Housing Complex

D.C.’s Pretty Egalitarian With Its Parks

Good news for D.C. park lovers: According to the Trust for Public Land's ParkScore project, among the 50 biggest cities in the country, the District is the sixth-best when it comes to parks. Minneapolis takes first place, followed by New York, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Boston. Cities are ranked by park acreage, investment in parks, and access by residents across the city.

That's all well and good, but how egalitarian is D.C.'s park access? The geographic distribution of Metro, supermarket, retail, and, increasingly, public school access is decidedly unequal, with residents of the central and western parts of the city enjoying much greater access than those of wards 5, 7, and 8. Libraries, on the other hand, are pretty equitably distributed across the city. So how about parks?

On the ParkScore map, dark green means park space, light green means good access to parks, and orange and red mean poor access to parks. Clearly, Ward 5 has a disproportionate amount of land with poor access, while wards 1, 2, and 4 are particularly well served—but overall, there's good access across the city, including east of the Anacostia River.

The same applies when it comes to income: 97 percent of residents making less than 75 percent of the median city income are within half a mile of a park, as are 97 percent of residents making more than 125 percent of median city income. (Those making between 75 and 125 percent are actually slightly worse-served, with 96 percent having close access.)

Now, it should be noted that ParkScore's methodology is imperfect: My neighborhood gets credit for tiny triangular patches of grass that I've never seen anyone use, and Anacostia gets a boost from the trees and grass lining the Suitland Parkway. Likewise, some parks are kept up better than others. But nonetheless, the underlying message is true: The city (and the federal government in its overlord role) has done a pretty good job of making sure there are parks for just about everyone. Let's hope that message doesn't get lost as the city faces decisions about what to do with parcels of city-owned land. Even small parks, if they're truly accessible and pleasant places, can go a long way.

  • James

    Ironically, the article says that Ward 5 has a disproportionate amount of land with poor access yet this is where the city is moving forward with plans to destroy the historic McMillan Park despite opposition by the community, including over 2,000 petition signatures from DC residents. Egalitarian for everyone but Ward 5.

  • name

    Ward 5 has the best access to undeveloped university land of any ward. It's also one of the most suburban Wards in the city.

    Try visiting Ward5 before you talk.

  • http://westnorth.com PCC

    No, the city is moving forward with plans to BUILD a McMillan Park, paid for by the development around it.

  • anonymous

    Actually, James, right now, the McMillan Sand Filtration Site is 25 acres of fenced-off industrial site with no public access. If the plans to move forward with the site aren't scuttled, THEN the community will have a 6-acre new public park, rec center, library, and more. I know which option I'D rather have in Ward 5.

  • Will

    The problem is their use of GIS data compiled by NPS and the District that is deeply flawed. The immense acreage of the RFK parking lots... designated as parkland, the inaccessible Shepherd's Parkway forest above S. Capitol Street... designated as parkland, the walled off (to all but golfers) federal golf courses...parkland, the spaghetti-bowl of roads dividing the mall and tidal basin... parkland, the sloping ravine embankments leading to 4 lane highways of Suitland Parkway and Rock Creek Parkway... parkland.

    A previous commenter noted that Ward 5 has tons of institutional space that's open to the public, both religious and educational campuses. That is spot-on if you are actually concerned with parks which people use rather than what the governments say is a park. Even Rock Creek Park isn't very useful aside from a few fields and great trail running and dog walking access - even though its immense, it is offers far less park utility than say Prospect Park in Brooklyn. The best example, in DC, the dearth of parkspace leads people to use cemeteries as places to run and walk their dogs, which is pretty unique, and not done in most cities. That ought to explain where we should wind up on this silly ranking.

  • Peter Harnik

    Lot of good observations, Will. Of course, every city has parking lots in its parks (and some people are pro-parking lot), but we might be able to start at least counting the number of parking spaces in the park systems of every big city and give points for cities that have less parking in the parks. Of course, that would discriminate against cities with weak transit systems unless we could devise some kind of methodology that correlates both transit and parking. As for golf, I don't think you can really discriminate against them in this kind of analysis -- after all, tennis courts are also useless to non-tennis players, and playgrounds are useless (or off-limits) to many adults. It's still parkland. Converting golf courses to other uses (if that's what you want to do) is a different fight in a different context.

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