The city has been raking in the accolades in recent months — touted as having the best downtown in America and being No. 1 for finding jobs — but Fort Worth took a hit in a recent study of city parks, ranking 40th out of the largest 60 cities.
“I think that analysis shows that Fort Worth still has room to grow, particularly in acquiring parkland. We need to be aggressive about acquiring parks and how we fund them,” said Councilman Sal Espino, whose district takes in parts of the fast-growing north side of town, which showed a deficit in parkland in the study.
The study analyzed access to parks by the percentage of residents able to walk to a park in 10 minutes, or about half a mile, and without substantial barriers to walking, such as interstate highways. It measured park size by the city’s median park size and the percentage of total city area dedicated to parks. It looked at services and investment by analyzing the number of playgrounds per 10,000 city residents and the per capita park spending.
Fort Worth had a median park size of 7.5 acres, and parks represented 5.5 percent of the city’s area. Spending per resident on parks was $83 and playgrounds per 10,000 residents was 2.4 percent. Fort Worth’s median park size has increased from 7.4 acres in 2012.
The top-ranked city, Minneapolis, had a median park size of 7.1 acres; parks as a percentage of city area, 14.9 percent; spending per resident, $213; and playgrounds per 10,000 were 2.9 percent.
Fort Worth ranked 33rd last year, but 10 cities were added to the study for 2014. No Texas cities scored exceptionally well.
Corpus Christi was the top-ranked Texas city, tied for 28th with Detroit, Honolulu, Phoenix and Tampa, Fla.
Austin ranked 33rd; Arlington and Dallas tied for 36th; Fort Worth tied with Tulsa at 40th; El Paso was ranked 44th; Houston was 48th and San Antonio tied with Memphis for 53rd.
One reason Fort Worth scored so low on accessibility to parks is that the city sprawls over 350 square miles and has much lower density than New York, San Francisco and other top scorers, said Richard Zavala, director of parks and community services.
“It is a different setting than here, where we are a more frontier setting with wide-open spaces,” Zavala said. “You fit the need of your particular community and we are similar to the other Texas cities and pretty much those west of the Mississippi where development and density is just different.”
Another discrepancy, he said, is that the study shows industrial or heavily commercial areas as lacking in parkland, such as the Renaissance Square development, but the city focuses on building parks in residential areas.
Still, Councilwoman Gyna Bivens said she has heard complaints from her district residents, especially seniors, about a lack of parkland within Loop 820, and she hopes to acquire more parkland to bridge the gap.
In a move she is excited about, the city acquired 4 acres for a park in Mosier Valley in February.
“In many cases our seniors may not have a retirement that affords them a membership to the Y or another gym and they may have transportation restrictions, but if they could just walk across the street to the park that would be a real big plus,” she said.
Upcoming park improvements
Espino said the city took a big step in tackling some park issues when residents passed a $292 million bond program in May. The package included $31.44 million for new park construction and park maintenance.
“The study shows Fort Worth needs to invest in its parks. It is a funding challenge,” Espino said.
The 2014 bond was the first time in a decade that parks were included in a bond package, and it is the most ever dedicated to parks in a Fort Worth bond program.
“This most recent bond program really does substantiate that the people of Fort Worth put a high premium on their parks and open space,” Zavala said. “When you make that kind of decision, you are in fact saying I want this, but I also want it for my kids and my grandkids and the people in the future. To me, that is pretty good stuff for people to make that kind of commitment.”
The parks proposition passed with 78.43 percent of the vote May 10.
The bond package includes several million for improvements at Chisholm Trail Park, Rosemont Park, Trail Drivers Park and Z Boaz Park, as well as new community centers, improvements at the McLeland Tennis Center and new athletic fields in the far north.
The city also has an acquisition policy meant to keep pace with rapid development, acquiring 2.5 acres for neighborhood parks per 1,000 people in a development and 3.75 acres for community parks per 1,000 people. The developments are also required to front the initial fees to get the parks ready.
For inner-city developments, in lieu of acreage, the fee is $500 per dwelling to acquire and develop land within the central city, Zavala said.
He said his department has not identified central-city areas lacking access to parks.