Thanks to Equity, Nation’s Capital Tops Annual Big City Park List
WASHINGTON — The Trust for Public Land, a park service nonprofit, recently released its 2022 ParkScore Index, and two major cities near the nation’s capital rank in the top — at No. 1 and No. 3, respectively — for their abundance of green space as well as widespread access to it.
TPL’s ParkScore is an index of the United States’ 100 most populous cities that informs how each uses its green and open spaces to meet the climate crisis. Overall, the information provides in-depth data to make the case for park investment and guide local park improvement efforts.
In the Index for 2022 released last week, Washington, D.C., takes top placement, with a score of 84.9 out of 100; St. Paul, Minnesota, follows at 79.7; Arlington, Virginia, ranks almost immediately after at 79.1, Cincinnati, Ohio, at 78.9; and Minneapolis, Minnesota, on its heels at 78.6.
Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, Indiana, and El Paso, Texas, all tied for the lowest ranking of the 100 largest cities this year.
Rating elements include access, investment, acreage, amenities and — new as of 2021 — equity. The introduction of this new factor was what pushed Washington, D.C., into the nation’s top spot now for two years in a row. (The district had ranked No. 2 in 2020.)
While The Well News’ request for comment was unanswered at the time of publication, TPL Climate Director Brendan Shane earlier told WTOP that “D.C. just comes out as really a standout across the whole country … when you look at communities of color, or low-income communities, in the district, those communities actually have more access to parks than other communities, which is not common.”
TPL reports over the years have consistently demonstrated that predominantly White neighborhoods on average have a higher percentage of park space per resident than communities of color and low-income communities.
Not so in Washington, D.C., where low-income neighborhoods actually have more park space than high-income neighborhoods. Chicago, Illinois, also offers a considerable amount more green space in low-income areas — 31% more.
Washington, D.C.’s park system is unique in that it is jointly local and federal. But the combination allows it to invest more in its park system than many others, a full $284 per resident. Almost a quarter of the land in the capital is dedicated to parkland — one of the highest percentages in the nation.
But what ranks Washington, D.C., so highly and keeps it in top placement, according to the 2022 index, is equity. Park space per capita is evenly distributed across the district, with 98% of district residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park.
“Washington, D.C., neighborhoods where a majority of residents 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 neighborhoods where a majority of residents are White,” a TPL press release stated.
Equal access to parks and green spaces does more than provide equal access to outdoor exercise and nature. While parks encourage physical activity and have shown their importance for health and mental well-being, especially during the pandemic, green space also makes communities more resilient to the effects of climate change.
Tree canopy, plants and grasses bring down temperatures and have the potential to capture water — and carbon — and manage other aspects of climate change.
Kate can be reached at [email protected]