We’re all kids. When we can’t go outside, it’s all we want to do. At some point, life will return to normal. But in the meantime, I decided to read about parks. And I was in luck, The Trust for Public Land produces copious data on parkland in the 100 largest U.S. cities. This data is assembled into a ParkScore.
From the get-go, I have to say that Texas metros don’t fare well in overall rankings. Outside the blip No. 15 ranking of Plano, Texas cities don’t pick up again until No. 43 Austin. Below the halfway point we have at No. 52 Dallas (tied with Columbus, Ohio – yippee!), No. 66 Corpus Christi (tied with Baltimore), No. 68 Arlington, No. 71 El Paso, No. 72 San Antonio, No. 80 Garland, No. 85 Houston, No. 88 Irving, No. 89 Fort Worth, No. 90 Lubbock, and No. 94 Laredo.
Clearly, Texas isn’t a state that puts much focus on urban parks. But I guess it’s something to say that of the 100 highest populated cites, 13 are in Texas – but a little better showing at the top end would’ve been nice.
According to the Dallas ParkScore, at a median size of 7.7 acres, Dallas parks garnered 75 out of 100 points for park size. However, Dallas is 40 percent below the national average when it comes to its percentage of parkland within the city – 9 percent versus 15 percent nationally. So overall size might be relatively good, but there aren’t nearly enough of them.
Proximity to Parks
That plays out in residents’ ability to access a park (measured as those within a 10-minute walk to a park). At first glance we see that 69 percent of Dallasites are within those 10-minute walks – which doesn’t seem too bad. But then we see that our score is 55 out of 100 – because the national average is 54 percent. But within Texas, we’re near the tops. Only Plano and Corpus Christi best Dallas, each with 75 percent of residents being within that 10-minute walk – at just 42 percent, San Antonians are the clinkers of the bunch.
It’s important to note what while these percentages are fairly uniform in each metro for resident age and income, percentages only tell part of the story.
For example, in Dallas, there are 262,439 households earning less than 75 percent of median income and 69 percent of them are within that walking distance. But that leaves 180,063 households outside. Compare that to the 164,430 households making over 125 percent of the median income, of whom 72 percent are within the 10-minute walk. Not much of a percentage difference, right? Three percent. But in raw numbers, there are 46,411 wealthier households NOT within walking distance compared with 82,376 households earning less than 75 percent of median income – that’s 77 percent more actual poorer households without easy park access. Even starker are the combined 109,451 households earning below $65,262 who are further from a park – a 235 percent difference. As you can see, “3 percent” doesn’t tell the story.
For those not wanting a math lesson, the poorer you are, the less likely you are to be near a park.
Spending on Parks
Surprisingly, spending is hard to pin down. In the summary, Dallas’ ParkScore PDF it says we’re ranked at 57.5 points out of 100 because we spend $110.37 per capita on parks. However, when looking at the raw data, I see no $110.37 spent. That data says we spent $74.31 per capita in public monies and that even adding in $7.3 million in private funding, it’s still only $80 per capita. To get to the $110.37 figure our parks would need an additional $41.6 million a year. (Yes, I wrote a note asking for clarification.)
If we assume the error is just Dallas, we certainly tumble down in the funding rankings. If it’s a universal mess-up, we likely remain the same.
Across Texas, metros ranked from Lubbock’s 12.5 to Plano’s 100 points with most being well below Dallas (again, hinting at a numbers problem).
Typically, municipal spending in some way equates to the amenities available. For example, it’s probably more costly to maintain Klyde Warren than a plain grassy park of equal size.
Let’s get the important measurement out of the way first — toilets. Of the top 100 metros, Henderson, Nevada, took the top spot with five restrooms per 10,000 residents (or a restroom per 2,019 residents). That’s 148 park restrooms for 298,927 residents. For reference, those feeling nature’s call in Texas should head to San Antonio and Plano who each claim 1.5 restrooms per 10,000 residents.
But if you think that’s bad, you’ll be bursting by the time you locate one of Dallas’ 16 park restrooms serving its 1,356,896 residents. That’s one restroom for every 84,806 residents – and there’s still no line for the men’s room. For reference, Dallas has over one million more residents, but Henderson has nine times the number of restrooms in its parks. Comparatively, their parks are more flush with cash (pun intended) – Henderson spends $140 per capita on parks, almost double Dallas. Fort Worth and Irving aren’t much better with one restroom per 55,185 and 40,613 residents respectively.
At the other end (bodily), Dallas reportedly has 220 water fountains – 14 times the number of restrooms – so don’t over hydrate. For reference, that’s one-sixth as many per capita as leader Tucson. It’s also less than a quarter of those supplied by Orlando and St. Petersburg, Florida; Madison, Wisconsin; Henderson, Nevada; and Cincinnati — each reporting a water fountain per 1,500 residents or fewer, compared with Dallas’ one fountain per 6,168 residents.
Explaining why Dallas received an overall score of 22 out of 100 in amenities (above) was that no category scored above 40 (Recreation/Senior Centers). But this is part of living in a low-tax, low-service state.
So when we get the all-clear to be within six feet of people we’re not fluid-bonded with, head out to Dallas’ parks – even if you have to drive because you earn less. And all Dallasites should probably bring their own water and definitely a bucket and toilet paper (when you don’t have to knock a granny down to get some).