Oct 4, 2023 - News

Houstonians want more out of parks

Cousins play in a Third Ward park. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Houston's spending on parks lags far behind the spending of comparable cities across the state and the country, according to a new study published by Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

Why it matters: Parks are an important part of residents' quality of life, and the study indicates Houstonians are willing to pay more out of their pockets for better parks.

Driving the news: Houston spends $32 per resident on parks each year, per the organization cited in the study, Trust for Public Land.

  • That's a far cry from Austin's spending of $150 per resident, San Antonio's $147 per resident, and Dallas' $121.
  • Meanwhile, just 61% of Houston residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, compared to a median of 74% for the nation's 100 most populous cities, per the Trust for Public Land.

Between the lines: Rather than relying solely on city tax dollars — which are restricted due to city and state revenue caps, the study says — Houston's parks are often propped up by philanthropies or tax increment reinvestment zones.

  • Even with the extra funding, Houston is still behind most other major cities at $69 per resident.

Details: The study asked more than 5,000 Houston-area residents about their attitudes toward park funding and found that 70% of them would pay $2 a month for enhanced parks.

  • 51% said they'd be willing to spend $5 a month.
  • The study also included interviews with Mayor Sylvester Turner and former mayors Annise Parker and Bill White about their thoughts on park funding — and, importantly, what the city's next mayor should do with parks.

What they're saying: "Where there are opportunities to do more, do more," Turner said. "Don't do less than the previous administration. To do less is to move in the wrong direction for parks and greenspace."

Of note: Houston has a lopsided funding formula for park expansions and improvements that gives preference to more affluent parts of Houston.

What's next: The institute recommended a series of actions for Houston's next mayor.

  • Gain voter approval for a new funding source for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department.
  • Build and improve parks with the proper community feedback.
  • Follow the needs of residents instead of aiming for improved rankings.

The bottom line: The respondents' answers show that Houstonians want more out of their park services, and they're certainly willing to pay for it.

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