Recreation Management Rec Report - The Newsletter for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

June 2021

10th Annual ParkScore Index Names Washington, D.C., Best City Park System

The Trust for Public Land announced that Washington, D.C., was rated the nation's best park system on the annual ParkScore Index. The city edged ahead of St. Paul, Minn., followed closely by third-place Minneapolis, which held the top spot in 2020, and fourth place Arlington, Va. Washington's position was boosted by high marks for park equity.

The ParkScore index ranks park systems in the 100 largest U.S. cities. The 2021 edition reported that 75% of residents across all ParkScore cities live within a 10-minute walk of a park, the highest access score in the 10-year history of the Index.

Significant inequities were found in park space and distribution. Across all ParkScore cities, residents of neighborhoods where most people identify as Black, Hispanic and Latino, Indigenous and Native American, or Asian American and Pacific Islander have access to an average of 44% less park space per capita than residents of neighborhoods that are predominantly white. Residents of low-income neighborhoods have access to 42% less park space than residents of high-income neighborhoods.

"Parks are always essential to our communities, and they are even more valuable in times of crisis. During this extraordinary pandemic year, people relied on close-to-home parks, trails and open spaces to exercise and connect with nature more than ever. Parks also served as makeshift community centers for emergency services like food distribution, COVID testing and vaccine super-sites," said Diane Regas, president and CEO of The Trust for Public Land.

According to The Trust for Public Land, 57 of the 100 largest U.S. cities used parks for COVID testing, vaccination or PPE distribution centers during the past year, and 70 offered free meals at parks during the pandemic, underscoring their role as critical civic infrastructure.

For the first time in the study's 10-year history, the 2021 ParkScore index includes measures of park equity. The new equity measures were inspired by the national awakening on racial justice and TPL's longstanding commitment to equitable park access and quality. The data revealed significant disparities in park space across racial and economic lines.

"In a majority of ParkScore cities, white neighborhoods and high-income neighborhoods have a disproportionately higher share of park space," said Linda Hwang, TPL's director of innovation and strategy. "That's not right and it's not fair. The Trust for Public Land believes there should be a quality park within a 10-minute walk of home of every person in America, and we are committed to centering equity as we advocate for parks and open space in cities throughout the United States."

To complement the annual ratings list, The Trust for Public Land today released a groundbreaking report describing how parks are working to improve equity and address other problems facing cities. The report, Parks and an Equitable Recovery, found that across the 100 largest cities, there is a significant disparity in who has access to available park space, and the disparity falls across racial and economic lines. The report also details how parks are critical components of our recovery from the pandemic, economic recession, climate crisis and racial injustice.

According to the Trust for Public Land's 10th annual ParkScore index, Washington, D.C., has the best city park system in the country. The city reached the top spot partly because of strong performance on the rating system's new equity measures. In Washington, residents who identify as Black, Hispanic and Latinx, Indigenous and Native American, or Asian Americans and Pacific Islander are equally likely to live within a 10-minute walk of a park as white residents. Park space per capita is also distributed nearly equally in Washington.

"We already loved our parks, but over this past year, as Washingtonians have made it a priority to spend more time outside, we have developed an even greater appreciation for our ability to play and gather in beautiful outdoor spaces across DC," said Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser. "We're happy to be back in the number one spot, and we'll continue to make convenient access to world-class parks and playgrounds a priority for residents in all eight wards of DC."

The addition of park equity as a rating factor affected the rankings of many cities. Baltimore rose 28 places on the ParkScore index, from 58th in 2020 to 30th this year. Toledo, Ohio, rose 27 places, from 77th in 2020 to 50th this year. Newark, N.J., also jumped 27 spots to 42nd.

Twelfth-ranked Boston and sixth-place San Francisco remain the only ParkScore cities where 100% of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park or other public open space.

Boise defended its title as the best park system for dogs, with a nation-leading 6.3 dog parks per 100,000 residents, narrowly beating Portland, Ore. Irvine, Calif, received top marks for basketball hoops and Madison, Wis, scored best for playgrounds. Boston earned top marks for splash pads and other water features, beating out 2020-leader Cleveland.

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

  1. Washington, D.C.
  2. St. Paul, Minn.
  3. Minneapolis
  4. Arlington, Va.
  5. Chicago
  6. San Francisco
  7. Irvine, Calif.
  8. Cincinnati, Ohio
  9. Seattle
  10. Portland, Ore.

The ParkScore website,, is free and available to the public, enabling residents to hold their elected leaders accountable for achieving equitable access to quality parks for all.

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