Washington, DC, Named Best Big City Park System in USA, Lifted by Strong Scores for Park Access and Park Equity

ParkScore® Index Reports Most Major Cities Using Parks to Meet Climate Crisis; Trust for Public Land Says Outdoor Space Is Key to Climate Resilience and Equity

May 3, 2022
SAN FRANCISCO

Trust for Public Land announced today that Washington, DC, was rated the nation’s best park system on its 2022 ParkScore® index. Saint Paul, MN, placed second, just ahead of Arlington, VA and Cincinnati, OH. Cincinnati reached the Top 5 for the first time in ParkScore index history.  

Trust for Public Land also reported that 85 percent of large U.S. park systems have taken at least one major action to leverage parks to meet the climate crisis, and more than half have taken three or more. Climate solutions most frequently embraced by cities include planting trees to increase shade and cool air temperatures; replacing asphalt, concrete and other paved surfaces to help control flooding; and installing solar panels on park buildings and taking other steps to increase energy efficiency.  

“Investing in natural solutions like trails, shade, and green spaces can cool temperatures by up to six degrees and help prevent flooding. That’s why Trust for Public Land is working with park advocates and municipal leaders across the United States to close the outdoor equity gap and ensure that quality parks are available to everyone,” says Diane Regas, President and CEO of Trust for Public Land. “Parks inspire joy and happiness and help cities meet the climate crisis,” Regas added. 

To complement the annual ratings list, Trust for Public Land also released a groundbreaking special report highlighting many creative ways that cities are using parks to resist the effects of climate change and reduce park inequity. The report shares case studies describing how areas as different as Des Moines and inland Los Angeles are using parks to filter stormwater. It also profiles coastal cities that are leveraging parks to resist rising sea levels. 

PARKSCORE RANKINGS FOR 2022 

Washington, DC, was rated the best big city park system in the country for the second consecutive year. The city scored well on all ParkScore rating factors. Twenty-four percent of land in the District of Columbia is reserved for parks, among the highest in the United States. The District also outperformed on ParkScore’s park access and park equity metrics. Washington, DC, neighborhoods where a majority of residents identify as Black, Latino, Indigenous and Native American, or Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are equally likely to live within a 10-minute walk of a park as neighborhoods where a majority of residents are white. Park space per capita is also distributed nearly equally in Washington, DC.   

By contrast, among all ParkScore cities, neighborhoods where most residents identify as people of color have access to an average of 43 percent less park space than predominately white neighborhoods. Residents in low-income neighborhoods have access to 42 percent less park space than residents in high-income neighborhoods. 

“We know that Washingtonians in every part of DC want access to parks and outdoor spaces where they can play, relax, exercise, and socialize – and that’s what we’re focused on delivering,” said DC Mayor Muriel Bowser. “I’m grateful for the teams who work every day to operate and maintain our parks. We want to spread the word: in addition to all the history and culture in DC, we also have the number one park system in the nation, and that’s just one more reason for people to visit Washington, DC.” 

Cincinnati climbed significantly in the ParkScore rankings, rising from 8th position last year to 4th in 2022. Cincinnati’s rise was caused mostly by moves to allow residents to use school playgrounds after hours and on weekends. The Queen City’s embrace of community schoolyards is part of a large-scale trend, leading to record ParkScore marks for playground access nationwide. On average, ParkScore cities now offer 2.8 playgrounds per 10,000 residents, a 37 percent increase over 2012.  

Trust for Public Land has been working hard to accelerate adoption of Community SchoolyardsTM as a game-changing solution to America’s park equity problem. In a 2021 research analysis, the organization estimated that opening all public schoolyards to local residents during non-school hours would reduce inequity and give 19.6 million Americans, including 5.2 million children, access to park space within a 10-minute walk of their homes. 

Other major ParkScore movers this year include Atlanta (+22 spots to 27th), Honolulu (+14 to 43rd), Baton Rouge (+11 to 67th), Des Moines (+10 to 25th) and San Jose (+10 to 26th). San Francisco and Boston remain the only ParkScore cities where 100 percent of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park or other public open space. 

Boise, Idaho, defended its title as the best park system for dogs, with a nation-leading 6.7 dog parks per 100,000 residents, narrowly beating Portland, Ore., and Henderson, Nev. Irvine, Calif., received top marks for basketball hoops, Las Vegas scored best for playgrounds, and Boston earned top marks for splashpads and other water features.  

PARK ADVOCATES CALL FOR ACTION TO BOLSTER PARK BUDGETS 

Park spending was virtually unchanged among ParkScore cities this year, and investment remains insufficient to maintain existing parks or meaningfully increase park access. In response to city funding crises during the COVID pandemic, many park systems stretched their budgets by deferring regular maintenance and leaving damaged park infrastructure in place, rather than providing needed replacements. The 46 ParkScore cities that shared detailed budget information with Trust for Public Land accumulated an estimated $8.5 billion in deferred maintenance costs—about double their total annual spending. 

“Talk to your city council members, state legislators, and representatives in Washington. Tell them you want more investment in parks, trees, trails, and other nature-based solutions, especially in neighborhoods that need them most. More well-planned, high-quality parks will bring joy to our communities, help people stay healthy, reduce documented equity gaps, and help prevent climate change-associated weather disasters,” said Bill Lee, Senior Vice President for Policy, Advocacy and Government Relations at Trust for Public Land.  

Community support for parks funding remains strong. A record 35 cities currently have voter-approved park bonds or other dedicated park funding sources in place, up from 24 in 2020.  

PARKSCORE METHODOLOGY AND RANKINGS 

The annual ParkScore index ranks park systems in the 100 most populous U.S. cities and is widely considered the “gold standard” for park evaluation. ParkScore rankings are based equally on five factors: 

  • Park equity compares per capita park space and 10-minute walk park access in communities of color vs. white communities and in low-income neighborhoods vs. high income neighborhoods. Park systems score higher if disparities are low or non-existent. 
  • Park access measures the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park. 
  • Park acreage is based on a city’s median park size and the percentage of city area dedicated to parks.  
  • Park investment measures park spending per resident.  
  • Park amenities assesses the availability of six popular park features: basketball hoops, off-leash dog parks, playgrounds, “splash pads” and other water play structures, recreation and senior centers, and restrooms.  

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

Rank City ParkScore (Max: 100)  

  1. Washington, DC        84.9 
  2. St. Paul, MN            79.7 
  3. Arlington, VA           79.1 
  4. Cincinnati, OH        78.9
  5. Minneapolis, MN     78.6  
  6. Chicago, IL               76.8 
  7. San Francisco, CA     76.7 
  8. Irvine, CA                 76.6 
  9. Seattle, WA.            76.2 
  10. New York, NY         75.5 

The ParkScore index uses advanced GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and spatial analysis to evaluate 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.  

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.  

About Trust for Public Land  

Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit that works to connect everyone to the benefits and joys of the outdoors. As a leader in equitable access to the outdoors, TPL works with communities to create parks and protect public land where they are needed most. Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 3 million acres of public land, created more than 5,000 parks, trails, schoolyards, and iconic outdoor places, raised $84 billion in public funding for parks and public lands, and connected more than 9 million people to the outdoors. To learn more, visit tpl.org.