Mattocks Park: A Contradiction of Sorts

[Part of the Saint Paul Field Guide to Public Spaces, put together by a Geography class at Macalester College in fall 2018. See introduction here.]

by Julia Bayer

Mattocks Park is located in the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood a family friendly, relatively affluent, predominantly white residential neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota. The neighborhood extends from its western border, the Mississippi River to its eastern border Ayd Mill Road. From north to south the neighborhood falls between historic Summit Avenue and Randolph Avenue, a major road for transit. Tucked into the neighborhood, Mattocks Park is located one block each way from the major transit roads of Randolph Avenue and Snelling Avenue, the A Line stop at the intersection of Randolph Avenue and Snelling Avenue is located two blocks away from the park. Mattocks Park is a small –at only 3.69 acres- “pocket park” of sorts as it is built to fit into the existing street grid.

Jf1

The park is bordered by James Avenue to the south, Palace Avenue to the north, South Davern Street to the west and South Macalester Street to the east. The park is surrounded by rows of tall pine trees that provide shade for the playground and increase the sense of containment while still allowing the park to fit into the neighborhood. While well labeled on Google Maps, the only signs that denote it at its physical location are two small signs, one facing James Avenue and the other at the corner of Davern and Palace. However, when approaching from Randolph or Snelling Avenue one will not immediately notice these signs.

Figure 2. The grass field

Figure 2. The grass field

The park is split into two sections. On the eastern half bordered by Macalester Street, there is a large grassy field where neighbors frequently play catch with their dogs and there is a baseball dugout to allow for more formal sports games. The western half of the park, bordered by Davern Street has a playground, swing set, half court basketball court, and tennis court. Scattered throughout the playground are a variety of people’s personal toys, this speaks to the type of people that use this space and the sense of established trust. On a nicer day when I visited the playground was quite full with primarily mothers and children. I noticed that many of them had left bags and blankets scattered throughout while walking away and even noticed babies in their strollers unattended. Mattocks Park presents an interesting case to study as it is one of the few parks managed by the City of St. Paul, and the only in the Mac-Groveland neighborhood, that is not attached to a recreation center, school or other established institution. The park presents a contradiction as it is a high-quality space but also presents aspects that make it more exclusive.

Figure 3. Personal toys left out

Figure 3. Personal toys left out

Figure 4. The Playground

Figure 4. The Playground

Figure 5. Another part of the playground

Figure 5. Another part of the playground

Aside from observational methods I sought to analyze the publicness of the park using established measures, one of which being the Star Model. Of the five measures the two I will focus on the most as they pertain to Mattocks Park are Control and Civility. In terms of control, there are no explicit signs of control such as surveillance cameras or police patrols and thus one does not feel visibly controlled or watched. There are some vague rules on the acceptable uses of the tennis courts but these rules do not seem to be followed. However, the park does feel controlled in a more subtle way. As I walk through without a child or dog I can see people looking at me through the corner of my eye. It seems as though the park is dominated by people engaging in necessary and social activities and people outside of those groups might find the space to be exclusive. The toys left out in the sandbox seem to suggest the park is an extension of someone’s yard without someone being there.

Who Uses Mattocks Park?

S1In my study of Mattocks Park one measure I was looking at is how connected the site is to public transportation, are there people that use transportation to reach the park? With the A line, rapid bus, stop located just two blocks away at the corner of Randolph and Snelling and the stop for the 84 even closer, I was interested to see if people were arriving at the park from the bus stop. As a first step to assessing this, I looked at the desire lines of the park. I noticed the major desire line goes across the field connecting James Avenue to Davern Street which seems to be that the line was created by neighbors using it as a shortcut to cross the street. There were no desire lines leading from the end of the park closest to the bus stop which leads me to believe that no one is arriving at the park via public transportation. As a more formal way to assess this claim, I handed out surveys with a few simple questions for people to answer. You can view the sample survey here.

With the cold, snowy weather I have not found many people to take the survey. However, from those who I have found to take it, their results prove indicative of the type of space that Mattocks is and that there is not a connection to public transportation. Of the four people who took the survey three of them traveled less than a quarter of a mile walking to get to the park and one drove and lived between a quarter to half a mile away. Three of them live in the 55105 zip code and the one who lives in the 55104 zip code works as a babysitter for a child who lives across from the park in 55105. In terms of alternate spaces, there were only two responses when asked this question, one said he would go to the campus of St. Kates to walk his dog and the other said she would go to the Macalester campus. This shows that the selection of Mattocks Park was not based off of access to public transportation.

