• Who We Are

    City Parks Blog is a joint effort of the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land and the City Parks Alliance to chronicle the news and issues of the urban park movement. Read more about us.
  • Urban Park Issues

  • Enter your email address to receive notifications of new City Parks Blog posts by email.

  • Archives

  • Urban Green Cover Ad

City Park Facts: The largest city parks

Many people often think of one of the most famous city parks, Central Park in New York City, as one the biggest. Nope.  Not even in the top 20 largest city parks.

The biggest city park in the 100 largest cities in the US is McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona, weighing in at 30,500 acres.


Photo by the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy

Below is a list of the top 18 city parks, along with links to their websites for additional information. (Note: if a park extends beyond the boundary of the city, only the acreage within the city is noted here.)

  1. McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale: 30,500 acres. [friends group: McDowell Sonoran Conservancy]
  2. South Mountain Preserve, Phoenix: 16,306 acres.
  3. Sonoran Preserve, Phoenix: 9,487 acres.
  4. Cullen Park, Houston: 9,270 acres.
  5. Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego: 6,932 acres.
  6. Jefferson Memorial Forest, Louisville: 6,218 acres.
  7. Lake Stanley Draper, Oklahoma City: 6,190 acres.
  8. Forest Park, Portland, Or: 5,172 acres. [friends group: Forest Park Forever]
  9. Lake Houston Wilderness Park, Houston: 4,787 acres.
  10. Shooting Range Park, Albuquerque: 4,596 acres.
  11. Eagle Creek Park, Indianapolis: 4,284 acres. [friends group: Eagle Creek Park Foundation]
  12. Griffith Park, Los Angeles: 4,282 acres.
  13. Loblolly Mitigation Preserve, Jacksonville: 4,201 acres.
  14. Mission Bay Park, San Diego: 4,108 acres.
  15. Far North Bicentennial Park, Anchorage: 3,924 acres. [friends group: Anchorage Park Foundation]
  16. Piestewa Park, Phoenix: 3,766 acres.
  17. Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge, Fort Worth: 3,630 acres.
  18. Rio Grande Valley State Park, Albuquerque: 3,186 acres.

City Parks Facts 2017 will be released on April 19, 2017 at www.tpl.org.

City Park Facts is a collaboration between the many city, county, state and nonprofit parks agencies and conservancies that work with us to submit their data and we appreciate your continued help and involvment. The staff of the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land works to present this information in a thorough yet easy-to-use format, and your feedback is important for future editions. You can contact us at ccpe@tpl.org

Follow our new twitter feed @CityParkFacts


Planning for the Urban Century

The 21st century will be an urban century.

In the urban century, cities that build and maintain great park systems will be great, livable cities. Those that do not will ultimately fall behind and be forced to catch up through retrofitting, a politically challenging and expensive process that is limited in terms of design and ecological outcomes.

Central Park under construction (Smithsonian Collection)

Central Park under construction. (Smithsonian)

Planning for the urban century requires a global revival of two critical concepts pioneered by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. in the 19th century, as the United States went through a similar shift of rural to urban migration that the rest of the world is experiencing today. Olmsted recognized that parks are city-shaping infrastructure, and like all forms of infrastructure, they work best when installed before the city grows. Central Park in New York, Olmsted’s most famous park, epitomizes this vision. It was built 30 blocks north of the edge of the city, but named Central Park, reflecting his confidence that the park would become the heart of the city.


Cherokee Park in Louisville, KY (Olmsted Online)

Fast forward almost half a century to Olmsted’s last design for a park system, in Louisville, KY. Olmsted had by this stage of his career firmly arrived at his second major realization: Parks designed as complete integrated systems result in the best outcomes. So in Louisville, he envisioned three major parks, each one serving a different section of the city, and each encompassing a unique natural landscape–limestone uplands, shale knobs, and the Ohio River floodplain. All of the parks in Olmsted’s vision were connected by a series of parkways, and together they sketched a framework of urban form. Many cities engaged Olmsted in park design, but few actually carried it out; Louisville did build out his vision. The result: In the 20th century, Louisville formed around this system, making it one of the few cities in the world to have its period of industrial growth completely shaped by a grand Olmstedian vision.   Continue reading

October’s Frontline Park: The Parklands at Floyds Fork

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes a “Frontline Park” to promote and highlight inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship across the country. The program also seeks to highlight examples of the challenges facing our cities’ parks as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures, and urban neighborhood decay.

Photo Courtesy of 21st Century Parks

The Parklands at Floyds Fork is one of the nation’s largest metropolitan parks projects – scheduled to be completely open to the public by the end of 2015.  The Parklands is comprised of four major parks in Louisville, connected by a park road, an urban trail system, and a canoe trail centered on a broad stream called Floyds Fork.  Floyds Fork is a tributary of the Salt River (which drains into the Ohio River), running through eastern and southeastern portions of Jefferson County, Kentucky. It is the largest and least-polluted watershed in Louisville, but one which, formerly rural, is now undergoing rapid residential and commercial development.

Photo Courtesy of 21st Century Parks

Founded in 2004, 21st Century Parks is the nonprofit responsible for the creation and long-term operations of a system of new public parks in Louisville.  The organization employs best practices in land use and infrastructure planning, watershed protection, education programming, historic preservation, multi-modal trail development, and design of recreational spaces. Working with their strategic partners, Louisville Metro Government and the nonprofit Future Fund, 21st Century Parks has acquired and protected into perpetuity nearly 3,800 acres of new park land in the Floyds Fork watershed corridor, resulting in one of the nation’s five largest new metropolitan parks projects – the only one that is 90% funded and scheduled to open to the public within five years.

