Boise & Garden City

Boise ranks top in the U.S. for dog parks. But what about parks for people?

Are we proud of Kristin Armstrong? So proud we named a park after her

Fans celebrated Boise's three-time gold medal Olympian Kristin Armstrong at a city-wide celebration — at the newly named Kristin Armstrong Municipal Park on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016.
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Fans celebrated Boise's three-time gold medal Olympian Kristin Armstrong at a city-wide celebration — at the newly named Kristin Armstrong Municipal Park on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016.

Boise has topped a few “best of” lists lately and made a name for itself as a haven for outdoor recreation, but that doesn’t mean everything is perfect.

According to a recent study, Boise’s parks system is climbing nationwide rankings but still falls short of the best in the nation. The Trust for Public Land released its annual ParkScore rankings on Wednesday, measuring the 100 largest cities in the U.S. on factors like park size and available amenities such as bathrooms and playgrounds.

According to the nonprofit, city parks can be a huge boon for residents. Not only do they promote physical health, they can play a role in reducing crime and even lower temperatures in the summertime.

Boise ranked No. 21, an improvement from its 2018 ranking at No. 29. The city’s ParkScore jumped to 66.1 from 2018’s 60.6, but it still wasn’t enough to crack the top 20.

Washington, D.C., took the top honor with a ParkScore of 83.8, followed by St. Paul (83.2); Minneapolis (81.8); Arlington, Virginia (81.3); and Portland (79.7). Irvine (79.2); San Francisco (79.0); Cincinnati (78.3); New York (76.0) and Chicago (75.4) rounded out the top 10 this year.

Park amenities make the difference

A major contributor to a city’s ParkScore are the amenities awaiting parkgoers. Points are assigned and added to factors such as size and accessibility to reach a total score.

Amenities considered include dog parks, basketball hoops and restrooms. Boise tops the list for dog parks — the city has 5.7 dog parks per 100,000 people, according to ParkScore rankings. The next-closest city is Portland, with 5.4 dog parks per 100,000 people, followed by Henderson, Nevada, with 5.0. Several cities at the bottom of the list, including Newark, New Jersey, and Santa Ana, California, have none.

When it came to human amenities, however, Boise didn’t fare as well. The city ranked almost at the bottom of the list for basketball hoops with 2.2 hoops per 10,000 residents, dwarfed by first-place Norfolk, Virginia’s 28.2 and under the national median of three.

Boise’s rankings weren’t all bad, however. Boise is ranked 28th when considering playgrounds per 10,000 residents (with 3.4) and 18th for restrooms per 10,000 residents (with 2.9). The city falls in the middle of the pack for playgrounds and recreation centers.

It’ll be hard for Boise to keep moving up, however, because the top 25 continues to “get more and more competitive,” Charlie McCabe, the Trust for Public Land’s director of the Center for City Park Excellence, said in a phone interview.

“A lot of cities are seeing parks as a strategic investment,” McCabe said. “The most successful are saying, ‘What are the steps to encourage parks even more?’ ”

Provided by The Trust for Public Land

Understanding Boise’s ranking

Based on ParkScore’s data, it appears Boise understands the value of a good park.

The city increased its spending by nearly $20 per resident from last year to $162. Some larger cities spend more than $250 per person, according to data from the Trust for Public Land, but Boise’s spending per resident puts it in 18th place.

Boise also has improved accessibility to parks since last year.

The Trust for Public Land is part of a coalition called the 10-Minute Walk Campaign, which urges city leaders to push for outdoor recreation spaces that are just a short walk from home for all residents. Boise Mayor Dave Bieter is one of dozens of mayors across the country who has signed on to the campaign.

According to the nonprofit’s study, roughly one-third of Boiseans don’t have a park within a 10-minute walk from their home. A year ago, 40% of Boiseans didn’t have easy park access. That pales in comparison to many of the top 20 cities, where upwards of 90% of residents can easily walk to parks.

The ideal number would be 100 percent of people are within that 10-minute zone of a park, McCabe said. Some cities, such as Boston and San Francisco, are able to achieve that lofty goal, but the national average sits at 72 percent.

In Boise, 33 percent of people ages 19 and younger and 27 percent of those in households that make less than 75 percent of the city’s median income don’t fall into that zone. The western half of the city has a greater need than the more densely developed eastern half, which McCabe said was fairly standard.

“Older, denser areas tend to have more parks, even if they’re small ones,” McCabe said.

Boise has bigger parks than many, however. The median park size for Boise is 7.3 acres, earning the city 14 out of a possible 20 points. In contrast, many of the cities in the top 10 had much smaller median park sizes, such as New York’s 1.1-acre median size. But parks only make up 9 percent of Boise’s city area, whereas parks make up more than 20 percent of the area in cities like Irvine, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

An increased number of parks can be beneficial to mental and physical health, McCabe said. Putting parks in areas of crucial need can lower the barrier needed for whole families to benefit.

That can be hard for cities experiencing rapid growth, however. Houston, for example, has added more than 100 miles to its trail network.

“As long as (people in the city) continue to prioritize parks,” McCabe said, “Boise should be just fine.”

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Hayley covers local government for the Idaho Statesman with a primary focus on Boise. Previously, she worked for the Salisbury Daily Times, the Hartford Courant, the Denver Post and McClatchy’s D.C. bureau. Hayley graduated from Ohio University with degrees in journalism and political science.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.
Nicole Blanchard is the Idaho Statesman’s outdoors reporter. She grew up in Idaho, graduated from Idaho State University and Northwestern University and frequents the trails around Boise as much as she can.