Best & Worst Cities for Recreation

by Richie Bernardo

Best-&-Worst-Cities-for-Recreation-BadgesKick off your Sunday shoes and put on some sneakers. It’s time to get moving, folks. Whether your favorite pastime is playing ball, exploring museums or hitting the local nightlife, everyone has a reason to celebrate, as July is National Park and Recreation Month.

Speaking of parks and recreation, public facilities aren’t just for the physically active. They provide immense support to the overall well-being of a city, including the health of its community, environment and economy. Unsurprisingly, Americans’ fondness for the outdoors is evident in the amount of greenbacks they invest on green space. In 2013, the most populous U.S. cities combined spent more than $6.2 billion on parks and recreation.

And the return on their investment will be notably positive. Neighborhood parks historically have been instrumental in building community cohesion, boosting property values, improving public health and reducing pollution. Take Washington, D.C., for instance, where close proximity to parks increased property values by five percent, or $1.2 billion, in 2006. As another example, consider health care spending in Sacramento, Calif. In 2007 alone, the various park facilities that allow the city's residents to engage in physical activity contributed to an estimated savings of nearly $20 million in health care costs. The 100 largest cities in the United States perpetuated the trend, installing more than 120 new parks four years later.

In an effort to educate Americans on the value of an active lifestyle and the importance of public open spaces in their communities and finances, WalletHub compared the 100 largest U.S. cities and highlighted those with the most diverse opportunities for recreation, sports and culture. We did so using 24 key metrics that examine each city’s finances, parks quality, entertainment and recreation facilities as well as its weather and environmental conditions. To learn how we ranked each city, check out the Methodology section at the end of this article.

Main Findings

 

Overall Rank City Financial Rank Park’s Quality Rank Entertainment & Recreational Facilities Rank Weather Conditions Rank
1 Cincinnati, OH 11 4 1 58
2 Orlando, FL 1 52 11 28
3 Omaha, NE 5 2 14 74
4 Minneapolis, MN 16 3 7 76
5 Tampa, FL 23 49 16 13
6 St. Petersburg, FL 32 10 17 40
7 St. Louis, MO 18 23 9 94
8 Boise City, ID 6 34 37 26
9 Buffalo, NY 14 50 4 100
10 Sacramento, CA 43 28 24 9
11 Atlanta, GA 73 39 3 41
12 Baton Rouge, LA 3 56 29 54
13 Denver, CO 35 31 13 63
14 Pittsburgh, PA 31 48 8 83
15 Madison, WI 46 5 15 72
16 St. Paul, MN 44 21 12 68
17 Portland, OR 48 25 10 77
18 Cleveland, OH 39 41 6 82
19 New Orleans, LA 37 17 23 53
20 Reno, NV 10 85 26 27
21 Washington, DC 51 24 5 93
22 Scottsdale, AZ 73 46 18 3
23 Kansas City, MO 33 31 30 44
24 Albuquerque, NM 30 11 47 37
25 Aurora, CO 41 30 20 64
26 Honolulu, HI 83 58 2 43
27 Irvine, CA 94 14 21 21
28 Tucson, AZ 45 53 36 16
29 Seattle, WA 64 22 19 69
30 Lincoln, NE 12 8 59 46
31 Colorado Springs, CO 25 19 54 42
32 Glendale, AZ 57 57 35 11
33 Tulsa, OK 19 44 52 30
34 San Diego, CA 76 12 34 34
35 Lexington-Fayette, KY 21 65 39 61
36 Virginia Beach, VA 62 6 31 90
37 Detroit, MI 56 9 44 59
38 Greensboro, NC 24 14 61 57
39 Milwaukee, WI 4 37 58 95
40 Austin, TX 36 37 40 80
41 San Francisco, CA 91 40 27 49
42 Louisville, KY 9 55 45 91
43 Raleigh, NC 29 36 49 78
T-44 Boston, MA 88 7 25 98
T-44 Baltimore, MD 50 18 42 89
46 Las Vegas, NV 42 92 41 18
47 Nashville-Davidson, TN 28 47 46 87
48 Phoenix, AZ 20 68 75 17
49 Philadelphia, PA 71 54 33 52
50 Mesa, AZ 40 87 51 20
51 Fort Wayne, IN 2 74 73 96
52 Plano, TX 66 27 53 45
53 Oakland, CA 84 42 43 51
54 Oklahoma City, OK 17 69 76 35
55 Columbus, OH 26 59 66 60
56 Miami, FL 64 76 28 67
57 Henderson, NV 69 89 50 4
58 Long Beach, CA 86 60 55 12
59 Chandler, AZ 58 78 60 14
60 Norfolk, VA 79 71 38 61
61 Winston-Salem, NC 15 94 74 39
62 Chicago, IL 80 51 32 92
63 Indianapolis, IN 7 82 63 99
64 Wichita, KS 8 66 77 84
65 Riverside, CA 60 93 69 1
66 Memphis, TN 13 84 64 86
67 Anchorage, AK 92 16 48 81
68 El Paso, TX 34 28 97 25
69 Jacksonville, FL 82 25 65 66
70 Dallas, TX 51 45 72 71
71 Chesapeake, VA 70 12 78 47
72 North Las Vegas, NV 68 96 62 5
73 Fort Worth, TX 38 43 94 32
74 Stockton, CA 87 80 71 10
75 Durham, NC 63 70 57 78
76 Corpus Christi, TX 60 62 68 65
77 Lubbock, TX 54 61 81 48
78 San Bernardino, CA 47 82 90 8
79 Toledo, OH 55 67 93 50
80 Bakersfield, CA 22 88 98 2
81 Los Angeles, CA 90 77 79 7
82 Garland, TX 81 63 80 33
83 Anaheim, CA 93 100 56 6
84 Hialeah, FL 78 98 67 38
85 Arlington, TX 59 73 92 36
86 Richmond, VA 95 N/A 22 88
87 San Jose, CA 97 33 91 23
88 Santa Ana, CA 96 95 70 21
89 Gilbert Town, AZ 49 99 89 14
90 New York, NY 98 35 82 55
91 Irving, TX 67 72 85 75
92 Fresno, CA 53 90 99 19
93 San Antonio, TX 75 75 87 73
94 Houston, TX 89 64 83 85
95 Jersey City, NJ 77 91 86 55
96 Charlotte, NC 85 81 88 70
97 Fremont, CA 100 20 96 24
98 Chula Vista, CA 99 79 84 29
99 Laredo, TX 27 97 100 31
100 Newark, NJ 72 86 95 97
Best Worst Cities for Recreation

