Maintaining its years-long streak, Plano again topped Dallas-Fort Worth area parks in the Trust For Public Land’s 2020 ParkScore index. Arlington reported the most progress this year among area cities, climbing to 59th from last year’s ranking of 68th.
The annual rankings measure park access and quality in the 100 largest U.S. cities. Scores are based on four criteria: park access, park acreage, park investment and park amenities.
The news comes amid the coronavirus pandemic as local leaders work to reopen parks. Area parks, trails and golf courses are now open, while park amenities like playgrounds and restrooms remain closed.
The Trust for Public Land warned that city park systems are at a “critical tipping point.” Diane Regas, president and CEO of the Trust for Public Land, said parks have been a way for people to maintain their mental and physical health with stay-at-home orders in place.
“Residents deeply value parks, but continued inequity and the risk of future budget cuts threaten severe damage to the park systems that make many cities so livable,” she said.
Robert Kent is the Texas director for the Trust for Public Land. In the shade of a Live Oak by White Rock Lake, he holds the report that ranks Plano’s park system 17th among the nations 100 biggest cities.
Kent said Plano has really made an effort to invest in its parks.
“Just in 2019, the city had a bond program that passed that included about $16 million to $17 million for the park system, and it looks like there may be another bond program on the books coming up soon," he said. "The city understands parks are a major quality of life for residents and a major reason businesses relocate to the city of Plano.”
In Dallas, he said a quarter million more people are now that close to a park than they were before the 2017 bond program.
In March, after the COVID-19 lockdown, the number of people using the White Rock trail tripled. Yutaka Meyers said he knows why.
“I think people were stir crazy, trapped inside of homes. For us as a family — we have 2 sons — When we were living in condos and apartments, that was incredibly stifling,” Meyers said.
Robert Kent praises Dallas, and other cities like Fort Worth and Arlington for recent efforts to improve their parks. But he worries that budgets shrinking because of the corona virus will threaten that progress on parks.
The nonprofit’s analysts warn the economic decline resulting from COVID-19 will threaten the progress of parks. The city of Dallas has already furloughed 235 Park and Recreation Department employees, citing a $25 million deficit.
Following the economic downturn around 2008, park budgets were slashed by roughly 20%. The move slowed momentum for improvements and expansion in the following years, according to the organization’s research.
Bill Lee, senior vice president for Policy, Advocacy and Government Relations at The Trust for Public Land, said park advocates are facing a challenging road ahead.
“We encourage the federal government to provide relief to struggling park systems in the next recovery bill,” Lee said. “We need our parks, and we will not allow park systems to be collateral damage from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The city ranked 17th for its large park size and park access. According to ParkScore, 75% of Plano residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park compared to 72% of people nationally. But the city’s ranking was hurt by low scores for park amenities like dog parks, senior centers and splash pads.
The city’s improved ranking of 59th can be attributed to a substantial increase in park spending this year to $102 per resident, up from $92 last year. The size of Arlington parks also helped its score, though only 58% of Arlington residents live within a 10-minute walk to the park.
Dallas parks ranked 54th and are larger than most nationally. Its score has improved significantly over the past five years due to new trails and use of school campuses for public use after school hours. However, the city’s ranking was hurt by a lack of park amenities, including dog parks and restrooms.
The city maintained the same score pattern, ranking 83rd with a large park size but lower than average marks for park access. Garland’s ranking was also hurt by a lack of park amenities, including dog parks and splash pads.
Irving ranked 89th, reporting a higher number of playgrounds per resident. Still, the city received below-average marks on park access - only 64% of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park.
The city, which ranked 94th, received high marks for park size but low scores for park amenities. Fort Worth provides only 1.2 basketball hoops per 10,000 residents, which is less than half the national average.