Washington, D.C., Park System Ranks as Nation’s Best

Trust for Public Land announced that Washington, D.C., was rated the nation’s best big-city park system by the 2024 ParkScore index. The ParkScore index evaluates park systems in the 100 largest U.S. cities. Minneapolis took second place, and St. Paul, Minn., ranked third, while Irvine, Calif., matched its highest-ever ranking to finish in fourth place.

Accompanying the annual ratings list, Trust for Public Land published new research that shows residents of cities with high ParkScore rankings are, on average, more socially connected and engaged with their neighbors than residents of cities with lower-ranking park systems. The report, “The Power of Parks to Strengthen Community,” found that residents of cities ranking in the top quarter of the ParkScore index are 60% more likely to volunteer than residents of lower-ranking cities. Residents of higher-ranking cities are also 26% more likely to form friendships with people in different socioeconomic groups. A strong body of research indicates that relationships crossing income divides increase economic mobility and reduce inequality. Social connections also lead to better physical and mental health.

The report details many strategies used by civic leaders to facilitate social connection at parks, including hosting movie nights and other gatherings at public recreation centers, sponsoring arts and fitness classes, and supporting voter registration drives. The research is based on nearly 900 examples shared by city park leaders.

“Park leaders are stepping up to promote community connection and address the national epidemic of loneliness and social isolation,” said Diane Regas, president and CEO of Trust for Public Land. “By mixing tried-and-true strategies like fitness classes and sports leagues with innovative ideas like intergenerational storytime, where senior volunteers share their favorite books with children, cities are finding creative ways to bring people together and strengthen community bonds. We’re impressed by what we’ve seen this year, and we will continue working with cities throughout the United States to support park access for all.”

The ParkScore index reported significant increases in park investment for 2023. Across all ParkScore cities, average park spending per resident increased to $124, up from last year’s $108, and reaching a ParkScore-era high. ParkScore reports investment per resident as a three-year moving average, so totals for 2023 are based on 2021-2023 city budgets. Trust for Public Land attributes the increased investment to heightened awareness among policymakers and local residents about the many ways parks serve as vital community infrastructure, especially during emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Local governments are also taking advantage of federal stimulus funding to launch major park projects. Previous research found that virtually every city included in the index leveraged parks as testing centers, personal protective equipment distribution hubs or emergency food service centers at the height of the pandemic. 

Washington, D.C., was rated the best big-city park system in the U.S. for the fourth consecutive year. The city scored well on all rating factors. Some 24% of land in Washington is reserved for parks, among the highest in the U.S. It also outperformed on the park access and park equity metrics. 

Irvine, Calif., continues to climb the ParkScore index rankings, finishing fourth for the second consecutive year and matching its all-time high. Irvine ranked eighth in 2022. Its surge is driven by significant increases in park investment, as the city continues progress toward creating its planned “Great Park” on the site of the former El Toro Marina Corps Air Station. 

Other major movers this year include Gilbert, Ariz. (up 33 to 67th place), Arlington, Texas (up 27 to 47th), Richmond, Va. (up 17 to 22nd), and Nashville, Tenn. (up 15 to 78th).

Boise, Idaho, defended its title as the best park system for dogs, with a nation-leading 7.6 dog parks per 100,000 residents, outscoring Portland, Ore., and Henderson, Nev. St. Paul, Minn., received top marks for basketball hoops, Las Vegas scored best for playgrounds, and Boston earned top marks for splash pads and other water features. 

According to Trust for Public Land, the 10 highest-ranking park systems in the U.S. (with their scores, out of a maximum of 100) were:

  1. Washington, D.C. (84.8)
  2. Minneapolis (82.5)
  3. St. Paul, Minn. (81.6)
  4. Irvine, Calif. (80.1)
  5. Arlington, Va. (79.2)
  6. Seattle (77.4)
  7. San Francisco (76.5)
  8. Cincinnati (75.8)
  9. Portland, Ore. (74)
  10. Chicago (71.8)

Learn more by visiting the ParkScore website, at www.tpl.org.parkscore