Many people opt for city living to gain access to better job opportunities, easier commute options, and the availability of cultural and leisure events. But urban living doesn't mean residents should have to compromise on living environments. For those city folks who can't afford an urban home on a prime lot, these cities offer park land for all the frisbee-throwing, chess-playing, and kite-flying they can handle.
Tree cover and public parks have various health benefits, outside of being a place where people can unwind, walk their dog, or ride a bike. Parks not only contribute to better physical health, but to stress reduction and mental health as well. A 2010 study in BMC Public Health found that walking or running in green spaces instead of "synthetic environments" (like a gym) decreased anger, fatigue, and feelings of depression. Public facilities like fountains, gardens, and benches, are already available and have been taken care of by the government. In dense cities especially, having access to a public park is a gift--like having a backyard that needs no maintenance, and barely costs you anything (well, outside of taxes). So, which cities have the most public park areas available, relative to the number of total households? Where should builders take action to build for those who want a green lifestyle?
Using data from the 2015 City Park Facts Report by The Trust for Public Land, and the 2014 American Community Survey, we've identified America's top 10 cities with the most public park acreage per 1,000 households. By "cities," we mean municipalities, ie we would refer to New York City, rather than the Greater New York area (New York City didn't make our top 10 list due to its high density). In addition, city land area is adjusted to exclude unpopulated airport and railyard acreage. "Parks" include city, county, metro, state and federal parkland within the city limits. We've excluded low-density cities in our ranking, like Anchorage, Alaska, to level the playing field.
1. Fremont, Calif.
- Adjusted City Area: 49,516 acres
- Parkland: 25,109 acres
- Number of households: 73,007
- Parkland per 1,000 households: 343.9 acres
Just 40 miles
southeast of San Francisco, more than half of total land in the city of Fremont consists of public parks. Fremont has kept its "Tree City U.S.A." title for 19 years, since their initial nomination by the National
Arbor Day Foundation and the National Association of State Foresters in 1996.
As the closest East Bay city to Silicon Valley, Fremont is home to tens of thousands of professionals in science, education and manufacturing industries, who have every reason to brag about their spacious “backyard.” Each household in Fremont has a share of 0.34 acres of public parkland, or around 15,000 square feet. To put that in perspective, a college basketball court is usually 5,000 square feet.
2. New Orleans, La.
- Adjusted City Area: 107,655 acres
- Parkland: 27,208 acres
- Number of households: 152,788
- Parkland per 1,000 households: 178.1 acres
Outside of museums, music and coffee, historic New Orleans is also blessed with beautiful grand parks--at least a
quarter of the city is covered with green space. New Orleans' most popular public
parks include Louis Armstrong Park, Palmer Park, Audubon Park, Bayou Sauvage National
Wildlife Refuge (the country’s sixth largest park), and City Park (the nation's sixth oldest). Aside from common activities like boating, fishing, kayaking, and biking, City Park also offers space people can reserve to hold weddings and throw birthday parties, and the New Orleans Museum of Art, Botanical Garden, and Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden are located inside its bounds. Public parkland for each household is about 0.18 acres, or
nearly 7,800 square feet.
3. El Paso, Texas
- Adjusted City Area: 159,763 acres
- Parkland: 29,767 acres
- Number of households: 218,127
- Parkland per 1,000 households: 136.5 acres
Coming in third, El Paso is home to the nation’s largest urban park, Franklin
Mountains State Park. The Franklin Mountains State Park takes up 26,627 acres, all within El Paso's city limits. The plan to create a park out of the Franklin
Mountains started in 1970s, and finally came to fruition in 1987. Needless to say, El Paso is a paradise for hikers. Instead of driving long hours to a hiking site, residents of El Paso can easily have some fun with their friends in the city park.
4. Henderson, Nev.
- Adjusted City Area: 68,542 acres
- Parkland: 14,558 acres
- Number of households: 107,007
- Parkland per 1,000 households: 136.0 acres
The city of
Henderson does a better job in livability than its world-famous neighbor Las Vegas, thanks to its 64 public parks. Outside of some common features like open lawns, playgrounds and walking
courses, Henderson also offers skate parks, dog parks, splash pads and lighted
sport areas to the public. Some of the local favorites include Acacia Park, Acacia Demonstration Gardens, and Hidden Falls Park--and don't forget those spraying jets in Reunion Trails Park and Mission Hills Park!