Ask The Experts:

As many cities have proven, parks yield many positive effects on the well-being of a community, its government and its economy. But some areas may not be realizing such potential in their own neighborhood parks. We consulted a panel of experts in related fields to learn how local authorities can improve facilities and services for their residents and duplicate the success of the cities with the best park systems.

Click on the experts’ profiles to read their bios and responses to key questions below. You also can click on the left and right arrows to view the comments in the order that the experts appear.

1. How can a city improve its parks and recreational facilities without overspending?
2. When it comes to public parks and recreational facilities, what is the biggest mistake local authorities can do?
3. Do you believe it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities for certain groups of the population (e.g. elderly or children)?
4. Do you believe that there is a direct link between the size of a park and the benefits it provides to the local community? Do you believe the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted for parks is still valid today – “long spaces that you could dream away in”?

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John Crossley

Program Coordinator, Recreation, Tourism and Events Program, Florida State University

How can a city improve its parks and recreational facilities without overspending?

Cities need to operate more like a business and less like a social service these days. Therefore they have to generate more funds and/or resources through fees and charges and partnerships/sponsorships with local business and/or other community agencies.

When it comes to public parks and recreational facilities, what is the biggest mistake local authorities can do?

Too many cities fail to partner with local schools to get more bang for the buck with facilities; not just sports fields, but also gyms, pools, crafts rooms, etc. This is a VERY old concept but many cities still fail to exploit it enough OR the school boards are overprotective.

Do you believe it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities for certain groups of the population (e.g. elderly or children)?

Yes, for types of facilities and programs that have universal appeal and are low cost. However for specialized programs that cost more per participant then I think its fair to charge a fee that covers costs.

Do you believe that there is a direct link between the size of a park and the benefits it provides to the local community? Do you believe the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted for parks is still valid today – “long spaces that you could dream away in”?

There is need for parks that have a passive and aesthetic purpose and also parks with spaces for high activity. Olmstead's Central Park in NYC has evolved to become a park that offers a blend of both. A large "crown jewel park" is great for any medium to large city. However some parks and open space need to be within easy distance of people's homes too, so that means some smaller parks throughout the city. Typically these are active places. On the other hand, too many "mini-parks" can become a maintenance headache and a budget drain.
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Steven R. Martin

Professor and Chair of the Department of Environmental Science and Management, Humboldt State University

When it comes to public parks and recreational facilities, what is the biggest mistake local authorities can do?

The biggest mistake local authorities could make is to build park facilities or develop recreation programs without first asking their citizens what they would like to see built or developed. What a park or recreation manager thinks is needed may be different from what the citizens of that community want. It's important to do a needs assessment and to reach out to the people who live there and will be using those park facilities and recreation programs to ask what they want and need.

Do you believe it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities for certain groups of the population (e.g. elderly or children)?

Yes. For the elderly, it's very important to keep them active and involved, and many of those folks are on fixed (and limited) incomes. Getting young children involved at an early age in nature-oriented activities can yield a lifetime of mental and physical health benefits. Subsidizing recreation activities for these groups is a small investment that can pay large social and health dividends to a community and its citizens.
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Bob Manning

Professor of Natural Resources and Director of the Park Studies Laboratory, The University of Vermont

How can a city improve its parks and recreational facilities without overspending?

I recommend finding partners in the community that can help extend chronically short budgets. Examples include a friends of parks and recreation group, community volunteers, college interns, special interest groups in the community (e.g., hiking clubs, and parks and recreation organizations in surrounding communities.

When it comes to public parks and recreational facilities, what is the biggest mistake local authorities can do?

The biggest mistake local authorities could make is to build park facilities or develop recreation programs without first asking their citizens what they would like to see built or developed. What a park or recreation manager thinks is needed may be different from what the citizens of that community want. It's important to do a needs assessment and to reach out to the people who live there and will be using those park facilities and recreation programs to ask what they want and need.

Do you believe it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities for certain groups of the population (e.g. elderly or children)?

Yes. The American parks and recreation movement began as a very democratic ideal -- all people should have access to park and recreation facilities and services. Park and recreation departments should be sure to provide services to those who have special needs.

