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Web Exclusive - September 2018

Who Has the Best Parks?

By Dave Ramont


The Trust for Public Land (TPL) creates parks and protects land for people, with the goal of having a park or natural area within a 10-minute walk of every U.S. resident. Recently the organization released its seventh annual ParkScore Index, which ranks park systems in the 100 largest U.S. cities. And for the third straight year, Minneapolis has taken top honors as the best park system in the nation.

According to the study, 70 percent of residents in these cities live within a 10-minute walk, or half-mile, of a park. That number is one percentage point higher than last year. Additionally, public spending on parks in these cities increased by $429 million over last year, reaching $7.5 billion in 2018.

Four factors are given equal consideration when determining the ParkScore rankings: park investment, measuring spending per resident; park acreage, which looks at the total city area set aside for parks; park access, which considers the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park; and park amenities. The final factor involves tallying the number of six different park features, including playgrounds, off-leash dog parks, basketball hoops, and senior and recreation centers. New to the 2018 amenities list are restrooms and water play structures such as splash pads. Also new to the ParkScore index is the addition of charitable contributions and volunteer hours in the calculation of parks spending.

San Francisco was the only city with a 100 percent 10-minute park access rating, but their overall score of 79.6 landed them in fifth place. Winner Minneapolis had 97 percent of residents living within a 10-minute walk, and an overall rating of 84.2. Second through fourth place overall went to St. Paul, Minn.; Washington, D.C.; and Arlington, Va., respectively. Sixth through tenth place went to Portland, Ore.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Chicago; New York; and Irvine, Calif.

The last place city, with an overall rating of 25.0, was Charlotte, N.C. The next lowest ratings belonged to Mesa, Ariz.; Hialeah, Fla.; Fresno, Calif.; and Laredo, Texas.

Cleveland claimed top honors for water features, Norfolk, Va., boasted the most basketball hoops, Madison, Wis., scored highest for playgrounds and Boise, Idaho had the most dog-friendly park system, with 6.7 dog parks per 100,000 residents.

Around the same time, the 2018 finalists were also announced for the National Gold Medal Awards, selected by the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration (AAPRA) and the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) and sponsored by Musco Lighting LLC. The Awards program honors communities that "demonstrate excellence in parks and recreation through long-range planning, resource management, volunteerism, environmental stewardship, program development, professional development and agency recognition." Four finalists are chosen in each class to compete for top honors, which will be announced at the NRPA Annual Conference in Indianapolis, September 25-27.

The four finalists in Class l, encompassing cities with populations of 400,000 and over, are park districts in Baton Rouge, La.; Louisville, Ky.; Minneapolis; and Lake Worth, Fla.

Class ll finalists, with populations of 150,000 to 400,000, include the communities of Arlington, Va.; Arlington, Texas; Tampa, Fla.; and Beaverton, Ore.

Populations of 75,000 to 150,000 are represented in Class lll, with the finalists including Bloomington, Ind.; Evanston, Ill.; Greeley, Colo.; and Lawrence, Kan.

Class lV honors those with populations of 30,000 to 75,000, with finalists including Centerville, Ohio; Waukesha, Wis.; Lombard, Ill.; and Castle Rock, Colo.

Finally, Class V considers those communities with less than 30,000 residents, and the finalists are Glencoe, Ill.; Flossmoor, Ill.; Williston, N.D.; and Windsor, Colo.

A sixth class honors those in armed forces recreation, and this year's finalists include Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan; Naval Air Station Pensacola in Pensacola, Fla.; Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine; and United States Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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