For the fourth time in the last five years, Minneapolis has been recognized as the best parks system in the country by the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit evaluating parks in the 100 largest U.S. cities.
The annual rankings released Wednesday mark a step up for Minneapolis, which had dipped to third place last year. St. Paul, which was in second place last year, fell to third.
Washington, D.C., chosen by the trust as the best parks system last year, dropped to second.
“Thank you for this little bright light that really is going to mean so much to us,” LaTrisha Vetaw, vice president of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, said during a news conference in Orvin “Ole” Olson Park Wednesday. “Again, we’re number one. Yay! That fall from grace last year hurt really hard, so it feels good this year.”
According to the trust’s ParkScore data, 98% of Minneapolis residents now live within a 10-minute walk from a park, up 2 percentage points from last year. The trust also recognized the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board for acquiring new parks and expanding others.
“We are honored by the top ranking and recognize how important parks are to all Minneapolis residents, particularly during this national health crisis,” Park Board Superintendent Al Bangoura said in a statement. “We remain committed to providing critical park improvements and services, with a focus on the most racially diverse and economically challenged areas of the city.”
Parks systems across the country have had to adjust and monitor their spaces for months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In Minneapolis, the Park Board has opened up parkways for pedestrians, removed basketball rims, closed tennis courts and playgrounds and deployed employees to remind people of social distancing. On Tuesday, the park board announced a plan to slowly reopen its amenities over the next two weeks.
The trust did not factor in the pandemic in its rankings, said Charlie McCabe, a city park researcher with the nonprofit. Like previous years, it based its list on accessibility, acreage, spending per capita and amenities including basketball hoops, playgrounds and restrooms.
However, McCabe commended both Minneapolis and St. Paul for their response, including for opening up more than 40 miles of parkways for pedestrians.
“You’re seeing a lot of adaptation there, and both of the Twin Cities have been really good at pulling through on that,” he said.
While nearly all of St. Paul’s residents live within a 10-minute walk to a park, the trust docked the capital for the size of its parks.
The average national park size is 5.2 acres; in St. Paul, the median size is 3.2 acres, according to ParkScore data.
On Wednesday, the trust warned that revenue loss and budget cuts related to the pandemic, along with dwindling access to parks across the country, present “irreversible damage” to parks systems.
“Across the United States, 100 million people — including 28 million children — lack access to a quality park close to home. These inequities exist not only between cities but also within them,” trust President and CEO Diane Regas said.
“Low-income neighborhoods do not get their fair share of park investment, which is a missed opportunity to prevent long-term health and climate inequities.”
Minneapolis has been consistently recognized by the trust in its rankings. The system had fallen out of first only one time since 2013 and shared the top spot with St. Paul in 2015.
Rounding out the top five in this year’s rankings were Arlington, Va., and Cincinnati.
Staff writer Liz Navratil contributed to this report.