St. Paul Parks and Recreation defended its place as America's second-best urban park system in 2022, according to the Trust for Public Land's annual ParkScore Index. The influential index ranks the park systems of the 100 most populous U.S. cities based on equity and accessibility, size, spending per resident and amenities including basketball hoops, splash pads, dog parks and restrooms.

"We are grateful to continuously be named one of the best parks and recreation systems in the country," said St. Paul Parks and Recreation Interim Director Tom Russell. "We hold our work to a high standard and we recognize there is always room for improvement. Access to high-quality outdoor space is vital to creating livable and sustainable neighborhoods and we will continue to work hard to meet the needs of all who call St. Paul home."

Washington, D.C.'s formidable park system, which is brimming with sprawling federal parks, was No. 1 for the second consecutive year. Arlington, Va., placed third after improving its data management system and installing a couple of new splash pads. Cincinnati shot through the rankings from eighth place last year to steal fourth after striking up a partnership with local schools to make playgrounds available for broader community use after hours and on weekends.

Minneapolis, a ParkScore heavy-hitter that last placed first in 2020, slipped to fifth place this year.

"Minneapolis is honored once again to rank among the very best city park systems in the United States. We are especially proud of our equity-based investments in park improvements and programming, and that more than 98 percent of Minneapolis residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park," said Minneapolis Park Superintendent Al Bangoura. "We are fully committed to making additional progress toward access and equity in our park system and demonstrating to the nation how parks can be part of the climate solution."

In both St. Paul and Minneapolis, more than 98% of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, far exceeding the national ParkScore average of 75%. St. Paul spends $247 — and Minneapolis $317 — per person on its parks, while the national average is just $98. Both cities already partner with local schools to make the most of schoolyard playgrounds. A St. Paul school board policy deems all of its grounds open to public use, while 17 Minneapolis schools have joint-use agreements with the Minneapolis Park Board.

This year, the ParkScore Index looked closely at how cities are using parks to combat the climate crisis. Across the country, park systems are planting trees to reduce the effects of urban heat islands and sequester carbon, keeping their facilities open after dark and designating them as official citywide cooling centers, designing parks to be flooded after major storm events, electrifying vehicles, designing buildings for efficient energy use, modernizing park lighting, doing prescribed burns and installing fire breaks.

"It was just fantastic for us to see that cities are using their parks as a front-line defense against climate change," said Linda Hwang, the Trust for Public Lands' director of strategy and innovation. "And because we know that communities of color and low-income communities are the ones who more often than not bear the brunt of climate change, when park systems take action on climate change, they're also addressing our park equity divide."

Climate action underway in St. Paul parks include water management measures such as removing parking spaces to increase permeable surfaces along Hidden Falls Regional Park and designing Uŋči Makha Park to flood during storms. Parking lots were removed and replaced with green space to create the new Midway Peace Park.

Minneapolis is restoring eroded creeks and riverbanks along Minnehaha Parkway, increasing floodplain areas and increasing the overall length of Minnehaha Creek by a full mile. A portion of the Columbia Golf Course was redesigned for regional stormwater management, and at administrative buildings throughout Minneapolis, the park board installed electric vehicle charging stations.

Susan Schmidt, the Trust for Public Land's Minnesota state director, acknowledged that ParkScore's ranking methodology does not measure park upgrades such as Minneapolis' ambitious redesign of North Commons Park and the enhancement of a 6-acre park in St. Paul's North End neighborhood.

"I shout them out because they're just such wonderful examples of that you won't see in ParkScore," Schmidt said. "ParkScore is really about encouraging citizens to stand up and get engaged and ask their elected officials to do more with parks and public lands in their neighborhoods."