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.