I live a block from Powderhorn Park in South Minneapolis, and I like the neighborhood a lot in terms of its far greater mix of peoples in racial and economic terms. It’s a marked change from my previous neighborhood in St. Paul, which was pretty much an all-white, professional middle-class area. The appearance of more diversity in the Powderhorn Park area is interesting, though, because once you settle in to the daily, visible presence of racially diverse people in the neighborhood, some who rent in apartment buildings and others who own duplexes or single-family homes, you begin to see how much racial and class stratification still exists.
One thing that really sticks out to me this summer is the presence of kids at the park itself. On our morning walk, Giles and I see many teens clad in fluorescent green t-shirts picking up trash, using weed wackers, and doing a range of other landscaping maintenance work. They are part of the Teen Teamwork program, which pays teens to do this kind of yard work and imparts some job skills as well as occupies teens’ time to keep the out of trouble. In contrast, a little later in the mornings and in the afternoons, the summer camp kids populate the park grounds, building castles out of cardboard, for instance, and doing other activities that are about pleasure rather than work skills. These kids are generally younger, pre-teens, and of course rather than being paid, their parents are paying for these classes and programs. In the evenings, the park is full of families and individuals, with groups of teens and young adults playing soccer on the open fields and basketball on the outdoor court.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a clear racial and class divide in these populations of youth moving through the park. Two small school buses bring the Teen Teamwork kids to the park, presumably from all over Minneapolis. These kids are almost all black, Asian, and Latino. You’ll see many Somali girls in their headscarves and skirts, for instance. And the park grounds crew who oversee these teen workers often speak to them condescendingly and gruffly. The general demeanor of the kids is dour, understandably since they are working outside in the summer heat. The kids coming in for summer camp, however, are almost all white, and their supervisors are white, college-aged youth. There is plenty of laughter and smiles and a generally more upbeat air for this group. In the evening, there is a more communal and leisurely feeling in the air. The soccer players are largely Latino and the basketball players largely black.