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Minneapolis edges St. Paul for title of nation’s best park system

Bridge in Father Hennepin Bluffs Park, Minneapolis

The tie has been broken, and St. Paul isn’t going to be happy about it.

After finishing in a dead heat with Minneapolis a year ago, the capital city slipped to second in the Trust for Public Lands’ 2016 ParkScore Index, a measure of the nation’s best — and worst — parks systems.

Both cities had perfect “5-park-bench” ratings, as did Washington, D.C. But Minneapolis edged out its neighbor by getting higher scores in more of the three measurements — park access, park size as well as facilities and investment. Overall, Minneapolis received 86.5 points and St. Paul 82.5.

Last year both cities scored 84.

“Minneapolis and St. Paul are extraordinary cities with extraordinary park systems,” Nettie Compton, senior director for park development at the trust, said in the announcement. “In some ways, it is unfortunate they couldn’t stay tied forever.”

Compton will present the first place award to Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Superintendent Jayne Miller Thursday morning at Weber Park Natural Swimming Pool.

St. Paul wasn’t included in rankings prior to 2015 because previous lists only included the nation’s 60 largest cities. The size of the list grew to 75 in 2015 and 100 this year. Despite the extra competition, both cities remained in the top two spots.

The numbers show how close Minneapolis and St. Paul are to each other in terms of ParkScore metrics. Minneapolis’ large regional parks help it score well in median park size — 6.5 acres vs. 3.7 acres in St. Paul. But St. Paul has more of the city’s geography occupied by parks — 15.2 percent to 14.9 percent. Minneapolis has 5,056 acres of park land while St. Paul has 4,944.

In St. Paul, 96 percent of residents are within a 10-minute (or half-mile) walk of a park while 95 percent of Minneapolis residents are that close. According to the trust, Minneapolis spends $224 per resident on parks each year, while St. Paul spends $212. The pending agreement between the City of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board to put $11 million a year into parks over the next 20 years could give the city the edge in that front for some time, though, since park investment is a significant measurement in the index.

For 2016, the two cities were close in the facilities measurements of dog parks, playgrounds, rec centers and senior centers. Specifically, Minneapolis has 1.8 dog parks for each 100,000 residents with St. Paul coming in at 1.4. (Minneapolis has about 400,000 people and St. Paul about 300,000).

Tower Hill Park, home to the Witch’s Hat water tower
Tower Hill Park, home to the Witch’s Hat water tower, Minneapolis

St. Paul did better in number of playgrounds — 3.9 per 10,000 residents vs. 2.8 in Minneapolis. But Minneapolis scored higher in the number of senior and recreation centers — 2.6 per 20,000 residents compared to 1.8 in St. Paul. And Minneapolis got close in the number of basketball hoops per 10,000 residents — 3.9 to St. Paul’s 4.2.

In fact, the trust noted in its announcement that Minneapolis bumped ahead in the facilities category by “more-accurately reporting the number of basketball hoops” in the park system, suggesting a better count last year might have given Minneapolis an edge then as well.

The rest of the top 10 park systems are: Arlington, Virginia; San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; New York; Irvine, California; Boston; Cincinnati; and Madison, Wisconsin.

There was also a change at the bottom of the ratings of park systems in the 100 largest U.S. cities. For the first time since the index was compiled, Fresno, California, did not finish last. That dishonor went to Fort Wayne, Indiana. Fresno climbed all the way to second to last.

Two Native American burial mounds in Indian Mounds Regional Park
Two Native American burial mounds in Indian Mounds Regional Park, St. Paul

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Richard Rowan on 05/26/2016 - 09:54 am.

    Best of Both Worlds

    For those of us living in the Twin Cities, we have the best of both worlds.

    I live on the St. Paul side of the river and use parks almost every day, weather permitting. Sometimes in St. Paul, sometimes in Minneapolis.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/26/2016 - 10:34 am.

    Glad to see

    …both cities get some recognition for their efforts in this very important aspect of urban life. I feel very fortunate to live within 100 yards of a greenway along Shingle Creek in Minneapolis’ northwest corner, and I use the trails along the creek virtually every day.

    It’s not perfect, and I’d like to see more efforts and money devoted to *maintaining* equipment and trails that already exist, especially in this somewhat-forgotten northwest corner of the city, but I have hopes that the multi-million-dollar deal recently worked out between Minneapolis and the Park Board will meaningfully address that shortcoming. Even with that complaint, parks are far more accessible, and to far more people, in the Twin Cities than in any of the other places I’ve lived. Suburbs, at least the ones where I’ve lived in metro St. Louis and metro Denver, rarely have sizable open space set aside for parks that’s also readily accessible (i.e., within convenient walking distance) for most residents. It does happen, but it’s not the norm, and many a suburban developer and city council apparently believes that when everyone has a 60 x 100 back yard, it’s the equivalent of a 10-acre green space in each neighborhood. I think that belief is incorrect.

    They may deserve brickbats for some other things, but kudos to Ms. Miller, the Park Board and the Minneapolis City Council on this one.

  3. Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 05/26/2016 - 12:14 pm.


    Foiled again by that city across the river. Did no one tell the list makers that Minneapolis has a lake named Calhoun within their park system?

  4. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 05/26/2016 - 06:42 pm.

    Number 1 and Number 2

    is a reason to celebrate. If you want to compete over it to get better, then go for it. Otherwise, simply continue doing your best and it will stay the best. Does anyone really care – we are the Twin Cities, with two great cities, lots of good suburbs and beautiful countryside wth water everywhere.

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