Image: Kristin Belz
Portland's Peninsula Park celebrates 100 years this June 27. The Sunken Rose Garden predates the more famous Washington Park Rose Garden, and its formal Italianate design dazzles. The garden was recently rejuvenated with new, hardy roses.

Admittedly, it’s a bit silly to try to compare cities by ranking them on a list of this or that. But who can resist? The lists have their limitations, but they are informative. In Portland, we tend to do pretty well on the city rankings lists, so, like a kid who gets good grades in school (or her parents), we tend to pay attention to the rankings.

Our latest grade: #7 on the list of best American cities for parks. Of the top 50 largest cites, our ParkScore (accounting for size, access, services and investment in parks) puts us, not at  #1 (Minneapolis), but well above our flashy friends in Seattle (#10). The rankings were put together by the Trust for Public Land (TPL). They've used GIS data and tools to do the annual rankings for some years now.

Last year we were #6. Should we be worried that we're slipping? No. The difference comes from the size of the cities included. Last year the list addressed the 40 largest American cities; this year they took in the top 50, allowing newcomer Minneapolis to vault into #1 position. All the others in the top 10 are the same.

Here are some Portland's stats, according to the ParkScore findings. 

  • 80% of Portlanders live within one-half mile of a park.
  • The city spends $159 per year on parks for each resident.
  • Median park size is almost 5 acres.
  • Parks make up 16% of the area of the city.
  • For every 10,000 residents, we’ve got 2 playgrounds.

What made Minneapolis #1? (Besides the fact that The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s made its parks famous by being included in the opening credits as she memorably walked on the paths along the city’s famous lakes, you ask?) In Minneapolis,

  • 94% of residents live within a ten-minute walk of a park.
  • The city spends $210 on parks per resident annually.
  • Parks total 36,000 acres in the city.
  • There are almost 3 playgrounds for every 10,000 residents (no indication of the age of those residents, however).
The ParkScore maps on line are interactive, detailed, and fun to explore. They also show clearly that we've got gaps in our park system. Evidently, higher income doesn't guarantee more access to parks, but the swaths of neighborhoods just out of easy reach of a park tend to be on the eastside. 

How can we do better? By continuing to use, support and care for our parks.  We'll be tracking Portland city and regional park events coming up this summer, including more on the series of Lawrence Halprin-designed fountain parks that recently made it onto the National Register of Historic Places. 

Next up: Portland's original rose garden, Peninsula Park in North Portland, celebrates its 100th birthday Thursday June 27, 2013with a day full of activities. 

Do  you have a favorite park? Let us know. Parks are a valuable "third place" for all of us, and arguably even more important as our homes become smaller and city becomes denser.

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