Do you believe that there is a direct link between the size of a park and the benefits it provides to the local community? Do you believe the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted for parks is still valid today – “long spaces that you could dream away in”?

I admire Olmsted and his important work. But I don't think the value of parks is measured in their size. Many urban parks are necessarily small (compared to conventional national parks), but they can have especially high value because they can serve the needs of so many people.
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David B. Rolloff

Professor of Recreation, Parks & Tourism Administration, California State University, Sacramento

How can a city improve its parks and recreational facilities without overspending?

One successful technique has been to involve interest groups or non-profits in maintenance and program efforts to maintain a city’s active park life.

When it comes to public parks and recreational facilities, what is the biggest mistake local authorities can do?

Build facilities adequate without maintenance and operation funding.

Do you believe it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities for certain groups of the population (e.g. elderly or children)?

Yes, but programs for adolescents/youth are the most important – this is the most under-served population generally, and programs aimed at youth ages 13-17 can have significant benefits.

Do you believe that there is a direct link between the size of a park and the benefits it provides to the local community? Do you believe the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted for parks is still valid today – “long spaces that you could dream away in”?

No, I don’t think size matters. I think even the smallest urban park can have significant impact, especially if its dominant features are natural and it is well-maintained.
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Patrick T. Tierney

Professor and Chair of the Department of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism, San Francisco State University

How can a city improve its parks and recreational facilities without overspending?

Partner with nonprofits for services and use savings for facilities.

Do you believe it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities for certain groups of the population (e.g. elderly or children)?

Absolutely. Otherwise low income kids get left out. Use a needs test. Some basic rec skills, like learning how to swim, so be subsidized so they are free or very low cost. Specialized activities should be priced at or near market rates.

Do you believe that there is a direct link between the size of a park and the benefits it provides to the local community? Do you believe the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted for parks is still valid today – “long spaces that you could dream away in”?

Bigger city parks that toucan escape into are critical in today's busy world. Then taking it a step further we need true wilderness. As was said‚ ’in wilderness is the salvation of the world’.
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Brent A. Beggs

Professor and Program Director ofthe Recreation and Park Administration Program, Illinois State University

How can a city improve its parks and recreational facilities without overspending?

Municipalities implement budget systems and use bid processes as mechanisms that help control spending. However, it’s important to step back to early planning which is the key to improving parks and recreation facilities without overspending. It’s vital that a city has a master plan that addresses the future of the parks and recreation department.

The plan should address the maintenance and growth of current facilities in addition to the development of any new facilities or spaces that have been outlined as a priority for the city. This plan should guide decision related to maintaining and improving parks and recreation facilities. This plan should be evaluated and updated regularly in order to provide direction for facility development decisions. The plan also provides a time frame which allows administrators to determine funding options and include facility improvements in a capital improvement plan.

There are different types of bonds which often serve as funding options for capital projects such as facility development. There are also opportunities to maximize dollars through grants and gifts which should be thoroughly investigated.

Cities may also be able to keep costs down by being prepared to acquire property or buildings in the community which may become available at a reduced cost when a business moves or an individual wants to make a donation. Some older buildings may even have historical value and a municipality may be able to obtain these buildings and receive federal funding to maintain them and develop them for recreational use. Cities may also be able to obtain land or develop recreational space by providing incentives for developers in the community that are currently planning new projects. By sticking to the master plan, a city is more likely to be prepared financially for facility improvement and is more likely to develop facilities that match the needs of the community.

When it comes to public parks and recreational facilities, what is the biggest mistake local authorities can do?

The biggest mistake local authorities can make is to make a quick decision about purchasing or improving a parks and recreation facility that does not mesh with the master plan. The master plan should serve as the guide for all decisions made regarding the future of the parks and recreation department. Deviating from this plan can lead a municipality away from its mission and values, which play an important role in shaping the master plan. It can also lead to stakeholders questioning government officials and how decisions are made.

Do you believe it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities for certain groups of the population (e.g. elderly or children)?

Municipal parks and recreation programs were initially fully funded through local taxes and there were not any costs for individuals to register for programs or services. Over the years, as cities and municipal governments grew, more money was needed for other community services and parks and recreation departments saw their budgets shrink. This is when fees were included for recreational activities and services, however, it became apparent that some programs could not support themselves. These programs often represent services to groups that cannot afford to pay more for them (elderly, children, under-represented), however, these services are essential for overall well-being of the community and need to be subsidized.

Parks and recreation departments have subsidized program for years. This is a very common practice and is essential to meet the needs of the community. Is subsidizing the answer? It is for now. It is important that communities find ways to offer these programs. However, we are seeing more parks and recreation departments moving away from the social model of operations and following a business model. If the business model is fully adopted, communities are going to need to find ways to offer essential programs and services to those that cannot afford them.

Do you believe that there is a direct link between the size of a park and the benefits it provides to the local community? Do you believe the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted for parks is still valid today – “long spaces that you could dream away in”?

The size of a park isn’t near as important as the opportunities provided in a park. Certainly, a larger park provides a ‘larger canvas’ and the opportunity for more experiences and more types of experiences. But, more importantly is how a park space is planned and the opportunities it provides to local community members. A well designed small park can be just a beneficial as a larger park.

