Why Do Phoenix Area Cities Rank In Bottom Third For Parks?

By Christina Estes
Published: Monday, May 31, 2021 - 5:15am
Updated: Monday, May 31, 2021 - 8:07am

Aya Park playground
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Playground at Aya Park in Phoenix.

Parks in the Valley’s biggest cities rank among the lowest when it comes to a ratings system from the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit that annually evaluates the largest 100 cities across the United States.

Phoenix’s scores were lowest for access and equity. Just under half the city’s population (49%) can access parks within a 10-minute walk. The Trust advocates for a quality park within a 10-minute walk of every home.

Although 53% of lower-income households and 52% of people of color had 10-minute walk access to parks, the Trust found higher income areas and majority white neighborhoods have a disproportionately higher share of park space in Phoenix. The finding was similar in a majority of cities it evaluated.

Phoenix scored highest (100 out of 100) for the median size of city parks at 14.6 acres. The city scored 28 out of 100 for park amenities, like basketball hoops, playgrounds, splash pads, recreation centers, restrooms and dog parks.

Overall, Phoenix ranked 82nd out of 100 cities. Even though 66% of Mesa residents are within a 10-minute walk of parks, it ranked lowest among Valley cities at 96. The Trust scored Mesa low for acreage and amenities. Among Valley cities, Scottsdale came in highest at 66. The Trust ranked Scottsdale low for access and equity and higher for amenities and investment. Chandler ranked 69th, Gilbert was 75th, and Glendale ranked 73rd.

The Trust found only two cities — Boston and San Francisco — where 100% of residents lived within a 10-minute walk of a park or other public open space. 

The Trust for Public Land’s 10th-annual Park ParkScore index ranked Washington, D.C., as the best city park system in the country. Residents who identify as Black, Hispanic and Latinx, Indigenous and Native American, or Asian Americans and Pacific Islander are equally likely to live within a 10-minute walk of a park as white residents. Park space per capita is also distributed nearly equally in Washington.  

 St. Paul, Minnesota, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, ranked second and third.

For the first time in its 10-year history, the ParkScore index included equity in its ratings. Here are the five factors:

  • Park equity compares per capita park space in neighborhoods of color vs. white neighborhoods and in low-income neighborhoods vs. high income neighborhoods. It also compares 10-minute-walk park access for people of color and lower-income residents. Park systems score higher if disparities are low or non-existent; 
  • Park access measures the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park;  
  • Park acreage is based on a city’s median park size and the percentage of city area dedicated to parks;  
  • Park investment measures park spending per resident; 
  • Park amenities assesses the availability of six popular park features: basketball hoops, off-leash dog parks, playgrounds, “splash pads” and other water play structures, recreation and senior centers, and restrooms.  
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