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Atlanta rises in closely watched ParkScore ranking—but not by much

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Although several key projects are in the pipeline, the city’s green space prevalence is still considered mediocre

Volleyball in Piedmont Park last summer.
Volleyball in Piedmont Park last summer.
Josh Green, Curbed Atlanta

Despite a growing roster of trails, a multitude of neighborhood parks, and a few famous green spaces, the City of Atlanta’s standing in the closely watched ParkScore Index remains decidedly middle-of-the-pack.

(Unfortunately, backyards don’t count.)

Compiled annually by The Trust for Public Land, the ParkScore rankings for 2019 have been revealed, and Atlanta’s standing among large cities has indeed improved: We’ve inched from No. 43 up to 42.

That’s far below the new ParkScore champion, Washington D.C., which dethroned three-time king Minneapolis (No. 3) and sibling city St. Paul (No. 2).

D.C. was no slouch in any ParkScore category, but the fact that 98 percent of its residents can now walk to a park within 10 minutes set the district apart.

What worked in Atlanta’s favor? What didn’t?

As a rep with TPL’s Georgia division points out in an email to Curbed Atlanta, the city’s parks allocation budget of $138 per resident, and the availability of amenities such as splash pads (a strong 2.3 per 100,000 residents) bode well for the ATL.

Atlanta also ranked third in nonprofit spending per resident.

Overall park size, however, was a sore spot. The median Atlanta park spans just 2.9 acres, below the national average of 5, per the data. And the prevalence of park restrooms—just 0.4 per 100,000 Atlantans—was among the lowest in the nation. (Thus, all those kids peeing behind trees).

Atlanta’s park score future could be brighter, however, as 16-acre Rodney Cook Sr. Park begins opening this year in Vine City, bringing restrooms, basketball courts, a splash pad, and playground. And the proposed Schoolyards Program, which would open city school playgrounds to the public whenever classes aren’t in session, should also be a boon, local TPL officials noted.

A ParkScore booster in Vine City? TPL officials hope so.
Trust For Public Land

Four factors determine ParkScore rankings, as broken down by TPL:

Park access: This measures the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park;

Park acreage: It’s based on a city’s median park size and the percentage of city area dedicated to parks;

Park investment: This measures park spending per resident;

Park amenities (i.e., the availability of six popular park features): basketball hoops, off-leash dog parks, playgrounds, splash pads, recreation and senior centers, and restrooms.

On a national level, the prevalence of urban parks seems to be improving, if incrementally so. Seventy-two percent of residents in the country’s 100 largest cities now live within a 10-minute walk of parks—up 2 percent from last year, per the findings.

The very highest-ranking park systems in the U.S. span the country, with the exception of the Deep South.

Trust for Public Land

But the lowest-ranking systems are also a grab bag:

Trust for Public Land

According to TPL officials, municipals leaders from coast to coast use ParkScore data to pinpoint areas where parks are most needed, and to guide green-space improvement efforts in cities.

The City of Atlanta counts 415 parks, but just 6 percent of land is used for parks and recreation, according to TPL. The current ParkScore puts the city between Scottsdale, Arizona, and Austin.

A graphic illustrating where parks are most needed, per TPL data.
Trust for Public Land