The ParkScore® index is the most comprehensive rating system ever developed to measure how well the 100 most-populous U.S. cities are meeting the need for parks.
Across the country, more than 100 million people—including 28 million kids—don’t have a park within a 10-minute walk of home. The ParkScore index provides in-depth data to make the case for park investment and guide local park improvement efforts.
The ParkScore index awards each city up to 100 points for acreage based on the average of two equally weighted measures: median park size and parkland as a percentage of city area. Factoring park acreage into each city’s ParkScore rating helps account for the importance of larger “destination parks” that serve many users who live farther than ten minutes’ walking distance.
- Median park size is calculated using park inventories acquired from park-owning agencies within each city.
- Parkland as a percentage of city area is calculated using data collected in an annual survey we conduct. We remove unpopulated railyard and airport areas as well as major bodies of water from the baseline city land area.
The ParkScore index awards each city up to 100 points for investment in its park system based on total spending per resident. To minimize the effect of annual fluctuations this is reported as a three-year average based on the most recently finalized fiscal year and the two prior. This figure is a sum of the following:
- Public spending: This includes capital and operational spending by all public agencies that own or manage parkland within the city limits, including federal, state, and county agencies. These figures only reflect agency spending on parks and recreation, however, and do not reflect the significant spending in other capacities that some park agencies are responsible for throughout their cities.
- Nonprofit spending: This includes all spending by parks nonprofits, conservancies, foundations, and “friends of” groups that work locally to improve a city’s parks. This information is collected through an annual survey of these groups and through filed Forms 990.
- Volunteer hours: This includes both hours worked for any public parks and recreation agency as well as through the above non-profit organizations. These hours are then monetized according to the Independent Sector’s Value of Volunteer Time report, using the dollars per hour value for each state.
The ParkScore index awards each city up to 100 points for the availability of six key park amenities on a per capita basis. These are:
- Basketball hoops
- Off-leash dog parks
- Recreation and senior centers
- Splashpads and spraygrounds
These six amenities were chosen because they are among the most popular in parks around the country. They represent a diverse selection of user groups (kids, teenagers, adults, seniors), serve all activity levels and desires, and are able to be accurately and fairly compared across all agencies.
The ParkScore index awards each city up to 100 points for access based on the percentage of the population living within a 10-minute (half-mile) walk of a public park. For each park, a 10-minute walkable service area was created using a nationwide walkable road network dataset provided by Esri. The analysis identifies physical barriers such as highways, train tracks, and rivers without bridges and chooses routes without barriers.
Using these 10-minute walkable service areas, overall access statistics are generated for each place, and then further disaggregated by several demographic variables – race/ethnicity, age, and income.
All calculated population statistics are based on 2021 US Census Block Group estimates provided by Esri.
The ParkScore index awards each city up to 100 points for equity based on the average of four equally weighted measures that compare the availability of nearby park space between neighborhoods within a city:
- On a per person basis, ratio of nearby public park space between neighborhoods of color and white neighborhoods
- On a per person basis, ratio of nearby public park space between low-income neighborhoods and high-income neighborhoods
- Percentage of people of color living within a 10-minute (half-mile) walk of a public park
- Percentage of low-income households living within a 10-minute (half-mile) walk of a public park
Nearby park space per person measures the available park space within a 10-minute walk of a micro-neighborhood (census block group, which is about 1,000 people), identified as those with the highest concentrations of people of color or white population and high-income or low-income households. The scoring ratio is calculated by comparing the median park space per person value, which helps account for outliers. The equity measures are designed to award points based on how well a city’s park resources are distributed, regardless of the city’s overall park acreage or access.
The metrics for people and neighborhoods of color reflect each of the Census-designated race/ethnicity groups: Black, Hispanic, Indigenous and Native American, Asian American, Pacific Islander, multiple races, and other communities of color. All population statistics are based on 2021 US Census Block Group estimates provided by Esri.
To prevent outliers from skewing the results, the top bracket for each measure includes all values equal to more than double the median of the data range. To control distortion from local anomalies, all cities that score more than double the median value are assigned to the highest bracket.
With the top bracket thus defined, the parameters for the remaining brackets are established so that each bracket comprises an equal portion of the remaining data range.
This protocol applies to all measures except those based on the 10-minute walk analysis (Access category and two of the four equity measures), which have no outliers because they range from 0 to 100.
PARK INCLUSION CRITERIA
In order to accurately represent park access across large communities, open public access is the key criteria for inclusion in our database. We include a wide variety of parks, trails, and open space, so long as there is no barrier to entry.
Examples of parks we include:
- Publicly owned local, state, and national parks, trails, and open space
- School parks with a joint-use agreement with the local government
- Privately owned parks that are managed for full public use
Examples of parks we don’t include:
- Parks in gated communities
- Private golf courses
- Private cemeteries
- School parks/playgrounds without active joint-use agreements
- Zoos, museums, professional sports stadiums
Note: Across all five categories, including the new equity measures, large water bodies are generally excluded from any acreage calculations to better compare across the 100 cities.
Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit that creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. We’re working with communities across the country to ensure that everyone has a great park within a 10-minute walk of home.
Explore our mission to learn more about our work.
We have analyzed data from more than 14,000 cities and towns across America to see who does and doesn’t have access to parks in this country. From this analysis, we know that more than 100 million people—including 28 million kids—don’t have a park within a 10-minute walk of home. We are working with communities nationwide to close the park equity gap and bring great parks to the people and neighborhoods that need them most.
The ParkScore index includes all capital and operational spending by all agencies that own parkland within the city limits, including federal, state, and county agencies. In addition, it includes capital and operational spending by nonprofit organizations such as conservations, foundations, and “friends of” groups, as well as additional dollars for monetized volunteer hours worked for both public agencies and private groups.
Park quality is impossible to measure objectively, so there is no specific scoring factor for it. However, the factors that make up the ParkScore index all reflect quality: good park systems need adequate acreage, services, investment, access, and equitable distribution.
To learn more about what makes a quality park system, see our report, The Excellent City Park System: What Makes It Great and How to Get There.
Get involved and stand up for parks! Urge elected officials to improve your city’s ParkScore ranking by supporting smart investments in parks. City leaders and park planners should review our detailed data to identify where new parks are needed most and which park improvements can deliver the greatest impact.
Yes. Every city can improve its ParkScore ranking. Even in tough economic times, park planners and advocates are finding innovative ways to increase acreage, boost access, and make smart investments in parks. We offer an array of services to help cities expand and improve their park systems.
Creating new parks is important, but acquiring land is only one of many strategies to improve park systems. In some cases, a city can increase its ParkScore ranking by adding new park entrances or creating safe routes around obstacles like waterways and busy streets.
You can access past ParkScore rankings here.
We analyze the park systems of the 100 most populous U.S. cities to create the ParkScore index.
Check out our ParkServe database where we’ve compiled park acreage and access information for nearly 14,000 cities, towns and communities across the US. You may find what you’re looking for there!
Contact us to find out how to add your city to the ParkScore index.