Niche Resources
Niche Resources
Niche Resources

Where to Find the Biggest City Park Systems (And Why They Matter)

Most adults will move multiple times in their lives. Relocation is a mixed bag: exciting, stressful, frustrating, and freeing. It might be any or all of those things depending on the reason for the move. From new schools to new jobs to new beginnings, there are a plethora of reasons to leave one city for another.

In your decision-making process, you might not have considered a strong park system as a core factor; however, it turns out it’s a high priority for a majority of those planning on relocation. In its annual “Americans’ Engagement with Parks Report,” the National Recreation and Park Association stated that a whopping “85 percent of Americans consider high-quality park and recreation amenities important factors when choosing a new place to live.” The report also showed that more than nine in 10 Americans agree that parks and recreation is an important local government service.1

When the time comes to part ways with your current city, why should a strong park system play a role in where you decide to land? Or, even if you’re not moving, why should you care about having a thriving park system in your community?

The Allure of Parks

What is it about parks that puts them so high on residents’ wish lists? There are a myriad of reasons, all of which come together to paint an attractive picture of living in a city with a robust parks and recreation system. 

Nature

Parks grant easy access to and a greater appreciation for nature. And some parks go big on that promise: Take Shelby Farms Park in Memphis, boasting 4,500 acres that include green space, trails, paddle boats, horseback riding, and a massive dog park with multiple ponds. One of the largest urban parks in the country, Shelby Farms gives Memphis a huge advantage as a place with a great quality of life. 

But parks don’t have to be massive in order to have an impact. While neighborhood parks might be short on size, they still offer the opportunities to enjoy fresh air and open spaces.  Well-maintained local parks play an important role in cultivating community wellness. 

Community 

Among the many benefits of a successful park system is a positive impact on the community. For example, Cincinnati, Ohio, has clearly defined the role its parks should play. Director of Cincinnati Parks Wade Walcutt explains the city’s approach, saying, “What makes Cincinnati Parks successful is every park in the City  “C.A.R.E.S.”: Creates economic impacts; Enhances quality of life; Rejuvenates health & wellness; and Sustains social equity. These are our core pillars.” 

Walcutt also points out that the city’s successful parks are not only the result of a concerted effort but also a direct contributor to the city’s growth: “With these pillars, coupled with a supportive community, board, manager’s office, council, mayor and Parks Foundation, we’re able to not only keep residents and businesses, we’re attracting more residents and businesses.” This is a strong sign that good parks equal a good place to put down roots. 

Environment

A handful of U.S. cities are known for upholding core values in regard to the environment. One of the most well known is Portland, Oregon. It’s a large, spread-out metropolitan area with a clear-cut vision of how its parks represent the city as a whole: “Portland is proud to be a city where nature is celebrated and enjoyed,” says Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees Portland Parks and Recreation. “Portlanders value the trees, green spaces, and wildlife that make our city healthier and a great place to live.”  Elucidating the city’s mission, Fish adds, “Parks is working to expand access to nature in underserved areas of our city and to increase our urban tree canopy.” 

Cities like Portland are attractive to new residents (and help maintain current ones) because they demonstrate a vested interest in creating beautiful, accessible, sustainable areas for recreation and community-building. 

Amenities

Recreation is probably the first thing you think of when you see the word “park.” Whether it’s jungle gyms or splash pads, trails or community concerts, parks give you a place to play and commune with your neighbors and friends. Over the years, parks have grown from simple play places to multi-purpose recreation centers. 

One U.S. city that’s knocking it out of the park (no pun intended) with amenities is Winchester, Virginia. Parks and Recreation Department Director Lynn Miller expressed pride in “the wide variety of facilities we offer for a city our size.”  In the city’s 9.3 square miles, it has 13 neighborhood parks totaling 270 acres.

