Friday, March 22, 2013

Parks - How Indy Stacks Up Against Other Cities

Parks clearly are one of biggest contributors to quality of life in a City.

Think of New York.  Didn't Central Park come to mind?  Boston - the Commons and Public Gardens.  San Francisco - Golden Gate Park.

A recent post by Paul Ogden over at Ogden on Politics, referred to The Trust for Public Land's survey of U.S. cities by population density.  The mission of the Trust focuses on conserving land for recreation - passive and active.  As part of that mission, they aggregate information so that communities can size themselves up from a number of angles.

In their 2012 City Parks Facts, they look at parks acreage, spending, and more.

Here are some of the Indianapolis rankings:

Acres as percentage of city area - 18th of 29
Comparing the 29 cities ranked with 'Low' population density, Indy ranked 18th with 4.8% of is total area used as parkland. The median of this group was 5.5% and the median of all 101 cities was 7.9%.

Within the 'Low' population density group, Anchorage weighed in with 46.0% of total area and Corpus Christi had only 2.1% of total land devoted to parks.
Acres per 1000 residents - 22nd of 29
Again comparing only those 29 cities ranked with 'Low' population density, Indy ranked 22nd with 13.6 acres of parkland per 1000 residents.  The median of this group was 20.5 acres per 1000 residents.  The median of all 101 cities was 13.1 acres per 1000 residents.

Within the 'Low' population density group, Anchorage was abnormally high with 1719.3 acres per 1000 residents and Corpus Christi was lowest with 7.0 acres per 1000 residents.
Acres of parkland by daytime population - 17th of 27
Again, cities were ranked in groups, this time according to the daytime influx of population. Indy finds itself in the 'Intermediate' group that have anywhere from 16% to 30% population growth during the day. Indy has 17% influx. Of this group of 27 cities, Indy ranked 17th for number of acres of parkland per daytime occupant, with 11.6 acres per daytime occupant. Median for this group was 15.9 acres per daytime occupant. Median of all 100 cities was 11.5.

Highest of this group was New Orleans, with 73.1 acres of parkland per daytime occupant. Lowest of the group was Norfolk, VA, with 1.9. 
Park playgrounds per 10,000 residents - 75th of 100
Comparing the 100 larges cities, Indy ranked 75th in playgrounds per 10,000 resident with 1.6.  The median was 2.2 playgrounds per 10,000 residents.

Highest was Madison, WI, with 7.1 playgrounds per 10,000 residents.  Lowest was Laredo, TX, with 0.1 playgrounds per 10,000 residents.  Honolulu/Honolulu County and Fremont, CA, did not have information available for the study.
 Total spending on parks and recreation per resident - 83rd of 89
Comparing the 100 largest cities, Indy ranked 83rd with $35 per resident.  Median spending was $82 per resident.

Highest was Washington, D.C., with $397 per resident.  Lowest was San Bernardino, CA, with $24 per resident.

11 cities were listed as not having information available for the study. 
Total spending on parks and recreation per resident adjusted for the cost of living index - 80th of 89
Even after adjusting for cost of living, Indy came in 80th with $37 adjusted dollars per resident.  Median spending was $82 adjusted dollars per resident.

Highest again was Washington, D.C., with $275 adjusted per resident.  Again, San Bernardino was lowest with $21 adjusted per resident.

The 11 cities without sufficient information above, were not included.
 Percent of city population with walkable park access - tied for 36th of 40
Comparing the 40 largest cities, Indy tied for 36th with San Antonio and Louisville at 32% of population with walking access of a park.  Park access was defined as "the ability to reach a publicly owned park within a half-mile walk on the road network, unobstructed by freeways, rivers, fences, and other obstacles".  Average access was 68%.

San Francisco came in first with 98% and Charlotte/Mecklenburg last with 26% of its population having walkable access to a park.
I've said it before and I'll say it again - Indy should be as nice a place to live as it is to visit.  Our priorities need to be adjusted to improve those things that most impact the quality of life of our residents. Parks, be it number, spending or access, are one of those things that need to be improved.


Unigov said...

I have concerns with the parkland study.

First, the prevalence of parkland is not an accurate predictor of quality of life. My small hometown (Canton, Ohio) has a nice park system, but the city is on the outs. Detroit has a higher Parkscore than Indy. And locally, the highest crime area of the city is adjacent to a very large park (Spades).

Second, the study is quite flawed because it's solely based on proximity of residents to a city-owned park. The study:

- Ignores other available land, such as church and school grounds, that kids use to play football etc.

- Ignores the fact that many kids play sports in the street, and presumes that people want to go to a park to play sports, throw a frisbee, etc. In our neighborhood we could conveniently play touch football in the street, ride our bikes a few blocks to the church, or ride several blocks to the city park. The street was more convenient and provided a greater sense of safety and community.

- Is geared toward dense urban environments, ignoring the fact that most people in Indy have a backyard available.

- Oddly enough calls for a park in the center of the Tech high school grounds, and in the farmland areas of Franklin and Decatur Township.

- Concludes that the very wealthy denizens of Williams Creek are suffering from a lack of park space.

Quality of life is a good thing, but it doesn't necessarily require government-owned parkland.

Had Enough Indy? said...

You are picking anecdotes to make your case. They area not convincing. For instance, just because there is farmland nearby does not mean children can or should play there.

I could throw out an anecdote that property next to New York's Central Park costs the most - and suggest we use parks as economic development tools. I won't, though.

I do believe that public access to public parks is a very valuable contributor to quality of life.

And, yes, Decatur and Franklin do need more parks - especially the smaller neighborhood types.

Our city spends over a billion dollars every year. Surely we can do better by our parks.

