Swing Cities

Kids Don’t Have Access to the Best City Parks

The three U.S. cities with the best parks are Minneapolis, St. Paul and San Francisco according to the 2017 ParkScore rankings from The Trust for Public Lands. But, while those cities’ parks score high for green space, they have relative few children by population share. The cities that have more kids tend to score lower on the park rankings. America is not, it’s fair to space, optimizing for games of tag.

The ParkScore rankings are based on acreage, how much of the park space is located within a 10-minute walk of population centers, and investment in amenities like basketball hoops, dog parks, and playgrounds. For instance, San Francisco which is ranked third in the nation for parks has only 21.2 percent kids under 18 as a share of its total population. (That may have something to do with the same population dynamics that lead to 100 percent of the population under 20-years-old being within easy walking distance to a public park.) Houston, on the other hand, has almost 10 percent more kids as a percentage of its population, but ranks 81st out of the 100 cities. Part of that ranking is the fact that public parks can’t be easily accessed by almost half of the population under 20 years old. Faring even worse is Laredo, the metro area with the most kids by share of the population at a full 35 percent. It’s ranked 93rd by ParkScore.

ParkScore | Access to parks by age, San Francisco vs Houston

Research has shown that access to public parks can be key to better health outcomes, particularly in minority communities. This puts scores for communities like Laredo in sharp focus. Not only is there a large immigrant population, but the county ranks high for rates of obesity in children aged 10- to 17-years-old. With little access to green spaces to run, it would appear some of the cities with the most kids may also soon see themselves with the heaviest kids as well.

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