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City Park Facts: public agency spending

This information is gleaned from the new 2018 edition of City Park Facts, written and published by The Trust for Public Land in August 2018.  Download your copy today!

(We revised the public spending and total spending amounts, based on some corrections to data on September 7, 2018.)

This year saw an increase of 5 percent in public spending on city parks in the 100 largest cities, continuing a slight upward trend of the past five years. The combined public parks agencies reported a total of $7.4 billion in spending, up from the $7.1 billion that we reported in 2017. This trend is likely a result of department budgets being rebuilt slowly as cities recover from the Great Recession of 2008. The median figure that the 100 largest cities spend per resident on parks and recreation is $83, when looking at public and private spending combined, and $81 per person of public agency dollars.


Despite this recent good news, public agency budgets still face a particular set of financial challenges. Although budgets seem to be recovering, this process is slow. Agencies remain underfunded, a chronic reality of the country’s park systems. Furthermore, parks agencies are among the first departments to be cut in times of fiscal crisis, according to a 2017 study by Penn State University and the National Recreation and Parks Association.

Usually, increases are a result of more capital spending, rather than on operations, maintenance and programming. Spending on operations and maintenance has grown by about 3 to 5 percent annually over the past five years. Capital spending, on the other hand, varies widely, sometimes with as much as a 23 percent increase from one year to the next, as was the case from last year to this year. Capital budget increases indicate new and re-built park facilities and amenities, repairs to significant park infrastructure, and the acquisition of more parkland.

Even with increased capital spending, public agencies are often left to look for additional sustainable sources of operating revenue to help bolster daily operations and maintenance activities as well as programming. Operating dollars are what keep the grass mowed, the weeds pulled, and the trash cans emptied in parks across the country. And while there’s no argument that these tasks are crucial to keep parks and their cities beautiful and functional, the challenge to find enough sustainable operations and maintenance funds remains.



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