Olmsted’s vision that parks should be “long spaces that you could dream away in’ is very much valid today. Olmsted sought to design parks in urban areas and provide a respite from the city and a connection with the outdoors and one’s self. This is still an essential role of parks today. However, I think we have added to Olmsted’s foundation. Parks today also include opportunities for physical activity, social interaction, and even opportunities to learn. We can still ‘dream away’ in our parks, but we can do so much more.
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Daniel L. Dustin

Professor of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, The University of Utah

How can a city improve its parks and recreational facilities without overspending?

It's the quality of the programming and the sense of stakeholder ownership of parks and recreation that matters.

Do you believe it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities for certain groups of the population (e.g. elderly or children)?

Yes, when necessary, because I believe recreation ought to be treated as a public good. ’Willingness to play matters more to me than willingness to pay.’

Do you believe that there is a direct link between the size of a park and the benefits it provides to the local community? Do you believe the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted for parks is still valid today – “long spaces that you could dream away in”?

I would say no, there is probably not a direct link. What matters is the quality of the park, its safety, and its proximity to its constituents. I don't think one needs 'long spaces' to dream away in. Short spaces, including one's own backyard, can be conducive to dreaming away in. Give me a few trees, green grass, billowy clouds, and a gentle breeze, and my imagination will take care of the rest.
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Jeffrey C. Hallo

Associate Professor of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, Clemson University

How can a city improve its parks and recreational facilities without overspending?

Some cities have instituted a hospitality tax or a similar tax to adequately fund their park and recreation agencies, while other are turning to non-profit partnerships. Parks and recreation facilities are typically woefully underfunded. So, the problem is not overspending on them, the real problem is under-spending. Research clearly shows that investments in parks and recreation create substantial economic and quality-of-life returns for communities. Even without looking at the science behind this, look around to thriving communities and you'll almost always see high-quality park and recreation facilities at their core. These facilities drive a community's economy forward.

When it comes to public parks and recreational facilities, what is the biggest mistake local authorities can do?

Treating them as an 'extra' instead of a fundamental part of economic development.

Do you believe it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities for certain groups of the population (e.g. elderly or children)?

Parks in the U.S. have always been a reflection of our democracy by allowing public use; they are not intended to be exclusive or for profit. Sustaining them through fees is certainly important, but they should remain open to the public as a whole. This dual issue of sustainable funding and access suggests that it is necessary to subsidize recreational activities for some groups. Also, parks provide opportunities for physical fitness, improved health, learning, and better connecting people with their community, so it benefits almost everyone in the community to encourage use by groups who may not be able to make paying a park or recreation fee a priority in their daily budget.

Do you believe that there is a direct link between the size of a park and the benefits it provides to the local community? Do you believe the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted for parks is still valid today – “long spaces that you could dream away in”?

The importance of parks and the benefits they provide to people have only some connection with their size. Pocket parks in cities, often found between buildings or in other small niches, can provide just as much relaxation and escape as a larger park. These small parks' proximity to daily life and its stresses may even make them more important. A feeling of safety, high-quality recreation equipment such as playgrounds or sports fields, and aesthetics are more important in many community parks than the actual size of the park. However, larger parks serve their role too in that they provide greater protection of natural resources and natural functions (like clean water and air) and allow for some popular recreation activities such as hiking, mountain biking or backcountry camping.
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Kim R. Beason

Professor of Park and Recreation Management, The University of Mississippi

How can a city improve its parks and recreational facilities without overspending?

Good question and highly variable depending on the location and community. Basically, the options include partnering with corporations, increased sponsorships, building private-public partnerships, forming 'Parent' or 'Friends of' groups, concessioning out services - much like the National Park Service has done, and privatization of facilities. You can include cutting costs, but that has been worn too thin in most all communities to where any cuts affect quality. The best first step is to evaluate the recreation provided by asking the community what is needed, when it is needed, where it is needed, and even why it may be needed and what it is worth.

On a more geopolitical platform you can impress government to spend more, not less on quality services and associate those expenses with increased tourism, quality of life, etc... Better accounting and money-management training for directors and mid-management personnel always helps, but again, has been practiced and has been used to increase productivity and decrease budget-drains.

When it comes to public parks and recreational facilities, what is the biggest mistake local authorities can do?

Discount the value that recreation and parks have on the quality of life within the community and how well-managed recreation programs increase tourism revenues, decrease crime, and increase property values. Health benefits are also a major benefit that recreation/parks provide that are often not well communicated as part of the benefits package.

Do you believe it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities for certain groups of the population (e.g. elderly or children)?

Subsidies are a very political issue within any community. Again, it depends on the specific community. In retirement communities, for example, you would be expected to subsidize recreation as quality of life associated with recreation opportunities are significant. In a community that has a diverse socioeconomic population the recreation professionals are obligated to establish scholarship programs to allow youth to participate. In a community that has a high population of veterans and military personnel you would expect the recreation programs to be structured to increase participation by that population and if there are many wounded warriors, those programs would be more specialized to increase participation.

Do you believe that there is a direct link between the size of a park and the benefits it provides to the local community? Do you believe the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted for parks is still valid today – “long spaces that you could dream away in”?

I like this question as it is grounded in philosophy from which much of our park culture has evolved. I will start by saying that open spaces, green spaces and byways, and parks are embedded in Americana and a part of what differentiates the USA from most countries and those that are similar learned from our visions of parks and open space. Quality of Life in the USA is associated with open space on many planes. Obvious case study is Central park in NYC. An attraction for tourists, but more so for residents of the city. A large municipal park by all definitions. In Memphis, Tennessee is Shelby Farms, the largest open space in any metropolitan center and the pride of the city. Now, if you relate the benefits of green space and park to a population, that measure is mostly intrinsic but also with extrinsic value. Intrinsically, it provides that space to 'dream away in' and extrinsically it provides a sense of belonging to a 'natural' community that is better than others.

