Parks help make cities more livable. They’re a safe place for children to play, a gathering spot for people from all walks of life, a shady oasis from the brutal summer sun.
Sacramento’s city parks were put through the wringer during the recession, so it’s heartening that they come out looking pretty good in a new national ranking.
Our fair city ranks 17th among America’s 100 biggest cities in the latest parks scores from the Trust for Public Land.
The fifth annual score is based on park access (the percentage of residents living within a half mile of a park); park size (the average acreage and percentage devoted to parks); and investment and facilities (per-person spending and availability of popular park amenities).
Sacramento gets high marks for spending and amenities, including playgrounds and dog parks, not so much for park acreage or access. Its overall score isn’t as high as San Francisco’s (ranked fifth) or San Diego’s (12th), but it’s far better than Stockton’s (82nd) or Fresno’s (97th), though Fresno did climb out of last place by opening new playgrounds and a dog park.
Only the top three cities – Minneapolis, St. Paul and Washington, D.C. – earned the highest possible “five bench” rating. Generally, cities that rank high were blessed with forward-looking parks planning by the likes of Frederick Law Olmsted, or are newer cities built with “smart growth” principles, which also stress green space.
Maybe the best part of the study is that its in-depth website can be used by local residents and leaders to pinpoint neighborhoods where parks are needed.
In Sacramento, it confirms the park-poor areas I found as part of a series of editorials in 2010. While the city has goals of a park within a half-mile of every resident and at least 2.5 acres for every 1,000 residents, there were wide disparities and older neighborhoods such as Fruitridge/Broadway and south Sacramento fell short.
In 2010, the city was still mired in the budget crisis, and it got ugly for city parks. Upkeep was cut to the bone – far less mowing, weeding and watering, and very little preventive maintenance. If volunteer groups hadn’t stepped in, it would have been even worse.
Then voters approved the Measure U sales tax in 2012. While most of the money has gone to police and fire, parks have received a chunk as well. In the 2016-17 budget before the City Council on Tuesday night, there’s $9.8 million in Measure U money for operations and maintenance, plus $4.5 million for repairs.
For parks to enhance our lives, they need some TLC, too.
By the numbers
National rank and overall parks score (out of 100) for selected California cities:
- 5. San Francisco, 77.5
- 12. San Diego, 71.5
- 14. Oakland, 70.0
- 17. Sacramento, 67.5
- 22. Long Beach, 64.0
- 31. San Jose, 61.0
- 58. Riverside, 47.5
- 65. Los Angeles, 45.0
- 71. Bakersfield, 43.5
- 82. Stockton, 40.0
- 97. Fresno, 29.0
Source: The Trust for Public Land