Druid Hill Park. Photo credit: Visit Baltimore.

Baltimore’s rating on the The Trust for Public Land’s annual ParkScore index this year improved the most out of any park system in the 100 largest U.S cities.

Baltimore’s park system, which includes 295 parks, was ranked 30th on the 2021 ParkScore index, rising 28 spots from the city’s placing of 58th in 2020.

Washington, D.C. secured the top rating as the best park system in the United States. Saint Paul, Minnesota earned second, followed by Minneapolis third.

This year, The Trust for Public Land added measures of equity to their ParkScore index for the first time in the 10 years the study has been conducted. The nonprofit said the equity measures, as well as increased park investment, contributed to Baltimore’s “impressive climb” in the rankings.

The Trust for Public Land said “the national awakening on racial justice” and the nonprofit’s “longstanding commitment to equitable park access and quality” inspired the new equity measures.

The equity-related data revealed “significant” racial and economic disparities in access to park spaces, the nonprofit said.

“In a majority of ParkScore cities, white neighborhoods and high-income neighborhoods have a disproportionately higher share of park space,” Linda Hwang, The Trust for Public Land’s director of innovation and strategy, said in a statement. “That’s not right and it’s not fair. The Trust for Public Land believes there should be a quality park within a 10-minute walk of home of every person in America, and we are committed to centering equity as we advocate for parks and open space in cities throughout the United States.”

The equity component of the study compared per capita park space in neighborhoods of color versus white neighborhoods, and in low-income neighborhoods versus high-income neighborhoods; the percentage of residents who live within a 10-minute walk of a park; the city’s median park size; the percentage of the city dedicated to parks; park spending per resident; the availability of six popular park features, including basketball hoops, off-leash dog parks, playgrounds, “splash pads” and other water play structures, recreation and senior centers, and restrooms.

Nationally, residents in neighborhoods where most people identify as Black, Hispanic and Latinx, Indigenous and Native American, or Asian American and Pacific Islander have access to 44% less park space per capita than residents in predominantly white neighborhoods. Residents in low-income neighborhoods have access to 42% less park space than residents in high-income neighborhoods, The Trust for Public Land reported.

But in Baltimore, residents in neighborhoods that predominantly comprised people of color have access to 43% more park space than residents in predominantly white neighborhoods. Residents of low-income have access to about the same amount of park space as residents of high-income neighborhoods, the nonprofit said.

The ParkScore index found that Baltimore spends an average of $134 per person on parks, nearly $40 higher than the national average of $96 per person. Spending sources include city agencies, private organizations, monetized volunteer hours, and other public agencies.

Overall, 87% of Baltimoreans live within a 10-minute walk of a park, compared to the national average of 55% of residents.

Areas of Baltimore that remain a moderate- to high-priority for needing new parks according to the study include parts of Northwest Baltimore, such as Callaway-Garrison and Woodmere; North Baltimore, such as The Orchards and Bellona-Gittings; Northeast Baltimore, such as Harford-Echodale-Perring Parkway; East Baltimore, such as Broening Manor and O’Donnell Heights; and South Baltimore, such as Cherry Hill. The study determined that these areas are not within a 10-minute walk of a park.

Park attendance has increased nationwide during the pandemic, and cities have used parks to meet community needs over the past year, “underscoring their role as critical civic infrastructure,” the nonprofit said.

“Parks are always essential to our communities, and they are even more valuable in times of crisis,” Diane Regas, president and CEO of The Trust for Public Land, said in a statement. “During this extraordinary pandemic year, people relied on close-to-home parks, trails, and open spaces to exercise and connect with nature more than ever. Parks also served as makeshift community centers for emergency services like food distribution, COVID testing, and vaccine super-sites.”

The nonprofit found that 57 of the 100 largest U.S. cities used parks for COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, or centers to distribute personal protective equipment, such as face masks. Of the 100 cities, 70 distributed free meals at parks.

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Marcus Dieterle

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at marcus@baltimorefishbowl.com...

One reply on “Study: Baltimore’s park system ranks 30th out of 100 largest U.S. cities”

  1. What an uplifting report! I am very glad to know this, especially after enjoying Druid Park for walks during the pandemic, a wonderful park!

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