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Why Minneapolis and St. Paul were rated the best park systems in the country

The Twin Cities (once again) are at the top of these yearly park rankings.

What will it take to knock Minneapolis out of the top spot for city park systems in the U.S.?

We don't know. And nobody else has figured it out either, because for the fifth year in a row, Minneapolis was rated the No. 1 park system among the 100 largest cities.

And St. Paul came in right behind at No. 2 for the second straight year– so take that San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Portland.

How the Twin Cities ended up 1-2

The ParkScore rankings come out every spring, and are put together by the group The Trust for Public Land. Broadly, they look at three main categories when determining the rankings:

  • Acreage – how much land does the parks system take up compared to the size of the city?
  • Facilities and investments – how many things like playgrounds or dog parks there are.
  • Accessibility – are people within a 10-minute walk of park land?

Each parks system then gets a bench ranking of 1-5 (literally, benches), and a corresponding score. Like this:

So you can see the Twin Cities each got a five-bench rating, with scores in the 80s. (Only one other city, San Fran, got five benches and a rating in the 80s.)

Minneapolis got high marks almost across the board, including when it comes to facilities. But accessibility is where it shined – ParkScore said 97 percent of residents are within a 10-minute walk of a park. And check out the city's profile, where you can see it's equal across all age and income ranges. So whether you're young, old, rich or poor, nearly everyone is close to a park.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board called the fifth straight top ranking "just as special as the first," adding it's "honored."

St. Paul did just as well in nearly every category, getting high scores for facilities and access. So what was the difference? Park size. St. Paul's median park is 3.7 acres, while Minneapolis' is 6.6 acres. Check out St. Paul's detailed profile here.

Minneapolis has held the top ranking for five years in a row now, as mentioned above – but in 2015 they were actually tied with St. Paul for that top score. (That was the first year St. Paul was eligible, so we can't go back further for that city.)

Madison, Wisconsin, appeared on the list at No. 9.

Why do they do this?

ParkScore says parks are important for communities, arguing they are good for mental and physical well-being.

The University of Wisconsin looked at 2009 data and found the more green space there was in neighborhoods, the happier residents said they felt. And CNN reported on a 2017 study that found living near or in green areas helped women improve their mental health.

This study by the group Active Living Research found renovated parks (so ones cities invest in and keep updated) increased their use five-fold, drawing children and young adults specifically. It also increased physical activity at those parks.

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