On the success of Winchester’s parks, Miller said, “Diversity in uses and programming is one key. This includes events and programming for all ages, interests, and abilities. Programming should provide athletic, educational, recreational, and cultural activities, which contribute to the overall welfare of the community. The park must also have plenty of green space for residents and visitors to enjoy, which helps to sustain clean air and water and conserves natural local ecosystems.”

Winchester’s crown jewel is Jim Barnett Park at 170 acres. Among its amenities are the longest BMX track within eight hours of Winchester; a 25-meter competition indoor pool; an outdoor pool with diving boards, a tube slide, and a kiddie pool; a disc golf course; dog park; ball fields; an amphitheater; playgrounds; pavilions; memorials; a fishing lake; horseshoe courts; and a rec center with gymnasium, fitness room, social hall, and racquetball court. 

Cities With the Highest Square Mileage of Parks in America

City Population Overall Niche Grade Outdoor Activities Grade Health & Fitness Grade Weather Grade Square Miles of Park Proportion of City
Population 678,266
Overall Niche Grade B+
Outdoor Activities Grade B-
Health & Fitness Grade C+
Weather Grade A+
Square Miles of Park 42.50
Proportion of City 16.51%
Population 1,574,421
Overall Niche Grade A-
Outdoor Activities Grade A-
Health & Fitness Grade B+
Weather Grade A+
Square Miles of Park 22.67
Proportion of City 4.37%
Population 8,560,072
Overall Niche Grade A-
Outdoor Activities Grade A+
Health & Fitness Grade A+
Weather Grade B-
Square Miles of Park 22.16
Proportion of City 7.22%
Population 1,390,966
Overall Niche Grade A
Outdoor Activities Grade A
Health & Fitness Grade A+
Weather Grade A+
Square Miles of Park 18.45
Proportion of City 5.55%
Population 2,267,336
Overall Niche Grade A
Outdoor Activities Grade A-
Health & Fitness Grade B-
Weather Grade B+
Square Miles of Park 18.22
Proportion of City 2.90%
City Austin, TX
Population 916,906
Overall Niche Grade A+
Outdoor Activities Grade B+
Health & Fitness Grade B+
Weather Grade B+
Square Miles of Park 17.29
Proportion of City 5.41%
Population 1,461,623
Overall Niche Grade A-
Outdoor Activities Grade B-
Health & Fitness Grade B-
Weather Grade A-
Square Miles of Park 15.07
Proportion of City 3.23%
Population 449,477
Overall Niche Grade A+
Outdoor Activities Grade A-
Health & Fitness Grade A-
Weather Grade B
Square Miles of Park 12.61
Proportion of City 8.68%
Population 1,569,657
Overall Niche Grade B
Outdoor Activities Grade A
Health & Fitness Grade B
Weather Grade B-
Square Miles of Park 11.89
Proportion of City 8.33%
Population 3,949,776
Overall Niche Grade B
Outdoor Activities Grade A+
Health & Fitness Grade A+
Weather Grade A+
Square Miles of Park 11.43
Proportion of City 2.42%
Population 2,722,586
Overall Niche Grade A-
Outdoor Activities Grade A
Health & Fitness Grade A-
Weather Grade C+
Square Miles of Park 9.87
Proportion of City 4.27%
Population 450,000
Overall Niche Grade A-
Outdoor Activities Grade A-
Health & Fitness Grade A
Weather Grade A-
Square Miles of Park 9.68
Proportion of City 4.96%
Population 630,331
Overall Niche Grade A
Outdoor Activities Grade A+
Health & Fitness Grade A+
Weather Grade B
Square Miles of Park 9.49
Proportion of City 6.54%
Population 1,023,031
Overall Niche Grade B+
Outdoor Activities Grade A+
Health & Fitness Grade A
Weather Grade A+
Square Miles of Park 9.44
