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
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?