Flogger said...

Well we do have two fabulous parks for Professional Athletes. Over a billion dollars spent on these parks for less than 100 participants (players).

Had Enough Indy? said...

For some wild reason, they excluded stadii from the spreadsheets....

Unigov said...

Well, let me try again. In general, I agree that parks are good, but I disagree with TPL's methodology and conclusions.

My first point was that proximity to a park - absent other factors - is not an accurate predictor of quality of life. The most basic measure of quality of life is a low homicide rate - that is, do residents of a particular area have to worry about being killed as they go about their business.

In TPL's scoring, numerous small parks can lift a city's score, regardless of quality of life. In Fountain Square, TPL counts the microscopic park "Hot Shot Tot Lot" as a park, and residents within 'x' number of blocks are considered to have ready access to parkland because of it. This isn't just an anecdote, because such examples pervade TPL's data, across all cities.

TPL considers the presence of nearby parkland as indicative of high quality of life. But in Indy one of the most violent neighborhoods is the area immediately south of 38th and Emerson (my source is's excellent graphs, and Trulia's source is the city's own crime stats). Yet the 36 acre Wes Montgomery park lies smack in the middle of this violent area. TPL, rates this area as very well served by parkland ( even though it's quite violent. Again, this isn't an anecdote, because such examples can be found ad infinitum in TPL's data.

My second point stated more clearly would be that society does not depend on "government-owned land that is designated as a public park", for its outdoor recreation needs. People make use of the best avaliable options, whether it be a park, a backyard, a street, a school yard, etc. TPL's methodology doesn't include school grounds, even the public school grounds which are owned by the government. You might say that such land is off-limits to residents - for example, Warren Central's woodsy cross-country trail is locked up behind a 6-foot chain link fence. I might ask, why is government land off-limits to the people who pay for it ? If me and my pals want to play touch football on Franklin Central's multi-million-dollar astroturf football field, why can't we ?

This gets into the real force behind TPL - the idea that government is dominant over society. Or that without government-owned land designated as a park, the people suffer. Never mind that most people in Indy live in single family housing, with abundant open space available - no, no, TPM says there must be government parks. This type of thinking emanates from white liberals. And TPL is white with one exception: Doesn't that picture look odd ? The only black member of the board is Ron Sims, an absolute Marxist who led the taking of private land in Seattle's famous 'Critical Area Ordinance' -

TPL's real goal isn't public parks or quality of life - things most of us want - that would be too simple. TPL's goal is federal zoning and the dimunition of private property.

(Read a book.)

Unigov said...

Forgot to mention...San Francisco got #1 in TPL's survey.

But San Francisco is just 46 square miles, overrun with billionaires.

San Francisco has chased out almost all the black people, leaving the city just 6% black.

That's the same percentage as another white other socialist Mecca, Portland Oregon, which ranks 6th on TPL's rundown.

When white people get together they tend to herd other people into predfined locations. This is TPL's goal.

Nicolas Martin said...

Brilliantly put, Unigov.

How often does a political advocacy group produce a "study" or a set of statistics that contradict its own objectives?

You could arrange these sorts of stats to prove or disprove just about any point. For instance, my examination of the stats leads me to conclude that life is best in Anchorage, with a park that is a whopping 490,125 acres, while Golden Gate Park isn't even in the top 50 largest parks. Poor San Francisco.

The point about my former home of San Francisco is right. Zoning laws have transformed the city in a lily white liberal paradise, and even more so in Barbara Boxer's nearby Marin County. Marin's White ruling class has zoned off a little apartheid area called Marin City for the bothersome Tupacs.

(When I live there, I challenged a hyper-liberal friend about how zoning excludes minorities from Marin County. She simply laughed and said, "We like it this way.")

Had Enough Indy? said...

You have quite specious arguments going. And, I'm not buying what you're selling.

Parks, public parks, do in fact contribute to the quality of life. Nobody said there were not other contributors.

This city spends hundreds of millions on sports team venues. The combined budget for IndyGo and the Library is about the CIB budget size. IndyGo and the Library are also contributors to the quality of life, along with parks.

We should reset our priorities so that those who live here benefit, not just throw money at tourist venues.

Septly said...

Nicolas and Unigov, I am not sure what you are smoking, but if both of you can explain to me how you call a city that is over 33% Asian and over 15% Latino "lily white" or a "white socialist paradise," then I'd love to hear your (tortured) explanation.

I think neither of you knows the meaning of the word "white."

Windsor Park Neighbor said...

As someone who happily lives in what Unigov states is the highest crime rate area of the city (false by the way, rate of crime in the near north side is higher) I will assert that Spades Park is a great asset and definitely helps to reduce crime.
If there was no park and that space was filled with dilapidated housing the crime would be far worse. This despite the fact that Indy-Parks has invested very little money in the park and it has not gotten new equipment in more than 20 years. Neighbors and other organizations put far ore effort into the park than the city does. These parks are valuable assets and deserve more funding not less. Only someone who looks at maps and doesn't actually live near these parks would consider them not improving quality of life.
The issue is that the city is not investing in these parks to make them safer and better used. There needs to be more infrastructure investment, not less. Most of these parks saw their government investments 20, 30, 40 years ago, with only mowing work since. Thankfully with the Reconnecting to Our Waterways initiative, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, assembled neighborhood associations, and private groups we are stemming the tides but without government (not a four letter word) investment we will not have basic essential requirements a major city needs.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Thanks for that perspective, Windsor Park neighbor.

IndyParks now requires the Friends of groups to make any improvements to the parks, unless it can get money from the Parks Foundation. Meanwhile it leases out space, leaving spontaneous or non-organization recreation harder and harder.