It’s difficult to beat St. Paul when it comes to public parks and basic park facilities.
According to the current annual rating from the Trust for Public Land, Minnesota’s capital city boasts the second greatest park system in the country, behind only Washington, D.C., out of the country’s 100 most populated cities.
Minneapolis came in fifth position in the new ParkScore rating, down from third place last year, owing to school collaborations in two other cities that have improved parks access elsewhere.
“Cincinnati and Arlington made actions that put them a little bit ahead of Minneapolis, but they’re still neck and neck,” Susan Schmidt, Minnesota state director and vice president for the Trust for Public Land’s Midwest Region, said.
“Across 100 of America’s most populous cities, we can celebrate achievement in both St. Paul and Minneapolis,” Schmidt remarked.
The annual Trust for Public Land rankings are in their 11th year, and they rate city park systems based on five important characteristics such park spending per capita and the percentage of city inhabitants who live within a 10-minute walk of a park. St. Paul and Minneapolis have consistently succeeded in each of these categories, routinely ranking in the top five, if not the top three, year after year. Minneapolis came in first in 2020, with St. Paul coming in third.
According to the Trust for Public Land, 100 million people in the United States — 28 million of them are children — lack access to parks within a 10-minute walk of their homes.
The percentage of inhabitants in St. Paul that have convenient park access is 99 percent. It’s almost the same in Minneapolis, at 98 percent. This year, the national ParkScore average was 75%.
“There are cities that are down 50% and 40%,” Schmidt remarked. “We’re attempting to change that.”
Also according to the most recent assessment, St. Paul spends $247 per person on parks, while Minneapolis spends $317, both well exceeding the national ParkScore average of $98.
However, there is still work to be done in the Twin Cities in terms of park access and maintenance.
“Equity,” or “how do parks differ in communities that identify predominantly as Black, brown, or indigenous compared to neighborhoods that identify primarily as white,” was one of the new categories included to the parks scorecard last year, according to Schmidt.
Even in locations where whites and non-whites live equally near to parklands, there tends to be substantially less physical park space inside low-income neighborhoods and communities of color in the Twin Cities and throughout most of the rest of the country.
Residents of color in St. Paul tended to live in neighborhoods with 4 to 32 percent less parks than the city median. Blacks were 9% lower than the city median, while Asians were 25% lower.
In St. Paul, low-income neighborhoods had 15% less parkland than the city median, while higher-income neighborhoods had 25% more.
“Park space is less plentiful in lower-income neighborhoods that identify as Black, brown, or indigenous,” Schmidt added. “While this is true in most cities across the country, it is not true in Washington, D.C., which is unusual. However, there are certain things that need to be improved.”
Nonetheless, she pointed out that St. Paul has made advances toward ethnic and community collaborations that aren’t yet reflected in the ParkScore index, such as the upcoming Wakan Tipi Center near the Mississippi River. “It won’t impact total acreage,” Schmidt said, “but it is a celebration of the Dakota people and their culture.” Similarly, St. Paul’s proposed North End Community Center “won’t affect the acreage, but it will transform the usefulness of an outdoor place.”
Disparities were perhaps more pronounced on the other side of the river. White areas in Minneapolis had nearly twice (95 percent) the amount of park space per person as the city median, whereas black neighborhoods had 11% less, Latin communities had 48% less, and neighborhoods of color in general had 21% less.
In Minneapolis, poorer communities had 33% less park space than the city median, while rich neighborhoods had 92% more.
That isn’t to suggest that there hasn’t been progress in enhancing park access. Minneapolis has built the 26th Avenue overlook over the Mississippi River in North Minneapolis, and is contemplating upgrades to North Commons park, according to Schmidt. Schmidt explained, “You can’t develop enormous parks rapidly, especially in the center of the city.” “It’ll take some time. But it’s the actions that both communities are taking to achieve equitable goals that aren’t yet tracked on ParkScore that excite me.”
Across the country, areas where the majority of individuals identify as persons of color have 43% less park space than mostly white neighborhoods. Park space is 42 percent less in low-income neighborhoods.
The nation’s capital is the notable exception. Parkland makes up around 26% of Washington, D.C., compared to about 15% in St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Access, acreage, investment, amenities, and equity were the five criteria in this year’s and last year’s ParkScore scorecards. Officials from the Trust for Public Land said in a written statement that both St. Paul and Minneapolis were “climate leaders,” having completed multiple projects to replace paved parking lots with natural surfaces and adapt existing facilities to better manage runoff and improve wildlife conditions.