Parkland per person in the United States

Parkland per person in the U.S.

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City parks are somewhat under appreciated commodities, I think. You don’t notice how much you use them until they’re gone. That was my experience when I moved to Berkeley, California, an environmentally progressive city that oddly lacks a large, centrally located park. As a result, the smaller parks were very manicured and much too small—and crowded—to ever feel like you were getting away from the hordes.

“But wait!” residents of Berkeley are surely saying to themselves. “What about the East Bay regional parks? Or the marina?” Spanning thousands of acres, the regional parks (and Berkeley Marina, to some extent) are civic treasures, filled with wilderness and open space. All that they lack is convenience. They are miles from where most people live and one thousand feet uphill. The regional parks almost require a car to access them—scant few bus lines run to them.

It impressed upon me the importance of not only having parks close at hand, but also having them be large enough to enjoy.

Parkland per person in the U.S. - graph

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For reference, Berkeley has 102,822 residents and 230 acres of parkland within its city boundaries—including the marina. That equates to 97 square feet of parkland per person, well below Chicago, which has 182 square feet per person.

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  1. Neat, but I’d like to see Berkeley in the charts since you talk about it. Might also be good to incorporate some notion of population size, population density, and total city area. NYC might be low on the chart, but it’s incredibly dense, so maybe more people have access to what open space it has. Would also be cool to get at some notion patchiness and enclosure (your kind of stuff!), b/c Albuquerque seems to have to massive parks on either side of its populated areas.

  2. This is my first time reading your blog. A friend posted the link on FB, and you have my attention! I moved to Albuquerque six years ago. From Berkeley.

    ABQ’s parks were one of the reasons I was willing to make the move. Especially near the city center, they are grassy, tree-filled beauties. The city takes good care of them, too. All of the playgrounds I’ve toured with my kids have been in very good condition. Even the dog parks are pretty comfortable.

    The crown jewel is what we call the Bosque — the cottonwood tree-lined land that that fills most of the Rio Grande floodplain. We have an excellent nature center and trail system. Autumn is stunning.

    The city recently re-landscaped Tiguex Park, an 8 acre park near Old Town and the city’s major museums. The designers did a wonderful job, improving a hard-scaped area (where I once attended a political rally) and adding the nicest outdoor exercise equipment I have seen anywhere. There’s still ample space for lawn games and lounging, and a huge playground with walls as well as benches for parents to sit on.

    I don’t know ABQ’s history well enough to understand how city planners managed to create so much park space. Maybe you’ll look into it and write about it some time? One thing I have learned is that many years ago, when the city was expanding east toward the Sandia Mountains, an ordinance was passed to prevent construction any higher than the foothills. Residents today are so lucky that our predecessors made that commitment. We all enjoy the stunning view. The foothills include a series of parks connected by trails, and is a well-used, well-loved outdoor recreation area. Those parks have smaller lawns, and landscaping focuses on native species.

    Which brings me to the other side of the coin. We are in a desert. It’s high desert, so the climate is more temperate than people may realize, but it’s still very dry. I happen to think that grassy public parks are a good use of our water resources, but there is the point of view that most of us shouldn’t be here at all, and irrigation is morally wrong.

    Berkeley makes a stark comparison, but despite its low “per person” ranking, I wouldn’t say the comparison is entirely unfavorable. Maintenance is spottier in Berkeley, probably because the parks are busier (and more likely to be someone’s temporary “home”). Busy can be nice, though, especially for moms (and in Berkeley lots of nannies!) who are home all day with children and see their daily playground outing as prime socialization time (for both parent and child).

    You wouldn’t expect cookie cutter parks in Berkeley. And indeed, many Berkeley parks have unique features that make them special and worth traveling to. Totland was one of my favorites because I liked the busy-ness, but also because the equipment is toddler-scaled and fenced in. (I wonder if free, drop-in art classes are still offered there?) Later, my kids loved the super-slides at Codornices Park. Several parks have one-of-a-kind, handmade playground equipment. My family also enjoyed the playground next to Alta Bates Hospital because the equipment was much older, not up to current codes, and therefore a bit more exhilarating to play on. (I allowed it. Why not? The ER was a few hundred feet away.=) )

    You are absolutely right to point out that access is a problem with Berkeley’s best parks. But as you also point out, that’s partly a public transportation issue. And if that is the measure, Berkeley wins hands down. ABQ’s public transportation is abysmal (though improved since I first arrived) so getting to any park outside of one’s own neighborhood would be very tough without a car.

