Overview

Cities can earn a maximum ParkScore® of 100.

In evaluating park systems, experts at The Trust for Public Land considered land owned by regional, state, and federal agencies within the 100 most populous U.S. cities—including school grounds formally open to the public and greenways that function as parks.

Our analysis is based on four important characteristics of an effective park system: acreage, investment, amenities, and access.

Acreage

ParkScore® awards each city points for acreage based on two equally weighted measures: median park size and parkland as a percentage of city area. Factoring park acreage into each city's ParkScore® helps account for the importance of larger "destination parks" that serve many users who live farther than ten minutes' walking distance.

  • Median park size is calculated using park inventories acquired from park-owning agencies within each city. In our national sample, median park size ranges from 0.6 acres to 18 acres, with a median of 5 acres. (The median size of a city park in the U.S. is 3.8 acres.)
  • Parkland as a percentage of city area is calculated using data collected in an annual survey conducted by The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence. We removed unpopulated railyard and airport areas from the baseline city land area. In our national sample, parkland as a percent of city area ranges from 1.5 percent to 84.2 percent, with a median of 9.3 percent.

Investment

ParkScore® awards each city points for investment in their park system based on total spending per resident. This figure is a sum of the following:

  • Public spending: this includes capital and operational spending by all public agencies that own parkland within the city limits, including federal, state, and county agencies. To minimize the effect of annual fluctuations this is reported as a three-year average (FY 2014/2015, FY 2015/2016, and FY 2016/2017 depending on a city’s fiscal calendar). These figures only reflect agency spending on parks and recreation, however, and do not reflect the significant spending in other capacities that some park agencies are responsible for throughout their cities.
  • Non-profit spending: this includes all spending by parks non-profits, conservancies, foundations, and “friends of” groups that work locally to improve a city’s parks. This information is collected through an annual survey of these groups and through filed Forms 990.
  • Volunteer hours: this includes both hours worked for any public parks and recreation agency as well as through the above non-profit organizations. These hours are then monetized according to Independent Sector’s 2016 Value of Volunteer Time report.
  • In our national sample, spending per resident ranges from $24 to $279 per person, with a median of $87.

Amenities

ParkScore® awards each city points for the availability of six key park amenities on a per capita basis. These are basketball hoops, dog parks, playgrounds, recreation and senior centers, restrooms, and splashpads or spraygrounds.

  • Amenities were chosen because of the breadth of users served as well as the ease of accurate counting of these measures. In our national sample, basketball hoops per 10,000 residents ranges from 0.9 to 28.3, with a median of 2.8; dog parks per 100,000 residents ranges from 0 to 6.7 with a median of 0.9; playgrounds per 10,000 residents ranges from 0.7 to 7.0 with a median of 2.4; recreation and senior centers per 20,000 residents ranges from 0.1 to 2.9 with a median of 0.8; restrooms per 10,000 residents ranges from 0.5 to 10.5 with a median of 2.4; and splashpads and spraygrounds per 100,000 residents ranges from 0 to 10.4 with a median of 0.9.

Access

ParkScore® awards each city points for access based on the percentage of the population living within a ten-minute (half-mile) walk of a public park. The 10-minute walk is defined as entirely within the public road network and uninterrupted by physical barriers such as highways, train tracks, and rivers. Learn more about the methodology behind the ten-minute walk to a public park

  • In our national sample, the percentage of the population living within a ten-minute walk of a public park ranges from 28 percent to 100 percent, with a median of 65 percent.

Scoring

The scoring system recognizes the accomplishments of cities that have made significant investments in their parks without holding dissimilar cities to an unrealistic standard. It enables detailed analysis and allows cities to increase their ParkScore through incremental improvements to different aspects of their park systems.

To determine a city’s ParkScore®, we assigned points in four categories: acreage, investment, amenities, and access.

  • Acreage: 20 points for median park size, and 20 points for park acres as a percentage of city area for a total of 40 points
  • Investment: 40 points for spending per resident
  • Amenities: 40 points for the average of the six key amenity scores (basketball hoops, dog parks, playgrounds, recreation and senior centers, restrooms, and splashpads and spraygrounds)
  • Access: 40 points for percentage of the population living within a walkable half-mile, ten-minute walk of a public park

Points for each statistic are assigned by breaking the data range established by our national sample into 40 brackets, with the lowest bracket receiving the least points and the highest bracket receiving the most points.

Each city’s total points—out of a maximum of 160—are then normalized to a ParkScore of up to 100.

Outliers

To prevent outliers from skewing the results, the top bracket for each measure includes all values equal to more than double the median of the data range. For example, spending per resident in our 100-city national sample ranges from $24 to $279, with a median of $87. To control distortion from local anomalies, all cities that spend more than double the median value (i.e., $174 per resident) are assigned to the highest bracket and receive 40 points.

With the top bracket thus defined, the parameters for the remaining brackets are established so that each bracket comprises an equal portion of the remaining data range.

This protocol applies to all categories except access, which has no outliers.

Mapping

To map access to parks and open space, ParkScore® first identifies gaps in park availability, then determines which gaps represent the most urgent need for parkland.

Access gaps are based on a service area representing a ten-minute walk (see "Access" above to learn more). To map park need, we combined three differently weighted demographic profiles:

  • Population density - weighted at 50%
  • Density of children age 19 and younger - weighted at 25%
  • Density of individuals in households with income less than 75% of city median income - weighted at 25%

Each city’s park need is mapped from data collected in the 2017 Forecast Census block groups provided by Esri. Learn more.

You can find the interactive ParkScore ® maps on the Explore page.

You can also explore Historical ParkScore ® Rankings.

ParkScore ® only ranks the 100 most populous US cities. To explore places that aren’t included in ParkScore ®, check out ParkServe ®.