Atlanta improves its ‘ParkScore’ rank, but still in bottom half of U.S. cities

By Maria Saporta

The City of Atlanta improved its “park score” in 2013 — earning two-and-a-half park benches from the Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore index, an improvement from its two bench score in 2012.

Atlanta was one of only four cities to improve its park bench rating in the 2013 ranking. The other three cities that improved their park bench ratings were New York, Long Beach and Fresno.

Still the Atlanta results were mixed. The Trust increased the number of U.S. cities in its ranking from 40 to 50 cities. As a result, Atlanta’s ranking went from being 26th among 40 cities to being tied for 31st among 50 cities.

One of the new cities that was added to the list was Minneapolis, which actually bumped San Francisco to be ranked as the nation’s top park system, according a press release from the Trust for Public Land. Minneapolis was the only city to have a perfect score of five park benches.

“You can’t have a great city without great parks,” said Adrian Benepe, senior vice president and director of City Park Development for the Trust for Public Land. “Parks bring neighbors together and help create a sense of community. They give kids and parents a place to play, walk around, and just relax and experience nature. That’s why we believe that cities with great park systems tend to be healthier and have lower rates of obesity.”

ParkScore ratings are based equally on three factors:

  • Park access, which measures the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park (approximately ½-mile);
  • Park size, which is based on a city’s median park size and the percentage of total city area dedicated to parks; and
  • Services and investment, which combines the number of playgrounds per 10,000 city residents and per capita park spending.

Atlanta’s ParkScore was boosted by a high number of playgrounds — 2.6 per 10,000 residents, an amount above the ParkScore average of 2.25.

Atlanta’s park access score was the same as the ParkScore average, with 64 percent of Atlanta residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park.

But Atlanta’s ParkScore was hurt by low marks for park acreage. Only 5.3 percent of Atlanta’s city area is devoted to parkland, compared to the national ParkScore average of more than 10 percent.

“Atlanta’s improving ParkScore rating represents years of dedication from the community, non-profit organizations, local business, and committed elected officials working to ensure that Atlanta residents have access to world-class parks,” said George Dusenbury, commissioner of Atlanta’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs.

“With Mayor Reed’s support, the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs has worked tirelessly around the city to maintain and grow our parks in Atlanta,” Dusenbury continued in the release. “We will continue to work collaboratively to invest in building sustainable, transformational green spaces for Atlanta’s residents and visitors.”

Curt Soper, Georgia’s state director for the Trust for Public Land, applauded the work by Reed and Dusenbury to make improvements to Atlanta’s park system.

“The opening of the BeltLine eastside trail and the designation of Proctor Creek as part of the national urban waters partnership program are two recent examples,” Soper said. “These efforts will improve our neighborhoods and the quality of life in our city. The Trust for Public Land is here to help any way we can.”

ParkScore uses advanced GIS (geographic information system) computer mapping technology to create digital maps evaluating park accessibility, making it the most realistic assessment system available.

Instead of simply measuring distance to a local park, ParkScore’s GIS technology takes into account the location of park entrances and physical obstacles to access. For example, if residents are separated from a nearby park by a major highway, ParkScore does not count the park as accessible to those residents (unless there is a bridge, underpass, or easy access point across the highway).

In addition to the at-a-glance park bench summary rating, ParkScore features an in-depth website that local leaders can use as a roadmap to guide park improvement efforts. The website, parkscore.tpl.org,  provides extensive data and analysis that pinpoints the neighborhoods where parks are needed most critically.

The website includes interactive maps of each ParkScore city that allow users to zoom in and study park access on a block-by-block basis. The website allows users to browse detailed information about each public park in the 50 ParkScore cities and to view local obesity rates compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The website is free and open to the public.

“Physical inactivity is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic and a risk factor for many serious and preventable chronic diseases,” said William H. Dietz, a pediatrician who recently served as director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Improving access to places to play is a proven strategy for increasing activity that all municipal leaders should embrace. Parks improve health and prevent disease.”

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