May 30, 2024 - Technology

The country's best parks

Small multiples range plot showing the cities with the highest and lowest ParkScores in 2024,according to the Trust for Public Land. Overall, D.C., Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota, and Irvine, California have the highest ParkScores, above the national median in the quality of their parks. The cities with the lowest scores are Port St. Lucie in Florida; Irving, Texas; and Fresno, California. Cities scoring the highest tend to have above-average access, amenities and investment.
Data: Trust for Public Land; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Washington, D.C.; Minnesota's Twin Cities; and Irvine, California, have the best public park systems among the country's 100 most populous cities, Alex writes, based on a new report by the pro-park nonprofit Trust for Public Land.

Why it matters: Residents in high-scoring cities are more socially connected with their neighbors, per the report — including those from other socioeconomic groups, with whom they might not otherwise commingle.

How it works: The Trust for Public Land (TPL) annually scores major cities' park systems according to access, acreage, amenities, equity and investment.

  • Each city is awarded a certain number of points based on those factors, and is then given an overall "ParkScore" of up to 100.
  • See more about the methodology here.

What they found: Washington, D.C. — where 99% of residents live within a 10-minute walk from a park — was given only 55 points out of 100 for acreage, but scored well enough in the other categories to take top honors.

  • Coming in last place was Port St. Lucie, Florida, which suffers from relatively poor park access, amenities and investment.

Zoom in: Arlington, Texas, and Toledo, Ohio, had notable score bumps this year, TPL senior vice president Howard Frumkin tells Axios.

  • Arlington has been opening schoolyards as public parks, a conversion allowing them to do "double duty."
  • Toledo upped its parks spending, in part thanks to federal funding.

Zoom out: "What we're seeing this year is that the budgeting is moving in a positive direction nationally in almost every city," Frumkin says.

  • "And then there are cities that are undertaking big ambitious projects like the Great Park project in Irvine, California. And I think the moral of the story there is big things can still happen."

The big picture: TPL views parks as an antidote to America's "fraying social fabric."

  • "Parks remain a neutral public gathering place where community members can meet, collaborate, and become empowered," reads the report.

What's next: TPL's report offers several suggestions for park officials, including encouraging civic activity like voter registration drives at parks, involving community members in park planning decisions, and creating programs that attract new park visitors.

The bottom line: Support for public parks is that rare issue that cuts across ideological lines as we barrel toward a "polarized election," Frumkin says.

  • "There aren't many things that pull us all together as a nation, where we hear sentiments about the value of public spaces, green spaces, the natural heritage that we've got — and parks are one of those things."

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