Great Outdoors

This Is How Houston's Parks Rank Among America's Best

Apparently we need better access.

By Gwendolyn Knapp May 23, 2018

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Hermann Park

The Trust for Public Land has just released its annual ParkScore Index, which ranks how amazing the park systems are (or aren't) in the 100 largest cities in America. While Houston is home to incredible outdoor hubs including Hermann Park, Memorial Park, Discovery Green, and the ever-expanding Buffalo Bayou Park, which we all love to hit up for exercise, free outdoor performances, picnics, family time and then some, our city's park system only ranks 77th overall. 

That's because TPL's ParkScore is based on more than just park amenities, investment and acreage alone. It also includes residential access to them, which is where we kind of stink.

While a whopping 18 percent of city area is reserved for our parks—that's nearly double the national average of 9.3 percent—and we have 2.8 restrooms per 10,000 residents and 1.5 splashpads per 100,000 (both above average), only 49 percent of Houston residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park. That means less than half of us have easy access to the fun. 

Nationally, 70 percent of ParkScore city residents meet the 10-minute standard, so Houston is really lagging there. We also received below-average marks for access to basketball hoops, off-leash dog parks, playgrounds, and recreation and senior centers.

Public spending on parks reached $7.5 billion among the largest 100 American cities in 2018, a $429 million increase from 2017. This additional funding contributed to a slight increase in park access overall. The Trust for Public Land is leading a movement to put a park or natural area within a 10-minute walk of every U.S. resident.  

The 10 highest-ranking park systems in the United States are:                             

  1.  Minneapolis, MN       
  2. Saint Paul, MN          
  3. Washington, DC 
  4. Arlington, VA         
  5. San Francisco, CA 
  6. Portland, OR 
  7.  Cincinnati, OH 
  8.  Chicago, IL 
  9. New York, NY 
  10. Irvine, CA  

The lowest-ranking park systems are:

  1. Baton Rouge, LA 
  2. Memphis, TN 
  3. Winston Salem, NC 
  4. Laredo, TX 
  5. Fresno, CA 
  6. Hialeah, FL 
  7. Mesa, AZ 
  8. Charlotte, VA 
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