The use of Mattocks Park is highly temporal, it is a different space on warm, weekday afternoons than really any other time of the week: mornings, weekends, nights and cold days. On weekday afternoons, when the weather is pleasant the playground is quite lively and many people are partaking in social activities. However, all other times, in particular mornings, night and cold days the park is a space for only necessary activities, mainly people walking their dogs. Thus, Mattocks Park presents various versions of itself based off of the time of day and weather. One limitation of this study was that I could not visit during the summer, I would imagine that observing the park during the summer one would see an even greater degree of animation and the publicness of the space could be seen differently. During the summer additional amenities are offered to encourage animation. There is an urban tennis program that uses the parks’ tennis courts, an ice cream vendor travels to the park frequently and a port-a-potty is brought in.

Mattocks Park, in its physical configuration, for the most part, represents an example of a space that promotes an inclusive, democratic society. There are no barriers to access such as fences and the control is limited. There are no visible signs of control such as security cameras or police patrols, there are few stated rules and it is clear that the park is owned by the City of St. Paul. The park provides good amenities, such a playground and tennis court as well as a large field to allow for a variety of uses. The one major physical amenity that detracts from the inclusivity and democratic aspect of the space is the lack of bathroom facilities, which thus places limits on how long non-neighbors can use the space. However, during the summer the city makes an effort to make up for this limitation by bringing in a port-a-potty. Should the park model be replicated this would be a necessary addition. However, there is a sense of privateness that pervades the space and creates a sense of exclusion to those who do not live in the immediate area, have connections with neighbors or conform to the perceived “code of conduct”. Thus, if the design were to be replicated measures should be taken to increase the sense of inclusivity with the larger community, this could be as simple as adding bathroom facilities or more complex such as having cultural or community events with a high degree of visibility.

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5 Responses to Mattocks Park: A Contradiction of Sorts

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke January 30, 2019 at 10:16 am #

    A comment from a reader that as passed along to me:

    “Julia made some very insightful observations here. Mattocks Park seems to have successfully been designed to serve its assumed public need as a community extension of close-by neighbors front yards while subconsciously informing people from a greater range away to please move along. As a Minneapolis resident who knows my city very well, Mueller Park in the Wedge bears some similarities, being completely enclosed within a basically single family neighborhood, but its square plan doesn’t give the intimate character as does Mattocks. Also, Mattocks neighborhood seems to be a quiet locale, while Mueller is more active – and Mattocks is more beautiful.”

    • Janne January 30, 2019 at 12:11 pm #

      As a neighbor of the very active Mueller Park, I’ll offer some demographic data about the neighborhood, and an observational count about the type of homes surrounding Mueller Park.

      Minnesota Compass shows the neighborhood is 84% renters. https://www.mncompass.org/profiles/neighborhoods/minneapolis/lowry-hill-east

      Of course, whether someone owns or rents doesn’t translate directly to whether they’re in a single family house or an apartment building – I have friends who own an apartment condo a block from the park. There is a correlation between renting and building type, though.

      There are five brick-walk-up apartment buildings literally across the streets from Mueller, and many more if you extend out just one block. That doesn’t count duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes.

  2. Ryan January 30, 2019 at 1:46 pm #

    Hey, it’s my local park!

    Shout out to my pal Wally O’ Wonka, serving up treats on Mondays in the summer: https://www.facebook.com/WallyOWonka/

    Some other uses of Mattocks Park that I’ve seen, not mentioned in the article: Slackline practice, hammock napping, pick-up softball and kickball, high-school kids canoodling on dates while eating ice cream from Nelson’s, Sunday morning Yoga, and (whispers) unsanctioned dog parking.

    About the most scandalous thing I’ve seen in the park is a sixer of Bell’s Two Hearted, empties neatly collected in the pack, half-heartedly stuck in the opening of a trash can.

    • Frank Phelan January 30, 2019 at 4:58 pm #

      I’d like to see some sort of study comparing parks on the basis of what kind of alcoholic beverage containers are left there.

  3. Ken Iosso February 11, 2019 at 11:13 am #

    I live blocks from here and used to bring my son over when he was 2-8 very regularly. It’s a great low-key space and a cool way to meet other families, too. I also used to come here 25 years ago for a pickup Ultimate frisbee game with other Mac grads. I’m intrigued by the idea that the park sends the message to people who are not neighbors to “move along.” It could be true, I just don’t know how we’re sending that message. Could you tell me?

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