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Louisville Park System Improves Score, But Still Ranks Among Worst In U.S.

Shelby Park

Louisville’s parks system ranks among the worst when compared to the 100 largest cities in the country, according to a new study.

Despite having parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted — the designer of Central Park and the father of landscape architecture — Louisville’s park system still ranks 84th out of the 100 largest cities in the country, according to the 2018 ParkScore Index from the Trust for Public Land.

Minneapolis, Minnesota topped the list for the third year in a row, narrowly beating St. Paul, while Charlotte, North Carolina, came in last.

The seventh annual ParkScore index looks at more than just beautiful parks, it looks at access, acreage, investment and amenities, said Charlie McCabe, director of the center for city park excellence with the Trust for Public Land.

“The big challenge for Louisville is that the budget for the parks department is less than corresponding departments in other cities,” he said.

Louisville invests about $32 less per person on its park system than other major cities.

Still, the city jumped 12 spots higher on the list since last year when it ranked 96th. That’s in part because the index decided to include funding from nonprofits.

“So just to give you an idea with the addition of the nonprofit spending in 2018, you spent about $55 dollars per resident. And in 2017 it was $50, so that’s an increase of $5, which is great.”

The city's score was also dinged for its lack of access to parks.

Only one-third of the city’s residents can walk to a park within 10 minutes of where they live, McCabe said. That access is an important part of getting people to visit parks, he said.

But it's not all bad news. Nonprofit partners are increasingly helping cities invest in public spaces and Louisville has been at the forefront of that trend, he said.

First, with the Olmsted Conservancy — founded in 1989 — and today with projects including the Parklands of Floyds Fork.

"Really the first set of parks that saw investment from the nonprofit space were Olmsted Parks, and you're blessed with having that system in place, that really directed how Louisville grew," McCabe said.

To improve the city's score, McCabe recommended the city increase park funding and include public spaces as the city grows.

He also said the city could consider making agreements with schools to use school yards as an extension of the park system.

The Louisville Metro Parks Department did not immediately return calls for comment on this story.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.