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2011 City Park Facts Released: Urban Parks Grow as Employment Declines

The Trust for Public Land has released its most recent data on city park systems from across the country, showing that the 100 largest cities added more than 120 parks in the past year.

2011 City Park Facts

Despite aggregate increases in acreage and facilities across the U.S., many city park departments are struggling with funding shortages. Operational spending shrank by 0.6 percent overall, with close to half of cities experiencing cuts.  Full-time employee counts fell by 3.9 percent, a loss of 935 jobs nationwide. The impact on seasonal jobs was particularly severe, with a decrease of 11.04 percent, or more than 8,000 jobs. Overall though, the rate of employment cuts has slowed since the previous year, which witnessed a 7 percent drop in employment.

The 22,493 city parks profiled in the report serve 62 million urban residents with a wide array of facilities, including 419 public golf courses, 569 dog parks, 9,633 ball diamonds, 11,678 playgrounds, and 14,415 basketball hoops.

Budgets grew slightly overall, but not enough to sustain jobs or overcome increasing – and often deferred – maintenance costs. Peter Harnik, director of the Center for City Park Excellence, noted that “cities are still saddled with a reported $5.8 billion in deferred repairs and improvements.” That figure is only slightly smaller than the total parks expenditure of the 92 cities that provided financial data for FY 2009, which equaled $6.1 billion.

The enthusiasm for great parks among city dwellers hasn’t suffered. Nearly half the primary park and recreation agencies reported more than 1 million visits during the year, and 14 boasted more than 10 million annual visits. Topping the list were New York (123 million visits), San Diego (72.3 million), and Chicago (50 million). Park directors welcome this popularity, though heavy usership can also be a burden, with 1,261 parks categorized as “overused.”

Madison, Wisconsin has the most parks per capita, with 12.7 per 10,000 residents, followed by Cincinnati, St. Petersburg, Anchorage, and Buffalo. Madison also has more playgrounds per capita than any other city, with seven for every 10,000 residents. The next five are Virginia Beach, Corpus Christi, Cincinnati, and Norfolk.

For the set of cities which provided data in both FY 2009 and FY 2010, the only major facility type to decrease in number was swimming pools, dropping from 1,337 to 1,227.

There are almost 20,000 community garden plots in the parks of the 100 largest cities. Despite being two of the coldest cities, St. Paul, Minnesota and Madison, Wisconsin were tops in the number of garden sites per 10,000 residents, with 35.6 and 32.9, respectively.

Spread-out cities such as Anchorage and Albuquerque usually offer the most park acreage per resident. Older, denser cities that still manage to offer residents large swaths of open space include Minneapolis (13.3 acres per 1,000 residents), Oakland, Washington, D.C., and Seattle. But operating quality parkland in dense cities does not come cheap – Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., and Seattle each spent $200 or more per resident, compared to a median of $84.

Read the entire 2011 City Park Facts report here.

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2 Responses

  1. The data for Lexington, Ky.cannot be considered correct.

    The City covers the entirety of Fayette County since we are an Urban County Government. Your data indicates that the State of Kentucky owns only 19 acres of park land, but they actually own better than 1184 acres in the Kentucky Horse Park which considered one of the finest parks in the country. The State also owns 2 other parks, which leads me to question the rest of your figures.

  2. Thanks for your interest in our Lexington data. We collect information for the entirety of Fayette County via an annual survey which is administered to the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Division of Parks and Recreation, as well as the Kentucky Department of Parks.

    I suspect that the Kentucky Horse Park was excluded by the Kentucky Department of Parks because the property is technically owned by the State’s Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet (according to the Park’s website). Otherwise, it may have been excluded because it is somewhat of an anomaly in terms of urban parks – the park charges for admission, much of the land is fenced off for horse pasture, and some of the property is dedicated to stadium use, which we normally don’t count.

    That said, the property surely provides many benefits to the area’s residents, and we will look into including at least a portion of the land for next year’s report.

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