Trust for Public Land maintains a comprehensive database of local parks in nearly 14,000 cities, towns and communities. We used census-defined urban areas to define where to collect and create local data for cities, towns, and communities. We obtained geographic boundaries from the US Census Places geospatial dataset, and associated population estimates are derived from Esri’s 2021 U.S. demographic estimates. We attempted to contact each city, town and community with a request for their parks data. If no GIS data was provided, we created GIS data for the place based on available resources, such as park information from municipal websites, GIS data available from counties and states, and satellite imagery.
Cities, towns, and communities were then emailed a link to view the park data compiled in their area to verify the boundaries and attributes of the parks in the database through our custom web-based ParkReviewer™ application.
Parks data for the 100 largest cities are updated annually, and parks data for all other cities are based on submission to the ParkReviewer and updated monthly upon verification.
The 10-minute walk
For each park, we create a 10-minute walkable service area 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 walk service areas, we generated overall access statistics for each park, place, and urban area included in the database, and then further disaggregated by several demographic variables – race/ethnicity, age, and income. In communities with an exceptionally small number of block groups, 10-minute walk demographic calculations are not available.
All calculated population statistics are based on 2021 US Census Block Group estimates provided by Esri.
Park priority areas
All populated areas in a city that fall outside of a 10-minute walk of a park are assigned a level of priority, based on a comprehensive index of six equally weighted demographic and environmental metrics. These areas are census block groups from which we remove unpopulated areas and erase the 10-minute walk service areas. Then the metrics below are calculated for each block group, normalized relative to each city, and averaged to create the park priority.
- Population density*
- Density of low income households*—which are defined as households with income less than 75% of the urban area median household income
- Density of people of color*
- Community health—a combined index based on the rate of poor mental health and low physical activity from the 2020 CDC PLACES census tract dataset
- Urban heat islands—surface temperature at least 1.25 degrees greater than city mean surface temperature from Trust for Public Land, based on 2021 Landsat 8 satellite imagery
- Pollution burden—Air toxics respiratory hazard index from 2020 EPA EJScreen
*Based on 2021 US Census Block Groups provided by Esri
Heat-risk priority zones
In May 2022, we released the heat-risk priority zones. These areas highlight where urban heat islands coincide with high density of people outside a 10-minute walk of a park. For each city, the park priority area block groups that are in the top two quintiles for heat AND the top two quintiles for population density were extracted, then merged into contiguous areas. The top five of these areas with the highest population are labeled on the map, indicating where many people live without park access and are exposed to relatively high land surface temperatures. However, in some cities, there are fewer than five heat risk priority zones.
The mapping platform hosts a suite of data to visualize contextual information about communities and their parks:
- Park amenities: these crowd-sourced trails and playground data were retrieved from Open Street Map (OSM) in March of 2022 and clipped to ParkServe® park boundaries. Trail data were augmented with USGS transportation trails data from March 2022.
- Demographics: block groups are shown with a range of values relative to each urban area. Two datasets provide a set of context information:
- Percent low income households (<75% urban area income), percent people of color, percent children (under age 19), percent seniors (over 65, and population density are created from Esri 2021 demographic block groups
- Percent adults with less than high school education and percent people living in linguistically isolated households are provided by 2020 EPA EJScreen.
- Health: the 2021 CDC PLACES dataset by census tract is used to show the prevalence of the two metrics described below, with values shown relative to the urban area.
- Poor mental health: Respondents aged ≥18 years who report 14 or more days during the past 30 days during which their mental health was not good.
- Lack of physical activity: Respondents aged ≥18 who answered “no” to the following question: “During the past month, other than your regular job, did you participate in any physical activities or exercises such as running, calisthenics, golf, gardening, or walking for exercise”
- Trust for Public Land’s 2021 Urban Heat Island dataset shows where Landsat 8 satellite imagery thermal reflectance values are hotter than 1.25 degrees over the average of the whole boundary (city/town, or urban area).
- EPA EJScreen NATA respiratory hazard index metric is based on the 2014 National Air Toxics Assessment
- Schools: Schoolyards across the country are a great opportunity to expand 10-minute walk park access through joint-use agreements to ensure they are open to the community after school hours. School locations from the National Center for Education Statistics 2020-2021 school year and their 10-minute walk service areas can be turned on to see how they could serve populations that currently do not have access to a park within a 10-minute walk.
- ParkScore® Index—park equity measures: For the 100 largest cities, this analysis shows the disparity in the amount of nearby park space per person in different communities according to race and income.
- Race: block groups in the highest quintile of percent people of color or percent white population, relative to the city. The metrics for people and neighborhoods of color reflect each of the Census-designated race/ethnicity groups: Black, Hispanic, Indigenous and Native American, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, multiple races, and other communities of color. All population statistics are based on 2020 US Census Block Group estimates provided by Esri.
- Income: block groups in the highest quintiles of percent low-income households or percent high-income households. Low-income households are defined as <75% urban area income, high-income is >125% urban area income. Data provided by Esri Census Block Groups.
- Park acres per person: calculated based on the available park space (acres) within a 10-minute walk of each census block group.
- The median park acres per person was compared between the race and income neighborhoods described above to determine park acreage disparity in the 2022 ParkScore® Index.
Frequently asked questions
How can I use the ParkServe® database to learn about my city’s park system?
ParkServe can help you visualize your city’s park system and inform decisions by identifying areas most in need of a new park. You can access the ParkServe landing page at www.tpl.org/parkserve. Here, you can search for your city and view your city’s unique profile page. Listed on each city profile page you can find:
- 10-minute walk park access statistics
- A demographic breakdown by age, race, and income of populations within a 10-minute walk of a park
- The percent of city land used for parks and recreation
- The number of parks in your city
- A link to the web map for your city
Please note: If you are not seeing 10-minute walk demographic breakdowns on a city’s profile page, it is either because the city you have chosen has no parks, or there is not enough demographic data available to us to provide reliable statistics.
How do we define a park?
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 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
What tools exist to aid in park planning?
The ParkServe® mapping application is a great way to pinpoint specific areas in need of publicly accessible greenspace. To explore the map click on “See [city]’s Map.” You will be redirected to the mapping application where you can view:
- The location of all parks and greenspaces within the city
- Areas located within a 10-minute walk service area of those parks
- Neighborhoods outside of a 10-minute walk to a park, prioritized using the “Park priority areas” description above.
In addition to viewing this data in the city profile page and web map, you can also export a 2-page PDF that provides a map of the entire community, as well as the 10-minute walk access statistics for the area of interest broken down by age, income, and race. You will find this option as you scroll below your city’s map to view the city-level report.
Lastly, the ParkServe mapping application provides a tool called ParkEvaluator™ to assist in city planning. This tool allows users to draw new parks and/or trails within a selected city and run an analysis to view how these parks affect the city’s park access statistics. This is a great resource for planning and visualizing how the addition of new parks might impact your community. For detailed instructions on how to use the tool, see this document.
How can I add missing parks or submit edits to the data?
If while looking through your city’s ParkServe® data page and city map you notice that there is data missing such as a new park, we want to know! In the mapping application, you will see a white box with blue highlights in the bottom left hand corner that reads “Are we missing a park? Tell us!”
By clicking on this you will be given two options: To leave a general comment or question for us to answer, or to edit your city’s park data. If you choose to edit your city’s park data, you will be directed to a mapping application, the ParkReviewer™. Here you can submit edits to us directly, and after a review by our team, they will be published to the ParkServe platform. Details on using the ParkReviewer can be found in the help menu in the upper right corner of the ParkReviewer application.