    Once you do make it to Tilden Park or the Berkeley Marina, though, you’re somewhere special. It’s impossible for ABQ’s plentiful but simple parks to compete with the grandeur of redwoods or the Bay. I miss the green. And oh, God, do I miss the blue!

    1. It’s funny you mention the superslides at Codornices, Loralee. One of my earliest memories of Berkeley was visiting my aunt, uncle, and cousins who lived out there at the time. We visited the park—I had never seen a slide like that before. As for the parks themselves, they are definitely unique, and many are located in surprising places, giving them a sort of hidden treasure feel. Still, I feel like the city needs one big park to feel complete.

    2. The history of ABQ parks can be found on the City of Albuquerque website, at E.g. “The 1976 Comprehensive Plan set goals that include (1) park facilities within one-half mile of every neighborhood (2) development of parks on school grounds and (3) area planning for parks to serve several neighborhoods.” Most ABQ folks can walk to two or more parks pretty easily. You do need to drive if you want specific parks for free-ranging your dogs, or the Rio Grande, or pueblo ruins, or petroglyphs, or ballooning, etc.

      “do I miss the blue!” — if you are in ABQ, then just look up…one mile high, semiarid climate and 300+ sunny days a year makes that a pretty easy requirement to meet. Water:Coastal California::Sky:New Mexico. Looking up is generally the solution to most of life’s concerns anyway.

      “I miss the green.” — Take the ten minute drive (for us in the foothills anyway) to the East Mountains and get all the evergreen piñon/juniper green you want. Or take the 15 minute tram ride up another mile to Sandia Crest for aspen green. Or bike the 16 mile Paseo del Bosque trail along the Rio Grande for cottonwood green. The botanic garden is always there for a quick fix too.

  3. Thanks for posting this. I think there is a lot of detail that can go into this. For example number of parks in a given subsection of Albuquerque based on income, density, etc. Another way to break it out is how many people are within walking distance of a park (1/4 or 1/2 mile, depending on opinion of what is walking space)? Or by seniors, or children. Or by quadrant, using the Big-I as the “center.” There are lots of ways of looking at it.

    This is a great post and it seems that all city planners would do well to ponder this aspect of planning.

    1. Not off the top of my head. The source for this graphic (a Trust for Public Lands park report) lists parkland in the 85 largest U.S. cities. Of those, the median parkland per 1,000 residents is 12.9 acres.

  4. Edmonton has about 1634 square feet of parkland per capita, which is very high, but it’s only about 16% of the city’s land area (10.6% is average) because Edmonton has a lot of sprawl.

    It still feels closed-in compared to the rural town where I grew up, but at least you can see some birds and animals.

  5. I was going to share this with friends, but not without Philadelphia included! Why would you leave out one of the largest cities in the nation? Strange…

  6. You’re chart is titled incorrectly. It should read “Parkland Per Person in the 48 Contiguous States”.

    Because… Alaska and Hawaii are states too… Just FYI..

  7. Kinda useless as city borders can be hemmed in or expanded as the need arises. To take in or exclude problem areas such as crime and , in this case, parkland.

    MSA’s would be better.

    But, harder to calculate.

  8. As someone who has spent over 20 years in Berkeley, I’m not sure your beef about access to a park is particularly founded. I’m not sure which “hordes” you are referring to but I never had to deal with significant crowds at some of my favorite Berkeley parks (Live Oak, Codornices, and yes, the berkeley Marina). In particular, your complaint about difficult access to (I assume) Tilden Park seems a bit inaccurate. Access is, of course, always a relative term, but I have many fond memories of biking from my house in South Berkeley up into Tilden and out to Inspiration Point. One need not rely on a car or the public transportation system to get to Tilden. In addition, just as most New York residents would have to hop on the subway to get within walking distance of Central Park, East Bay residents can easily hop on BART (or Ferry) and head to the West Bay to enjoy one of the many, larger parks available to Bay Area residents. Finally, I’m not sure how much time you’ve spent in Albuquerque, but most of their park space is equally difficult to access for residents without their own automotive transportation. Your singling out of Berkeley, my home town, seems a bit unfair and misinformed.

    1. Fair enough, Erik, though when I wrote that, I had just spent five years in Berkeley and was fairly frustrated with access to parks. Having lived in other cities in which large parks were easily accessible (not a 20-30 minute bike ride away), I was underwhelmed by the situation there.