Guest Post: Importance of Public Place in St. Peter, Minnesota

If you followed the comments on 29 June 2013’s post you saw that I invited regular reader (and one of the top commentators), Andrew, to share his thoughts on what makes the public spaces in Saint Peter, Minnesota places. To understand more of the difference, I urge you to check out the introduction to this short series of posts on places and spaces.

The paragraphs below are all Andrew’s, with my bold emphasis added:

DCgrapher invited me to share my thoughts about public spaces and places in American life. I am a pastor by profession (and confession), and I majored in Geography at Macalester College. I enjoy thinking about how places and communities form each other.

Saint Peter is a small city of approximately 11,000 in south central Minnesota. Gustavus Adolphus, a private Lutheran college, anchors the city to the west; a large regional treatment center (a psychiatric hospital for criminals) is to our south; Alumacraft makes boats near the northern edge of town, and the silty Minnesota River borders us to the east. The city is large enough to have its own high school, but we must drive to the nearby city of Mankato to visit a mall or big box store. In many ways, Saint Peter is a typical small Midwestern city.

My family moved here three years ago, and what strikes us is how well the city parks and community center are integrated with the lives of people in town. People who live here often remark how appreciative they are of the many parks. Our parks and community center contribute to Saint Peter being a pleasant place to live, despite the awful Minnesota winters. I attribute this success to three factors:

Geographical Accessibility: There are seventeen parks in Saint Peter, so every neighborhood has a city park nearby. Sidewalks make a family walk to the park easy, although most parks have some available street parking. Children can hop on their bikes and go fishing in the mill pond or cruise over to the softball fields. New parks are planned as new neighborhoods are developed. This accessibility is the result of good planning.

Civic Responsibility: Saint Peter has an intact civic culture. Many of the parks are adopted by civic organizations and churches that pledge to keep the parks clean. Civic groups use the parks for music events and national celebrations. People in Saint Peter have a sense that our parks are our responsibility.

Public Funding: The City of Saint Peter funds numerous recreational activities in the parks, community center, and library. For example, my family recently attended a free concert for children put on by the library. Every household receives a seasonal newspaper detailing upcoming recreational opportunities.

Community leaders and planners have made parks a priority, and in turn these parks attract families and help to form a community that is culturally democratic. These parks embody and form a democratic spirit. They are more than just public spaces — they are important places for this community.

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