TAMPA — With good access to playgrounds and higher-than-average spending on parks, Tampa's park system is the 28th best among large U.S. cities, according to a new ranking from the nonprofit Trust for Public Land.
It is the first time Tampa has appeared on the trust's ParkScore index, which examined 60 big-city park systems in the nation. Miami ranked 48th and Jacksonville 51st.
And compared to cities that Mayor Bob Buckhorn often mentions as Tampa's competition for young professionals, the ranking was heartening. Tampa came in ahead of Austin, Texas (33) and Charlotte, N.C. (57), though it trailed Raleigh, N.C. (21).
"I think we're in pretty good shape," Buckhorn said. "It goes right to the heart of quality of life. Part of what makes the city attractive is the ability to be outdoors, to be active, to get people outside where they interact with each other, to connect neighborhoods."
In creating the ParkScore ranking, which was announced Thursday, the trust put equal weight on three factors:
• Park access, which measures the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park (about half a mile).
• Park size, based on a city's median park size and the percentage of total city area dedicated to parks.
• Services and investment, which combines the number of playgrounds per 10,000 city residents and spending on parks per capita.
Buckhorn noted that the city reduced parks fees two years ago, which drew more users, has launched new programs like lacrosse and created activities like the Mayor's River O'Green and Mac & Cheese Throwdown at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. He plans a similar focus on programming activities at Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park.
"We have the green spaces," he said. "Part of our job is to activate them."
The city also is spending or plans to spend millions of dollars to add features to parks, like the new playground at Cypress Point Park, and to reinvigorate Water Works Park, the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park and Perry Harvey Sr. Park, a trio that Buckhorn sees as underused.
"Tampa has been making good efforts to improve its parks, from Hixon Park downtown to revamped playgrounds in the neighborhoods," Peter Harnik, director of the trust's Center for City Park Excellence, said in an announcement of the ranking.
The city's aggregate score — 21/2 out of a possible five "park benches" — put Tampa in a tie for 28th place with Honolulu, Detroit, Phoenix and Corpus Christi, Texas.
Tampa's rank was boosted by higher-than-average scores for playground access and per-capita park spending. The trust said the city has 2.8 playgrounds per 10,000 residents, compared with the national ParkScore average of 2.3. It spends $121 per resident on parks, versus an average of $98.
Also, 59 percent of Tampa residents live within a 10-minute walk of a local park, which is just under the national average. Bayshore Boulevard is the city's most-visited park, according to the trust.
In gauging access, the trust uses computer mapping to evaluate the location of parks, where their entrances are and physical obstacles to access, such as major highways. When there is such an obstacle, the trust does not consider the park accessible to residents on the other side unless there's a bridge, underpass or easy access point available. The trust's analysis found that low-income households in Tampa have slightly better access to city parks than the population as a whole.
Tampa received below-average scores for median park size (4.6 acres here, compared with an average of 6 acres for other ranked cities) and percentage of city land dedicated to parks (7.1 percent, compared with the national average of 11.1 percent).
The top five cities on this year's ParkScore index are Minneapolis, New York, Boston, Portland, Ore., and San Francisco.
Richard Danielson can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times on Twitter.