The size of the park is relevant to location and population. Even small green spaces provide benefits similar to the larger ones mentioned above.
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Bob Canada

Assistant Professor of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, Oral Roberts University

How can a city improve its parks and recreational facilities without overspending?

There are several ways to accomplish this. The obvious is to get the general public (users and community residents) involved in the operation of parks and community centers. Today it is imperative that all leisure service agencies actively seek private donations to help fund programs. Park and recreation budgets are usually fourth or five in appropriations behind fire, police, and public works. There simply aren’t enough tax dollars to adequately fund all the needed services.

Another way would be to consolidate city and county leisure services. As an example Nashville, Tennessee has had a metro form of government for many years. Having worked for a metro form of park and recreation department in Alabama, which was funded from three governing bodies (two cities and the county), I know firsthand that it can work. Many of the duplicated services were eliminated, thus saving tax dollars that could be used for programming. Here in Tulsa, Oklahoma we have three agencies in the park and recreation business: The Tulsa City Park and Recreation, Tulsa County Park and Recreation, and River Parks. River Parks was started and funded primarily by donations, however it is partially funded by tax dollars at this time. Out of necessity they are more aggressive than the city or county in fund raising. There has been a committee formed to look at the consolidation of city and County Park and recreation.

When it comes to public parks and recreational facilities, what is the biggest mistake local authorities can do?

Fail to listen to the public. It requires more work and some of the public that will come to open meetings are a pain, however administrators must listen.

Do you believe it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities for certain groups of the population (e.g. elderly or children)?

Yes I do to a point. One of the ways to accomplish this is to charge more for adult program participation so that the elderly and children can enjoy leisure activities without having to pay full price. Generally these two populations can least afford to pay. I believe that most recreational activities for the youth should be free or very inexpensive. Some recreation centers have been known to charge to participate in general recreational activities. The population that needs recreation the most can least afford to pay for it. We don't charge to go to public school, why should we charge for general recreational activities?

Do you believe that there is a direct link between the size of a park and the benefits it provides to the local community? Do you believe the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted for parks is still valid today – “long spaces that you could dream away in”?

No, I don't. I have seen youth playing in a mini-park that seemed to enjoy it as much as if they were in a national park. Of course large regional and national parks offer amenities that can't be found in the smaller parks. I believe there is a place for both and they can be enjoyed equally. Olmsted saw parks as a place for walking, riding, and relaxing in a naturalistic retreat from the harshness of the city. It is possible that his vision brought about a conflict between Joseph Lee (the father of the modern playground), Jane Addams (Hull House-Chicago), and Luther Gulick (father of modern physical education). Of course Olmsted's most famous creation as a landscape architect was Central Park in New York. Today both movements have come together to form a union for all Americans.
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Logan Park

Assistant Professor of Forest Recreation and Park Management, Southern Illinois University

How can a city improve its parks and recreational facilities without overspending?

A city can improve its parks and recreation facilities without overspending by taking a close look at the messaging that it provides to visitors. Signs and other public outreach are durable, inexpensive relative to staffing, and are highly effective when composed according to extensively tested guidelines. Clear educational, orientation and way finding, and policy messaging all help to prevent depreciative behaviors, resource impacts, and costly safety/liability problems. Remember, you have to examine the message from the visitor/user's perspective, not the full-time staffer or expert's perspective.

Another cost-effective way for improving park and recreational facilities is to run the cost/benefit analysis for durable multiuse facilities, like shared-use paths (pedestrian, bicycle, jogging, pet walking, etc.). These improve the available amenity for larger proportions of visitors than do specialized facilities. In addition, state or federal funding is often available for well-planned projects under grant programs to mitigate much of the cost. The recreational trails program under the Federal Highway Administration is an excellent example.

A third - and in my experience highly effective and enjoyable - approach is to vigorously cultivate a culture of volunteerism among local park and protected area users. While volunteers are never free (requiring staff time to organize as well as potentially insurance policy coverage), often the visitors and local residents that are most excited about enjoying your parks and recreation facilities are exactly the ones that you want to provide opportunities for volunteerism anyway. Cleanup days, programming, educational events, civic engagement, even some kinds of facility maintenance are all within reach. In my own backyard, the Shawnee National Forest, under the nationally-recognized leadership of Kelly Pearson and her colleagues in the U.S. Forest Service, bring in the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in volunteer service each year.

Finally, many expensive planning tools also have free and open-source alternatives: geographic information systems can cost tens of thousands of dollars per license, but free alternatives like QGIS can have much the same functionality.

When it comes to public parks and recreational facilities, what is the biggest mistake local authorities can do?

Unfortunately, there are lots of ways for park management to go off the rails. One is to allow non-native invasive species to infiltrate areas that you are trying to manage as 'natural', however that's defined in your case. Non-native invasive species removal is expensive, time-consuming, and never really finished.

