New Facts on City Parks Released

WASHINGTON, D. C., 6/22/06: The 56 largest cities in the United States have a total of 745,000 acres of parks, with Jacksonville, Florida, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, each leading the list of largest city park systems, according to a new study of urban parks released today by The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a nationwide nonprofit which works to protect parks and open space.

For total size, Jacksonville is number one, with almost 98,000 acres of parks and preserves, including water preserves. In addition, when measured on an acres-per-capita basis, Jacksonville also ranks first with 126 acres of parkland for every 1,000 residents.

However, when parkland is measured as a portion of the total size of the city, the leader is Albuquerque, with more than one-quarter of its land protected as public open space.

The TPL study found that the nation’s most visited city park is Central Park in New York with 25 million users a year. And the group found that the largest single city park in the country is the 24,000-acre Franklin Mountain State Park in El Paso, Texas.

The results conclude an eight-month study by TPL’s Center for City Park Excellence (CCPE), the nation’s leading source of data about urban park systems. The CCPE releases new numbers annually. The results are available on the Web at

“With cities rebounding, many people are giving attention to their once-beautiful park systems,” said Harnik. “There is sudden interest in gathering information to help cities allocate resources more efficiently and equitably.”

Other cities which devote a high percentage of land to parks and open space include San Diego (22 percent of land area), Washington, D.C. (19.7), San Francisco (19.3), and New York (19.1).Cities with large amounts of parkland per capita include El Paso (44.5 acres per 1,000 residents), Austin, Texas (39.2), and Kansas City, Missouri (38.7).

TPL began quantifying city park systems in 2000 with the book Inside City Parks.

In addition to studying acreage, TPL also compiles information on recreational facilities, park employment, the historical growth of systems, and a variety of budgetary measures.

Of the 56 cities, San Francisco spent the most on its parks in fiscal year 2004 (the latest year available) with an allocation of $276 per resident. Other leading cities that year included Washington, D.C. ($264), Seattle ($238), Cincinnati ($166) and Chicago ($163). The range of spending is large, with the top city devoting eight times as much per resident as the lowest-funded city.

“In many ways, the budget numbers are the most significant,” Harnik explained. “Without allocating sufficient resources, it is almost impossible to create or maintain an outstanding system.”

In compiling its numbers, TPL counted all the parkland within each city’s limits (but not in the surrounding metropolitan region). Acreage includes not only municipal parks but also those run by federal, state, county and regional agencies. In New York, for example, the 28,840 acres run by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation are supplemented by six state parks and more than 7,000 acres of National Park Service land.

TPL also divided the cities into four groupings by density levels, comparing the older, more tightly-packed cities; the newer, more sprawling cities; and two density groupings in the middle. Each type of city seems to use its park acreage differently, making cross comparisons difficult. (However, since spending levels are not related to density, budgetary information was not broken into sub-groups.)

TPL determined financial rankings by analyzing both the operating and the capital expenditures of all the park agencies serving a city (while subtracting non-park costs like running stadiums, zoos, aquariums or museums). In some cities, such as San Francisco, spending is higher because park agencies include state and national parks within the city boundaries.

“Revitalized cities need revitalized park systems,” said Harnik. “They help clean the air, reduce stress, improve health, diminish crime, increase tourism and property value, and provide an alternative to sprawl. Parks are the urban land issue of the 21st century.”

TPL’s Center for City Park Excellence, begun in 1994, supports the creation and rehabilitation of city park systems through research, data collection, evaluation, skill-building, fundraising, garden and playground construction, and land purchase.

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. TPL depends on the support of individuals, corporations, and foundations. For more information, visit TPL on the web at