Houston may be better known for its parking spaces, but what about our park spaces? In a new report from the Trust for Public Land comparing park spending and usage in various cities, Houston — for the most part — avoids extreme embarrassment:
- First, some reassuring facts: Memorial Park is the 17th most-visited city park in the country, with 3,246,000 visitors a year. Hermann Park makes the list at number 24, with 2,297,673 annual visitors, but even downtown’s supposedly peaceful Tranquility Park hits number 36. Who’s counting all these people, anyway?
- As a percentage of land area, Houston has slightly more than the average amount of parkland: 9.0 percent. Cities of similar (low-to-intermediate) density have an average 8.5 percent of their acreage devoted to parks. Austin and El Paso cream us, though, with figures higher than 16 percent. Dallas bests us too, even though it’s considered a higher density city. San Antonio, though? With only 6.8 percent parkland, we have it beat.
Houston doesn’t look so, uh, hot in some other categories, though:
- We have only 16.5 acres of park per every 1,000 residents. Cities of similar density have an average of 20.6, though higher density urban areas tend to have less. Reason to celebrate, Houston: We’re in great position to increase our density!
- There are precisely 0.8 soccer fields for every 10,000 residents, barely above the average of other major cities in the survey, but clearly not enough to host a World Cup. We’re below the norm in numbers of baseball fields, golf courses, playgrounds, and recreation centers. When it comes to dog parks, we’re in the doghouse: the trust counts a grand total of only four here. Grassy medians must not count.
- Houston spent less than any other of the 56 cities in the survey on total park capital costs: a measly $2 per resident in fiscal-year 2004, well below the $23 average. And when we add in operating costs, only Toledo, Ohio, got by more cheaply: Total annual spending on parks in Houston added up to only $35 per person in FY2004, well below the $86 average. Compared to similar agencies in the other cities, our Parks and Recreation Department gets away with a tiny staff and budget. Should we be proud of that efficiency, or annoyed that we’re not taking better care of public parks?
[Memorial Park photo courtesy flickr user Vanita]