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After Jumping Last Year, Cincinnati Parks Drops In National Park Survey

Jason Whitman/Image of Sport via AP
People walk along the Ohio River near the Roebling Suspension Bridge at Smale Riverfront Park in the wake of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday, May 6, 2020, in Cincinnati, OH.

Cincinnati Parks is back in 8th place in a survey ranking parks of the nation's largest 100 cities by the Trust for Public Land. The ranking marks a drop from 5th place in 2020.

Cincinnati's score is a 75.9. The Trust says the change is "due largely to reduced park spending."

"Like a lot of organizations out there, our finances were impacted a lot by the COVID-19 pandemic," says Rocky Merz, division manager with Cincinnati Parks. "I'm glad to say that thanks to the strong support from city leadership and from our park users and our donors, we expect to see a complete rebound."

Merz notes the recommended Cincinnati budget released Tuesday includes a 9% increase, which would, he notes, make up the pandemic losses.

That said, Cincinnati still shows well with spending of $172 per resident, compared with the national ParkScore average of $96.

The Trust for Public Land's annual ParkScore Index ranks park systems in the nation's 100 largest cities.

Topping the list are Washington, D.C. (1st), St. Paul (2nd) and Minneapolis (3rd). "These changes were largely the result of the addition of measures of park equity this year," according to a statement.

The Trust says the new equity category, which looks at neighborhoods of color compared with white neighborhoods, finds some inequities within Cincinnati Parks. However, it's not as pronounced and well below the national average.

The Trust's position is every home should have a quality park within a 10-minute walk.

"Nationally, residents in neighborhoods of color have access to 44% less park space than residents in white neighborhoods. In Cincinnati, it's 7% less," the Trust states. "Nationally, residents in low-income neighborhoods have access to 42% less park space than residents in high-income neighborhoods. In Cincinnati, it's 24% less."

Merz says Cincinnati Parks is also doing its own internal equity review to understand how accessible the parks are to people of color and low-income communities. He acknowledges the park district agrees reaching low-income communities could use improvement.

"We've been identifying these locations and we're waiting for the final census track information to be compiled and released, but we will use this information as we plan additional parks and look to acquire additional green spaces," Merz says. "It can provide a road map for us for where we need to invest. We're really excited going forward about our ability to address (equity)."

Park usages was strong during the pandemic and remains so. Merz says facilities are opening back up, as are events.

"Restrictions are being lifted. As of last week the plan was to have all of our drinking fountains open. The spray features are also able to resume this year, and all the restrooms are opening back up."

How The Rankings Work

  • Park equity compares per capita park space in neighborhoods of color vs. white neighborhoods and in low-income neighborhoods vs. high income neighborhoods. It also compares 10-minute-walk park access for people of color and lower-income residents. Park systems score higher if disparities are low or non-existent;
  • Park access measures the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park;
  • Park acreage is based on a city’s median park size and the percentage of city area dedicated to parks;
  • Park investment measures park spending per resident; and
  • Park amenities assesses the availability of six popular park features: basketball hoops, off-leash dog parks, playgrounds, splash pads and other water play structures, recreation and senior centers, and restrooms.

The Top 10

  1. Washington, D.C.
  2. St. Paul, MN
  3. Minneapolis, MN
  4. Arlington, VA
  5. Chicago
  6. San Francisco
  7. Irvine, CA
  8. Cincinnati
  9. Seattle
  10. Portland, OR

Elsewhere in Ohio, Cleveland ranks 24th. Toledo jumped 27 places to 50th followed by Columbus, which fell to 53rd.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.