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Louisville Again Falls Near Bottom of List Ranking Park Systems


Once again, Louisville has ranked poorly on the annual ranking of city park systems from a national group.

The Trust for Public Landshas been calculating “ParkScores” for U.S. cities for the past four years. They evaluate park systems on the three factors—the median size of parks, accessibility of parks and facilities and investment—and assign a rating. For the fourth year in a row, Louisville falls near the bottom of all the cities included in the ranking. This year, the city is ranked 72nd out of 74.

Minneapolis and St. Paul tied for the top spot, followed by Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.

“Louisville is really strong on the size of its parks, between the Olmstead Parks and the Twentieth Century Parks System, there are some great large parks that Louisville residents have access to,” said Abby Martin of the Trust for Public Lands’ Center for Park Excellence. “They just don’t necessarily have walking access, which is another one of the metrics we measure.”

Some of that is due to the 2003 city-county merger. The model means that some outer areas of the city aren’t very dense, and so many citizens won’t be within a half mile of a park. Martin said other cities in similar situations—like Indianapolis, Memphis, Oklahoma City and Charlotte—also ranked in the bottom tier on this year’s list. Lexington, Kentucky, which merged with Fayette County more than 40 years ago, debuted this year on the ParkScore list in 51st place.

“Density and access are closely related,” Martin said. “So changing the density of a city takes time if it’s going to happen, and in the several years we’ve been doing this we haven’t seen any cities markedly increase their density. If you’re going to have more people within a half mile walk of a park, you can add parks and you can add people, and usually, it takes both.”

On this year’s map, the Trust for Public Lands found that much of the city shows some level of need. Not even the entire old city—basically the area within the Watterson Expressway—is immune. The areas of greatest need exist in pockets, some clustered around Interstate 65 near the airport, and some in areas such as Shively and Buechel.

Martin said one solution for a city like Louisville to increase park access is by formally signing agreements with the school system to allow public access to existing facilities. This would allow the public to use school playgrounds and green spaces after school hours.

“Denver and Las Vegas are cities that have recently increased their access by just opening up facilities they already have, and that’s a great opportunity for Louisville,” she said.

MetroParks spokeswoman Erika Nelson said the city doesn’t currently have such an arrangement, and insurance could be an issue. But she said the idea is interesting.

“[The city-county merger] will always impact us negatively, as far as this survey goes,” she said. “But on the flipside, I think that Louisville has an incredible park system overall. I’m pretty pleased with it and I hope the citizens are pleased with it as well."

Nelson said the still-incomplete Louisville Loop might not help the city in these annual rankings, but will help connect more residents to parks.

“I believe the construction of the Louisville Loop is one of those measures that we’re trying to take to help create connectivity between green space and parkland.”

Martin said the 100-mile bike path surrounding the city could boost Louisville’s ParkScore; the metric does include all separated bike paths and trails as parks.

To view an interactive map and more details about Louisville’s ParkScore, click here.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.