Minneapolis Retains Title as Nation’s Best Park System on The Trust for Public Land’s 2014 ParkScore® Index

City edges New York, Boston, Portland and San Francisco for top spot; Minneapolis remains only park system to earn perfect 5 “park bench” rating

Minneapolis took top honors on The Trust for Public Land’s 3rd annual ParkScore® index, earning a perfect “5-park bench” rating from the nonprofit organization.

Minneapolis remains the only city park system to earn the coveted “5 bench” score on the ParkScore Index, as the city held on to the top spot for the second consecutive year. New York, Boston, Portland, and San Francisco rounded out the top five.

“We’re thrilled to receive this prestigious honor from The Trust for Public Land a second time. When residents voted for an independent Park Board in 1883, they most likely didn’t envision a park system that would grow to 6,790 acres of parkland serving more than 21 million visits each year. Today we honor the legacy that created the park system, and continue our work to ensure that parks and park services are accessible to everyone, with a focus on the most diverse, underserved areas of the city. Our strong community relationships, public, private and non-profit partnerships make this possible,” said Jayne Miller, Superintendent of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

ParkScores 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. In addition to the national ranking, each city receives a “park bench” rating on a scale of zero to five.

Minneapolis scored strongly on all ParkScore rating factors. With 94 percent of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park, the city received especially high marks for park access. The city’s strong parks budget also boosted its ParkScore rating. Second-place finisher New York fared slightly better on park access, with 97 percent of residents living with within a 10-minute walk of a park. However, New York was hurt by its low median park size, just 1.1 acres compared to Minneapolis' 7.1-acre median.

“This top rating is a wonderful tribute to all of the individuals who, for the past 131 years, have made the park system what it is today. I want to assure the people of Minneapolis and the Twin Cities region that we’re not done yet. We are committed to opening new public green spaces, and improving parks that already exist,” said Liz Wielinski, President of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

This year, Denver made the biggest upward move in ParkScore rating history, climbing ten places into a tie for 7th. For 2014, ParkScore included the city’s “Learning Landscapes” school playgrounds as park space, because they are open for public use in evenings and on weekends when school is not in session. These “shared use” arrangements are a relatively easy way for cities to increase park and playground access, especially in fully developed urban areas.

Sacramento was the only city to lose its top-five ranking in 2014, as strong population growth strained its park system and limited access to popular playgrounds. The California capital city earned four park benches, dropping to seventh place in 2014, compared to third last year. Fresno repeated as ParkScore’s last place finisher, earning one park bench.

This year, ParkScore expanded to the 60 largest cities in the United States, up from 50 in 2013. Among the ten new ParkScore entrants, Aurora, CO ranked best, earning four park benches and a 10th place tie with Virginia Beach. New Orleans earned 3.5 park benches, tying for 18th position—the second highest score among new ParkScore cities. “We’re thrilled that Minneapolis defended its ParkScore title for the second consecutive year. We’re a city that loves our parks,” said Susan Schmidt Minnesota State Office Director for The Trust for Public Land. “However, we cannot rest on our laurels. As our city grows and draws families to new neighborhoods, our park system must evolve. At The Trust for Public Land, we’re working especially hard to increase park space downtown, along the riverfront, and in underserved neighborhoods throughout Minneapolis. That’s what it will take to stay number one into the future,” added Schmidt.

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 is free and open to the public.

“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 provide places for children and adults to be physically active, and they serve as community meeting places where friendships are built and a sense of community is strengthened.”

According to The Trust for Public Land, the 10 highest-ranking city park systems in the United States are:
1. Minneapolis - 5.0 park benches
2. New York - 4.5 park benches
3. Boston (tie) - 4.0 park benches
3. Portland (tie) - 4.0 park benches
3. San Francisco (tie) - 4.0 park benches
6. Washington, DC - 4.0 park benches
7. Denver (tie) - 4.0 park benches
7. Sacramento (tie) - 4.0 park benches
9. San Diego - 4.0 park benches
10. Virginia Beach (tie) - 4.0 park benches
10. Aurora, CO (tie) - 4.0 park benches - DEBUT CITY

The 10 lowest-ranking city park systems are:
51. Jacksonville - 2.0 park benches
52. Santa Ana - 1.5 park benches - DEBUT CITY
53. San Antonio (tie) - 1.5 park benches
53. Memphis (tie) - 1.5 park benches
55. Oklahoma City - 1.5 park benches
56. Mesa, AZ - 1.5 park benches
57. Charlotte - 1.0 park benches
58. Indianapolis (tie) - 1.0 park benches
58. Louisville (tie) - 1.0 park benches
60. Fresno - 1.0 park benches

For more information about ParkScore, visit parkscore.tpl.org. Join the discussion on Twitter @TPL_org #ParkScore.

About The Trust for Public Land

The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Nearly ten million people live within a ten-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year. Learn more at www.tpl.org.

About The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) is one of the premier park systems in the United States, consisting of 182 park properties totaling nearly 6,732 acres of land and water, including along the Mississippi River and Chain of Lakes. The MPRB was created by the Minnesota legislature and ratified by Minneapolis voters in 1883. It annually serves nearly 400,000 citizens of Minneapolis, with approximately 18 million visits made to the system each year. Learn more at www.minneapolisparks.org.