Ranked: Best and Worst of U.S. Park Systems

Dolores Park in San Francisco 

For the second year in a row, Minneapolis has been voted the best park system in the U.S. The ranking comes from the Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore Index, which also gave accolades to Saint Paul and San Francisco, which pulled into third out of the 100 ranked cities, ahead of the two cities that bested it last year: Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Virginia. S.F.’s rise was mostly due to “improved access to basketball courts at schoolyards now open after hours and on weekends,” according to the Trust for Public Land’s release.

Some of the more park-poor cities in the nation include Fresno, California; Louisville, Kentucky; and Indianapolis, which tied at the lowest ranking with Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Fresno’s score — near the bottom, but not actually at the bottom — is something of a small victory.

“Fresno’s climb stemmed mostly from the creation of “joint use” agreements that open school playgrounds and athletic fields for public use after school hours and on weekends,” according to the release. “Fresno had been the lowest ranking ParkScore city from 2012-2015.”

As Kelsey E. Thomas wrote for Next City last year, the ranking evaluates cities “on the metrics of park access (how many residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park), park size and investment, popular amenities, including dog parks, playgrounds and recreation centers, and more.”

List-topper Minneapolis scored strongly on all ParkScore rating factors. However, the city has faced allegations that “access,” particularly for neighborhood parks, is better in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. Last year, the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board created an equity metric to address this, but tensions between the board and local communities of color are still strained. Just last week, the Minneapolis NAACP called for a boycott of all parks activities and board meetings, claiming that the organization has discriminatory practices baked into its hiring and firing process.

The top-ranking park systems are:

1. Minneapolis
2. Saint Paul
3. San Francisco
4. Washington, D.C.
5. Portland, Oregon
6. Arlington, Virginia
7. Irvine (tie)
7. New York (tie)
9. Madison, Wisconsin
10. Cincinnati

The lowest-ranking park systems are:

90. Fresno (tie)
90. Hialeah, Florida (tie)
90. Jacksonville, Florida (tie)
93. Laredo, Texas (tie)
93. Winston-Salem (tie)
93. Mesa, Arizona (tie)
96. Louisville
97. Charlotte
98. Fort Wayne (tie)
98. Indianapolis (tie)

You can see how your city’s park system stacks up here.