Another big mistake to avoid is adopting a one-size-fits-all approach for the facilities run by park and recreation agencies and organizations. Locals and visitors come to parks and other protected areas for a tremendous variety of reasons, so it makes a lot of sense to manage toward as many of those motivations as possible instead of the few most visible ones. Federal land management agencies use processes like the Recreation Opportunities Spectrum to make sure they're squeezing as many compatible activities as possible out of each zone within the protected area.

Do you believe it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities for certain groups of the population (e.g. elderly or children)?

From a public health perspective, it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities that improve fitness and well-being of local residents, if the park and recreation budget is tied to the healthcare budget locally. The situation is a classic example of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. Healthcare remains comparatively costly in the United States for individual citizens relative to other developed nations.

Do you believe that there is a direct link between the size of a park and the benefits it provides to the local community? Do you believe the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted for parks is still valid today – “long spaces that you could dream away in”?

Parks provide so many benefits to local communities––improved air and water quality, affordable access to green spaces, stress reduction, opportunities for solitude, wildlife viewing opportunities, environmental education, migratory species habitat, fitness, personal development, safe public social spaces, healthy exposure to challenge and risk, ecosystem services, increased nearby property values, affiliated business opportunities, the list goes on.

There's even evidence that sidewalk trees and planters directly and measurably improve revenue of nearby businesses (and by extension, local tax revenue) on a per-tree basis. So, green spaces can improve communities even when they're just a few trees wide.

Frederick Law Olmsted gave the United States the shape of many of its most famous early parks - at a unique moment in history just after the Civil War. We had wide-open wild spaces long since farmed away in Europe, breathtaking natural features, and growing economic means to provide access in the form of parks.

Later, John Muir was on the right track in the late 1800s/early 1900s when he said, 'Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.'
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Jon McChesney

Chair of the Department of Recreation & Park Administration, Eastern Kentucky University

How can a city improve its parks and recreational facilities without overspending?

There are several ways to improve parks and recreational facilities aside from tax revenue including partnerships, exploring alternate funding sources such as grants as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, contracts, private funding, and being creative! A local option sales tax is a good way to build or enhance recreational facilities since such a tax is driven by consumer interest and demand.

When it comes to public parks and recreational facilities, what is the biggest mistake local authorities can do?

Failing to work in partnership with other community partners including non-profit agencies such as the YMCA, local health care providers, schools, universities, and the private sector. Typically there are a lot of groups and agencies within a community providing some level of recreational activity such as the Boy Scouts and churches, thus the key is to work collaboratively rather than in competition with one another. There is a role for the local parks and recreation agencies to act as a facilitator and clearing house for all these groups in helping to create public awareness (marketing) of all of the activities and opportunities in an area. Such collaboration may also help reduce the time crunch many feel and achieve better leisure balance.

Do you believe it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities for certain groups of the population (e.g. elderly or children)?

Absolutely, the underserved within communities such as individuals with disabilities, the elderly, and those socio-economically challenged need to have recreational opportunities provided. We all have a vested interest in promoting wellness and healthy lifestyles among all constituents.

Do you believe that there is a direct link between the size of a park and the benefits it provides to the local community? Do you believe the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted for parks is still valid today – “long spaces that you could dream away in”?

There is an economic linkage with park size, and certainly large park areas can drive tourism. We need to find good balance in the number of parks and keep in mind that small neighborhood parks that can be accessed via walking are critically important. If our country is to get healthy, we need to provide easy access to play areas that can lead to more self-directed activity. Such activity is empowering to the individual rather than the over abundance of formally programmed activity such as youth sports. Don't get me wrong, youth sports have a role to play in good wellness, but I'm afraid we are losing the pickup game or the impromptu activity of a couple of friends in our parks. Play is vitally important to good health!
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Fran P. Mainella

Chair of the Children and Nature network, Co-chair of the US Play Coalition, Visiting scholar Clemson University, and the 16th director of the national park service, College of Health, Education & Human Development, Clemson University

How can a city improve its parks and recreational facilities without overspending?

We can improve facilities by making sure all are safe and playful through a great preventive maintenance effort as I worked on in all my positions. The maintenance backlog in nps was a big focus for me and it continues for our Director today to address this backlog. Focusing on good maintenance can save dollars if done well. Also, partnering with others can help reduce costs such as sharing portable bleachers and other similar facilities. Partnerships are a key for success for all.

When it comes to public parks and recreational facilities, what is the biggest mistake local authorities can do?

It is so important to be sure our facilities allow unstructured play as well as programmed play. We often make a mistake of not having more natural open areas for park and recreation. The benefits of unstructured nature play includes success academically and the development of important cognitive skills like decision making, creativity and imagination. Also it helps with physical and mental health including addressing obesity and ADD.

Do you believe it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities for certain groups of the population (e.g. elderly or children)?

It is important to make sure all our populations can have park and recreation. This is addressed differently in various areas. Often charitable groups like rotary and others help provide scholarships for those in need. Also volunteer opportunities that allow free access to programs and facilities have been successful. We need to make sure all have access.

Do you believe that there is a direct link between the size of a park and the benefits it provides to the local community? Do you believe the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted for parks is still valid today – “long spaces that you could dream away in”?

Olmstead has been so important to our park concepts. His vision of having enough long spaces for dreaming away in is the open space I mentioned earlier that allows the unstructured nature play to take place. It is important to have adequate land matching the population of the area. Opportunities in parks and recreation don’t always require extensive facilities. We do though need to help all feel they can dream and explore through play in our parks and find success and good health thru these park and recreation opportunities.
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James C. Kozlowski

Associate Professor, School of Recreation, Health, and Tourism, George Mason University

How can a city improve its parks and recreational facilities without overspending?

