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Lots of Parkland, Please – And Make it Nearby, Too!

New Report Ranks the Biggest Cities

Large amounts of parkland in cities is important, but equally vital is to have parks which are nearby and easily accessible to residents, according to the latest report by The Trust for Public Land (TPL).

In seven of the nation’s largest cities — New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. — nine out of 10 residents live within a one-half mile walk to a park, according to the report.

The annual City Parks Facts report, now available at http://cloud.tpl.org/pubs/ccpe-cityparkfacts-2012.pdf  is the nation’s most complete compilation of data about urban parks.  It is collected annually by TPL’s Center for City Park Excellence.

“It is not enough for a city to have a lot of park land if it can’t be easily reached,” said Peter Harnik, CCPE Director.  “These seven cities are among the best because they have parks which almost everyone can access.”

The absolute amount of urban parkland is also significant, and among the cities with the largest park acreage are Jacksonville, Houston, Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles. (First place goes to Anchorage, which contains gigantic Chugach State Park within its municipal border.)

But some cities, even those with a lot of parkland, are not laid out so that the land is well-located for residents’ easy access. These places include Charlotte, Jacksonville, Louisville, and Indianapolis.

“With electronic communications making work and workers increasingly mobile, choosing where to live may be based on quality of life factors, such as parks,” said Adrian Benepe, senior vice president and director of city park development for The Trust for Public Land.   “Parks and playgrounds and recreation facilities are linchpins of quality of life in most cities.”

In addition, City Park Facts 2012 tracks numerous comparative statistics, such as:

  • Spending on parks:  leaders include Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, Cincinnati and Minneapolis
  • Acres of parkland per capita:  leaders in the different population density groups are Anchorage, Fremont, Calif., San Jose, and Oakland.
  • Number of ball diamonds per capita:  leaders are St. Paul, Minn. (5.4 for every 10,000 residents), Minneapolis (5.1), Scottsdale, Ariz. (4.2), and Pittsburgh (4.2).
  • Number of off-leash dog parks per capita: Portland, Ore. (5.5 for every 100,000 residents), Norfolk (4.9), Las Vegas (4.3), Madison, Wis. (3.4)
  • Number of skateboard parks per capita: leaders are Chula Vista, Calif. (2.9 for every 100,000 residents), Colorado Springs (1.9), and Reno, Nev. (1.8).
  • Number of employees per capita: leaders are Seattle, Virginia Beach, Va., St. Petersburg, Fla., and Tampa.
  • Largest municipally-owned parks: South Mountain Preserve (16,094 acres) in Phoenix, McDowell Sonoran Preserve (16,000) in Scottsdale, Ariz., Cullen Park (9,270) in Houston
  • Oldest parks in the 100 largest cities: Boston Common, Boston (1634), Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia (1682), Battery Park, New York (1686), Military Park, Newark, N.J. (1697).
  • City parks with the most visitors: Central Park, New York (37.5 million), Lincoln Park, Chicago (20 million), Mission Bay Park, San Diego (16.5 million).
  • City Park Agencies that own the most land outside the city limits: Denver (14,221 acres), Albuquerque (10,884), Colorado Springs (6,811).

These and more are available in the report or in separately downloadable PDF and Excel files at http://cityparksurvey.tpl.org/reports.  There is no charge for any of this information.

Earlier this year, TPL launched its ParkScore project, which ranks the park systems of the nation’s 40 largest cities.  Using computerized mapping technology plus some data from City Park Facts, TPL gave highest rankings (4.5 “Park Benches” out of 5) to San Francisco and Sacramento.  (To see the full rankings, click here: http://cityparksblog.org/2012/05/23/what-is-your-citys-parkscore)

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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