Dog parks and basketball hoops bolstered Pittsburgh in the 4th annual rankings by The Trust for Public Land of the best park systems in American cities.
On a scale of 1 to 5, the city earned a 3.5 “park benches” rating — tying Anchorage, Lincoln, Raleigh and Virginia Beach for 24th in the ParkScore Index. This is Pittsburgh’s first year in the rankings which expanded in 2015 from the nation's 60 largest cities to 75.
“What we want and need from city parks has grown and evolved and changed over the years, particularly as people are rediscovering cities,” said Peter Harnik, director of The Trust’s Center for City Park Excellence.
There's a restored willingness to live close to each other, he said.
“But we need open space, we need some green space, some playing space; we need a place to take our children, our dogs, ourselves and parks are our answer to what used to be individual yards," he said.
Qualifying parks can be as small as a quarter of an acre. In Pittsburgh, the largest parks — Riverview (259 acres), Highland (400 acres), Schenley (456 acres) and Frick (575 acres) — top out well above that.
Pittsburgh’s overall ranking was hurt by the average size of its parks, 1.7 acres, “which is pretty small, but which is true of many older eastern cities,” Harnik said. The median size of parks among its sample size was 5 acres.
In addition to size, the index looked at park access, investment in maintenance and upgrades and facilities.
“And there, Pittsburgh really shines,” he said. “The facilities it’s providing its citizens — basketball hoops, dog parks, playgrounds and recreation centers — and in all of those areas, Pittsburgh is way up near the top or at the top, and that’s really impressive.”
Pittsburgh tops the rankings for its recreational/senior centers and dog parks, which he calls the fastest growing part of the urban park system.
The index shows 84 percent of the city of Pittsburgh’s population is within a 10-minute walk, or one half-mile, of a park.
“So we’d be looking to Pittsburgh to get more park land to specifically look at the neighborhoods that are underserved and try to create mini-parks or trails or other parks to pick up that percent of the population that is too far from a park.”
Among the 75 cities covered by the report, the Twin Cities — Minneapolis and St. Paul — tied for first (5.0 “park benches” rating) and Charlotte and Fresno tied for last (1.5).
According to Harnik, it’s not easy to jump up in the rankings because it’s difficult to find space for parks and the money for upgrades.
“Pittsburgh is the comeback city of the country,” Harnik said. “If anybody can do it, Pittsburgh’s going to be leading the way.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified a photo of a city park. It has been updated.