John Hinderaker reports on the latest crusade for racial equity in the Twin Cities:
The Metropolitan Council never saw any human behavior it didnâ€™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 isnâ€™t happy with the way we use Twin Cities parks. The Star Tribune headlines: â€œRacially equitable use of parks is the goal, with big dollars at stake.â€
What, exactly, is â€œracially equitable use of parksâ€? Are members of some races barred from the regionâ€™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 peopleâ€™s preserves.
Barriers? What barriers? There are no barriers, actually. The â€œproblemâ€ 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. Paulâ€™s Como Park.
The â€œChain of Lakesâ€ is simply a set of walking and bicycle paths that go around, and connect, Minneapolisâ€™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 areaâ€™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 â€œdisparitiesâ€ 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 regionâ€™s parks and trails? The Strib never answers that obvious question. …
This alleged disparity of usage problem is not confined to Minneapolis-St.Paul. Last year, the New York Times was demanding special initiatives to get minorities visiting National Parks.
The national parks attracted a record 292.8 million visitors in 2014, but a vast majority were white and aging. The most recent survey commissioned by the park service on visitation, released in 2011, found that 22 percent of visitors were minorities, though they make up some 37 percent of the population.
This suggests an alarming disconnect. The Census Bureau projects that the country will have a majority nonwhite population by 2044. If that new majority has little or no relationship with the outdoors, then the future of the nationâ€™s parks, and the retail and nonprofit ecosystem that surrounds them, will be in trouble.
Jeff Cheatham grew up in southeast Seattle, and still lives in Mount Rainierâ€™s shadow. Yet, he said of Mount Rainier and other national parks, â€œIâ€™ve never been, and never thought about going.â€ A 29-year-old African-American writer, Mr. Cheatham said he didnâ€™t even know what a national park was, or what he would be likely to find at one. â€œAs far as I know, itâ€™s a big field of grass,â€ he said.
A neighbor, Carla DeRise, has been to Mount Rainier and other parks, and is game to go again. She just canâ€™t get any of her friends to come along. They are worried about unfriendly white people, hungry critters and insects, and unforgiving landscapes, said Ms. DeRise, 51, an African-American. So she mainly hikes alone, albeit with some anxiety. â€œI donâ€™t have a weapon,â€ she quipped. â€œYet.â€
I also live in one of the Rainier neighborhoods, close to where I grew up, the son of a Japanese mother. I met my oldest friend in the Boy Scouts, an African-American from a family that, like mine, frequented the parks. In college, he and I led outings for minority student groups.
There was always nervous banter as we cruised through small rural towns on our way to a park. And there were jokes about finding a â€œWhites Onlyâ€ sign at the entrance to our destination or the perils of being lynched or attacked while collecting firewood after the sun went down. Our cultural history taught us what to expect. …
We need to demolish the notion that the national parks and the rest of nature are an exclusive club where minorities are unwelcome.
Coercive egalitarianism inevitable finds “problems,” i.e. targets of opportunity for coercive intervention essentially everywhere.