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Report: Arlington one of the best large cities for parks

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(The Center Square) — For the seventh year in a row, Arlington County’s park system has ranked among the nation’s top 100 for the largest cities in an assessment done by the nonprofit Trust for Public Land.

Arlington, which placed fifth, was within six points of the top scorer – neighboring Washington, D.C. earned 425/500 or an 85, and Arlington garnered 396/500 or 79.2, just ahead of Seattle’s 77.4.

“I am very proud of this achievement for our staff and community,” said Jane Rudolph, director of the county’s parks and recreation department, in a statement. “This recognition is a testament to the hard work and intention behind our planning, maintenance, programming, and overall stewardship of our parks and recreational spaces. Recent years have taught us that our public outdoor amenities are some of the most vital sources of our health and wellbeing.”

Parks systems are not evaluated on aesthetics or cleanliness but according to 14 measures across five categories: acreage, investment, amenities, access and equity. There are 100 possible points for each category.

Arlington scored highest in investment and access, obtaining a perfect score of 100 and a near-perfect 99, respectively.

For investment, Trust for Public Land averages the locality’s investment in parks over the past three years and divides that figure by the number of residents for comparison.

In fiscal year 2023, Arlington County spent over $63 million on its parks – or about 5% of its budget, according to county spokesperson Jerusalem Solomon. Just over $52 million went to operating expenses like planning, maintenance, programming and salaries; capital expenditures accounted for the remaining $11 million. The county employs 266 people full-time and 501 part-time in parks and recreation, Solomon told The Center Square.

For access, cities are ranked based on the percentage of their population that lives within a 10-minute walk of a public park.

Equity evaluates the access of public parks to diverse and low-income neighborhoods, partly in comparison to white and high-income neighborhoods. Arlington scored a 71.

Arlington earned another high score for its park amenities based on “the availability of six key park amenities on a per capita basis.” With 420 basketball hoops, 10 dog parks, 134 playgrounds, 15 senior or recreational centers, 59 restrooms and seven splash pads, Arlington received a 91.

Finally, Arlington’s lowest score was a 36 for acreage. The index ranks cities according to median park size and the percentage of city area that is parkland. Acreage was also D.C.’s lowest score at 55, though parks occupy almost 25% of the capital’s city area.

Among the top ten ParkScore cities, Irvine, California, scored highest for acreage. The percentage of parkland was just a tad higher than D.C.’s at 26.2%, but Irvine’s median park size is 6.1 acres, while the District’s is 1.4.

Arlington County is working to expand its park spaces, according to Solomon.

“Over the last five years since the adoption of the Public Spaces Master Plan, the county has acquired over 14 acres of public spaces… as well as over 6 acres of public access easements,” Solomon told The Center Square.

The plan prioritizes adding “at least 30 acres of new public space over the next ten years,” according to Solomon, some of which may be acquired by the county and some of which may be developed by other public entities or private entities for public use.

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