When it comes to extolling San Antonio’s urban attractions, public parks, and green spaces don’t make the list. San Antonio ranks 71 out of 100 U.S. cities, according to the fifth annual ParkScore survey of city parks conducted by the Trust for Public Land (TPL) ParkScore. That’s better than Houston and Fort Worth, tied at 78, but well below Dallas at 54 and Austin at 47, the only Texas city to rank in the top 50.

In the survey, ParkScore ranked the 100 largest U.S. cities according to an index that measures the amount of park land in a given city, median park size, population, average per capita spending on parks, proximity and access, and the number of basketball hoops, dog parks, playgrounds, and recreation centers.

One factor leading to San Antonio’s low ranking is that only a small number of residents live within a 10-minute walking distance of a public park. In San Antonio, most people have to drive in order to enjoy a public park.

Alexandra Hiple, a research associate for TPL, said although it’s difficult to make such predictions, San Antonio should improve its standing in the 2017 rankings with this year’s addition of the 505-Acre Pearsall Park. Located just south of Lackland Air Force Base at 4700 Old Pearsall Road, the park will add a dog park, basketball court, and playground to San Antonio’s ParkScore the next time around. The park also features 5K, 10K, and single loop half-marathon courses, BMX and mountain bike trails, a zip line, a disc golf course, a CrossFit pavilion, splash pads, a skate park, and two public art installations. 

Additionally, the City plans to develop a 165-acre park in Stone Oak over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, and reserved the right to purchase 38.7 more acres for sports fields. The project could eventually could be expanded to more than 200 acres, and should also help the city’s park score. The area is one of the last and biggest undeveloped plots of land on the Northside and will sit in the heart of a rapidly growing area of San Antonio.

(Read more: Council Approves Conservation Easement, Park in Stone Oak)

There are other projects that will likely help the cause on the horizon. One is the planned addition of an eight-acre Great Lawn to Hemisfair which, if funded in the 2017 bond, should go a long way towards improving the city’s urban core access to green spaces. Additionally, the continuing expansion of the Howard Peak Greenway Trails System should raise the city’s low score.

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 5.02.51 PM
A map of city parks pulled from the San Antonio Parks and Recreation website.

2016 marks the fifth year TPL has ranked U.S. cities according to their city parks. San Antonio has been a part of the ranking since the beginning, when only the top 40 largest cities were ranked. Each year, more cities are added to the list as funds become available.

The most recent ranking uses financial numbers based on a three-year rolling average from 2012, 2013, and 2014, but the rest of the data is from 2015.

According to the 2015 data, 8.9% of San Antonio’s 26,132 acres is covered in park land, which includes all parks, linear parks, and trails under the jurisdiction of the San Antonio Parks & Recreation Department. Peter Harnik, director of the Center for City Parks Excellence, said that that percentage is considered average.

Where San Antonio and most Texas cities fall short, he said, is in park access, or how close parks are to the average citizen. He said only 36% of San Antonians can walk to a park in 10 minutes or less.

“If the city were looking to the future to improve their ParkScore, a major goal would be to create more little walkable neighborhood parks in crowded neighborhoods so that people can grab their kid’s hands or put them on a scooter and go to the park,” Harnik said.

San Antonio also ranks comparatively low when it comes to the amount of basketball hoops, playgrounds, and dog parks. The city has 1.7 basketball hoops and playgrounds per 10,000 residents and .5 dog parks per 100,000 residents, according to the 2015 data.

Harnik said adding hoops, playgrounds, and dog parks would be a fairly easy way to improve San Antonio’s score. The city’s recreation and senior center statistics, he said, are slightly more promising compared to other cities at .7 per 20,000 residents.

Where San Antonio does excel, according to Harnik and the ParkScore rankings, is with its median park size of 11.5 acres and its average spending on parks per resident at $94.63. This number reflects a combination of the Parks Department’s yearly spending  plus any capital improvement spending, divided by the city’s population. The national median is $82 per resident.

Janet Martin, assistant director of the Parks Department, said the her organization has made many improvements to parks in recent years and plans to continue adding park land and trails, but needs the public to get involved and be more vocal about what they want.

“We have plans to continue to expand our parks and green spaces and some of them are already underway,” Martin said. “Pearsall Park is a perfect (example) to see how that park opened and the amount of people that are using that space everyday.

“We have a strong commitment here at the Parks Department and we need the public to tell us what they would like to see different in their parks. What we hear now is people want more — they want more parkland, more green space, and more amenities in the parks and that is what we are looking toward right now as a department.

San Antonio also performed poorly in an in-depth analysis of 2016’s Best & Worst Cities for Recreation done by personal-finance website WalletHub.

WalletHub ranked San Antonio 98 out of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. Fort Worth stands at 89, Houston at 88, Dallas at 85, and Austin at 49, making it the only Texas city to crack the top 50 again.

WalletHub looks at more than just the city’s parks. To arrive at the overall ranking, each city was ranked across 35 individual categories, from park land acreage to food prices. San Antonio performed well in the same areas as those described in the ParkScore, ranking 36 out of 100 for acres of park land per capita and 46 for spending on parks per capita. The Alamo City also performed well in the swimming pools per capita category, ranking 44 out of 100.

San Antonio’s lower individual rankings mirror Harnik’s suggestions for more playgrounds and small, walkable parks. WalletHub ranked San Antonio 71 in terms of the percentage of the population with walkable park access. They also ranked the city 78 for number of playgrounds per capita and 79 for number of tennis courts per capita.

Absent from both of these rankings is data from the Bexar County Parks, an independently run system of 11 parks and three civic centers that comprise 408 acres — and that number is growing.

Map of Bexar County Parks
A map of the Bexar County Parks and recreation centers pulled from parks.bexar.org

The Parks Division is currently focusing on Hot Wells, a former resort that Bexar County Commissioners approved to transform into a County park in October 2015. Projects to add three more playgrounds are also underway.

Parks Director Ken McGlamery said the Parks Division has begun construction on a playground at Mission Park II as well as the financial specifications for two new playgrounds at Rodriguez and Raymond Russell Park.

To reserve an amenity at one of the County parks, visit their website, select the desired amenity, and view the calendar of available dates. Weekends in the summer are a high traffic time for County park amenities, with most weekend slots already booked through the month.

Reservations also can be made by calling (210) 335-7275 or visiting their offices at 100 Dolorosa Suite #311 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.


Top image: City employee Laura Gomez picks up litter left behind from Easter campers at Brackenridge Park.  Photo by Scott Ball. 


Council Approves Conservation Easement, Park in Stone Oak

City and Aquifer Activists Spar Over Purchase of 204-Acre Parkland in Stone Oak

City Reveals Plans for New 204-Acre Park in Northside

505-Acre Pearsall Park Opens This Saturday

Katie Walsh studies journalism and English at the University of Texas at Austin and will graduate in May 2017.