To date, 21st Century Parks has secured $113 million for land acquisition and park development, and they hope to push toward a goal of $120 million by the end of 2012.  From educational programs to world-class trail systems, they are building one of the finest and most exciting new park systems in the country; providing wellness, environmental, economic, and educational benefits that will thrive for generations.

To learn more about The Parklands at Floyds Flork, please visit 21st Century Parks.

The “Frontline Parks” program is made possible with generous support from DuMor, Inc. and PlayCore.

Secrets of the Private Sector: How Parks and Recreation Agencies Can Flex Their Marketing Muscles

According to a survey by The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence, almost half of the nation’s largest park departments do not spend any money on public outreach. Counting those that do, the average amount spent on marketing comes to only 46 cents per resident per year. Is marketing a smart investment for parks departments, and could an infusion of funding through partnerships make a difference in the exercise habits of urban populations? The economics of park promotion are complex, particularly when they intersect with the economics of public health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 percent of Americans are fully sedentary. They are not all obese, of course, but lack of exercise is certainly a risk factor for being overweight. On average, an obese American racks up nearly $1,500 more per year in health care costs than an American of normal weight, for a national total of $147 billion in direct medical expenses.

Urban park facilities are a resource to help city-dwellers be active. As Jason Cissell, administrator of community relations of Louisville Metro Parks puts it, “we’re the largest gym in the city, and we’re free!” But the system only works if people know about it. A 2002 study for the American Journal of Preventative Medicine showed that community-wide fitness campaigns can help, succeeding in encouraging, on average, 4.2 percent of residents to begin engaging in regular physical activity.

If even one in ten of those newly active people transitions from obesity to a healthy weight, medical costs would fall by $6.30 for each man, woman and child in the city per year. In Washington, D.C., with 600,000 residents, that translates to $3.7 million – an amount that dwarfs what is spent on park marketing in Washington.  In fact, that is more than the country’s largest park marketing budget, the $2.7 million spent by the Chicago Park District (for a city of 2.8 million people).  Compared to expected benefits, every city park marketing effort in the country is underfunded.

San Antonio's marketing effort set the standard for cost efficiency. Credit: San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department.

In July 2009, San Antonio, Texas launched a marketing campaign that must have set a record for frugality. The city-wide, multi-media “Get Active. Get Fit. Step Up to Recreation” campaign cost only $28,000, thanks to the use of public service placement rather than paid advertising and the use of city officials and local athletes instead of paid actors. To stir excitement the department used prizes as rewards, handing out free “Step Up to Recreation” water bottles and tee shirts. But since there’s no money to count users, it’s not known if the campaign actually increased park use or fitness.

Louisville's parks and health departments cooperated to raise awareness of the city's "best parks for exercise." Credit: Louisville Metro Parks.

The truth is that marketing parks is too difficult, too expensive and too important to be left only to park and recreation agencies.  The effort needs and deserves to be a partnership between the parks community – with its land and facilities – and the health community – with its science, its funding and its outreach. A few of these partnerships do exist, but they are challenging enough to require strong leadership from above. In Louisville, where Mayor Jerry Abramson was determined to combat Louisville’s high levels of obesity and inactivity, Metro Parks joined with the Department of Health and Well-Being to launch the “Healthy Hometown Movement” in September 2009. The city-wide initiative encourages citizens to get 30 minutes of physical activity at least five times per week. The health department, going further to focus on the eight neighborhoods with the most serious obesity-related risks, granted Metro Parks $25,000 to provide free fitness classes in recreation centers.

The powerful and well-heeled insurance industry has not yet done much cross-marketing with parks, but United Healthcare may be the harbinger of a new approach, having partnered with the City of Denver, Colorado to advertise parks. The company gave the Department of Parks and Recreation $60,000 to print and distribute 75,000 copies of its programming guides, more than three times the number printed in 2008. In addition to recreation centers, libraries and the Sunday Denver Post, the guides are distributed in United Healthcare offices.

With Colorado boasting the lowest obesity rate in the nation, it is either ironic or emblematic that this kind of partnership is coming out of Denver. Regardless, it is the kind of creativity that park departments, health departments and mayors will increasingly utilize in the future: according to The Trust for Public Land’s analysis of 2008 (the most recent year available), the marketing budgets of city park agencies fell by another 11 percent.

The full text of this article, which ran in the August 2010 issue of Parks & Recreation magazine, can be accessed through The Trust for Public Land.

Freeway Teardowns in New Orleans, Louisville?

We’re back with some more news on freeway teardowns, this time highlighting efforts in New Orleans and Louisville, KY.

A plan to tear down a segment of I-10 in New Orleans would result in this boulevard returning.

This last week an article appeared in the New Orleans Times-Picayune about that city considering tearing down a segment of the elavated freeway I-10. The idea is to replace the segment with what was originally on the same spot – a center median boulevard filled with trees known as Claiborne Avenue. The teardown would partly be done to bring back the surrounding neighborhood around that the highway construction helped deteriorate.

Another project in Louisville being proposed by the a local advocacy group would replace a portion of I-64 with a boulevard and riverfront parks (along the Ohio River) in and around the city’s central core. Under the plan being proposed by the group 8664, the current I-64 would essentially be rerouted through the construction of a new bridge up stream that would allow traffic passing through downtown to divert on other existing freeways further out. The groups prepared a video below — and their website has a background presentation.