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L.A.'s Public Park System Now Ranks 74th In The Nation

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Griffith Park. (Photo by via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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Well, this isn't great. On Wednesday, The Trust for Public Land released their annual ParkScore index, which ranks local park systems in the 100 largest U.S. cities, and the great city of Los Angeles has fallen to 74th place. This is a drop from last year, when L.A. scored 65th in the nation.

The rankings are drawn from three factors: access to parks, park size (based on a city’s median park size and the percentage of total city area dedicated to parks), and facilities and investment. Minneapolis narrowly edged out cross-town rival Saint Paul to score first in the nation for the second consecutive year. San Francisco came in third, New York came in seventh, and even Las Vegas made it into the top 25.

Here's how that L.A. score breaks down (don't worry, it's not all bad). On the bright side, 13% of L.A.'s total city area is reserved for parks, which puts us above the the ParkScore average of 9%, and we also received above average marks for our number of recreation and senior centers. However, only 54% of city residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park (compare that to San Francisco, which might be a tech-bus dystopia, but is still a tech-bus dystopia where a 100% of city residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park).

Why, you might wonder, does having a park within a 10-minute walk matter for access? Well, the average person can walk about a half-mile in 10 minutes, which is why that half-mile radius (or ten-minute walk) has become the national standard for measuring not just access to parks, but also transit. And most city residents won’t walk for more than 10 minutes to get to a park (or to shopping or a rail line), so close-to-home access to parks is "vital for public health, clean environments, and thriving, equitable communities,” as Trust for Public Land SVP Adrian Benepe explained in a release.

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The very nature of our sprawling city also comes to bear on our ailing ParkScore. According to Alexandra Hiple, a research associate for the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land, sprawling cities "are generally lower ranking in ParkScores."

L.A.'s car-oriented culture also "really impacts how parks are planned and where they are put. Probably in this case meaning that they are farther away from most people," Hiple explained, noting that our 54% access rating was below ParkScore's national average of 66% of the population being within a 10-minute walk of a park.

"That's not to say that sprawling cities can't improve that score. They just have to be really strategic and thoughtful about where new parks are getting put, where the most people live, and where the densest areas are that are lacking in parks," Hiple continued.

That access is particularly important in lower-income neighborhoods, where housing tends to be more concentrated and residents are less likely to have a car or have access to private green space. The Trust for Public Land determines park need based on density of youth, density of individuals in households with income less than 75% of city median income, and population density (people per acre). Here's a look at how L.A. measures up, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, in terms of park need. Areas in dark red show a very high need for parks.

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(Click the above image to enlarge)

Park spending is also crucial to improving our score. At our current rate of spending $84.81 per resident on parks, L.A. falls right above the national average of $80, "but that's still pretty low," according to Hiple. "That's definitely an area that can have benefits across the whole spectrum of the ParkScore," she explained.

An effort led last year by Councilman Jose Huizar to increase park spending should help improve our ParkScore in future years. In September 2016, City Council voted unanimously to increase the park fees paid by developers for the first time in three decades. These increased Quimby fees, as they are called, could add as much as $30 million annually to the City’s new parks and park improvement program, as well as dramatically increase available park funding currently generated through the old program, according to a statement from Huizar.