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Best American cities for parks? Cleveland loses ground in 2023 survey

A wooden trail in the middle of some tall grass at the Cleveland Metroparks West Creek Reservation
Tim Harrison
Ideastream Public Media
A wooden trail in the middle of some tall grass at the Cleveland Metroparks West Creek Reservation

Cleveland placed 26th this year on the Trust for Public Land’s annual ParkScore Index, a three-spot decrease from its 23rd place rank last year. The decline marks the first time the city dropped in rank in three years.

The index ranks park systems in America’s 100 most populous cities based on their accessibility, equity, investments, acreage and included amenities.

“They’re not a comprehensive measure, but we try to cover a wide enough breadth to represent what's pretty common in park systems,” Trust for Public Land’s Ohio State Director Sean Terry said. “So, you will see the top six popular features: basketball hoops, dog parks, playgrounds, splash pads and other water amenities, and then restrooms.”

Cleveland’s lower rank is due in part to other cities improving, Terry said.

Cleveland is above the national average when it comes to park access with 83% of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park.

“It's pretty unilateral,” he said. “Our communities of color have a similar walkshed and similar park access [and] park acreage to those more affluent or white counterparts.”

Although the inclusion of splashpads and other amenities gave the city an extra boost, Cleveland’s investments in parks and greenspace could stand to be a bit more equitable, Terry said especially when it comes to those located in communities of color.

“When we really engage the community, we start to hear that the amenities are comparable, the quality isn't comparable,” he said. “Maintenance isn't happening at the same level of consistency between BIPOC neighborhoods in their parks versus the white counterparts.”

Cleveland’s West Side is home to a number of large, destination parks in the community, like Edgewater Park. But Terry said the majority of parks on the East Side are small community parks with fewer amenities and smaller “pocket parks” built on vacant lots where programming and maintenance is often limited.

“The programing that happens and, in some cases, the maintenance that even happens is done by the community at large,” Terry said. “So, you have resident groups that may put in a request to maintain a space so that they can utilize it.”

But this means pocket parks can fall by the wayside if the community isn’t advocating for upkeep, he said.

“If you have a really engaged community group with a large active group of volunteers that's doing more maintenance and providing, you know a pleasant aesthetic in some of these spaces, I mean, that's great,” Terry said. “But then on the flip side, if you have a community that there is maybe a couple of pocket parks, but no one's maintaining them, they get sporadic maintenance at best then it creates the illusion that one … neighborhood is being invested in more than the other.”

While there is more work to be done, Terry says the city is making strides to improve its parks with its 15-year Citywide Parks & Recreation Master Plan that’s already underway. The plan will create a roadmap to help ensure fair and equitable investments in greenspace, according to a news release.

The Trust for Public Land is also is working with Cleveland to help it capitalize on takeaways from other higher-ranked cities like Minneapolis, Terry said, when it comes to financial investment into parks along with education and outdoor programming.

Corrected: May 25, 2023 at 8:29 PM EDT
This story originally stated the Luke Easter Park was no Cleveland's West Side.
Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.