NYC Ranks High in Park Acres, Low in Funding

New York, N.Y., 12/3/01 — Out of the nation’s fifty-five largest cities, New York ranks 49th when it comes to spending per resident for parks. According to a report by the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit organization that works to protect parks and open space, New York City spends $40 per resident annually, far below the leader, Kansas City, with $184, or the average $79 per resident. The range of spending is wide, with the top city devoting seven times as much per resident as the lowest-funded city.

“In many ways the budget numbers are the most significant,” said Peter Harnik director of TPL’s Green Cities Initiative. “Without allocating sufficient resources, it is almost impossible to create or maintain an outstanding parks system.”

The fifty-five biggest cities in the United States have a total of 630,000 acres of parks, with New York City and El Paso, Texas each able to claim the honor of having the largest urban park system. For sheer size, New York City’s total parkland ranked number one with almost 50,000 acres of parks, including water preserves. However, when that land is meant to serve more than eight million residents, New York lags behind other high-density cities with only 6.2 acres per thousand residents compared to the average of eight acres.

On a per-capita basis, the leader is El Paso with almost forty-seven acres of park and open space for every 1,000 residents. El Paso also has the largest single park of the cities surveyed, 24,000-acre Franklin Mountain State Park.

Other cities that devote a high percentage of land to parks and open space include San Francisco (19.8 percent of land area), Washington, D.C. (19.1), San Diego (17.4) and Minneapolis (16.2). Other cities with high per-capita park ratios include Oklahoma City (43.8 acres per thousand residents), Albuquerque (39.5), Austin, Texas (38.9) and Jacksonville, Florida (32.5).

Andy Stone, director of the Trust for Public Land’s New York City Program, stressed that although New York City has a great deal of parkland, many of its communities are still underserved by parks. “A number of communities, particularly those with lower incomes, do not have adequate parkland or park services for their residents,” said Stone. “These neighborhoods depend on volunteer-supported community gardens and vest pocket parks, which can just go so far toward meeting a community’s park needs.”

“The importance of parks for America’s collective psyche was shown after the tragic events of September 11, 2001,” said Harnik. “From New York City’s Union Square to the National Mall in Washington to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, people congregated in urban open spaces for remembrance, solace and community.”

The Trust for Public Land began quantifying city park systems in 2000 with the book Inside City Parks, which examined the country’s twenty-five largest cities. The list released today more than doubles the amount of data collected.

“With cities on the rebound, 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.”

In compiling its acreage 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 instance, the 28,348 acres run by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation are supplemented by five state parks and more than 20,000 acres of Gateway National Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service. (It should be noted that most of this land is under water.) Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks’ 14,000 acres are more than doubled by parklands owned by the state and by the water department.

The Trust for Public Land 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.

The Trust for Public Land 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.

“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 twenty-first century.”

The Trust for Public Land’s Green Cities Initiative, 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.