Minneapolis Repeats as Nation’s Best Park System

Posted on May 23, 2018

Minneapolis has the best park system in the United States, according to The Trust for Public Land’s 7th annual ParkScore® index, which was released today by the nonprofit organization. 

Minneapolis narrowly edged Saint Paul to earn top honors. A different regional rivalry claimed third and fourth place, as Washington, DC, barely outscored Arlington, Virginia, to hold on to third. In another big move, Chicago cracked the top 10 for the first time in ParkScore history. 

“We’re honored by the top ranking for the sixth year in a row! My motto is ‘playing for life’ and parks are a vital resource for youth, adults and families throughout the city. We are committed to serving the diverse needs of our residents, and we’re proud of the initiatives we’ve taken to continually assess and improve our park facilities and the services we provide the community,” said Mary Merrill, Superintendent of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. 

“Minneapolis will always be a great city in a park. From quality of life, to safe recreational space, to tourism—our parks are critical to who we are as a city. I’m thrilled that our park system continues to earn accolades. We have world class parks and the world is taking notice,” added Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. 

“Saint Paul is excited to be recognized again as a world-class park city,” said Mayor Melvin Carter. “We are proud of what we have achieved and are grateful for the partnership we have built with the Trust for Public Land. I believe that parks play an important role in both social and environmental resilience and am glad that the Twin Cities have set a high standard for what a successful park system looks like.” 

THE DETAILS: 

This year, ParkScore rankings are based equally on four factors: Park Access, which measures the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park; Park Acreage, which is based on a city’s median park size and the percentage of total city area dedicated to parks; Park Investment, which measures park spending per resident; and Park Amenities, which counts the availability of six popular park features: basketball hoops, off-leash dog parks, playgrounds, “splashpads” and other water play structures, recreation and senior centers, and restrooms. 

The addition of restrooms and splashpads to the Park Amenities rating factor is a significant update and improvement for ParkScore in 2018. The index also now includes volunteer hours and charitable contributions in its calculation of parks spending, providing a ranking boost to cities whose residents strongly support their park systems. 

ParkScore champion Minneapolis scored well on all ParkScore rating factors. In Minneapolis, 97 percent of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, and 15 percent of city area is reserved for parks. Saint Paul outscored Minneapolis for park amenities but fell to second overall because of its smaller median park size (3.2 acres vs. 5.7 acres). Fifth place San Francisco remains the only city with 100 percent 10-minute park access. 

Minneapolis and Saint Paul also benefitted from the addition of restrooms to the ParkScore index. Saint Paul leads the nation by providing 10.5 restrooms per 10,000 residents, compared to Minneapolis’ 6.8. The national ParkScore average is 2.4 

Among the largest 100 ParkScore cities, public spending on parks reached $7.5 billion in 2018, a $429 million increase over the previous year. This additional funding contributed to a slight increase in park access overall. According to The Trust for Public Land, 70 percent of residents in ParkScore cities live with a 10-minute walk (or a half-mile) of a park, up from 69 percent last year. 

The national nonprofit organization is leading a movement to put a park or natural area within a 10-minute walk of every U.S. resident. More than 200 mayors have endorsed the 10-minute goal.

"The research is clear: quality, close-to-home parks are essential to communities. Everyone deserves a great park within a 10-minute walk of home," said Diane Regas, President and CEO of The Trust for Public Land. "These rankings are the gold-standard for park access and quality, and empower people to hold their leaders accountable.”

Charlotte settled at the bottom of the ParkScore list, ranking just below Fresno, CA, Mesa, AZ, and Hialeah, FL. Fort Wayne and Indianapolis declined to participate in ParkScore 2018 and were not ranked. Gilbert, AZ, was not ranked because the necessary data was unavailable. 

Boise successfully defended its title as the best park system for dogs, with a nation-leading 6.7 dog parks per 100,000 residents. Norfolk, VA received top marks for basketball hoops, Madison scored best for playgrounds, and Cleveland edged out New York for splashpads and water features. 

“High quality parks make cities healthier in nearly every way. Proximity to parks increases physical activity levels among children and adults, reducing risk for obesity, diabetes, and other serious health conditions. Parks also help clean the air, mitigate the risk of storm damage, build relationships among neighbors, and contribute to economic growth,” said Adrian Benepe, senior vice president and director of city park development for The Trust for Public Land. 

According to The Trust for Public Land, the 10 highest-ranking park systems in the United States are:

Rank City                   ParkScore (Max: 100)

1. Minneapolis, MN      84.2

2. Saint Paul, MN        82.4

3. Washington, DC      81.9 

4. Arlington, VA          81.6 

5. San Francisco, CA   79.6 

6. Portland, OR           78.3 

7. Cincinnati, OH         78.2 

8. Chicago, IL             76.1 

9. New York, NY          74.8 

10. Irvine, CA             73.4 

 

ParkScore uses advanced GIS (Geographic Information Systems) computer mapping technology to create digital maps evaluating park accessibility. Instead of 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. The Trust for Public Land collaborated with GIS industry leader Esri on GIS design and implementation. 

Municipal leaders can use ParkScore-generated maps to guide park improvement efforts, studying park access on a block-by-block basis and pinpointing the areas where new parks are needed most. The website is free and available to the public, empowering local residents to hold their elected leaders accountable for achieving equitable access to quality parks for all.