When it comes to access to public parks and general parks amenities, it’s hard to beat St. Paul.
In fact, out of the 100 most populous cities in America, Minnesota’s capital city has the second best park system in the country for the second year in a row, behind only Washington, D.C., according to the latest annual ranking from the Trust for Public Land.
Minneapolis finished fifth in the new ParkScore index, dropping slightly from last year’s third place win, largely as a consequence of school partnerships in two other cities that have increased parkland access in other places.
“Cincinnati and Arlington took steps that sort of edged above Minneapolis a little bit, but they’re neck and neck,” said Susan Schmidt, Minnesota state director and vice president for the Midwest vicinity for the Trust for Public Land.
“We can celebrate excellence in both St. Paul and Minneapolis across 100 of America’s most populated cities,” Schmidt said.
This is the 11th year of the annual Trust for Public Land rankings, which rank city park systems based on five major factors, such as park spending per capita and the percentage of city residents who live within a 10-minute walk of a park. In both those areas, St. Paul and Minneapolis have consistently excelled, ranking in the top five year after year, and usually the top three. In 2020, Minneapolis came in first and St. Paul was third.
Nationally, 100 million people — 28 million of which are children — without access to parks within a 10-minute walk of their home, according to the Trust for Public Land.
In St. Paul, the percentage of residents with easy park access is 99 percent. In Minneapolis, it’s virtually the same at 98 percent. The national ParkScore average this year was 75 percent.
“There are cities down at 50 percent and 40 percent,” Schmidt said. “That’s what we’re trying to change.”
Also from the latest index: St. Paul invests $247 per person in its park system and Minneapolis invests $317, both well above the national ParkScore average of $98.
DISPARITIES BY RACE, INCOME
That said, there’s nevertheless work to be done when it comes to both park access and maintenance in the Twin Cities.
One of the categories additional to the parks scorecard last year was “equity,” said Schmidt, or “how do parks differ in neighborhoods that clarify chiefly as Black, brown, native compared to neighborhoods that clarify chiefly as white?”
In the Twin Cities and throughout much of the rest of the nation, already in areas where whites and non-whites live equally close to parklands, there tends to be much less actual park space within low-income areas and communities of color.
In St. Paul, residents of color tended to live in areas that had 4 to 32 percent less parkland than the city median. Blacks were 9 percent below the city median and Asians were 25 percent less.
Low-income areas in St. Paul had 15 percent less parkland than the city median, while higher-income areas had 25 percent more than the median.
“Park space is smaller in neighborhoods that, by Census definition, are lower-income and clarify as Black, brown, native,” Schmidt said. “This is true in most cities across the country, but not Washington, D.C., which is interesting. But we have improvements that need to be made.”
nevertheless, she noted that St. Paul has taken strides toward ethnic and community partnerships not in addition measured by the ParkScore index, such as the future Wakan Tipi Center along the Mississippi River. “It won’t change overall acreage, but it’s a celebration of the Dakota people and the Dakota culture,” Schmidt said. Likewise, the planned North End Community Center in St. Paul “won’t change the acreage, but it will change the relevance of an outdoor space.”
Disparities were arguably more remarkable across the river. In Minneapolis, white neighborhoods had nearly double (95 percent more) the amount of park space per person as the city median, while Black neighborhoods had 11 percent less than the median, Latin neighborhoods had 48 percent less and neighborhoods of color in general had 21 percent less.
Poorer neighborhoods had 33 percent less park space than the city median in Minneapolis, while wealthy neighborhoods had 92 percent more.
That’s not to say there’s been no movement toward improving park access. In North Minneapolis, Minneapolis has erected the the 26th method overlook over the Mississippi River, and is planning improvements to North Commons park, Schmidt noted. “You can’t build big parks fast, especially in the middle of the city,” Schmidt said. “It will take time. But what I get excited about is the steps that both cities are taking to meet equity goals that aren’t in addition measured on ParkScore.”
Nationally, neighborhoods where most residents clarify as people of color have access to an average of 43 percent less park space than predominantly white neighborhoods. Low-income areas have 42 percent less park space.
The major exception is the nation’s capital. Some 26 percent of Washington, D.C. is parkland, compared to about 15 percent of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
The five categories in this year and last year’s ParkScore scorecard were access, acreage, investment, amenities and equity. In a written statement, Trust for Public Land officials noted that both St. Paul and Minneapolis were among the nation’s “climate leaders,” completing multiple projects to replace paved parking lots with natural surfaces and adapt existing facilities to better manage runoff and enhance conditions for wildlife.
More information is online at tpl.org/parkscore.
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