When springtime arrives each year, gardeners gleefully prepare their pots and plants for a glorious season of growing and creating their own little garden. The Soo Line Community Garden in Whittier provides a space where the community can come together and have fun planting and learning.
To expand outdoor activities for everyone, Hennepin County is in a unique position to increase the accessibility of the garden and, at the same time, provide an accessible connection to the Midtown Greenway.
Since its inception in 1991, the Soo Line Community Garden has been attended to by kids and adults who have their very own spots to sow flowers and food. The quiet sanctuary is their space to go to when they want to be happy or need a break.
The County is finally planning to install a pedestrian pathway at the Soo Community Community Garden because there is currently a 1.25-mile gap that has no ADA-connection down to the Midtown Greenway path.
The County’s plan creates an extraordinary chance to enhance the garden in order for it to become more easily available to a group of gardeners that may be feeling left out.
Several residents who have disabilities would love to be able to partake in the garden’s activities. They just have to have reasonable accommodations for that to become reality. Unfortunately, eleven organizations, like BikeMN and the Midway Greenway Coalition, overwhelmingly oppose the proposed plan of constructing an ADA-paved path through the garden to connect Grand and Harriet Avenues to the Midtown Greenway.
Why would a wonderful community of passionate enthusiasts be so inclined to exclude certain people to safely access the garden? Maybe they are just focusing on the idea of the path connecting two streets for bike and pedestrian transit, and eliminating a relatively small portion of planting spots. They are simply missing how much more inviting the garden could be.
There are a variety of alterations that officials could do to achieve both objectives. There should be an eight-foot wide concrete or natural resin path that meanders its way through the site to provide that access and more gardening opportunities for individuals who rely on mobility devices, and adherence to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The proposed pathway could even be colored with noticeable side markings to blend in with the surrounding landscape.
To be an ADA-compliant garden, properly raised planters should align the path so users of mobility devices could partake in gardening. They would just have to roll up and the bed would be at their midsection level. Gardeners who are in need of such accommodations would be thrilled to have an easily navigable area to plant. In addition to the tall planters, there would be signage in large text and braille to help with directions and wayfinding.
In the design concept that was made public in December 2023, the alley just north of the site that extends out to Garfield Avenue is shown to be shifted north. To get walkers and rollers onto the walkway, there must be an additional ADA-regulated curb cut near the alleyway to provide safe access to the sidewalk. An alley should never be a substitute for an access point due to the safety hazard that it may cause.
Also very important is that bright lights should stretch along the new passageway to provide ample lighting so accidents do not occur and for people in wheelchairs to see where the edge of the path is. We certainly do not want a situation where someone runs into a planting area and dismantles a planter.
It would be irresponsible of Hennepin County, the City of Minneapolis, and the Minneapolis Park & Rec Board to brush aside a specific population group just to adhere to a single group’s wants. That must not be the path that we should go down.
Minneapolis has a goal of being inclusive to every resident, regardless of their ability. Having accessible gardening areas for people with impairments is a great step toward including every citizen in recreational happenings. In order to involve everybody in the community, the Soo Line Community Garden must provide access in multiple ways and be a welcoming experience for all.
Therefore, let's make the Soo Line Garden more accessibility-friendly to let everyone enjoy gardening, learning new life skills, and the scenery.
Michael Sack is a member of the City of Minneapolis Advisory Committee on People with Disabilities. All the opinions in this article are solely his, and do not wholly reflect the committee’s views.