City of Atlanta ranks 26th out of top 40 cities in Trust for Public Land’s inaugural park rating system

By Maria Saporta

In a comprehensive review of parks among the 40th largest cities in the United States, the City of Atlanta ranked 26th.

The inaugural “ParkScore” rating system by the Trust for Public Land released Wednesday morning gave each city a score on a 100-point scale. Atlanta’s score was 42.5. Out of a rating of zero to five “park benches,” Atlanta earned two “park benches.”

By comparison, the city scoring the highest was San Francisco — receiving a score of 74. San Francisco earned 4.5 park benches out of possible ranking of five.

One of Atlanta’s top competitors — Charlotte — ranked 39th out of 40 with an overall score of 28.5. It only received one park bench

The scores were based on three factors:

· Park Access: the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park;

· Park Size: the percentage of the city’s land area dedicated to parks; and

· Services and Investment: a review of the number of playgrounds per 100,000 city residents and per capita park spending.

In the City of Atlanta, which has a total city acreage of 84, 613, only 3,882 acres (5.6 percent) are parks. The national average among the 40 largest cities is that 10 percent of the land is devoted to parks.

About 63 percent of Atlanta’s residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, which is slightly above the national average of 62 percent.

Also, on average, the City of Atlanta spends about $99 per resident on its parks.

The ParkScore rating system is the most comprehensive review of parks in local communities, according to the Trust for Public Land. Also, the interactive website with the scores gives cities the ability to identify where parks are most needed and what improvements can deliver the greatest impact.

“It is thrilling to see the progress and achievements within Atlanta’s parks system over the past few years,” said Curt Soper, director of the Trust for Public Land’s Georgia office. “There is more to do, but we know that Mayor Reed and Commissioner Dusenbury are committed to moving Atlanta’s parks forward.”

In a statement, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said: “We continue to make strides in improving the quality of life for Atlanta’s citizens. A vital component of that is our commitment to parks and green space that enhance our neighborhoods. The City’s Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the Atlanta BeltLine, one of the largest sustainable redevelopment initiatives in the country, is transforming Atlanta by adding parks, green space and trails along a 22-mile loop that encircles the city. Our plan to increase Atlanta’s green space by 40 percent and add 1,300 acres of new parks is on track.”

Soper said Atlanta’s “efforts to get the BeltLine system trails and parks completed and to open up Watershed Management properties and parts of Fort McPherson as public parks are exemplary. We want Atlanta to keep moving up the list, and the Trust for Public Land is here to help any way we can.”

Actually, the Trust for Public Land was instrumental in helping the city acquire new park land around the BeltLine.

“You can’t have a great city without a great park system,” said Christopher Kay, chief operating officer of the Trust for Public Land, in a statement. “Studies show that parks help children and adults get the exercise they need to stay healthy, generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity, and help bring neighbors together.”

Kay also said that the organization “hopes that ParkScore inspires cities to focus on parks, and we’re eager to work with municipal leaders and volunteers to help them build the best park systems imaginable.”

ParkScore used 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).

The ParkScore review 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 web site includes interactive maps of each ParkScore city, allowing users to zoom in and study park access on a block-by-block basis.

“In this inaugural release of the ParkScore rankings, no city received a perfect five-bench rating, and that means every city can improve,” Kay said. “It’s critical to act now. A concerted effort to improve local park systems not only means a better ParkScore, but also a healthier, more beautiful and more vibrant city. That’s something all city leaders should strive for.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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