Across the United States 100 million residents don't have a park within a 10-minute walk of home.

The Trust for Public Land is leading a national campaign  to ensure that every person in America has access to a quality park within a 10-minute walk from home. The 10-Minute Walk analysis measures and analyzes current access to parks in cities, towns, and communities nationwide. Read more to find out how the analysis works.

The parks database

The Trust for Public Land built a comprehensive database of local parks in the nearly 14,000 cities, towns and communities. We used census-defined urban areas were used to define where to collect and create local data for cities, towns and communities. For each city, town and community, geographic boundaries were obtained from the US Census 2010 Places geospatial dataset and associated population estimates are derived from ESRI’s 2018 Demographic Forecasts. The team attempted to contact each city, town and community with a request for their parks data. If no GIS data was provided, the team 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.

Property eligibility criteria:

  • Publicly-owned local, state, and national parks, trails, and open space
  • School parks with a joint-use agreement with the local government. Considering the scale of the project, only the joint-use agreements collected through ParkScore® were used.
  • Privately-owned parks that are managed for full public use

Examples of property types not included:

  • Parks in gated communities
  • Private golf courses
  • Private cemeteries

The 10-minute walk

For each park, the team created 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, overall access statistics were generated 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 2018 US Census Block Group estimates provided by Esri. 

Park need 

All populated areas in a city that fall outside of a 10-minute walk service area are assigned a level of park need, based on a weighted calculation of three demographic variables from the 2018 Forecast Census Block Groups demographic data provided by Esri: 

  • Population density – weighted at 50% 
  • Density of children age 19 and younger – weighted at 25% 
  • Density of households with income less than 75% of the regional median household income – weighted at 25% 

To ensure a large enough sample size of demographic data for each analysis, park need weightings for smaller cities, towns and communities included data from nearby jurisdictions. 

Optimal locations for a new park 

For each city, town and community, we display up to 5 optimized locations where new parks could make a biggest impact on the 10-minute walk in that neighborhood. We create a 10-minute walk service area for all locations outside of a 10-minute walk of an existing park, and then each optimized location is ranked by the number of residents within a 10-minute walk that currently live outside of a 10-minute walk to a park. Cities and towns are provided up to 5 optimal locations, dependent on the amount of park need and the size of the community.

ParkScore®

For the 100 largest cities in the US, the Trust for Public Land developed the ParkScore® index. This index is the most comprehensive rating system ever developed to measure how well the 100 largest U.S. cities are meeting the need for parks. Cities are awarded points based on our analysis of four important characteristics of an effective park system: acreage, investment, amenities, and access. Cities can earn a maximum ParkScore® of 100.

ParkScore® provides in-depth data to guide local park improvement efforts.

Acreage

ParkScore® awards each city points for acreage based on two equally weighted measures: median park size and parkland as a percentage of city area. Factoring park acreage into each city's ParkScore® 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 conducted by The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence. We remove unpopulated railyard and airport areas from the baseline city land area.

Investment 

ParkScore® awards each city points for investment in their park system based on total spending per resident. 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. 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. 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.
  • Non-profit spending: this includes all spending by parks non-profits, 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 Independent Sector’s Value of Volunteer Time report, using the dollars per hour value for each state.

Amenities

ParkScore® awards each city points for the availability of six key park amenities on a per capita basis.

These are:

  • Basketball hoops
  • Off-leash dog parks
  • Playgrounds
  • Recreation and senior centers
  • Restrooms
  • Splashpads and spraygrounds

These six amenities were chosen because they are among the most popular in parks around the country, they serve all activity levels, desires, and ages of users, and are able to be accurately and fairly compared across all agencies.

Access 

ParkScore® awards each city points for access based on the percentage of the population living within a ten-minute (half-mile) walk of a public park. For each park, the team created 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, overall access statistics were generated for each ParkScore® city and then further disaggregated by several demographic variables – race/ethnicity, age, and income.

Scoring 

The scoring system recognizes the accomplishments of cities that have made significant investments in their parks without holding dissimilar cities to an unrealistic standard. It enables detailed analysis and allows cities to increase their ParkScore® through incremental improvements to different aspects of their park systems.

To determine a city’s ParkScore®, we assigned points in four categories: acreage, investment, amenities, and access. 

  • Acreage: 50 points for median park size, and 50 points for park acres as a percentage of city area for a total of 100 points 
  • Investment: 100 points for spending per resident 
  • Amenities: 100 points for the average of the six key amenity scores (basketball hoops, dog parks, playgrounds, recreation and senior centers, restrooms, and splashpads and spraygrounds) 
  • Access: 100 points for percentage of the population living within a walkable half-mile, ten-minute walk of a public park 

Points for each statistic are assigned by breaking the data range established by our national sample into brackets, with the lowest bracket receiving the least points and the highest bracket receiving the most points.

Each city’s total points—out of a maximum of 400—are then normalized to a ParkScore® of up to 100.

Outliers 

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 categories except access, which has no outliers.

 

Generous support for ParkServe® and ParkScore® has been provided by The JPB Foundation. The Trust for Public Land also thanks ESRI, all public agencies and city officials that provided data, especially those in the 100 ParkScore® cities, Async GIS, Giant Rabbit, TRW GeoServices Company, USGS, Unique Places LLC, Rocky Mountain Wild and Patricia Jenkins for making this work possible.

Who is the Trust for Public Land?

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, historic sites, and other natural places. We’re working with communities across the country to ensure that everyone lives within easy walking distance of a well-maintained park.

Explore tpl.org to learn more about our work.

Why are parks so important?

Close-to-home opportunities to exercise and experience nature are essential for our physical and mental well-being. Studies show that parks encourage physical activity, reduce crime, revitalize local economies, and help bring neighborhoods together.

Learn more about the benefits of parks.

What kind of park spending is considered in a city's ParkScore®?

ParkScore® 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 non-profit 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.

Does ParkScore® measure park quality?

Park quality is impossible to measure objectively, so there is no specific scoring factor for it. However, the factors that make up ParkScore® all reflect quality: good park systems need adequate acreage, services, investment, and access.

To learn more about what makes a quality park system, see The Trust for Public Land’s report, The Excellent City Park System: What Makes It Great and How to Get There.

What can I do to help improve park access in my city?

Get involved and stand up for parks! Urge elected officials to improve your city’s ParkScore®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.

Can a city improve its ParkScore®?

Yes. Every city can improve its ParkScore®. Even in tough economic times, park planners and advocates are finding innovative ways to increase acreage, boost access, and make smart investments in parks. The Trust for Public Land offers an array of services to help cities expand and improve their park systems.

Contact us for a consultation.

Parks can be expensive. Should cities prioritize acquiring land for new parks, even in tough budget years?

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® by adding new park entrances or creating safe routes around obstacles like waterways and busy streets.

Can I access previous years' rankings?

You can access past ParkScore® rankings here.

My city is not listed. Why? How do I get it included in ParkScore®?

The Trust for Public Land analyzed the park systems of the 100 most populous U.S. cities to create ParkScore®.

Check out ParkServe® where we've compiled park acreage and access information for nearly 14,000 cities, towns and communities across the U.S. You may find what you're looking for there!

Contact us to find out how to add your city to ParkScore®.