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'Friendly competition' lands St. Paul, Minneapolis among top 3 parks systems in U.S.

No. 2 St. Paul edged out No. 3 Minneapolis by just .4 points in 2023.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Minneapolis and St. Paul have once again finished in the top three of an annual ranking of park systems among the 100 largest American cities.

According to the annual ParkScore Index, compiled by the Trust for Public Lands, Washington D.C. finished with the top ranking, followed by St. Paul in second and Minneapolis in third.

"[Washington D.C.] gets federal funding for the National Mall, so I'm just going to say that we operate the number one municipal park system in the country," said St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter.

St. Paul received a total score of 80.8 out of 100. The rankings were compiled across five categories.

  • Park access measures the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park.
  • Park equity compares per capita park space and 10-minute-walk park access in communities of color vs. white communities and in low-income neighborhoods versus high-income neighborhoods. Park systems score higher if disparities are minimal or non-existent.
  • Park acreage is based on a city’s median park size and the percentage of city area dedicated to parks.
  • Park investment measures park spending per resident.
  • Park amenities assess the availability of six popular park features: basketball hoops, off-leash dog parks, playgrounds, splash pads and other water-play structures, recreation and senior centers, and restrooms.

St. Paul Parks Director Andy Rodriguez says access in St. Paul has always been among the best in the nation, with 99 percent of residents within a 10-minute walk of a park. This year, the city saw an additional bump in its amenities score after it added several new dog parks across the city, including one in Lowertown. 

He says equity is the newest category and continues to be an area of focus.

"We made youth sports free across the city for ages 10 and up, which eliminates a fee barrier for everybody," he said. "That's an equity initiative."

St. Paul received 71 out of 100 points for equity this year, while Minneapolis earned 59 points. Those scores helped make the difference between second and third place. It was Minneapolis with 80.4 total points, compared to St. Paul's 80.8. 

Kent: "Does it feel good to get a little bit of an edge over Minneapolis?"

Rodriguez: "I would say that we work in tandem with one another, we're the Twin Cities right? But there is a friendly rivalry there."

Al Bangoura, Superintendent of the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, would agree.

"There's a little bit of a competition," Bangoura said.

But that's not to say Bangoura is upset. Minneapolis improved from fifth overall in 2022 to third, thanks to new parks like Bridal Veil Gardens in the Prospect Park neighborhood, and its own equity initiatives, which focused on investments in parks in diverse neighborhoods.

"We have all this work that we're putting in to our areas that are really a focus for us, to make sure that we meet those needs of those communities," Bnagoura said. "It just reaffirms the work that we do every day." 

Speaking of work, Rodriguez says St. Paul Parks and Recreation is still working on ways to help community members and park staff heal from a shooting outside Oxford Community Center in January.

"The change we implemented, it's been going great," he said. "We've invested a lot of resources and time there — revamped the staffing model and other things. We have a big basketball camp there this Saturday with Tre Holloman, who will be there to work with about 100 kids from the neighborhood."

Whether it's similar camps, summer sports or several newly opened skate parks, Rodriguez says the goal is for healthy competition to build a safer sense of community. That's something both cities can certainly relate to.

Bangoura: "It's exciting because we are the Twin Cities and to be in the top three is really amazing."

Rodriguez: "We complement each other very well, and if you look at it from a regional perspective, the Twin Cities are where it's at."

Bangoura: "Friendly competition is always good, but it pushes us to really be excellent in our park systems and what we deliver to our community."

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