two things happened: an abandoned duplex that served as a "honeycomb" (labyrinth-like place to smoke crack) was torn down; and, mirroring the Franklin Avenue corridor between 11th and Chicago Ave., preparatory to White folk with money moving in, the cops started moving the dealers and hookers out — something they evidently could have done at any time. If the well being of the kids in this neighborhood mattered to Minneapolis as much as that of kids up around, say, Nicollet and 48th, where you better not stop and tie your shoes if you look the least bit out of place.

That's the way it is: for communities of common folk to see the City take an interest in their environment, the well to do have to have something at stake. Who knows how long it will take for this boon to bite Elliot Park on the behind? Who knows how long it'll be until parents with shallow pocket

June 28, 2004
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