Jun 5, 2023 - News

Boston is one of the best cities for public parks

An aerial view of the Emerald Necklace.

A section of the Emerald Necklace, seen from above. Photo: Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Boston ranked 10th among the 100 largest U.S. cities for its public parks, per the latest report from the Trust for Public Land, a pro-parks nonprofit.

Why it matters: Parks bring a wealth of benefits — including, as TPL points out in its latest annual report, significant health boosts. They offer space for physical activity and social gatherings, improve visitors’ moods and provide a reprieve from noise and air pollution.

  • Residents of the top 25 cities by ParkScore are less likely to report poor mental health or low physical activity, per the report.

How it works: The group rates cities on the percentage of residents who live near a park, the share of city land reserved for parks, parks investment and other metrics. Cities are then awarded a "ParkScore."

By the numbers: Boston scored a perfect 100 for access, 49 for acreage, 58 for amenities, 78 for equity and 79 for investment.

  • A perfect access score means 100% of Boston residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, whether it’s the Common, Franklin Park or part of the Emerald Necklace.
  • Boston’s access score stands well above the median average of 55% for all urban U.S. cities and towns.

Yes, but: Bostonians know park access doesn't necessarily mean there's an abundance of "destination" parks, which is why Boston scored lower for equity and acreage.

  • Residents in neighborhoods of color have 12% less park space per person than those in predominantly white neighborhoods, the report says.
  • Low-income neighborhoods have 19% less park space per person than high-income neighborhoods.

The big picture: Access remains a troublesome issue across the country, Linda Hwang, TPL senior director for strategy and innovation, tells Axios. Residents of predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods have access to 43% less park space per person than residents of predominantly white neighborhoods.

Zoom in: Washington, D.C., took top honors in TPL's latest ranking largely thanks to its parks investment and access scores.

  • The District is spending $259 per capita on parks — more than double the $108 average among the 100 most populous cities. Boston is spending roughly $176 per capita on parks.

What they’re saying: Cities increasingly view their parks and parks departments through a public health lens, says Howard Frumkin, TPL senior vice president and director of the Land and People Lab.

  • "Simply defining parks as part of the public health infrastructure of a community, and then steering some health dollars towards the parks because they're healthy, is a really interesting innovation," Frumkin tells Axios.
  • "And it's not rare — it's getting more and more common."

Reality check: Not every city park is a multi-acre Olmstedian masterpiece — yet even diminutive "pocket parks" and community garden lots confer physical, mental and social benefits.

  • "If there's a pocket park with no sports facilities at all, but I walked 12 minutes to get there and I walk 12 minutes home, I've got my 24 minutes of moderate activity for that day," Frumkin says.

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