5. Albuquerque, N.M.
- Adjusted City Area: 116,051 acres
- Parkland: 27,463 acres
- Number of households: 219,867
- Parkland per 1,000 households: 124.9 acres
As the most populous city in the state of New Mexico, Albuquerque provides its residents with rich resources in public park land--the city’s Park Management Division has more
than 287 park sites under its management.
The Albuquerque Bio Park, one of the local favorites, is located a few minutes from downtown. A great place for families, the Bio Park complex includes a botanical garden, zoo, and aquarium. Certain areas of the park are open to schools and students for summer camps and class field trips. The Balloon Fiesta Park hosts the famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta every year, and other special events such as model aircraft flying, movie productions, and car shows. In addition, Albuquerque city officials have announced that an additional 12,000-square-foot pavilion inside Balloon Fiesta Park will be open by this winter.
parkland per household is about 5,200 square feet in Albuquerque.
6. San Diego, Calif.
- Adjusted City Area: 205,918 acres
- Parkland: 48,405 acres
- Number of households: 493,446
- Parkland per 1,000 households: 98.1 acres
The city of San Diego manages more than 340 parks and over 40,000 acres of open space, including the popular Balboa Park, Mission Trails Regional Park, and Mission Bay Park. Balboa Park, at 1,200 acres, has an array of botanical gardens, museums, theaters, trails, and a world-famous zoo that houses over 3,700 animals. San Diego Park and Recreation Department holds a variety of recreational activities and programs for all ages, including public golf courses, swimming courses, bi-weekly dances, and therapeutic services. The city recently announced the opening of new trails on Carmel Mountain and Del Mar Mesa.
7. Honolulu, Hawaii
- Adjusted City Area: 36,329 acres
- Parkland: 12,006 acres
- Number of households: 127,394
- Parkland per 1,000 households: 94.2 acres
It’s hard to think of Honolulu without the sea, beaches and palm trees, but the city boasts some great urban parks as well. Honolulu's Department of Parks and Recreation oversees 290 public parks on approximately 5,200 acres of land. Apart from common park activities, some of Honolulu’s city parks allow people to fly model airplanes, launch rockets and sail model boats.
8. Irvine, Calif.
- Adjusted City Area: 42,308 acres
- Parkland: 8,508 acres
- Number of households: 90,513
- Parkland per 1,000 households: 94.0 acres
Home to a bunch of high-rated public schools, Irvine was ranked as the sixth best U.S. city to live in by CNN Money in 2012. It certainly deserves the honor in terms of its public parkland resources. Numerous community and neighborhood parks make up about 8,000 acres of the city’s green space. William R. Mason Regional Park, one of the largest parks in Irvine, offers areas for picnicking, hiking, softball and volleyball. Most uniquely, the city of Irvine has an Open Space Preserve to protect natural wildlands. The preserve, consisting of a wide variety of native habitats, is home to wild animals like deer, bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes and endangered birds. Most areas of the preserve are accessible to the public.
9. Phoenix, Ariz.
- Adjusted City Area: 327,729 acres
- Parkland: 49,254 acres
- Number of households: 532,210
- Parkland per 1,000 households: 92.5 acres
Located in the heart of the Salt River Valley, the city of
Phoenix hosts parks of city, county and
national levels within city limits. There are 41,000 acres of mountain
parks, desert preserves, and 182 city parks open to the public in Phoenix. South
Mountain Park, for example, is one of the largest urban parks in the world, at
16,500 acres, where 51 miles of primary trails have been made for horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking. The city has planted 90,000 trees in parks and along city streets, ranging from aleppo pine to palo brea. Residents can access an interactive tree inventory website to find out more about certain types of tree and where in the city they can be located.
10. Aurora, Colo.
- Adjusted City Area: 98,788 acres
- Parkland: 10,367 acres
- Number of households: 126,677
- Parkland per 1,000 households: 81.8 acres
The city of Aurora has 97 developed parks, including Great Plains
Park, Arapahoe Park and Cherry Creek State Park, the venue of the 8th World Youth Day in the year 1993. Playgrounds and seasonal spray parks are featured in several parks. Outside of normal recreational activities, the city hosts community welfare programs from time to time. The creational center
within Expo Park, for instance, offers free after-school meals for all kids 18
and younger from Monday to Friday.