Trust for Public Land released the annual park system ratings and the best-rated system in the U.S. lands lands in the District of Washington, D.C. St. Paul, MN came in second, slightly above Arlington, VA and Cincinnati, OH. 

The ParkScore Index measures parks in the nation’s most populous areas and rates them within five criteria. Park equity is the newest category, added beginning in 2020.

Related: Trust for Public Land announces state ParkScore ratings (2021)

According to a press release: “Park equity compares per capita park space in neighborhoods of color vs. white neighborhoods and in low-income neighborhoods vs. high-income neighborhoods, and 10-minute-walk park access for people of color and lower-income residents. Park systems score higher if disparities are low or non-existent.”

A green landscape of a park overlooking a pond

Park access is the second measurement. It identifies the percentage of residents who live within a 10-minute walk of a park. The third criteria, park acreage, calculates the median park size for each city while identifying the percentage of the city dedicated to park land. The Trust also looks at the amount of money spent by each resident as park investment. Finally, the amenities such as basketball courts, dog parks, playgrounds, water play areas and restrooms are considered.

According to the report, 85% of large U.S. park systems took steps toward addressing the climate crisis. Primarily, that means removing asphalt or concrete that increases temperatures and flooding. Another common solution is planting trees to bring a host of benefits. These include: ground stability, shade, natural temperature control and filtering out carbon dioxide and providing oxygen. 

Some parks have embraced renewable energy by installing solar panels on park buildings and implementing other energy-efficient adjustments. Trust for Public Land feels public parks are critical in the fight against climate change and celebrate cities taking action.

While parks are part of the solution towards a healthier environment, they are also a contributing factor to improved mental health. They also provide space to gather with friends, participate in physical activities and breathe in fresh air. 

With the environment and the citizens in mind, park management is being infused with creative ways to effectively manage resources, such as harvesting and filtering rainwater, and leveraging coastal parks to resist rising sea levels. 

A view of Washington monument in Washington D.C.

This was the second year in a row Washington, D.C. took the top spot, setting an example for other cities to follow. In that area, the majority of residents that identify as Black, Latinx, Native American or Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are equally likely to live within a 10-minute walk of a park.

This is notable since, across the park system, people of color average a 43% decrease in park access. In low-income neighborhoods, they see an average of 42% less access. This inequality is being addressed primarily by opening school parks during non-school hours as a way to increase access for all populations. The measure of that increase is seen in the average 2.8 playgrounds now accessible per 10,000 residents, which is a striking 37% increase over 10 years ago. 

While Washington, D.C. stood firm, other cities made dynamic moves along the rating system. For example, Cincinnati climbed significantly, rising from 8th position last year to 4th in 2022. Other big moves went to Atlanta (+22 spots to 27th), Honolulu (+14 to 43rd), Baton Rouge (+11 to 67th), Des Moines (+10 to 25th) and San Jose (+10 to 26th).

A person wearing a pink dress holding two dogs on either side

Some park systems stand out for their successes in certain categories. For example, Boise, Idaho ranked as the best park system for dogs for the second year in a row. Meanwhile, Irvine, California received top marks for basketball hoops. And Las Vegas scored best for playgrounds, while Boston earned top marks for its water features.  

Across the major cities, park funding is well supported by the citizens. However, the pandemic and related economic issues resulted in a massive backlog of park infrastructure repairs, maintenance and updates. 

The complete list of the top 10 ranked (out of 100 possible points) Trust for Public Land park systems in the U.S. are: 

1. Washington, D.C., 84.9 

2. St. Paul, MN, 79.7 

3. Arlington, VA, 79.1 

4. Cincinnati, OH, 78.9 

5. Minneapolis, MN, 78.6  

6. Chicago, IL, 76.8 

7.  San Francisco, CA, 76.7 

8. Irvine, CA, 76.6 

9. Seattle, WA,  76.2 

10. New York, NY, 75.5

+ Trust for Public Land

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