Boston tops for park access, tied with San Francisco for nationwide distinction

Every Boston resident lives within a 10-minute walk from a park, regardless of income, age or ethnicity, according to The Trust for Public Land’s (TPL) annual ParkScore ranking and report. Boston was one of only two cities in the nation to achieve the distinction, joining San Francisco.  

Overall Boston ranked 13th out of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. for park access, acreage, amenities and funding. TPL, which has released the report annually since 2012, this year noted a trend of more cities taking concerns such as flooding, pollution and extreme temperatures into consideration when building parks and green space. 

“There’s been a quiet and profound move to use parks to help cities adapt to the realities of climate change,” TPL President and CEO Diane Regas said in an interview with National Geographic. She added, “Parks are an example of what we in the environmental [advocacy] community need to do to embrace solutions that simultaneously address climate change and make people’s lives better.” 

In Boston, a focus on climate adaptation and resilience has certainly been a driving force behind planning for the city’s future. In October 2018 Mayor Martin J. Walsh released his “Resilient Boston Harbor” strategy, calling for increased investments in green infrastructure—including enhanced parks along Boston’s vulnerable waterfront.  

“Parks are playing an outsized role in the adaptation plan,” Parks and Recreation Commissioner Christopher Cook noted in the National Geographic piece, adding that a critical part of the city’s climate change strategy will also be its push to become carbon neutral in the next 30 years. 

In ranking Boston’s current park system, the ParkScore Report also recommended 5 “optimized” sites for new parks, including two on the waterfront: One on the Charles River, and the other on the harbor in East Boston, near LoPresti Park.  Separately, city leaders have already identified potential sites for flood-resilient waterfront green space, including repurposed parking lots and disused harbor infrastructure.  

City residents, too, recognize that parks can help to alleviate some of the impacts of rising sea levels and increased storm frequency. A survey conducted by The Trustees last summer found that an overwhelming majority of Bostonians believe the city’s waterfront faces significant climate threats. When polled, 85% said they believed Boston’s waterfront is vulnerable to the effects of climate change, with 42% saying it is “very vulnerable.” 

The One Waterfront Initiative launched by The Trustees seeks not only to build resilient waterfront parks, but to build accessible and welcoming open space that adds to the acreage and amenities of the city’s overall park system, two areas the report noted had room for improvement. Working alongside partners and city officials is a critical piece of this effort, as Boston citizens and leaders alike are already pushing for more world-class green space that befits a world-class city. 

“I think there is an informed understanding among many Bostonians that, as a waterfront city, we face significant climate-related risks,” says Nick Black, Managing Director of the Boston Waterfront Initiative. “There’s a feeling of wanting to get ahead of the problem and wanting to do it in a way that prioritizes equity and accessibility for everyone, with green solutions. Our vision for a series of world-class, climate-resilient parks along Boston’s harbor addresses these challenges, with several sites under consideration that could fulfil this broad mission. With the start of hurricane season upon us we’re reminded again of the criticality of this effort to protect Boston’s shores today, by bolstering our resilience in a way that prepares us for tomorrow.” 


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