As Economy Struggles, Cities Offer Acres of Green Space

WASHINGTON, D. C., August 17, 2009: The 77 largest city park systems nationwide provide more than 1.3 million acres of parkland, providing close-to-home outdoor experiences in an ailing economy, according to a new report released today by The Trust for Public Land (TPL). The 77 cities added more than 5,000 acres of parkland as the public turns to local parks in a time when fewer people have money to travel.

“Our nation’s city parks matter more than ever,” said Peter Harnik, director of TPL’s Center for City Park Excellence. “With a struggling economy, these green spaces and public places are where people can find enjoyment, often only a short walk or bike ride away.”

The public amenities offer a variety of facilities available to everyone. Big-city park departments last year offered 56 million urban residents 10,419 park playgrounds, 1,290 swimming pools, 466 dog parks, and 386 public golf courses, while spending $5.7 billion on their park and recreation systems.

The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit that works to create parks and protect open space, releases the report annually through its Center for City Park Excellence (CCPE), the nation’s leading source of data and analysis on urban park systems. CCPE statistics are posted at

New Poll Details Increased Park Visits
Park and playground visitation is up in a down economy, according to a poll of park users conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of The Trust for Public Land.

One fifth of American park users have increased their visits to local parks and playgrounds during this recent period of economic difficulty, and a third of families with children have increased their visits to parks and playgrounds.

More than seventy percent of surveyed park visitors say they are using parks as much now as they were when the economy was strong.

“The poll results indicate both a strong, consistent use of local parks and playgrounds and a renewed recognition of their value in tight economic times,” said Harnik. “This poll underscores the importance of maintaining and enhancing parks and playgrounds in cities, even during tough times.”

City Parks Data Shows Diversity of Recreation Options
City park systems offer a wide range of places to play: remote natural areas and playgrounds, flower gardens and paved plazas, and sports fields and bike trails. In its annual survey, TPL counts every kind of park within the municipal boundary, including national, state, county, regional, and municipal parks.

There are 20,705 individual parks in the biggest cities. For dog parks look to Portland, Ore., Las Vegas, and San Francisco. For swimming pools per capita turn to Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, and Pittsburgh. For recreation centers head for Chicago and Honolulu.

Cities that provide particularly large amounts of parkland per 1,000 residents include Jacksonville, Albuquerque, El Paso, Virginia Beach, and Kansas City, Mo. Older, more densely-populated cities that provide residents with big swaths of green space include St. Paul, Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., and Seattle. Anchorage, Alaska offers the most parkland within its city limits, with the gargantuan Chugach State Park within its municipal borders.

Several cities provide considerable parkland as a percent of the city’s area such as New York, San Francisco, Boston, San Diego, Raleigh, and Austin.

Cities which gained significant amounts of new parkland between 2007 and 2008 included Phoenix, San Antonio, Long Beach, Anchorage, and Charlotte.

Based on data from 2007, the best-funded major city park and recreation departments were in San Francisco ($300 per resident), Chandler, Ariz. ($279), Washington, D.C. ($277), Seattle ($259), and Minneapolis ($214). The least-funded departments were in Buffalo ($12 per resident), Stockton ($23), El Paso ($31), Toledo ($38), and Memphis ($39).

“Spending in many respects is the most important measure. A great park system requires ongoing investment, and it also needs quality programming for citizens and visitors,” said Harnik.

Of the 83 park and recreation agencies studied for operations (many cities have more than one agency supporting parks), 52 spent more, 20 spent less, and 9 spent the same on parks between 2006 and 2007, according to TPL. Harnik cautions that spending levels could change significantly from year to year.

“We’ve seen reports about cuts around the country, but we cannot confirm this until next year’s survey data,” Harnik said. “Keeping park budgets strong keeps these prized spaces nurtured when residents have less money to travel, and a great park system needs the constant attention of the city and the constant vigilance of its park users and advocates.”

Two cities were added to data collection this year: Chandler, Ariz. and Greensboro, N.C.

The report was supported through a grant from PlayCore, a Chattanooga based company that promotes the value of play through a variety of educational programs.? PlayCore is a leading designer, manufacturer, and marketer of a broad range of commercial and consumer playground and park equipment, surfacing, site amenity, fitness and related play products and programs.? To learn more visit

TPL’s Center for City Park Excellence opened in 1994 to support the creation and rehabilitation of city park systems through research, data collection, evaluation, skill building, fundraising, garden and playground construction, and land purchases. For more information, visit the Center on the web at

The Trust for Public Land, established in 1972, specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiations, public finance, and law to protect land for people to enjoy as parks, greenways, community gardens, urban playgrounds, and wilderness. With offices in more than 30 cities, TPL works to increase the number and quality of urban parks and reduce the distance city residents must travel to reach open spaces. TPL depends on the support of individuals, corporations, and foundations.