Proportion of City 5.33%
Population 853,431
Overall Niche Grade A-
Outdoor Activities Grade B+
Health & Fitness Grade B-
Weather Grade B-
Square Miles of Park 9.29
Proportion of City 2.53%
City Omaha, NE
Population 463,081
Overall Niche Grade A
Outdoor Activities Grade A
Health & Fitness Grade B+
Weather Grade B
Square Miles of Park 9.21
Proportion of City 6.91%
Population 476,974
Overall Niche Grade A
Outdoor Activities Grade B+
Health & Fitness Grade B-
Weather Grade B
Square Miles of Park 8.23
Proportion of City 2.58%
Population 654,187
Overall Niche Grade A-
Outdoor Activities Grade A-
Health & Fitness Grade B
Weather Grade B-
Square Miles of Park 8.19
Proportion of City 1.65%
Population 372,680
Overall Niche Grade C+
Outdoor Activities Grade B
Health & Fitness Grade B
Weather Grade A
Square Miles of Park 8.10
Proportion of City 5.40%
Population 864,263
Overall Niche Grade A+
Outdoor Activities Grade A+
Health & Fitness Grade A+
Weather Grade A+
Square Miles of Park 7.60
Proportion of City 16.03%
Population 615,478
Overall Niche Grade B+
Outdoor Activities Grade A-
Health & Fitness Grade B-
Weather Grade B-
Square Miles of Park 7.39
Proportion of City 2.16%
Population 672,391
Overall Niche Grade A
Outdoor Activities Grade A
Health & Fitness Grade A
Weather Grade B
Square Miles of Park 7.29
Proportion of City 10.67%
City Tulsa, OK
Population 401,352
Overall Niche Grade A-
Outdoor Activities Grade A-
Health & Fitness Grade B
Weather Grade B
Square Miles of Park 7.13
Proportion of City 3.55%
Population 450,057
Overall Niche Grade A
Outdoor Activities Grade A-
Health & Fitness Grade B+
Weather Grade B+
Square Miles of Park 7.00
Proportion of City 2.64%
Population 599,086
Overall Niche Grade B-
Outdoor Activities Grade A
Health & Fitness Grade B-
Weather Grade C
Square Miles of Park 6.98
Proportion of City 7.22%
Population 188,463
Overall Niche Grade A
Outdoor Activities Grade A
Health & Fitness Grade B+
Weather Grade B+
Square Miles of Park 6.31
Proportion of City 6.09%
Population 619,796
Overall Niche Grade B-
Outdoor Activities Grade A
Health & Fitness Grade B-
Weather Grade B-
Square Miles of Park 6.06
Proportion of City 7.43%
Population 679,865
Overall Niche Grade C
Outdoor Activities Grade A-
Health & Fitness Grade C-
Weather Grade C+
Square Miles of Park 6.05
Proportion of City 4.35%
Population 214,778
Overall Niche Grade B+
Outdoor Activities Grade B
Health & Fitness Grade B
Weather Grade B-
Square Miles of Park 6.00
Proportion of City 6.61%
Population 322,726
Overall Niche Grade A-
Outdoor Activities Grade B
Health & Fitness Grade B-
Weather Grade A-
Square Miles of Park 5.98
Proportion of City 3.67%
City Denver, CO
Population 678,467
Overall Niche Grade A
Outdoor Activities Grade A
Health & Fitness Grade A+
Weather Grade B+
Square Miles of Park 5.86
Proportion of City 3.79%
Population 298,957
Overall Niche Grade A-
Outdoor Activities Grade A
Health & Fitness Grade B-
Weather Grade C+
Square Miles of Park 5.84
Proportion of City 7.34%
Population 248,856
Overall Niche Grade A+
Outdoor Activities Grade A
Health & Fitness Grade A-
Weather Grade C
Square Miles of Park 5.79
Proportion of City 6.16%
Population 315,109
Overall Niche Grade A
Outdoor Activities Grade A-
Health & Fitness Grade B
Weather Grade B-
Square Miles of Park 5.74
Proportion of City 2.01%
Population 629,191
Overall Niche Grade A-
Outdoor Activities Grade C+
Health & Fitness Grade B
Weather Grade A-
