Boston –Trust for Public Land announced today that Boston tied for tenth place on the 2023 ParkScore index, climbing two spots from its 2022 finish and rejoining the ParkScore top ten for the first time since 2020. Boston shares tenth position with New York City.
Atop the ratings, Washington, DC, retained the national ParkScore title, finishing narrowly ahead of 2nd place Saint Paul. The ParkScore index evaluates park systems in the 100 most populous U.S. cities.
Boston and San Francisco are the only ParkScore cities to provide 100 percent of residents with access to a local park within a 10-minute walk of their homes. Boston repeated its perfect park access rating this year despite strong population growth—an impressive accomplishment. Boston’s ParkScore was also lifted by strong access for park acreage. Boston reserves 17.7 percent of city area for parks, among the nation’s best and far above the national ParkScore average of 9.8 percent.
Accompanying the annual ratings list, Trust for Public Land published new research reporting that cities with high ParkScore rankings are healthier places to live. Residents of cities rated 1-25 on the ParkScore index are nine percent less likely to report poor mental health than are residents of lower ranking cities. Residents of higher-ranking cities are also 21 percent less likely to be physically inactive. This correlation, based on PLACES data produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, holds true even after controlling for race/ethnicity, income, age, and population density.
The new research, The Power of Parks to Promote Health, also reported an increasing focus on community health solutions at park departments nationwide, with surging interest in mental health and wellness. The research is based on nearly 800 examples of park-based health-focused activities shared with Trust for Public Land researchers, including innovative partnerships with health care providers, such as writing “prescriptions” for spending time in nature and funding fitness classes at parks and community centers.
Boston is among the national leaders working to promote community health at local parks. For example, the West of Washington Coalition, a neighborhood group in Dorchester seeks to provide access to parks by sponsoring community events that welcome neighbors to its newly established WOW Family Park. The park offers the opportunity to access the outdoors by offering a wide range of free, non-competitive programming for adults, children, and families to play, exercise, and socialize together. It soon will be
part of the planned Fairmount Greenway, a 9-mile urban trail through Boston’s Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park, and Readville neighborhoods that will offer a connection to multiple park options. Trust for Public Land is a partner in this effort and is assisting with multiple facets of the project by providing funding opportunities and planning expertise.
“We’re thrilled that Boston has moved up from twelfth place in 2022 to tenth place in this year’s ParkScore list,” said Ryan Woods, Commissioner of the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. “This recognition reflects our ongoing commitment to providing our residents with accessible and high-quality parks and park amenities. We will continue to prioritize services and investment in our parks, ensuring that Boston remains a vibrant, family-friendly, and green city for all residents and visitors.”
“Health professionals have long understood that physical play and exercise is essential for childhood development, but we’re just starting to grasp the mental health benefits. Simply being in a quiet natural place promotes stress reduction and attention restoration, and evidence suggests that local green space serves as a gathering point that fosters community cohesion, allowing for people to know their neighbors and form social bonds that promote health and safety,” says Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.”
Most cities included in the ParkScore index have launched programs welcoming beginners and other residents who might feel uncomfortable in traditional sports-oriented fitness settings. Park leaders rate these among their most successful health promotion efforts. For example, 39 park systems describe wellness-oriented classes, such as yoga or dance, as “most effective,” and 31 have redesigned parks to support non-competitive physical activity. Design changes include the installation of walking loops, inclusive play equipment for visitors with disabilities, and community garden plots.
“Innovation is the key to future success. Today, parks departments across the country are writing a new playbook to ensure that all residents can enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of their neighborhood park. As an organization dedicated to connecting everyone to the outdoors, Trust for Public Land is excited by what we’ve seen this year and will continue working with city leaders throughout the United States to support park access for all,” says Diane Regas, President and CEO of Trust for Public Land.
PARKSCORE RANKINGS FOR 2023
Washington, DC, was rated the best big-city park system in the country for the third consecutive year. The city scored well on all ParkScore rating factors. Twenty-four percent of land in the District of Columbia is reserved for parks, among the highest in the United States. The District also outperformed on ParkScore’s park access and park equity metrics. Residents of Washington, DC, who identify as Black, Latino, Indigenous and Native American, or Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are equally likely to live within a 10-minute-walk of a park as are residents of neighborhoods where a majority of the population identifies as white. Park space per capita is also distributed nearly equally in Washington.
By contrast, among all ParkScore cities, neighborhoods where most residents identify as people of color have access to an average of 43 percent less park space than predominately white neighborhoods. Residents in low-income neighborhoods have access to 42 percent less park space than residents in high-income neighborhoods.
Irvine climbed significantly in the ParkScore rankings, rising from eighth position last year to fourth in 2023. Irvine’s rise was driven by significant increases in publicly accessible park space. The city now offers 94 percent of residents access to a park or open green space within a 10-minute walk of their home. Last year, 89 percent of Irvine residents enjoyed 10-minute access. San Francisco (seventh place) and Boston (tenth) remain the only ParkScore cities to provide 10-minute walk access to 100 percent of local residents. The national average for park access among ParkScore cities is 76 percent.
Other major ParkScore movers this year include Boise, Idaho (+15 to twenty-second), North Las Vegas, Nevada (+17 to thirty-seventh) and Memphis, Tennessee (+14 to seventy-ninth).
Boise defended its title as the best park system for dogs, with a nation-leading 7.5 dog parks per 100,000 residents, outscoring Portland, Oregon, and Norfolk, Virginia. St. Paul received top marks for basketball hoops, Las Vegas scored best for playgrounds, and Boston earned top marks for splashpads and other water features.
PARKSCORE METHODOLOGY AND RANKINGS
The annual ParkScore® index ranks park systems in the 100 most populous U.S. cities and is widely considered the gold standard for park evaluation. ParkScore rankings are based equally on five factors:
· Park access measures the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park.
· Park equity compares per capita park space and 10-minute-walk park access in communities of color vs. white communities and in low-income neighborhoods versus high-income neighborhoods. Park systems score higher if disparities are minimal or non-existent.
· Park acreage is based on a city’s median park size and the percentage of city area dedicated to parks.
· Park investment measures park spending per resident.
· Park amenities assesses the availability of six popular park features: basketball hoops, off-leash dog parks, playgrounds, splashpads and other water-play structures, recreation and senior centers, and restrooms.
According to Trust for Public Land, the 10 highest-ranking park systems in the United States are:
Rank City ParkScore (Max 100)
1. Washington, DC 84.9
2. St. Paul, MN 80.8
3. Minneapolis, MN 80.4
4. Irvine, CA 80.0
5. Arlington, VA 78.9
6. Cincinnati, OH 76.9
7. San Francisco, CA 76.4
8. Seattle, WA 74.7
9. Portland, OR 73.7
T10. New York, NY 72.7
T10. Boston, MA 72.7
The ParkScore index uses advanced GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and spatial analysis to evaluate park accessibility. Instead of measuring distance to a local park, the rating system’s GIS technology considers the location of park entrances and physical obstacles to access. For example, if residents are separated from a nearby park by a major highway, the ParkScore index does not count the park as accessible to those residents, unless there is a bridge, underpass, or easy access point across the highway.