The latest Park Score®, produced annually by the Trust for Public Land (TPL), was released this week and it remains a study in contrast.  The Park Score® is a comprehensive index that assesses how well America’s largest cities meet their community’s park needs.  TPL is the nation’s largest non-profit organization focused on the creation and improvement of neighborhood parks, with over 30 offices across 25 states.

This year, the 75 most populous American cities (up from 60 in 2014) were rated with a maximum score potential of 100.  Informing the overall score is an index that looks at three key park characteristics:

1.     Acreage - based on median park size and park acreage as a percentage of the overall city area

2.     Facilities and Investment - based on total spending per resident and an average per-capita provision of four key facilities - basketball hoops, dog parks, playgrounds, and recreation and senior centers

3.     Access - based on the percentage of the population living within a ten-minute (1/2 mile) walk of a public park. The half-mile is defined as entirely within the public road network and uninterrupted by physical barriers such as highways, train tracks, rivers, and fences.

At the top of this year’s overall list are the twin cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, earning a score of 84. Close behind are Washington, D.C. (81), San Francisco (77.5), New York City (76.5) and Portland, OR (76.5).  In the middle of the pack are Las Vegas (56), St. Louis (56), Phoenix (55), and Cleveland (54).  Bringing up the rear for the third straight year are Louisville (32), Indianapolis (32), Charlotte (31), and Fresno (31). See the full ranking here.

The access index, while only one of the three measures, is the most interesting to us, and also the one that might tie the most to the connectedness and cohesiveness of a city’s neighborhoods. According to TPL, the nationwide percentage of residents living within a ten-minute walk of a public park ranges from 27% to 99%, with a median of 71%.  At the head of the class in this area are San Francisco (99%), New York City (97%), Washington, D.C. (97%), and St. Paul (96%).  The lowest scores are in San Antonio (34%), Louisville (34%), Jacksonville (34%), Indianapolis (33%) and Charlotte (27%).

Keeping with the access index, there is an obvious relationship between those cities with the highest densities and park accessibility via walking. The data, however doesn’t offer an easy excuse for those less dense, more sprawling cities that fail to deliver high scores on this measure. Relatively low-density cities like Kansas City (65%), and Virginia Beach (58%) are not performing terribly relative to the cities at the bottom of the list.

There is also a correlation between the amount of park spending and overall score.  The top three cities spend at least four times as much per resident than the three bottom cities.

Take some time to study TPL’s analysis and consider what it might mean for the quality of life in your city as it relates to the value you place on parks. Also, as you digest your city’s data, think about how you might use your vote, your influence, and your voice to ensure that next year, the Park Score® for the ‘ville or ‘burg that you call home is representative of the role you believe parks should play in making a great place.

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