The Best and Worst U.S. Cities for Parks

Try to picture the greenest urban area in the country. Where would you expect to find the most public park space?

You might be surprised by the some of the highest-scoring American cities in The Trust for Public Land’s rankings for their parks’ excellence — and by which urban areas ranked the lowest. The Trust for Public Land is nonprofit organization that facilitates and funds the creation of parks and protected lands.

In its 2017 ParkScores report, the Trust ranked the 100 largest U.S. cities’ parks based on four factors — acreage, facilities and investment, and access. (More detail on that methodology here.) Each city was assigned a score out of 100 possible points. School grounds that are formally open to the public counted as parks, as did greenways that function as parks. The Trust said it tried to balance a community’s commitment to parks in a way that didn’t imply award points to the wealthiest towns.

Here, first, are the top 20 cities for parks, starting at number 20, with a few of the many statistics used in scoring including the annual spending on parks per resident. After that follows the cities that ranked in the bottom 20 for parks.

20. Denver, Colorado

Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 64.0
  • Park acreage: 6,222 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 8 percent
  • Spending per resident: $114.79

Shown above is a view of City Park, Denver’s largest municipal park at 314 acres.

19. St. Louis, Missouri (3-way tie)

aceshot1 / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 65.0
  • Park acreage: 3,721 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 10 percent
  • Spending per resident: $271.14

18. Plano, Texas (3-way tie)

ulkare / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 65.0
  • Park acreage: 4,275 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 9.0 percent
  • Spending per resident: $147.23

17. Albuquerque, New Mexico (3-way tie)

Matt Tilghman / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 65.0
  • Park acreage: 27,438 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 24.0 percent
  • Spending per resident: $58.03

16. St. Petersburg, Florida

Brian Lasenby / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 66.0
  • Park acreage: 6,159 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 16 percent
  • Spending per resident: $132.95

15. Aurora, Colorado

Aurora Colorado memorial
Steve Lagreca / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 68.5
  • Park acreage: 10,504 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 11.0 percent
  • Spending per resident: $139.46

14. San Diego, California

Karl Sonnenberg / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 69.0
  • Park acreage: 47,817 acres
  • Park land as percentage of city area: 23.0 percent
  • Spending per resident: $119.73

According to ParkScore, nearly one-fourth of San Diego’s land area is park land. Seen above is Balboa Park, a vast natural, cultural and historical area that encompasses the San Diego Zoo.

13. Boston, Massachusetts

ESB Professional / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 70.0
  • Park acreage: 5,093 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 17.0 percent
  • Spending per resident: $111.59

12. Seattle, Washington (2-way tie)

Kerry Park in Seattle.
evenfh / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 71.0
  • Park acreage: 6,591 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 12.0 percent
  • Spending per resident: $279.30

Above is a view of the Seattle skyline from Kerry Park.

11. Chicago, Illinois (2-way tie)

Overhead view of Chicago shoreline
Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 71.0
  • Park acreage: 13,504 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 10.0 percent
  • Spending per resident: $172.86

Among the city’s offerings are a series of parks that dot the coast of Lake Michigan.

10. Cincinnati, Ohio

KenosisDre / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 71.5
  • Park acreage: 6,891 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 14.0 percent
  • Spending per resident: $190.79

9. Madison, Wisconsin

Gerald A. DeBoer / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 73.5
  • Park acreage: 6,372 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 13.0 percent
  • Spending per resident: $126.30

Shown above is the Sala Thai Pavilion & Garden in Madison’s Olbrich Botanical Gardens.

8. New York City (2-way tie)

Overhead view of Central Park
T photography / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 74.0
  • Park acreage: 39,859 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 21.0 percent
  • Spending per resident: $178.63

Manhattan’s Central Park (seen above) is an astonishing 843 acres of public park space with a history of more than 150 years. It accommodates a wide array of recreational activities, including walking, biking, boating, baseball game and ice skating as well as events from picnics to weddings. Within its perimeter are dozens of bridges, a reservoir, a zoo and a garden conservatory.

7. Irvine, California (2-way tie)

Row of palm trees and hot air balloon at park
LunaseeStudios / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 74
  • Park acreage: 9,427 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 22.0 percent
  • Spending per resident: $251.60

Shown above is a view of Orange County Great Park, established in 2003 on the decommissioned Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. Among its offerings are hot-air balloon rides.

6. Arlington, Virginia

Flowers in a park
Cvandyke / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 76.5
  • Park acreage: 1,787 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 11.0 percent
  • Spending per resident: $229.93

5. Portland, Oregon

Portland skyline
Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 77.5
  • Park acreage: 14,504 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 18.0 percent
  • Spending per resident: $164.56

4. Washington, D.C.

Rock Creek Park in Washington DC, in autumn
TooTallEd / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 79
  • Park acreage: 8,525 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 22.0 percent
  • Spending per resident: $269.98

The nation’s capital is, of course, peppered with stunning parks, many of them surrounding national monuments. It also boasts Rock Creek Park — a 1,700 acre oasis in the center of the district with large natural areas for hiking and exploring as well as a zoo, amphitheater, horseback riding and historical sites.

