With large parks and numerous playgrounds, a nonprofit conservation group has ranked Arlington’s park system 30th out of the nation’s 50 largest cities.It’s the first time for Arlington to be included on the ParkScore index compiled by The Trust for Public Land. Arlington earned its rank based on park size, proximity of residents to dedicated parkland, playgrounds per 10,000 residents and per capita spending.“It beat out Fort Worth by three slots and it was four slots behind Dallas,” said Peter Harnik, the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence director.Last year, the index only ranked the top 40 cities but this year the ranking was expanded to the 50 top cities, which helped Arlington make the list. Arlington earned 2.5 “Park Benches” in the second annual ParkScore while Fort Worth earned two.The index helps a city government know “where it is strong and where it is weak and how it compares to other cities. It helps the residents know whether they should be pushing for more from their government,” Harnik said. “It helps the tourism department know what kind of things to promote.”Arlington had a median park size of 14 acres, which gave it extra points, Harnik said. But only 7.6 percent of the city’s area is dedicated to park land, which is below national average.“The parks in Arlington are quite large. We give them points for that because it’s good for ecological reasons plus more space for people to play,” Harnik said. “One area the city could increase its score would be by buying more parkland.”Arlington also has 1.3 playgrounds per 10,000 residents, the Trust’s study shows.“The city definitely needs more playgrounds. It’s not just for the kids. It’s for the parents and for social gathering. It’s good for the whole community,” Harnik said.‘Interesting comparisons’According to an average of the 50 largest cities, 64 percent of residents live within a 10 minute walk of a park. In Arlington, only about 53 percent of residents live within that distance.The city also spends about $76.33 per resident for parks and recreation, below the national average of $103.32 per resident, the report states.Arlington Parks and Recreation Director Pete Jamieson said the index will serve as a helpful tool when it comes to revising the Park Recreation and Open Space Plan, which was last updated in 2004.Arlington is gathering feedback on what park and recreational facility renovations or additions residents want the city to tackle during the next 10 years. The revised plan is set to be adopted by the City Council in 2014, before the next bond election.“It provides for interesting comparisons, but is mostly helpful in the identification of specific areas or gaps where we might want to focus our planning and priorities,” Jamieson said.Park projectsIn 2004, Arlington had more than 4,500 acres of parkland through its 88 parks. It now has more than 4,800 acres of parkland with its 90 parks. At least 80 percent of those park sites are developed or at least partially developed.Voters approved $15.5 million in bonds for 21 park projects in 2008.Projects identified in 2004 Park Recreation and Open Space Plan that have since been completed include the Bad Königshofen Family Aquatic Center, the Tails ’N Trails Dog Park, Founders Plaza in downtown, Lake Arlington golf course renovations and development of the Crystal Canyon Nature Preserve.Other projects still unfinished or not even started from the 2004 plan include a second dog park, a new indoor aquatic facility, a canoe launch at River Legacy Parks East and construction of a banquet hall at Tierra Verde Golf Club.Arlington estimates that the city still needs to acquire land for at least 10 additional park sites to ensure that residents are located within a half-mile of a park.The top six and their Park Benches: Minneapolis, five; New York, 4.5; Boston, four; Sacramento, four; San Francisco, four; and Washington, D.C., four.The bottom five: Mesa, Ariz., 1.5 benches; and Indianapolis, Charlotte, N.C., Louisville, Ky., and Fresno, Calif., all one bench. This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock