For years in Twin Cities residents have held a quiet debate about closing public golf courses and repurposing the land for park space. Let’s skip the public forums and admit that we already know the answer: Most of the land these courses occupy could better serve is as amenity-rich parks that give people a place to enjoy the outdoors.
Columbia Golf Course in northeast Minneapolis is the best example. It sits on 150 acres of rolling land and mature trees in the heart of a lively neighborhood. Certainly it’s better to open it up as a park than to close it off only for paying members of a single activity.
Most of these courses were built when the two cities were young, the priorities were different, and suburban alternatives weren’t available. These circumstances have changed. Golf can now be played at hundreds of courses.
Columbia already has the humble beginnings of a large central park – a soccer field, a very small playground, a dog run, and Columbia Manor, a well-regarded event space. Aside from the latter, these elements are very basic.
A redesign would invite people into the park. A good place to start is the center, where a small lake already exists. Enlarge that in to a small man-made pond with a sculpture in the middle that has water trickling down its sides. This can be designed by local artists. And in this age, it needs to be picture-worthy.
Surround that with a ledge that people can sit on close enough to stroke the water with a hand, and surround that with a wide walkway for people to stroll around. Perhaps that walkway also has some artful tile mosaics.
Connect this center with paths that radiate to the edges of the park for access to neighbors, along with another bridge or two over the railroad tracks. Fill the remainder as money becomes available over time.
Then build some novel amenities: ultimate Frisbee fields, a peaceful space for parents to bring their infants, a traditional European garden with railings and benches for the elderly, some pedestals for artwork made by the many talented local artists, and a sunny area for outdoor yoga classes.
Include a spot for food trucks to line up, a place to play kubb, a quiet area to read, a slope to lay on in the summer, and some well-designed backdrops for wedding or prom pictures, like the gates at Como Park.
There’s still room for traditional elements like basketball and tennis courts, more picnic areas, and a path that encircles the park for people to walk, run, or ski around it.
There are hundreds of uses for this precious land, and there are so many possibilities. That’s the point. Why use it only for golf?
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