Minneapolis is the nation’s best park system and cross-town Saint Paul ranked second, according to The Trust for Public Land’s 2017 ParkScore Index, which was released today by the nonprofit organization. Saint Paul ranked second in the analysis of the 100 largest cities in the United States.
The Twin Cities also finished 1-2 on the 2016 ParkScore index. Both cities held off a rising San Francisco, which climbed from #5 to #3, thanks to “joint use” agreements with local schools that expanded access to basketball courts and other park amenities. San Francisco also became the first city to have 100 percent of its residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park. Minneapolis has had joint use partnerships with local schools for decades, providing playgrounds and athletic fields on parkland in exchange for school gym use, which boosted its ParkScore slightly.
Park Scores are based on three factors: Park Access, which measures the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park (approximately ½-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: basketball hoops, off-leash dog parks, playgrounds, and recreation and senior centers.
In addition to ranking park systems in the 100 most populous U.S. cities, ParkScore also provides a one-to-five park bench rating summary that provides a snapshot of local parks. In 2017, three cities received the highest possible 5-bench rating: Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and San Francisco. Denver earned 3.5 park benches this year; Aurora received 4.0.
Minneapolis scored above average on all ParkScore rating factors. According to The Trust for Public Land, 97% of Minneapolis residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, and 15% of city area is reserved for parks. Second-place finisher Saint Paul matched Minneapolis’ mark for city area reserved for parks and was the slightest margin behind on park access (96% within a 10-minute walk). Median park size was the biggest difference between the cities, 6.5 acres for Minneapolis vs. 3.7 for Saint Paul. Minneapolis also outscored Saint Paul on dog parks per 100,000 residents (1.7 vs. 1.3).
Fresno shook up the bottom of the ParkScore rankings, vaulting from last year’s 97th to a tie for 90th place (with Hialeah and Jacksonville, FL). Fresno’s was one of the biggest moves in 2017, and resulted mostly from the creation of “joint use” agreements that open school playgrounds and athletic fields for public use after school hours and on weekends.
“Joint use of school facilities is a major national trend, and a very positive development. Keeping playgrounds and athletic fields open to the public when schools are closed helps cities significantly increase park access at relatively low cost. The Trust for Public Land enthusiastically supports joint use, but it does not replace the need for new park acquisition and open space preservation,” said Will Rogers, President of The Trust for Public Land.
“Everyone in America deserves to live within a 10-minute walk of a park. Parks are proven to improve physical and mental health, increase property values, and bring neighbors together to nurture the personal bonds that make our communities special,” said Charlie McCabe, Director of The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Parks Excellence.
“You can’t have a great city without a great park system,” said Adrian Benepe,Senior Vice President and Director of City Park Development for The Trust for Public Land. “Our top-ranked park systems are terrific, but all cities have room to improve. ParkScore is a tool that city leaders can use to guide park improvement, helping planners identify where they should focus their efforts, so more residents can live within a 10-minute walk of a well-planned and well-maintained park.”
“We’re honored by the top ranking for the fifth year in a row, but not resting on our laurels. We are working continuously to improve our parks. With the support of the city and the citizens of Minneapolis, this year we launched a monumental 20-year funding plan that provides an additional $11 million annually into our neighborhood parks. This provides improved maintenance at all 160 neighborhood parks, rehabilitation of facilities in critical need, and capital investments to replace aging playgrounds, pools, athletic fields, with a focus on first addressing parks in the most racially diverse and economically challenged areas of the city,” said Jayne Miller, Superintendent of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
“We are excited to again be recognized as one of the very top park systems in the nation, and are proud of the partnership we have with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and the work we do together, to ensure the Twin Cities set a high standard for parks and open space,” said Mike Hahm, Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Director. “People in the Twin Cities region love their neighborhood parks and trails, and our residents support investing in a system that meets their expectations for quality and services.”
According to The Trust for Public Land, the 10 highest-ranking park systems in the United States are:
Rank City Park Bench Summary Raw Score (Max 100)
1. Minneapolis 5.0 park benches 87.5
2. Saint Paul 5.0 park benches 82.5
3. San Francisco 5.0 park benches 80.0
4. Washington, DC 4.5 park benches 79.0
5. Portland, OR 4.5 park benches 77.5
6. Arlington, VA 4.5 park benches 76.5
7. Irvine (tie) 4.5 park benches 74.0
7. New York (tie) 4.5 park benches 74.0
9. Madison, WI 4.5 park benches 73.5
10. Cincinnati 4.0 park benches 71.5
The lowest-ranking park systems are:
90. Fresno (tie) 1.5 park benches 33.5
90. Hialeah, FL (tie) 1.5 park benches 33.5
90. Jacksonville, FL (tie) 1.5 park benches 33.5
93. Laredo, TX (tie) 1.5 park benches 32.5
93. Winston-Salem (tie) 1.5 park benches 32.5
95. Mesa, AZ 1.5 park benches 31.5
96. Louisville 1.5 park benches 31.0
97. Charlotte 1.0 park benches 29.0
98. Fort Wayne (tie) 1.0 park benches 28.5
98. Indianapolis (tie) 1.0 park benches 28.5
Gilbert, AZ was not ranked because the city did not provide parks data to The Trust for Public Land.
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). Esri and The Trust for Public Land collaborated on GIS design and implementation, helping to make ParkScore the most comprehensive park evaluation tool ever created.
Also, ParkScore features an in-depth website that local leaders can use as a roadmap to guide park improvement efforts. The website provides extensive data and analysis that pinpoints the neighborhoods where parks are needed most critically. The website includes interactive maps of each ParkScore city that allow users to zoom in and study park access on a block-by-block basis. The website is free and open to the public.