This City Has the Best Park System in the U.S. With 697 Places to Visit

For the fourth year, Washington, D.C., was found to have the best park system in the US. This is why it matters.

<p>Enio DePaz/Getty Images</p>

Enio DePaz/Getty Images

We travel to big cities to eat good food, visit museums and monuments, and see the sights — from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Empire State Building. En route to the day’s activities, you might dip into the city park for a quick lunch or take a shortcut on a park’s walking trails. Those moments, no matter how brief, provide us with a tiny dose of nature and a reprieve from the neverending sidewalk hustle (something that is surprisingly important, according to the American Psychological Association).

In addition to making a city more appealing to visitors, parks, and greenspaces make living in a city more enjoyable — from providing places for kids to play and dogs to run to supplying spaces for romantic picnics and social events. For city dwellers, the quality of the park system can literally make a city more or less livable.

To that end, the Trust for Public Land released its annual ParkScore Index, which evaluated the park systems of the nation’s 100 most populous cities. For the fourth consecutive year, Washington, D.C. came out on top with a score of 84.8 out of 100.

The city, which has the undisputed best big-city park system in the nation, has 697 parks and greenspaces, and 99 percent of the city’s residents live near a park. But the city really stands out when it comes to park access and park equity. According to the findings, neighborhoods where most residents identify as people of color have access to about the same amount of park space as residents of neighborhoods where most people identify as white.

That level of equality is not found in most big US cities. Among all ParkScore cities, people of color have access to an average of 45 percent less park space than residents of predominantly white neighborhoods. The same 45 percent disparity applies to people living in low-income neighborhoods.

In ranking the cities’ park systems the index considered five factors: the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park, the disparity in park access for communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, the city’s park acreage, the amount of money residents invest in parks, and the number of park amenities — from dog parks and playgrounds to senior centers and bathrooms.

The trust also published new research that found that residents of cities with a high ParkScore ranking tend to be more socially connected and engaged with their neighbors, more likely to volunteer, and more likely to form friendships with people in different socio-economic groups (which can increase economic mobility and reduce inequality).

A park’s ability to increase social connection — and thereby improve physical and mental health — is one of the study’s major findings.

“Park leaders are stepping up to promote community connection and address the national epidemic of loneliness and social isolation,” said Diane Regas, president and CEO of Trust for Public Land, in a press release shared with Travel + Leisure. One example shared by the trust is that of Sherry Taylor, a 34-year-old single mother in Raleigh, North Carolina, who connected with another single mother through the city’s “Welcome to Raleigh Parks” program. Now, the two women regularly help each other with childcare and carpooling.

Following Washington, D.C. in the list are the following nine cities — recognized as the highest-ranking big-city park systems in the US:

1. Washington, D.C. 
ParkScore (Max 100): 84.8 

2. Minneapolis
ParkScore: 82.5

3. St. Paul, Minnesota
ParkScore: 81.6

4. Irvine, California
ParkScore: 80.1

5. Arlington, Virginia 
ParkScore: 79.2

6. Seattle
ParkScore: 77.4

7. San Francisco
ParkScore: 76.5

8. Cincinnati 
ParkScore: 75.8 

9. Portland, Oregon 
ParkScore: 74.0 

10. Chicago
ParkScore: 71.8

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