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ParkScore Index rates Buffalo parks strong, but with room for improvement

The Trust for Public Land

As City of Buffalo residents kick off the holiday weekend, many may be planning to spend some time in a public park. A recent assessment of those parks says that while conditions are strong, there’s room for improvement.

When The Trust for Public Land conducts their annual ParkScore Index of major cities across the country, they take a look at some key factors. Where the City of Buffalo scored highest in this year’s index is facilities and access.

“The most important strength, the thing that we score the most points on in ParkScore is access and, in particular, how many residents live within a ten minute walk of a park. And on that score Buffalo does quite well. According to our calculations, 85% of Buffalo residents have a park, playground, greenspace, or natural area within a 10-minute walk,” said Adrian Benepe, Senior Vice President and Director of City Park Development for The Trust for Public Land.

Many of those parks have plenty of amenities like basketball hoops and playgrounds, and while larger spaces like Delaware Park offer more options for sports, public health, and ecosystem services, Benepe said the large number of small parks in Buffalo is what drives the high ranking for access.

Benepe said that overall, Buffalo has a strong showing on the index, especially considering the addition of 25 cities to The Trust’s ranking. In 2015, Buffalo ranked 40 out of 75. This year, the city ranked 52 out of 100. By comparison, it’s a rise of one place mark.

Where the index points out the city has some weakness is investment of public money.

“And we track it as $52 per resident, which is really quite low,” said Benepe. “Comparing it to other cities, even cities that are similarly sized, say St. Paul, Minnesota – they’re spending more than four times as much in St. Paul.”

Benepe did note that private investment in Buffalo’s parks – such as that of the Olmstead Parks Conservancy – is not factored in to the assessment.

Credit The Trust for Public Land
The Trust for Public Land's 2016 ParkScore index for the City of Buffalo.

The index also looks at park land as a percentage of city acreage.

“There Buffalo is a little bit below the median. The median is almost nine percent of the city in American cities,” explained Benepe. “Buffalo comes in at seven and a half percent. So, if you’re saying is there some room for improvement, yeah, you could add more parks.”

To be fair, Benepe said it’s a lot easier said than done. He also admitted that for people like the Mayor and other city administrators who have to decide where money goes, it can be tough to balance spending on parks with other compelling demands for public funding. But he made the case for those dollars as a potential answer to many other urban issues.

“The thing that we found is that parks begin to address things like public health, and environmental health and storm water capture. So investing a dollar in a park is like investing five dollars in helping all those other services,” said Benepe.

One way to aid in park creation and development is something Buffalo has already begun doing, according to Benepe – taking underperforming properties and unused space like waterfront areas and turning them into assets for the community. He said there are all kinds of ways to create new parks without spending a lot of money, and with the strong foundation Buffalo has, the future looks very bright.

Details of the 2016 ParkScore Index and rankings of other cities are available on The Trust for Public Land’s website.

Avery began his broadcasting career as a disc jockey for WRUB, the University at Buffalo’s student-run radio station.
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