Friday, July 20, 2012

Park Score

I can't recall if I've seen this before (or posted about it for that matter).  Within the slipstream of success for walkscore and other measures of quantitative urban characteristics is ParkScore, measuring the 40 largest cities' park systems.  In the competition of cities for talent and businesses, holding various cities up against one another is an effective measure for 1) winning cities to market, 2) potential businesses/residents looking to relocate to desirable/livable locations and 3) failing cities to look at models of success.

The methodology is based on a compilation of three primary characteristics: size, spending, and access (which is determined by population living within a ten-minute walking distance of a park).  There is plenty to unpack and criticize about this methodology, but let's save that for a moment.

Predictably, sprawling cities score poorly.  Dallas ranks 21 of 40.  Incidentally, Austin is 19th, FW 24th, Houston 30th, and SA is 35th (So we're doing well in relation to our regional competition, but Dallas's aspirations exist above regional level.

Here are screen shots I pulled when comparing to DC and San Fran, two cities which I pulled first at random, but happen to rank 5th and 1st respectively:

Above shows two separate screens, one comparing the selected cities by income access and the other by age access (green is yes to accessibility, blue = no access).  These charts show that there isn't much disparity between age or income preventing access for Dallas residents.  The lack of access is fairly universal.  The most interesting thing is Dallas scores more points for size of park system (acreage per capita) than the entire top 5.  But loses badly in terms of access (not unsurprising when knowing the densities of the cities).  In other words, we have lots of big parks, but very few people living close to them.  They exist predominantly as a drive-to experience.

It's not the quantity, but the quality...and not even so much the quality of what's in the park, but the access to it.  People will make use of a plain, green lawn if it's available.  So too will they a blank plaza if it's located appropriately by way of opportunistic businesses capitalizing on the convergence of foot traffic.  The conclusions not so shockingly mirror my thesis regarding parks, "it's generally not what is inside the parks that matters as much as the connections to the park itself from the surrounding context."  Sure, the design is nice, but it's the cherry on top.  It first needs to be sited appropriately and within the right context.  A nice meal needs to have a table set for it.