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What is a city park?

We get this question a lot, and there are a lot of meanings people use or perceive. For the The Trust for Public Land’s survey of city park systems, the general answer is that a park is anything set aside for the public from natural areas to plazas to trails to neighborhood parks. Taken all together, these are park systems – and that is what we are surveying, an entire network of public spaces. So naturally, there’s a lot of variation from city to city. In some places, one agency may own almost 100 percent of this land within the city’s boundary. In others, there are multiple agencies from local to national entities. This could include the city park agency (e.g. Minneapolis Park Board), another local agency (Port of San Diego) a county (Milwaukee County), a state park system (Liberty State Park in Jersey City) or a national park/historic site (Fort McHenry in Baltimore). Here’s at how it works in a couple of cities that start with the letter “C”:

Chicago Total Acres: 11,860
Chicago Park District, 7,557
Forest Preserve District of Cook County (within Chicago), 3,690
Illinois Dept of Natural Resources (within Chicago), 613

Cincinnati Total Acres: 6,817
Cincinnati Park Board, 4,874
Cincinnati Recreation Commission, 1,476
Hamilton County Park District (within Cincinnati), 464
William Howard Taft National Historic Site (Cincinnati), 3

Charlotte/Mecklenburg Total Acres: 17,982
Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation (Charlotte), 17,982

Cleveland Total Acres: 3,127
Cleveland Dept of Parks, Recreation & Properties, 1,490
Cleveland Metroparks (within Cleveland), 1,058
Cleveland Lakefront State Park, 579

In most cities, there’s a city agency that owns most of the land. In Chicago, it’s the Park District and in Charlotte its Mecklenburg County. In Cincinnatti, there are two city agencies – one for recreation and one for parks. Then there’s the other agencies in many cities with smaller land holdings. Examples are the Forest Preserve District in Chicago and the Cleveland Lakefront State Park, which straddles Lake Erie near downtown. So, you can see the wide variety of agencies and structures that make up urban park systems. Here’s a full list (pdf) of the nation’s largest 77 cities and their park system breakdowns.

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