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The Top 10 U.S. Cities With Quality Outdoor Space

These are the places where it’s easiest to grab some time with nature without ever leaving the city limits.

There is a growing movement of people that believe biophilic cities—urban areas where humans have meaningful contact with nature—will be key to our happiness as the world’s urban population over the coming decades. In the U.S., some cities are further along the path towards biophilia than others. The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore rating system examines and ranks the park systems in the country’s 40 largest cities.

ParkScores are calculated based on three factors: park size (the median park size in the city and percentage of city area dedicated to parks), park access (percentage of residents living within a half mile of parks), and services and investment (per capita park spending and number of playgrounds per 10,000 city residents). The ParkScore system uses GIS mapping to analyze accessibility, so it won’t reward a park that is, say a 10-minute walk from residents but is separated by an impassable highway.

According to ParkScore, the 10 best cities for parks are:

  1. San Francisco
  2. Sacramento
  3. Boston (tie)
  4. New York (tie)
  5. Washington, D.C.
  6. Portland, Oregon
  7. Virginia Beach
  8. San Diego
  9. Seattle
  10. Philadelphia

Here’s how ParkScore looks:

It’s all a little more complicated than simple rankings, of course. Using the ParkScore tool, we can compare different cities and see that Los Angeles (pop. 3,787,139) actually has more park acreage than New York City (pop. 8,152,517), which ranked in the top 10. One of the problems is that L.A. residents lack easy access to their parks, most likely because they live in such a sprawling city.

Even San Francisco, the top-ranked city, has its problems. There are still tens of thousands of people without easy access to parks (though these park-less people are distributed across all income levels). And the average park size is 1.97 acres, so even those who do have access may in reality just be within walking distance of a fairly small patch of grass, not a vast expanse—though the city does have those as well.

ParkScore doesn’t do rankings within cities yet, but perhaps one day in the future when you’re scoping out a house or apartment, you might notice the landlord or realtor brag about the location’s impeccable ParkScore, in addition to its WalkScore.

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  • Tim O'Connor

    Bridgeport CT - miles of beaches, lots of woods and grassy playing fields.

  • Nate Davis

    And once again, Oakland flies under the radar because it doesn't fit someone's attempt to quantify reality . . . yes! (The swath of parkland that covers the hills from Berkeley to San Leandro doesn't meet the criteria of this study because they are East Bay regional parks, not city parks. Also, they require a short drive or bus ride rather than a walk . . . but anyone who would equate the paved, busy, thoroughfare-crossed Golden Gate Park with the dirt-trail escape of Redwood Regional Park might want to re-evaluate their definition of "biophilic.")

    But hey, don't tell anyone I told you . . . if I see more than six people on my next trail run I'll know the secret's out!

  • Bevfrancis

    New York at #4?  That is a joke.  Sure Central Park and Prospect Park are great, if you live near them.

  • Ariel Schwartz

    I think part of the problem is that even the best cities (like New York) still have a long way to go. The fact is, NYC *does* have Central Park and Prospect Park. Plenty of cities don't have anything remotely comparable.