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Feature Story

May 2015


Minneapolis, St. Paul Top ParkScore Index

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The cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul tied for first place on The Trust for Public Land's 4th annual ParkScore index, with each city earning a perfect 5 "park bench" rating from the nonprofit organization.

St. Paul was included in the ParkScore rankings for the first time in 2015, as the index expanded from the 60 largest cities in the United States to the 75 largest. (St. Paul is the 66th largest U.S. city, according to the Census Bureau.) Minneapolis is ParkScore's defending champion and retained its title for the third consecutive year. Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New York and Portland, Ore., round out the top six.

"Our goal is for every American to live within a 10-minute walk of a park, and ParkScore is a good snapshot of how America's largest cities are doing in meeting that goal," said Will Rogers, president of the Trust for Public Land.

"You can't have a great city without great parks," said Adrian Benepe, senior vice president and director of City Park Development for TPL. "Parks provide places for children and adults to be physically active, and they serve as community meeting places where friendships are built and a sense of community is strengthened."

ParkScores are based equally on three factors: Park Access, which measures the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park (approximately one-half mile); Park Size, which is based on a city's median park size and the percentage of total city area dedicated to parks; and Facilities and Investment, which combines park spending per resident with the availability of four popular park amenities. The park amenities evaluated by ParkScore are: basketball hoops, off-leash dog parks. Playgrounds, and recreation & senior centers. The addition of basketball, dog parks and recreation & senior centers was the most significant change to the ParkScore system in 2015. ParkScore champions Minneapolis and St. Paul scored strongly on all rating factors. In Minneapolis, 95 percent of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, nearly equal to St. Paul's 96 percent. Minneapolis outranked St. Paul for median park size (6.8 acres vs. 3.7), but St. Paul came out ahead on park facilities, significantly outscoring Minneapolis for basketball hoops and playgrounds.

Among the 75 cities evaluated by ParkScore, San Francisco provides the greatest park access, with 99 percent of residents living within a 10-minute walk of park. Phoenix, ranked at 36, took the title for park size, but its overall ranking was hurt by low marks for park access and park facilities. Seventh-ranked Cincinnati debuted on the ParkScore index this year and led all ParkScore cities on facilities. However, Cincinnati's overall ranking was hurt by slightly below average scores for median park size.

In addition to Cincinnati, several of the 15 new ParkScore cities had strong debuts in 2015. Plano finished in 17th. Henderson, Nev., tied for 19th; and Lincoln, Neb., Pittsburgh, Pa., and Anchorage, Alaska tied for 24th. However, no city could match St. Paul's historic debut atop the ParkScore index.

ParkScore uses advanced GIS (geographic information system) computer mapping technology to create digital maps evaluating park accessibility, making it the most realistic assessment system available. Instead of simply measuring distance to a local park, ParkScore's GIS technology takes into account the location of park entrances and physical obstacles to access. For example, if residents are separated from a nearby park by a major highway, ParkScore does not count the park as accessible to those residents (unless there is a bridge, underpass or easy access point across the highway.

In addition to the one-to-five park bench summary rating, ParkScore features an in-depth website that local leaders can use as a roadmap to guide park improvement efforts. The website, http://parkscore.tpl.org. provides extensive data and analysis and pinpoints the neighborhoods where parks are needed most critically. The website includes interactive maps of each ParkScore city that allows users to zoom in and study park access on a block-by-block basis.

The 10 highest ranking city park systems in the United States are:

  1. Minneapolis
  2. St. Paul, Minn.
  3. Washington, D.C.
  4. San Francisco
  5. New York
  6. Portland, Ore.
  7. Cincinnati
  8. Boston
  9. San Diego
  10. Seattle