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ArlingtonParks rank high, but are downgraded on equity concerns

Parks rank high, but are downgraded on equity concerns

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Arlington has retained its position near the top of a best-parks-in-the-nation ranking, but this year was marked down for a lack of equitable distribution of parks facilities.

Arlington ranked fourth in the Trust for Public Land’s annual “ParkScore” index, roughly in line with where it has been in previous years.

Nationally, the District of Columbia supplanted Minneapolis at the top of the ranking, moving from second place a year before. Minneapolis dropped from first to third, while its neighbor Saint Paul moved up to second.

What helped keep Arlington near the top of the pack? Among the factors: Ninety-nine percent of Arlington residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, compared to Washington’s 98-percent finish, and the county also scored extremely well for park acreage, park spending and park amenities.

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But Arlington received some dents in its armor based on the new factor of “equity” brought into the ranking for 2021. Neighborhoods where there are large numbers of minority groups had “access to 34 percent less park space per capita than residents in neighborhoods that are predominantly white,” while “residents of low-income neighborhoods also have access to 34 percent less park space,” the Trust for Public Land noted.

On the plus side, county leaders received praise for using parks in a variety of ways to address COVID response.

Parks across the nation “served as makeshift community centers for emergency services like food distribution, COVID testing and vaccine super-sites,” said Diane Regas, president and CEO of the Trust for Public Land.

“Parks are always essential to our communities, and they are even more valuable in times of crisis,” Regas noted. “People relied on close-to-home parks, trails and open spaces to exercise and connect with nature more than ever.”

(Arlington residents, however, found themselves shut out of those opportunities in the early stages of the pandemic. County officials – whose response to reopening daily life has seemed somewhat skittish for much of the last year – closed park access early in the pandemic and, critics say, were late to reopen them.)

Also from the report:

• Twelfth-ranked Boston and sixth-place San Francisco remain the only ParkScore cities where 100 percent of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park or other public open space.

• Boise defended its title as the best park system for dogs, with a nation-leading 6.3 dog parks per 100,000 residents, narrowly beating Portland, Ore.

• Irvine, Calif., received top marks for basketball hoops and Madison, Wisc., scored best for playgrounds. Boston earned top marks for splash pads and other water features, beating out 2020 leader Cleveland.

• The number of playgrounds per capita in ParkScore cities increased by 4 percent since last year, largely because of “shared-use” agreements that opened school playgrounds for neighborhood use after school hours and on weekends.

• The number of playgrounds in ParkScore cities has increased by 29 percent since 2012, when the ParkScore index began tracking this indicator.

• The number of dog parks increased by more than 2 percent, continuing the trend first reported by the Trust for Public Land five years ago.

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