3. San Francisco, California

Open park area in San Francisco
cdrin / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 80.0
  • Park acreage: 5,888 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 20.0 percent
  • Spending per resident: $235.08

2. St. Paul, Minnesota

Park in St. Paul
Dan Thornberg / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 82.5
  • Park acreage: 4,937 acres
  • Park land as percentage of city area: 15.0 percent
  • Spending per resident: $202.12

1. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Craig Hinton / Shutterstock.com

  • ParkScore: 87.5
  • Park acreage: 5,064 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 15.0 percent
  • Spending per resident: $232.59

The Trust for Public Land has ranked Minneapolis No. 1 for its parks since 2013 (supplanting San Francisco), in part owing to the development of parks and public spaces in its historical mill and warehouse area along the banks of the Mississippi River in the past two decades. Many of the lakes that dot the city are also surrounded by public parks.

Those are the winners, but on the other end of the spectrum, well, click on to see which U.S. cities among the 100 filled out the bottom where parks and green space are concerned …

20 lowest-scoring cities for parks

Here are the 20 cities at the bottom of the ParkScore list, ending with the city that came in dead last among the largest 100 urban areas. Each city’s ParkScore, as you’ll recall from above, is out of a possible 100 points.

20. Fort Worth, Texas

RK2 Photography / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 40
  • Park acreage: 11,878 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 6 percent
  • Spending per resident: $78.22

19. Houston, Texas (3-way tie)

Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 39
  • Park acreage: 53,134 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 14 percent
  • Spending per resident: $35.16

18. Newark, New Jersey (3-way tie)

Andrew F. Kazmierski / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 39
  • Park acreage: 847 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 6 percent
  • Spending per resident: $25.73

17. Wichita, Kansas (3-way tie)

KSwinicki / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 39
  • Park acreage: 4,737 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 5 percent
  • Spending per resident: $50.97

16. Memphis, Tennessee

Steven Frame / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 37.5
  • Park acreage: 9,145 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 5 percent
  • Spending per resident: $54.13

15. Irving, Texas (3-way tie)

Philip Lange / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 36.5
  • Park acreage: 1,920 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 5 percent
  • Spending per resident: $58.92

14. Lubbock, Texas (3-way tie)

tracethom / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 36.5
  • Park acreage: 2,228 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 3 percent
  • Spending per resident: $45.52

13. Tucson, Arizona (3-way tie)

Anton Foltin / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 36.5
  • Park acreage: 4,687 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 3 percent
  • Spending per resident: $70.56

12. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Steven Frame / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 36
  • Park acreage: 26,004 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 7 percent
  • Spending per resident: $71.82

11. Baton Rouge, Louisiana

travelview / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 35
  • Park acreage: 1,252 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 3 percent
  • Spending per resident: $51.43

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10. Fresno, California (3-way tie)

Tupungato / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 33.5
  • Park acreage: 2,904 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 4 percent
  • Spending per resident: $38.31

9. Hialeah, Florida (3-way tie)

esfera / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 33.5
  • Park acreage: 204 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 1 percent
  • Spending per resident: $38.40

8. Jacksonville, Florida (3-way tie)

Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 33.5
  • Park acreage: 64,603 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 14 percent
  • Spending per resident: $32.66

7. Laredo, Texas (2-way tie)

Ricardo Garza / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 32.5
  • Park acreage: 1,182 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 2 percent
  • Spending per resident: $65.76

6. Winston-Salem, North Carolina (2-way tie)

Bryan Pollard / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 32.5
  • Park acreage: 3,688 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 4 percent
  • Spending per resident: $41.68

5. Mesa, Arizona

Tim Roberts Photography / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 31.5
  • Park acreage: 2,480 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 3 percent
  • Spending per resident: $69.19

4. Louisville, Kentucky

Thomas Kelley / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 31
  • Park acreage: 17,608 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 7 percent
  • Spending per resident: $50.10

3. Charlotte, North Carolina

cpaulfell / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 29
  • Park acreage: 13,990 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 4 percent
  • Spending per resident: $44.80

2. Fort Wayne, Indiana

Henryk Sadura / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 28.5
  • Park acreage: 2,400 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 3 percent
  • Spending per resident: $78.56

1. Indianapolis, Indiana

f11photo / Shutterstock.com
  • ParkScore: 28.5
  • Park acreage: 11,464 acres
  • Park land as a percentage of city area: 5 percent
  • Spending per resident: $35

Is your city named in these rankings? For full details, you can check out the Trust for Public Land’s complete top-100 rankings here, and the reasons for each city’s score.

How much difference do you think parks make to quality of life in a city? Share your thoughts with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Kari Huus contributed to this post.

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