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Cities with the best parks

Minneapolis

Park land as a % of city area: 15.1% Spending on parks per resident: $210

“You can’t have a great city without a great park system,” said Adrian Benepe, senior vice president at the non-profit Trust for Public Land, which recently released its ratings of city park systems.

Minneapolis’ parks ranked number one thanks to the services it offers, like its management of community sports leagues, and ease of access for residents.

No matter where a person lives in the city, they are no more than six blocks away from one of the city’s 197 parks, said John Erwin, the president of the city’s parks and recreation board.

The city’s parks are built around the area’s abundant water resources, which includes seven lakes and numerous rivers and streams, said Erwin. The latest planned park involves re-purposing an old industrial area along the Mississippi River.

New York

Park land as a % of city area: 19.7% Spending on parks per resident: $160

New York’s green spaces receive well over 100 million visitors a year, according to Parks Department spokesman, Arthur Pincus. Central Park is the showstopper, hosting 40 million park goers annually.

New York devotes nearly 20% — more than 38,000 acres — of its land to green use. And most of that land is quite valuable: Central Park’s acreage alone is estimated to be worth more than half a trillion dollars, according to Jonathan Miller of Miller Samuel, a New York real estate appraiser.

The park system extends far beyond Manhattan to include ocean beaches in Staten Island, upland forests in the Bronx and re-purposed industrial sites, like the old Domino Sugar plant property in Brooklyn.

In recent years, the city has reclaimed much of its waterfront and established new parks along the Hudson River in Manhattan and along the East River in Brooklyn and Queens.

San Francisco

Park land as a % of city area: 17.9% Spending on parks per resident: $281

San Francisco’s moderate climate and seaside location help make it an exceptional place for recreational activities. And the city offers plenty of space for them, too: Nearly 18% of all land in town is park land.

There are parks on some of the city’s highest elevations, like Telegraph Hill, and green space along the waterfront from the Embarcadero on San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean shore all the way to the city line.

Golden Gate Park, which stretches for three miles from Haight-Ashbury all the way to the beach, is an amalgam of gardens, woods, pavilions and lawns.

And because the summers are cool and the winters warm, San Francisco’s parks can be enjoyed year-round.

“The parks are heavily utilized,” said Phil Ginsburg, general manager of San Francisco’s parks and recreation department. “People think of them as their backyards.”

Sacramento, Calif.

Park land as a % of city area: 8.1% Spending on parks per resident: $157

Sacramento’s parks made this year’s “best city parks” list thanks to the area’s strong culture of volunteerism, according to the Director of Parks and Recreation, Jim Combs.

“People in Sacramento really care about their parks,” said Combs. “After the financial downturn in 2007 and 2008, I lost half my budget and staff and we had to maintain the same amount of park land.”

Community members formed more than 60 “Adopt-a-Park” groups, many of them pitching in to help keep the greenery looking good. Currently, 2,000 volunteers are helping to restore McKinley Playground, which was badly damaged in a fire.

Of the top 5 park systems, Sacramento devotes the smallest percentage of its area to park land, lowering its overall rating from the Trust for Public Land. Yet, the city’s parks have one of the highest utilization rates in the country.

Boston

Park land as a % of city area: 15.9% Spending on parks per resident: $110

Established in 1634, historic Boston Common is the oldest park in the U.S. But it’s just one bead in an “Emerald Necklace” of parks, that hopscotches south through the city neighborhoods to Franklin Park.

Boston’s parks tend to be more formal, with landscaped gardens, gazebos, fountains, statues, and monuments.

Like many cities, Boston has expanded its park system recently to include the Rose Kennedy Greenway, which was built above the “Big Dig,” the project that tunneled through the city to form the route for I-93.

Cities with great park systems are often healthy cities and Boston is no exception. It was ranked the sixth fittest major city in the nation by the American College of Sports Medicine.

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