Overspending? There is little opportunity to engage in overspending in this economic and political environment. Particularly in public parks and recreation shrinking budgets have forced agencies to become more and more innovative, doing more with less, looking to volunteers, public/private partnerships, and “friends of the parks” groups to leverage available funding and revenue. For example, Park/school joint use agreements is one popular way to maximize the use of available athletic fields, gyms, and pools.

When it comes to public parks and recreational facilities, what is the biggest mistake local authorities can do?

It is critical to systematically elicit feedback from public clientele, listening and giving voice to foster and maintain the support of various user groups, ethnic groups, age groups, etc., keeping up with changing local demographics. Failure to effectively listen to your constituencies will erode the necessary political support for public parks and recreation funding.

Do you believe it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities for certain groups of the population (e.g. elderly or children)?

What do you mean by subsidize? Special rates for children and seniors are fairly typical in many public and private programs and facilities. Whether it’s a good idea or not will depend on the demographics and recreational needs of a particular community. A certain level of service should be provided for everyone, particularly the availability of public open space for passive and active recreational activities. Fee schedules for additional services need to be reasonable and inclusive, not effectively "pricing out of the market" any particular group demographic, including the youth and elderly in a community.

Do you believe that there is a direct link between the size of a park and the benefits it provides to the local community? Do you believe the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted for parks is still valid today – “long spaces that you could dream away in”?

Yes. Schools along with public parks and recreation define the quality of life in most communities. Moreover, public parks and recreation effectively define the scope and availability of public amenities in a community. In addition to employment opportunities, most people are drawn to a particular locale and choose to live there based on the quality of life available in a given community which is defined in large measure by the level of public recreational facilities and services as well as open space. Property values are generally enhanced by proximity to quality parks and open space. “Backs onto public parkland” is a reference realtors use to promote the sale of a house adjacent to public parkland.
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Dale Larsen

Director of Community Relations and Professor of Practice, College Of Public Programs, Arizona State University

How can a city improve its parks and recreational facilities without overspending?

1)Prudent and aggressive partnerships with a variety of non- profit and private organizations including “Conservancies, Foundations, Friends Groups” and a variety of stewardship opportunities including meaningful recruitment, placement and retention volunteer strategies.

2) Municipal operational budgets and personnel have sustained budget reductions in the range of 40% over the past 5-10 years. Over spending at the municipal level is difficult since these budgets are approved as “balanced.” A robust community engaged messaging effort is the only way these kinds of coalitions can succeed. Many examples of successful efforts throughout the country.

When it comes to public parks and recreational facilities, what is the biggest mistake local authorities can do?

Many municipalities are able to actively pursue successful capital building campaigns through tax supported or revenue supported bonds; however, during the same time frame operational support budgets have been reduced making it virtually impossible to operate these facilities. The notion that “build it and they will come” does not relate to public facilities. A second mistake is the policy decision to raise participation/registration fees to a point where fees are unaffordable . A case in point is public golf. Golf is at best “flat” and mostly in decline in all part of the nation. The idea that public parks and recreation programs can be self-sustained through increased fees discriminates against low income and under-served populations.

Do you believe it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities for certain groups of the population (e.g. elderly or children)?

Absolutely -public policy should not negatively affect the most vulnerable segments of our communities – urban or rural. In the same manner that a public library is open to all, so should public park and recreation facilities/programs.

Do you believe that there is a direct link between the size of a park and the benefits it provides to the local community? Do you believe the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted for parks is still valid today – “long spaces that you could dream away in”?

I can easily argue both sides of this first question. Yes, greater the park size the more opportunities for diverse programs and larger populations being served; however in our urban neighborhoods, any size of an open space park will have direct benefits to the immediate neighborhood. The size of the park is based on a robust strategic planning effort with the community. Depending on the kinds of activities being promoted – this will often generate the size of the park being planned.

To the second point, having an engrained Olmstead philosophy certainly should be rooted in the initial thoughts and ideas of park planning. With this in mind, safe and secure open public spaces are always a priority. For example in both Milwaukee and Phoenix, park planners were able to envision thousands of acres of trails and open space for the urban community dating back to the 20thcentury. Municipalities should always attempt to acquire large expanses of open land for virtual freedom, visual and aestheteic sight and livability. Making your community better for future generations is the legacy Olmstead intended.
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Rasul A. Mowatt

Associate Chair, Associate Professor, Department of Recreation, Park & Tourism Studies, School of Public Health-Bloomington, Indiana University

How can a city improve its parks and recreational facilities without overspending?

Municipal parks and recreation districts and/or departments can improve facilities through partnerships. As many are aware, taxes are the principal funding sources for districts and departments and due to this are not subject to the ability to increase their revenues dramatically through fees and tax increases through referendums. This leaves capital campaigns without the major financial boost that is needed to build or conduct an expansive renovation initiative. Partnerships with school districts or libraries could be an initial way to share costs for major capital projects through shared governance and shared use of the new (or renovated) facility. Another burgeoning partnership is with public health districts that could lead to enhanced health affordances for communities.

When it comes to public parks and recreational facilities, what is the biggest mistake local authorities can do?

