• 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

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.

U.S. City Park Facts Released, Park Visitation Enormous

2010 City Park Facts

The 85 largest U.S. cities have more than 1.4 million acres of city parks, according to new data released today by The Trust for Public Land. The city park systems profiled in the report serve 58 million urban residents, offering 11,160 playgrounds, 9,167 ball diamonds, 1,349 swimming pools, 514 dog parks, and 400 public golf courses, among other facilities.

“In this time of economic adversity, we need great city parks to keep the hearts of our communities beating,” said Peter Harnik, Director of TPL’s Center for City Park Excellence. “These are the publicly available places city dwellers can go to enjoy the outdoors, stay in shape, and recharge their souls.”

Harnik notes that large cities spent $5.8 billion on their park systems and recreation programs in 2008, but they also collectively suffer from at least $6.4 billion in additional deferred repairs and improvements.

“If we don’t solve this maintenance problem, our children won’t have safe places to play, and their generation will be saddled with the costs,” Harnik said. “Parks are no different from other infrastructure; they need investment to keep them up.”

Park Visitation Enormous
City parks serve far more users than any other parks, from highly publicized annual festivals to normal day-to-day walk-throughs. The biggest parkland events attracted over 10 million visitors last year, including Fourth of July festivals in San Diego, Philadelphia, Boston, Houston, and Nashville; arts festivals in Oklahoma City, St. Petersburg, and Durham; and concerts in San Francisco, Madison, New York City, Riverside, Calif., and Newark, N.J.

The report, 2010 City Park Facts, includes statistics on urban park acreage, spending, staffing, and facilities. The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national conservation organization, releases the data annually through its Center for City Park Excellence.  View the report here.

U.S. City Park Facts Released, Poll Shows Increased Use

City Park Facts 2009

The Trust for Public Land just released its most recent report on statistics related to city parks, showing that the 77 largest city park systems nationwide provide more than 1.3 million acres of parkland. The 77 cities added more than 5,000 acres of parkland as the public turns to local parks in a time when fewer people have money to travel.

The public amenities offer a variety of facilities available to everyone. Big-city park departments last year offered 56 million urban residents 10,419 park playgrounds, 1,290 swimming pools, 466 dog parks, and 386 public golf courses, while spending $5.7 billion on their park and recreation systems.

New Poll Shows Increased Visits to Local Parks
A poll asking U.S. residents about their local park usership was also conducted to accompany release of the data by Harris Interactive on behalf of The Trust for Public Land.

One fifth of American park users have increased their visits to local parks and playgrounds during this recent period of economic difficulty, and a third of families with children have increased their visits to parks and playgrounds.

More than seventy percent of surveyed park visitors say they are using parks as much now as they were when the economy was strong.

“The poll results indicate both a strong, consistent use of local parks and playgrounds and a renewed recognition of their value in tight economic times,” said Peter Harnik, Director of TPL’s Center for City Park Excellence. “This poll underscores the importance of maintaining and enhancing parks and playgrounds in cities, even during tough times.”

The full City Park Facts 2009 collection of statistics and information is abailable through the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence.

Some Evidence of Park Usership Increases

Local park agencies around the country are reporting increased usage this year. With an economy in the red, the nearby green of parks seems to be convincing people into so-called “stay-cations” that don’t require travel expenses. In Minneapolis, there was a more-than 15 percent increase in the number of visits to the city’s regional parks.

And in Chicago, park agencies are seeing more outdoor-movie goers, ball players and grass loungers. A recent Chicago Tribue article:

Scores of Chicago-area municipal parks…..have attracted visitors like ants to egg salad during this coolish summer. Many parks are hosting larger than normal turnouts, officials say. Evanston and Des Plaines report surges in picnic-area rentals. Naperville is adding new programs for budget-conscious locals, while Aurora is seeing big crowds at a popular — and free — tram ride.

The reasons for the uptick in usage are simple, according to members of the Martinez and Vazquez families who recently rented a pavilion at Camelot Park in Arlington Heights for their annual daylong barbecue.

With 50 people attending the event, they looked for a convenient, reasonably priced place to fire up the grills, finding both at Camelot Park, where $35 gets the group a pavilion for the day and the use of nearby basketball, baseball and beach-volleyball courts, plus a playground for the youngsters.

The Chicago Park District also is seeing an uptick in use:

Officials who run the district’s summer “Movies in the Park” program report that larger crowds are the norm this year, Lemons said……It’s difficult to track day-to-day attendance at the 570 parks around the city. But anyone wondering about their popularity only had to check out a recent weeknight at Eckhart Park in the West Town neighborhood. The shouts of players locked in a fierce full-court game on the outdoor basketball court competed with the squeak of shoes on hardwood from the gym in the nearby fieldhouse and the splash of swimmers at the pool in the Ida Crown Natatorium. Outfielders stood practically back-to-back as softball teams competed on the park’s two diamonds. Dogs fetching sticks dodged deep fly balls to right field, while kids on bikes weaved around a soccer ball that skittered away from an impromptu match near the play lot.

More to come next week on parks and usership this year next week with the release of TPL’s annual statistics on city park systems.

Great Green Places: Dupont Circle

Like the famous Supreme Court decision on a certain topic, you know a good public place when you see it. But what is it that makes these spaces work?

The National Building Museum is presenting a series of mini-documentaries identifying these characteristics in what they call Great Green Places. According to the Museum:

By “green” we don’t necessarily mean lush parks (although many of the featured places have successful landscape elements), but sustainable locations that meet five criteria:

  • Landscape: a place that is successful uniting site planning and landscape design;
  • Mixed Use: a place that demonstrates a variety of retail, housing, and commercial uses;
  • Sense of Place: a place that physically embraces its history and culture;
  • Streetscape: a place that is pedestrian-friendly with activated public spaces; and
  • Transit Options: a place that encourages and supports multiple forms of transportation including subway, bus, and biking.

In one video, Museum curator Susan Piedmont-Palladino visits Washington’s Dupont Circle. The video provides a great overall description of all the factors that make the Circle such a vibrant park — venturing outside the park to describe the synergy created by the array of uses and stores on its perimeter. The video shows what Jane Jacobs called “the ballet” of users of a good public park.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Great Green Places: Dupont Circle“, posted with vodpod

The Museum will be requesting videos from the public later in the program. Perhaps there’s a park or place in your city worth documenting.