I'm lucky. Within less than a mile from my front door, there are three forest preserves with miles of walking trails and two boat launches, a sledding hill, a dog park, a 40-plus-mile bike path, a park with playground and basketball courts, a ballfield, and a park district recreation center with a nice gymnasium, suspended running track and fitness center. I can wander (or bike) just a bit further and find at least two golf courses, several more parks and playgrounds, more miles of trails, more forest preserves, a YMCA and a for-profit fitness center, both with climbing walls and swimming pools, and much more.
It's a great situation for my community, but it may be the exception, rather than the rule. Across much of the country, providing access to recreation is a challenge, particularly in many urban areas. It's just one of the reasons we all converge on the NRPA Congress & Exposition every year—to learn more about how to improve access to recreation, and once the facilities are in place, how to get the people in the doors or through the gates, how to maintain and manage what we've got, how to plan for new programs and new facilities, and so on.
As we gear up for this year's event in Indianapolis, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) has released research suggesting that for cities, providing parks and other public-access lands is a critical issue. The nation's largest cities are paying record attention to their parks, with a $4.3 billion expenditure among the largest cities on park systems in 2005. The highest-spending cities per capita? Seattle, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Sacramento and Minneapolis.
But despite an approximate 5 percent increase in spending—just a bit more than the inflation rate—TPL said it's still not enough. Many urban residents still lack that coveted access. Their neighborhoods are too crowded, and their homes are too far from green space or playgrounds.
This is all based on urban park statistics collected through an eight-month study by TPL's Center for City Park Excellence. You can find a complete breakdown—and see where your town stands in relation to the nation's largest cities—by visiting www.tpl.org/cityparkfacts.
Here are some other fun facts:
The three largest urban parks were Chugach State Park in Anchorage, Alaska (495,996 acres); Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso, Texas (24,000 acres); and Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in New Orleans (22,770 acres).
In places No. 4 through 6, were the three largest municipally owned parks: South Mountain Preserve in Phoenix (16,283 acres); Carvins Cove Natural Reserve in Roanoke, Va. (12,700 acres); and McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Ariz. (11,250 acres).
Among cities with the highest population density, Washington, D.C., has the most park acreage for every 1,000 residents, at 13.1 acres. For cities with intermediate-high population density, San Jose, Calif., leads the list with 17.5 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, and for cities with intermediate-low population density, Raleigh, N.C., is tops, with 35.6 acres. It's Jacksonville, Fla., among those cities with lower population density, that really stands out with the most overall acreage as well as the most per-capita acreage, with an impressive 131.4 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents.
When parkland is measured as a percentage of the total size of the city, it's Albuquerque that leads, with more than a quarter of its land protected as public open space.
Las Vegas has the most skateparks, Philadelphia and Chicago are tied for the most swimming pools.
On a per-capita basis, Minneapolis has the most ball diamonds and recreation centers, while Aurora, Colo., has the most golf courses, Cincinnati has the most playgrounds, and Portland, Ore., has the most dog parks.
So what about Indianapolis? Despite the fact that it was one of the cities that actually reduced its spending on parks between 2004 and 2005, the city has a great park system. It has two parks on the list of the 100 biggest urban parks: Eagle Creek Park at No. 14, with 4,395 acres, and Ft. Harrison State Park at No. 50 with 1,640 acres. Nearly 5 percent of the area of Indianapolis is public land, and there are more than 14 acres of parkland for every thousand residents. Located downtown, White River State Park is 19th on the list of the country's most visited urban parks, with 3 million visitors.
Of course, several events are planned for Indianapolis' parks during NRPA Congress, including a golf tournament at Eagle Creek, and a 5k run/walk, and a party, at White River State Park. But that's just for fun. In between these social activities, there's plenty to learn through the daily power sessions, education sessions, the exposition hall and through networking with others in the field.
We'll see you there!
WE LOVE TO GET MAIL!
Please e-mail all comments, story ideas,
questions, good jokes and ponderances to:
OR send mail to:
Recreation Management, 50 N. Brockway St.,
Suite 4-11, Palatine, IL 60067
OR fax to: 847-963-8745