When it comes to city parklands, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul rule.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Although I lived in five states prior to going away to college, I spent the most time in those formative years of my life residing in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota.

The city parks in both towns are major amenities. Indeed, you could say that the entire fabric of life in the two cities is interwoven with the park systems; they’re that special.  And my family was no exception in taking advantage of everything the parks had to offer.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise to find that both cities are at the very top of the list of U.S. cities with the best parks.

The evaluation is done annually by The Trust for Public Land, and covers the 100 most populous cities in the United States.

The major metric studied is the percent of city residents who live within a 10-minute walk of a park — although other characteristics are also analyzed, such as park size and investment, the number of playgrounds, dog parks and recreation centers in relation to city population, and so on.

In the 2017 evaluation, Minneapolis topped the list of 100 cities, helped by superior park access across all ages and income levels, as well as achieving top scores in park investment as well as the number of senior and recreation centers, plus dog parks.

In total, an incredible 15% of Minneapolis’ entire square mileage is dedicated to park space.

St. Paul was right behind Minneapolis in the #2 slot out of 100 cities evaluated. As visitors to the Twin Cities know, Minneapolis is blessed with seven natural lakes within its borders, whereas next-door St. Paul has just two.  Nevertheless, its commitment to parkland is nearly as strong.

Here’s how the Top 10 list of cities shakes out:

  • #1 Minneapolis, MN
  • #2 St. Paul, MN
  • #3 San Francisco, CA
  • #4 Washington, DC
  • #5 Portland, OR
  • #6 Arlington, VA
  • #7 (tie) Irvine, CA and New York, NY
  • #9 Madison, WI
  • #10 Cincinnati, OH

Several of these cities shine in certain attributes. San Francisco, for instance, scores highest for park access, with nearly every resident living within a 10-minute walk of a park.

Three cities (Arlington, Irvine and Madison), achieved Top 10 ranking for only the second time (all three first made it into the Top 10 ranking in 2016).

What about cities that appear at the bottom of the Trust for Public Land list? They tend to be “car-dominated” cities, where parks aren’t easily accessible by foot for many residents.  For the record, here are the cities that rank lowest in the rankings:

  • #90 (tie) Fresno, CA, Hialeah, FL and Jacksonville, FL
  • #93 (tie) Laredo, TX and Winston-Salem, NC
  • #95 Mesa, AZ
  • #96 Louisville, KY
  • #97 Charlotte, NC
  • #98 (tie) Fort Wayne, IN and Indianapolis, IN
Bottom dweller: A crumbling structure in a padlocked park in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Interestingly, one of these cities – Charlotte – leads all others in median park size (~16 acres). Of course, this likely means that residents’ access to them suffers because there are fewer small parks scattered around the city.

To see the full rankings as well as each city’s score by category evaluated, you can view a comparative chart here.

Based on your experience, do any of the city rankings surprise you? Is there a particular city that you think should be singled out for praise (or pan) about their parklands?

2 thoughts on “When it comes to city parklands, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul rule.

  1. Some park problems are now unavoidable. San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park was laid down by Olmstead without the benefit of weather satellites, and away from downtown’s harbor. Unfortunately, it’s smack in the middle of our fog belt. Tourists staying downtown in brilliant sunlight usually end up in the mist when they visit the park.

    Golden Gate Park also contains several museums and attractions, but it’s located in an impractical spot more than half an hour by bus from downtown. It’s as if New York’s Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum would be in Queens near Jones Beach.

    San Francisco is growing to the south at a breakneck pace, because that’s the direction of Silicon Valley. It’s growing away from Golden Gate Park. Golden Gate Park may look good in statistics, but for our city it is sort of a big, beautiful foggy waste …

  2. I was looking for Chicago on the top ten list and wondered why I couldn’t find it. Then I checked the full listing and found it at #11.

    There is no question that Minneapolis and St. Paul belong at the top of the list. Like my brother Phillip, I spent my formative years there, too. But eventually I moved to Chicago and found that the city definitely lives up to its official motto, “urbs in horto” (city in a garden), especially Lincoln Park and the lake shore near where I lived most of 8 years I spent there.

    Later on I lived in London and found its park system second to none. I’ll bet London would give Minneapolis and St. Paul a run for their money on an international list. Hyde Park and St. James’s Park, in the heart of the city, are world-famous but I lived near Richmond Park which is about three times the size of Central Park in New York City.

    Bangkok, where I live today, can’t hold a candle to Minneapolis, St. Paul or London when it comes to parks, but even this massive city with its legendary traffic has an impressive public park system. The most famous, Lumphini Park, consists of 142 acres of immaculately-groomed greenery right in the centre of the city. It’s about one-sixth the size of Central Park and features a sizeable population of wild (and big) monitor lizards which foreign visitors frequently mistake for komodo dragons.

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