Milwaukee Parks Climb in National Rankings

‘Huge’ volunteer investment helps boost their standing

Milwaukee placed 17th on The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore© Index for 2018, climbing four places above last year’s 21st-place ranking. Milwaukee received especially strong marks for park access and park investment. The latter got a bump through the first-time inclusion of volunteer hours in the ranking system that surveys the largest 100 U.S. cities.

Four entities manage parks within Milwaukee city’s limits and reported data: Milwaukee County Parks (with the most parkland), the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee Public Schools and Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources. Charlie McCabe, director of TPL’s Center for City Park Excellence, told Milwaukee Magazine that those agencies collectively reported 221,000 volunteer hours, which were valued at $5.1 million. McCabe called the volunteer investment “huge” and said it’s a “sign of civic pride when people get engaged and are taking ownership of public spaces.”

ParkScore rankings are based equally on four factors: park access, which measures the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park; park acreage, which is based on a city’s median park size and the percentage of total city area dedicated to parks; park investment, which measures park spending per resident; and park amenities, which counts the availability of six popular park features: basketball hoops; off-leash dog parks; playgrounds, splash pads and other water-play structures; recreation and senior centers; and restrooms.

The addition of restrooms and splash pads to the park amenities rating factor is a significant update and improvement for ParkScore in 2018. McCabe said that restrooms are the number-one amenity that people want in a park and their presence keeps them staying longer. Milwaukee’s highest ranking among amenities was for basketball hoops and lowest was for access to dog parks. Madison, ranked 12th, scored best among all cities for playgrounds per capita.

According to ParkScore, 89 percent of Milwaukee residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, well above the national ParkScore average of 70 percent. Milwaukee also received high marks for park investment, spending $131 per person on parks, an increase over last year’s $115. Spending per resident is calculated from a three-year average to minimize the effect of annual fluctuations. Spending figures include capital and operational spending by all agencies that own parkland within the city limits, including federal, state, and county agencies. Milwaukee County Parks $35 million operating budget for 2018 (for all county parks) is down from $40 million in 2017 and $47 million in 2016.

McCabe said that spending on parks in most cities has been increasing and is now close to or above what it was before the Great Recession of 2008.

Milwaukee also scored near the national average on ParkScore’s park acreage rating factor, partially a result of trailblazing investments in parkland, as Milwaukee Magazine reported last year. According to ParkScore, Milwaukee’s median park size is 4.6 acres (national ParkScore average: 5.0 acres), and the city reserves 10 percent of area land for parks (national ParkScore average: 9.3 percent).

Atop the ParkScore rankings, Minneapolis narrowly edged out neighboring Saint Paul to earn top honors for the third consecutive year. Other cities in the top 10 are: Washington, D.C.; Arlington, VA; San Francisco; Portland, OR; Cincinnati; Chicago (which broke into the top 10 for the first time); New York City and Irvine, CA.
Get more information about ParkScore and detailed data about Milwaukee’s ranking. And join the discussion on Twitter @TPL_org, #ParkScore #10minwalk. For more about challenges facing Milwaukee County Parks, Milwaukee Magazine published an in-depth analysis last year