For the third straight year, Minneapolis has been judged to have the best city parks in the country. But this year, it’s sharing that distinction with a familiar rival: St. Paul.
At a news conference Wednesday, leaders of both cities will meet near their border off East River Parkway to announce they’ve tied for first place in the Trust for Public Land’s annual ranking of big city parks.
The fix wasn’t in, officials insisted. The rankings are strictly driven by wide-ranging data on park access, acreage and facilities.
In the end, the two cities that scored highest, each with 84 out of a possible 100 points — and perfect 5.0 scores — just happen to occupy the same metro area.
“It’s a remarkable harmonic convergence to have two cities next to each other, let alone cities known as Twin Cities, get twinned as the two best park systems in the United States,” said Adrian Benepe, former New York City parks commissioner who now serves as director of city park development for the trust, a New York-based nonprofit that encourages parkland conservation across the country.
The runners-up are cities widely known for their parks, including Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; New York and Portland, Ore.
All parks in a city — whether municipal, regional, state or federal — are included for purposes of the rankings.
This was the first year St. Paul was eligible for the rankings, which were expanded this year from the 60 largest cities in the U.S. to include the 75 largest (St. Paul is 66th). Mayor Chris Coleman said it was about time.
“It’s great recognition,” he said. “Both cities have these incredible amenities here that are the envy of the country.”
“I’m not shocked that we performed well, but it’s tremendously gratifying to see how well we measured up,” said Mike Hahm, St. Paul’s Parks and Recreation director.
Jayne Miller, superintendent of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, said it was an honor to win top billing for the third straight year and to get a perfect score. She attributed the success in part to visionaries such as Horace Cleveland, the renowned landscape architect who carved out parkland in both cities more than a century ago.
“We don’t have the challenges that other cities have to map out a park system here,” she said. “What it says about the park systems in the Twin Cities is remarkable.”
Both St. Paul and Minneapolis scored high on the percentage of residents who live within a 10-minute walk (or half-mile) of a park, which Benepe said was the single most important metric. In St. Paul, it’s 96 percent, and it’s 95 percent for Minneapolis.
The median size of parks in Minneapolis, 6.8 acres, is bigger than that of St. Paul, 3.7 acres, although both outrank other cities in that category. Minneapolis spends $224 per resident on its parks, while St. Paul spends $210 per resident.
The rankings also compared the availability of four park amenities: basketball hoops, dog parks, playgrounds and recreation/senior centers.
“St. Paul is Basketball City,” Benepe said, with 4.1 hoops per 10,000 residents vs. Minneapolis’ 1.7 hoops. In dog parks, Minneapolis (1.7 per 100,000 residents) edges St. Paul (1.4).
St. Paul has more playgrounds per 10,000 residents (3.9) than Minneapolis (2.8), but Minneapolis offers 2.5 recreation/senior centers per 20,000 residents, while St. Paul has 1.8.
“What we’re looking at here is really across-the-board strength in the two cities,” Benepe said.
Officials from both cities said they can’t afford to rest on their laurels. Hahm said that St. Paul needs to continue to invest in the riverfront, downtown’s new Pedro Park, and three parks along the Green Line: Dickerman, Iris and Lexington Commons.
Miller identified three issues for Minneapolis: acquisition of more riverfront property north of St. Anthony Falls, more downtown parkland and more funding for park maintenance. Public meetings on closing that funding gap will begin soon, she said.
Benepe said that both cities should work together to capitalize on their recognition as the country’s best park cities. But is there any way to figure out which one is better?
“Maybe at the press conference, we’ll have the two park directors play HORSE,” he said.