By Maria Saporta
Atlanta is in the middle of the pack when it comes to parks among the 100 largest cities in the United States.
The Trust for Public Land released its 2017 ParkScore Index on Wednesday morning – and Atlanta was tied with Dallas for the 50th spot. That ranking was a slight improvement over the 2016 score when Atlanta came in at 51.
The 100 cities are categorized by the number of “park benches” from one to five.
Atlanta received 2.5 park benches – again in the middle of the pack – among U.S. cities. Three cities received five park benches – Minneapolis; Saint Paul and San Francisco. Three cities scored the lowest with only one park bench: Charlotte, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis.
ParkScores are based 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
- Facilities and Investment, which combines park spending per resident with the availability of four popular park amenities: basketball hoops, off-leash dog parks, playgrounds, and recreation & senior centers.
Atlanta scored well on ParkScore’s Facilities and Investment rating factor, with above-average marks for basketball hoops, dog parks, playgrounds, and recreation & senior centers. The city’s strong budget allocation of $134 per resident also boosted its ParkScore.
But Atlanta’s overall placement was hurt by below-average marks for park size. According to ParkScore, the median park size in Atlanta is only 3.1 acres, compared to the national ParkScore average of 5 acres. Also, only 6 percent of city area is set aside for parks, compared to the national average of 9 percent.
San Francisco, which had the third highest rating, became the first city to have 100 percent of its residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park.
“Everyone in America deserves to live within a 10-minute walk of a park,” said Charlie McCabe, director of the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Parks Excellence. “Parks are proven to improve physical and mental health, increase property values, and bring neighbors together to nurture the personal bonds that make our communities special.”
Will Rogers, president of the Trust for Public Land, said joint use of school facilities is a positive national trend.
“Keeping playgrounds and athletic fields open to the public when schools are closed helps cities significantly increase park access at relatively low cost,” Rogers said. “The Trust for Public Land enthusiastically supports joint use, but it does not replace the need for new park acquisition and open space preservation.”
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).
Also, ParkScore features an in-depth website that local leaders can use as a roadmap to guide park improvement efforts. The website 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 is free and open to the public.
“You can’t have a great city without a great park system,” said Adrian Benepe, senior vice president and director of city park development for the Trust for Public Land. “Our top-ranked park systems are terrific, but all cities have room to improve. ParkScore is a tool that city leaders can use to guide park improvement, helping planners identify where they should focus their efforts, so more residents can live within a 10-minute walk of a well-planned and well-maintained park.”
For more information about ParkScore, visit parkscore.tpl.org.