After a six-year reign as the best city park system in the country, Minneapolis has been knocked off the throne by the nation’s capital.
The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a nonprofit group, ranks the 100 largest U.S. city park systems on accessibility, acreage, spending per capita and amenities such as the number of basketball hoops, dog parks and restrooms.
In its annual rankings released Wednesday, Minneapolis dipped to third place, with first-place honors going to Washington, D.C., where new playgrounds helped boost it above the Twin Cities.
St. Paul stayed in second place.
Minneapolis had enjoyed the top spot since 2013, and shared it with St. Paul in 2015. But the city’s growing population means there are more people who live farther than walking distance from a park, according to Susan Schmidt, Minnesota director of TPL.
In particular, Schmidt said the city needs to improve access to parks in the growing North Side and Northeast.
“They know they need access to parks on the upper river, north of downtown,” she said. “They can’t keep ahead of the population growth with redeveloping parks.”
About 96% of Minneapolis residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, according to TPL. In St. Paul, that figure is 98%. Both are well above the 72% average of the 100 cities ranked.
Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Superintendent Al Bangoura, who began his job earlier this year, said he didn’t look at the new ranking as a negative.
“We’re very fortunate, and being ranked [No. 1] all those years has been great,” he said. “I’m still very excited, of course, of being ... one of the best park systems in the country.”
Bangoura said the city has new parks in the pipeline, including Towerside Park in southeast Minneapolis, which is set to open by the end of the year, and the redevelopment of the Upper Harbor Terminal industrial site, which is in the planning stages.
The park board is looking to acquire land for a new park in the North Loop and is in negotiations to build a “green corridor” along N. 8th Avenue, connecting that neighborhood to the riverfront.
Schmidt praised St. Paul’s upcoming development of a large park in the Midway neighborhood, part of the land acquired and donated by TPL. The city is also finishing construction on a $10 million Frogtown Community Center, which is slated to open in the fall, St. Paul Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm said.
Hahm said the organization’s ranking was a testament to continued improvements and investments.
“Being recognized by respected organizations and objective data really validates what we’re doing here in the Twin Cities,” he said. “I think it reflects well on decisions made before us.”
Minneapolis spends the most per resident on parks out of all of three top cities, $299 per resident, according to Schmidt.
St. Paul spends $220 per capita and Washington, D.C. spends $270 per capita.
Hahm said they are working to make parks more relevant for different demographic groups and are dealing with environmental challenges, including the effects of Mississippi River flooding earlier this year and the invasive emerald ash borer.
Bangoura extended his congratulations to St. Paul.
“It’s always good that St. Paul is doing well. We’re connected,” he said. “Their success is our success, our success is their success.”
The Trust for Public Land began ranking park systems in 2012. It first ranked the 40 largest cities but over the years has grown to include the largest 100.
In total, those cities invested $7.9 billion on parks last year, up $250 million from the previous year.
The organization also noted a bump in the number of courts for pickleball, a racket sport popular with seniors.
Nationally, about 72% of people in those cities live within a 10-minute walk of a park, up 2 percentage points from the year before.
Other top park systems this year include Arlington, Va., Portland, Ore. and Irvine, Calif.