The Trust for Public Land’s 2019 ParkScore® Index Names Washington, DC, as Best City Park System in USA, Unseating Three-Time Defending Champion Minneapolis

Nonprofit Credits New Playgrounds and Park Amenities for DC’s Historic Move; 2019 Rankings Show Steady Improvement Nationwide, But Additional Progress Needed to Ensure 10-Minute Walk Park Access for All

May 23, 2019

Washington, DC, has the best city park system in the United States, according to The Trust for Public Land’s 8th annual ParkScore® index, which was released today by the nonprofit organization. Saint Paul ranked 2nd, and three-time defending champion Minneapolis dropped to 3rd.

Thirteenth-ranked Boston joined 7th place San Francisco as the only ParkScore cities to ensure that 100% of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park (approximately ½-mile). Philadelphia made a huge upward move, climbing 11 spots on the ranking list, mostly due to new investment in park space made possible through the Rebuild initiative.

The ParkScore index also reports that 72% of residents in the 100 largest U.S. cities live within a 10-minute walk of a park, up from 70% last year.

“Mayors and city park directors across the United States recognize that quality, close-to-home parks are essential to communities. Parks bring neighbors together and help cities fight climate change. Parks are proven to improve physical and mental health and get children and adults to put down their phones and enjoy the outdoors,” says Diane Regas, President and CEO of The Trust for Public Land.

WHY RANK CITY PARK SYSTEMS?

Today, there are 23,727 parks in the 100 largest U.S. cities, yet 11.2 million people in those cities do not have a park within a 10-minute walk of home, according to The Trust for Public Land. 

“As few as 8,300 new parks in places where they are needed most would close the gap in park access in our 100 largest cities. At current rates of investment in park creation, it will take more than 50 years to build enough new parks to fill this gap,” says Breece Robertson, Chief Research and Innovation Officer at The Trust for Public Land. “But because we now know exactly where to site the parks, we know the first 1,500 could solve the problem for nearly 5 million people. That shows us the way forward, and we owe it to our children to rise to the challenge.”

“Solving the problem of park access is exactly why The Trust for Public Land launched the 10-Minute Walk Mayor’s campaign,” says Adrian Benepe, Director of National Programs at The Trust for Public Land. “Decision-makers at every level must rally everyday Americans behind the urgent need for park equity in our communities.”

In an endorsement of the 10-minute walk goal, more than 250 mayors from cities large and small have joined the 10-Minute Walk Mayor’s Campaign, pledging to adopt long-term, system-wide strategies to ensure every resident has a quality park close to home.

Through voter-approved initiatives like Great Outdoors Colorado and California’s Proposition 68, citizens are generating new sources of public funding at the state level to accelerate the pace of improvement for parks and open space in their communities. At the federal level, leaders are considering infrastructure investments in the trillions—a percentage of which could be spent on improving park equity.  

“These recent developments demonstrate that the change we need is possible. It is happening now. Civic leaders, elected officials, experts, and activists are coming together behind the power of parks to benefit health, climate, and communities,” adds Diane Regas.

 

2019 TRENDS: INVESTMENTS IN PLAYGROUNDS AND PICKLEBALL

The ParkScore index reported a “pickleball” breakout in 2019, as the number of ping-pong/tennis hybrid courts soared 38% over last year. Pickleball is popular among all ages and is especially beloved by seniors, because it offers a low-impact and fun opportunity for physical activity. ParkScore rankings also reported greater availability of playgrounds and basketball courts, as parks departments invested in new amenities and worked in partnership with local leaders to increase access to school facilities after hours and on weekends.

ParkScore rankings are based equally on four factors: park access, which measures the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park; park acreage, which is based on a city’s median park size and the percentage of city area dedicated to parks; park investment, which measures park spending per resident; and park amenities, which counts the availability of six popular park features: basketball hoops, off-leash dog parks, playgrounds, “splashpads” and other water play structures, recreation and senior centers, and restrooms.

ParkScore champion Washington scored well on all ParkScore rating factors. In Washington, 98% of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, and 21% of city area is reserved for parks. The city’s small median park size (1.4 acres) trailed second-place finisher Saint Paul (3.2 acres) and third-place Minneapolis (5.7 acres), but the city’s improvements to park amenities pulled Washington slightly ahead of the Twin Cities to earn the top spot in the rankings.

 

“DC is truly a city of parks that serve as hubs of activity and beauty for neighborhoods and provide substantial social, economic, and health benefits to our residents,” said Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. “We’ve invested more than $200 million to ensure all residents have access to playgrounds, nature trails, and other public parks that have made DC’s park system the envy of cities across the nation.” 

Boise defended its title as the best park system for dogs, with a nation-leading 5.7 dog parks per 100,000 residents. Norfolk, VA, received top marks for basketball hoops, Madison scored best for playgrounds, and Boston and Cleveland tied for Splashpads and other water features.

THE RANKINGS

According to The Trust for Public Land, the 10 highest ranking park systems in the United States are:

                             Rank    City                          ParkScore (Max: 100)                  

                             1.       Washington, DC         83.8

2.       Saint Paul, MN          83.2

3.       Minneapolis, MN      81.8

4.       Arlington, VA            81.3

5.       Portland, OR               79.7

6.       Irvine, CA                  79.2

7.       San Francisco, CA      79.0

8.       Cincinnati, OH          78.3

9.       New York, NY          76.0

10.     Chicago, IL                75.4

 

The lowest-ranking park systems are:

90.       Lubbock, TX           33.2

91.       Baton Rouge, LA     33.0

92.       Fresno, CA              31.3

93.      Hialeah, FL              31.1

94.       Laredo, TX              30.1

95.       Mesa, AZ                 29.5

96.       Charlotte, NC          28.9

97.       Oklahoma City         28.6

 

Fort Wayne and Indianapolis declined to participate in ParkScore 2019 and were not ranked. Gilbert, AZ, was not ranked because the necessary data was unavailable

 

The ParkScore Index uses advanced GIS (Geographic Information Systems) computer mapping technology to create digital maps evaluating park accessibility. Instead of measuring distance to a local park, the rating system’s GIS technology considers the location of park entrances and physical obstacles to access. For example, if residents are separated from a nearby park by a major highway, the ParkScore Index does not count the park as accessible to those residents, unless there is a bridge, underpass, or easy access point across the highway. The Trust for Public Land collaborated with GIS industry leader Esri on GIS design and implementation.

Municipal leaders use ParkScore information to guide park improvement efforts, studying park access on a block-by-block basis and pinpointing the areas where new parks are needed most. The ParkScore website, www.tpl.org/parkscore, is free and available to the public, empowering residents to hold their elected leaders accountable for achieving equitable access to quality parks for all.