Parks change us: people who live near parks are not just more likely to exercise and meet their neighbors, but also less stressed, anxious, or depressed; kids with ADD do better on tests after spending time in parks; and being in nature can even make us more creative. Parks can also reduce crime, and they help fight climate change. Most of this research is fairly new, so it's not that surprising that cities haven't always valued parks and open space, and in the United States, there's a huge variation in how public park systems are designed in different cities, and how they're supported.
The Trust for Public Land ranks the largest 50 cities' parks in an annual ParkScore, based on acres of park space, investment from the city, and the percentage of people who live within 10 minutes of a park. Here are this year's results.
94 percent of Minneapolis residents live in easy access of a park—often a very big park—helping give the city TPL's top score.
2. New York
New Yorkers have even better access to parks (96 percent live less than a 10 minute walk away), though the parks are smaller than those in Minneapolis. But size isn't everything, right? And a huge number of people in the city are not too far from sprawling Central or Prospect Park.
3. Boston (tie)
Most Bostonians are near parks, too, regardless of income or age. Like New York, the city's parks are small, but Boston spends far less money per resident to keep parks maintained.
3. Sacramento (tie)
California's capitol has fairly average park acreage, but decent access, and plenty of government support.
3. San Francisco (tie)
Thanks to giant spaces like the Presidio and Golden Gate Park, about 18 percent of San Francisco is made up of parkland. The city also spends more per resident than any of the higher-ranked cities, and nearly everyone lives a short walk from a park.
6. Washington, D.C.
D.C. also has a large percentage of park space, though like San Francisco, it's more because of a few big parks, like the National Arboretum and the National Mall, than bigger parks spread out throughout the city. The average park is less than the acre.
Portland's open spaces include the largest urban forest in the country, and it also has plenty of developed spaces, like a Japanese Garden and community gardens.
8. Virginia Beach
Unlike bigger cities, people in Virginia Beach are much less likely to live in a 10-minute walk from a park, but the city still has ample green space. Even the somewhat hilariously-named Mount Trashmore, which, as the name suggests, was made from landfill.
9. San Diego
With miles of coastline and big regional parks, over 22 percent of San Diego is covered in green space. Since the city is a little more sprawling than some others on the list, the parks aren't always as easy to reach.
Seattle's a pretty big spender on park maintenance, and most citizens live a short walk from green space, though there aren't quite as many parks as in other cities.
This post is part of the GOOD community's 50 Building Blocks of Citizenship—weekly steps to being an active, engaged global citizen. This week: Go to Your Local Park. Follow along and join the conversation at good.is/citizenship and on Twitter at #goodcitizen.
Images via Shutterstock: High Line in New York City; Minneapolis park; Prospect Park, Brooklyn; Boston; American River in Sacramento; Dolores Park in San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; Japanese garden in Portland; Virginia Beach coastline; San Diego; Seattle Public Market.\n