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San Francisco now has a park every half mile

Non-profit says no other major city has achieved such a spread

People in Alamo Square with trees in the background.
Alamo Square in 2017.
Photo by Patricia Chang

The Trust For Public land, a non-profit dedicated to creating public parks, hailed San Francisco this month as the first U.S. city to achieve almost total recreation saturation, estimating two weeks ago that anywhere in San Francisco is within half a mile of one of the city’s roughly 220 parks.

The Trust’s annual ParkScore report the following week provided some basis for comparison: 85 percent of people in Oakland live within rough walking distance of a park (the second-best ranking in California), for example. Down in San Jose, it’s only 75 percent.

Sacramento manages 79 percent, but Los Angeles only scores 54 percent.

The worst park access in California as the Trust calculates it: Bakersfield, with a mere 49 percent.

Nationally, only Arlington, Virginia and Boston, Massachusetts come close to San Francisco’s perfect 100, both coming in at 98 percent.

(The Trust only includes the 100 largest cities in the rankings, so towns so small that everything is within half a mile of everything don’t enjoy inflated prominence.)

The Trust’s blog spells out the significance of the half-mile benchmark:

“Most city residents won’t walk more than 10 minutes to get to shopping, transit, or parks, so close-to-home access to parks is vital for public health, clean environments, and thriving, equitable communities,” said Adrian Benepe, the Trust for Public Land’s Urban Parks Director.

[...] Though walking speeds vary, the U.S. Department of Transportation agrees most people can walk a half-mile in about 10 minutes.

The Trust employed computer modeling to calculate the lay of the land, but eyeballing it is easy enough: Every park on the city map needs to be within one mile of some other park to ensure that the median point is within the rough 10 minute margin.

There don’t appear to be any gaps in the net, although the definition of park gets a little loose.

The corner of 40th Avenue and Lawton, for example, is more than half a mile from Golden Gate Park and from Ocean Beach.

But it’s just a few blocks away from the green median along Sunset Boulevard; which isn’t exactly Dolores Park in terms of amenities, but it is admittedly rather pretty.

The Trust also estimates that some 20 percent of the area of San Francisco altogether is now parkland.

The news was enough to net San Francisco third place in the ParkScore report, behind both the Twin Cities in Minnesota.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee hopped on board the announcement, talking up City Hall’s “record investment in parks” in recent years. The city estimates that Lee’s administration has put some $355 million toward park space.

Ryan J Thompson