Square Miles of Park 5.73
Proportion of City 0.92%
Population 298,225
Overall Niche Grade B+
Outdoor Activities Grade A
Health & Fitness Grade B+
Weather Grade C-
Square Miles of Park 5.71
Proportion of City 0.33%
Population 321,570
Overall Niche Grade B-
Outdoor Activities Grade A
Health & Fitness Grade B+
Weather Grade A+
Square Miles of Park 5.46
Proportion of City 6.70%
Population 654,723
Overall Niche Grade B-
Outdoor Activities Grade A-
Health & Fitness Grade C+
Weather Grade B
Square Miles of Park 4.96
Proportion of City 1.52%
Population 151,411
Overall Niche Grade A-
Outdoor Activities Grade A
Health & Fitness Grade A
Weather Grade B+
Square Miles of Park 4.85
Proportion of City 11.00%
Population 112,683
Overall Niche Grade A+
Outdoor Activities Grade B
Health & Fitness Grade B+
Weather Grade C+
Square Miles of Park 4.83
Proportion of City 8.82%
Population 852,144
Overall Niche Grade A-
Outdoor Activities Grade A-
Health & Fitness Grade B
Weather Grade C+
Square Miles of Park 4.43
Proportion of City 1.98%
Population 314,867
Overall Niche Grade B+
Outdoor Activities Grade A-
Health & Fitness Grade B-
Weather Grade B-
Square Miles of Park 4.40
Proportion of City 6.66%
City Denton, TX
Population 131,097
Overall Niche Grade A
Outdoor Activities Grade B-
Health & Fitness Grade B+
Weather Grade B+
Square Miles of Park 4.35
Proportion of City 4.59%
Population 196,899
Overall Niche Grade B
Outdoor Activities Grade B+
Health & Fitness Grade C+
Weather Grade A-
Square Miles of Park 4.32
Proportion of City 1.41%
City Tucson, AZ
Population 530,905
Overall Niche Grade B+
Outdoor Activities Grade A
Health & Fitness Grade B
Weather Grade A+
Square Miles of Park 4.30
Proportion of City 1.86%
Population 190,501
Overall Niche Grade A
Outdoor Activities Grade A-
Health & Fitness Grade B+
Weather Grade B
Square Miles of Park 4.24
Proportion of City 1.98%
Population 411,452
Overall Niche Grade A
Outdoor Activities Grade A
Health & Fitness Grade A
Weather Grade C+
Square Miles of Park 4.21
Proportion of City 7.32%
Population 178,778
Overall Niche Grade B
Outdoor Activities Grade A-
Health & Fitness Grade B-
Weather Grade A
Square Miles of Park 3.98
Proportion of City 3.45%
Population 556,718
Overall Niche Grade B+
Outdoor Activities Grade A
Health & Fitness Grade A-
Weather Grade A
Square Miles of Park 3.88
Proportion of City 2.04%
Population 247,323
Overall Niche Grade A
Outdoor Activities Grade B-
Health & Fitness Grade B-
Weather Grade A
Square Miles of Park 3.76
Proportion of City 3.04%

The Big Picture

Cities with strong park systems arise from a concerted effort, heavy on enthusiasm and ambition. City officials must know how to come together, get creative, apply insight, and put plans into action. In short, these cities take a vision and make it a reality. For those considering relocation, that can’t be anything but a plus.

Love the outdoors? Here are the best cities

Author: Danielle Costello

Danielle Costello is a freelance writer and editor with 14 years in marketing and publishing. In addition to working with a variety of clients as a copywriter, she's been published in Memphis Magazine, 100 Days in Appalachia, and the Memphis Flyer, among other outlets. Danielle is also a staff volunteer for Animal Friends of North Central West Virginia, health and fitness enthusiast, and foe of weak coffee. She writes at thedirtandmaree.blogspot.com. Twitter: @typedreamswv. Email: typedreams76@gmail.com.