The biggest mistake that authority within districts or department could make related to facilities are not catering to the current and future needs of their constituencies. Seeking input from the public in all phases of facility planning, building, and programming can only result in the actual use of the facility. Facilities should be culturally relevant to the neighborhood identities in close proximity to a facility. Facilities should offer a variety usage, ranging from spaces for physical activity, meeting, solitary activity, and social cohesion. Lastly, facilities should be forward thinking in their design so that future capital improvement could be eliminated or postponed.

Do you believe it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities for certain groups of the population (e.g. elderly or children)?

As a governmental entity, districts or departments follow similar practices of other extensions and services of government (Department of Transportation, Department of Health and Human Services, etc.). Additionally, funding for districts or departments come from their tax base which includes seniors and senior care facilities. Even further, many districts and departments receive funding support for offering services to children on federal food assistance which then benefits other children in programs; to families on income, medical, and food assistance that in turn bring in additional funding for small scale improvements for facilities (ramps, lighting, computer labs, etc.). As such, the occasional subsidizing that a local district or department may engage in is often offset by these funding support from federal funds. Further, park districts and departments were founded in the United States on the notion of serving the social good and any other thought or operation runs counter to that founding.

Do you believe that there is a direct link between the size of a park and the benefits it provides to the local community? Do you believe the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted for parks is still valid today – “long spaces that you could dream away in”?

Size is only one facet of a useful park. Proximity to those most likely to use it is another. While park amenities (lighting, trails, courts, benches, fountains, etc.) are an even more important link to the benefits a park provides to the local community. A large park without any amenities besides green space does not serve the practical needs of 2014 communities. Parks in this age are not just location for contemplation, they are activity spaces.
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Jamie Rae Walker

Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M University

How can a city improve its parks and recreational facilities without overspending?

Many entities are working on private public partnerships. As with any funding option, these come with benefits and limitations. Some entities are requiring endowments when building new infrastructure. However, projects can be put on hold for long periods of time while private and public supporters work to raise an adequate amount of funds for endowments.

When it comes to public parks and recreational facilities, what is the biggest mistake local authorities can do?

Local authorities tend to take good care of their parks but budgets are often dependent on the tax base and other factors out of their control. One issue they deal with is keeping up with deferred maintenance. It is often difficult to help the general public understand the value and cost savings of investing in deferred maintenance. Recently, many communities have also dealt with destruction from natural disasters.

Do you believe it is a good idea for local authorities to subsidize recreational activities for certain groups of the population (e.g. elderly or children)? If communities are using publicly owned land, facilities, and tax dollars to offer open spaces and programs, than they need to consider if these facilities and programs are truly accessible to all tax payers.

Do you believe that there is a direct link between the size of a park and the benefits it provides to the local community? Do you believe the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted for parks is still valid today – “long spaces that you could dream away in”?

From my work with citizens, I have experienced that the benefits of a park are tied to the design and upkeep of the park as well as the values, cultures, and needs of the community. That being said, with rapidly increasing density issues, long spaces will be more difficult and expensive to acquire or connect and will most likely be in greater demand.

Methodology

In an effort to educate Americans on the value of an active lifestyle and the importance of public open spaces in their communities and finances, WalletHub compared the 100 largest U.S. cities and identified the ones that offer the most diverse opportunities for recreation, sports and culture. We looked into 24 essential metrics such as spending on parks per resident, number of attractions, parkland acres per capita and weather conditions to help us measure the quality of each city’s offerings.

The metrics as well as the corresponding weights we used to construct our overall rankings can be found below. The four categories under which the metrics are listed were used for organizational purposes only and did not factor in to our overall rankings.

Financial

  • Spending on Parks per Capita: 0.5
  • Movie Costs: 1
  • Bowling Costs: 1
  • Beauty Salon Costs: 1
  • Average Drinks Price (Beer& Wine): 1
  • Average Food Price (Pizza & Burgers): 1
  • Prevalence of Affordable 4.5+ Star Restaurants: 1

Park’s Quality

  • Percent of Population with Walkable Park Access: 1
  • Percent of Designed Parkland Areas: 1
  • Presence on Tripadvisor’s Top 25 Parks List: 0.5
  • Park Playgrounds per Capita: 1
  • Parkland as % of City Area: 1
  • Acres of Parkland per Capita: 1

Entertainment & Recreational Facilities

  • Music Venues per Capita: 1
  • Coffee & Tea Shops per Capita: 1
  • Number of Public Beaches per Capita: 0.5
  • Tennis Courts per Capita: 1
  • Public Golf Courses per Capita: 1
  • Swimming Pools per Capita: 1
  • Ball Diamonds per Capita: 1
  • Basketball Hoops per Capita: 1
  • Bike Rental Facilities per Capita: 1
  • Number of Attractions per Capita: 1

Weather Conditions

  • Cities with the Best & Worst Weather Ranking: 2

Source: Data used to create these rankings is courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau, the Council for Community and Economic Research, the Trust For Public Land, Yelp.com, Tripadvisor and WalletHub Research.

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Richie Bernardo is a financial writer at WalletHub. He graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism and a minor in business from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Previously, Richie was a journalism…
351 Wallet Points
WHAT A JOKE THE RANKINGS ARE NEWARK WEATHER RANKING 97 NYC 55 JC 55 ! HOW IS THIS NOT A JOKE ? LAST TIME I LOOKED NEWARK NYC JC BORDER EACH OTHER.
Jul 25, 2014  •  Reply  •  Flag