Updated 1:56 p.m.
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County moved up one place from last year in an annual study that ranks cities on spending and access to public parks. But the region still ranks 96th out of the 100 largest U.S. cities in the 2019 ParkScore Index.
The annual ranking compiled by the Trust for Public Land looks at the percentage of residents who live near a park, total acreage, park amenities and total investment.
The study found that only 36 percent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, below the 72 percent national average. And the city and county spend just $48 a year per resident on parks, compared with the 100-city average of $87.
Charlotte ranked second nationally in one category: Park size. The local median park size is 16.5 acres, more than triple the national ParkScore median. Nashville ranks first, at 16.7 acres.
The slightly higher overall ranking came as the trust this year expanded Charlotte's ParkScore boundaries to include all of Mecklenburg County. The Trust for Public Lands said the change more closely matches way parks are managed here.
Lee Jones, the head of Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation, said the study doesn't reflect the full range of park and recreation services the county offers. He acknowledged that the county lags peers when it comes to being within walking distance of a park — in part because of rapid population growth.
But he said more than 85 percent of residents are within a 10-minute drive of a park.
"We went from being about half a million [people] to over a million. And this resulted in a park system that we have larger park property located within driving distance of most residents, but not really within a five-minute walk," Jones said.
Jones also said the county budget has more money for parks this year — 33 percent more. That will help expand greenways, maintain parks, and hire more staff.
While the budget is up, members of the county Park & Recreation Commission have been pushing for more money, especially to buy land as the amount of open space dwindles. Local parks advocates warn that available open space could disappear by 2030.
In a resolution ahead of the county budget planning process in January, the Park & Recreation Commission complained that the county still has not fully funded bond projects approved by voters in 2008.
Washington, D.C., took the top spot in this year's ranking, ahead of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
"Parks bring neighbors together and help cities fight climate change. Parks are proven to improve physical and mental health, and get children and adults to put down their phones and enjoy the outdoors,” Diane Regas, president and chief executive of The Trust for Public Land, said in a press release.
The ParkScore rankings consider four factors:
- Access: The percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park. Charlotte-Meclenburg got 7.5 of a possible 100 points.
- Acreage: Based on median park size and the percentage of a city's land area devoted to parks. Charlotte got 62.5 points of 100.
- Investment: Park spending per resident. 17.5 out of 100 points.
- Amenities: Measures the availability of six popular park features: basketball hoops, off-leash dog parks, playgrounds, “splashpads” and other water play structures, recreation and senior centers, and restrooms. 27.5 out of 100 points.
SEE THE RANKINGS