Parkgoers Chloe Williams and Mackenzie Myers sat under Trinity Park’s shaded canopy with art supplies scattered around their blanket, getting ready to paint.
The pair like the ability to do a wide array of activities at any of Fort Worth’s 291 parks. Still, they both think the parks could use better bathroom facilities, they said.
Not everyone is so satisfied with what the city’s parks offer. Fort Worth’s parks ranked 89th in a ranking of the nation’s 100 largest cities’ parks conducted by the Trust For Public Land.
That leaves the city’s Park and Recreation department balancing what residents want with what the national ranking says the city needs. David Creek, assistant director of planning and resource management, said that, although the ranking can be helpful, he prefers to look toward the city-conducted needs assessment and parks master plan for a better analysis of what the parks need.
“The report is just one of the tools you would look at for what the park needs are in the city,” Creek said. “We ask the residents what’s most important to them. I’m not really interested in meeting the needs of somebody that lives in another area of the country.”
Robert Kent, Trust state director in Texas, said the ranking is just one tool cities use to assess their parks, but it’s helpful to track a city’s progress in relation to its peers.
Fort Worth was the lowest-ranking Texas city, topped by Arlington at 78th, Dallas at 50th, Austin at 45th and Plano at 15th. The city ranked last overall for its amenities, scoring 10 out of 100 points.
Plano is a much more compact city than Fort Worth, Kent said, which guarantees residents are more likely to have better access to parks. Plano also required developers to build parks in subdivisions, Kent said, which Fort Worth could consider as it continues to grow.
Although Fort Worth scored low in the national ranking, most residents were satisfied with their parks, according to a city survey.
In a 2020 city needs assessment, residents rated their overall satisfaction with the parks and recreation and amenity priorities, among other topics. Sixty-seven percent rated the parks and recreational opportunities in Fort Worth as excellent or good.
The top five highest-priority items from the city survey include trails (for walking, biking and hiking), open spaces, aquatic centers (splash pads, swim lanes and play features) and playgrounds.
Creek pointed to basketball as an example of the difference between the national ranking and the city survey. Residents told the city basketball courts were a relatively low priority.
“Do I take the dollars I have available and spend it on things the needs assessment report says is important, or on more basketball goals to get my survey results improved?” Creek said.
Kent said it’s important for cities to be responsive to their residents instead of taking the national ranking at face value.
“We can’t tailor the analysis to fit every city,” Kent said. “We try to look at what we see in terms of park trends across the county, and make our analysis in alignment with that.”
Along with amenities, the national ranking scored the city on access, investment, acreage and equity.
Creek was particularly pleased with the access in the city, he said. Sixty percent of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park. The city received a score of 40 out of 100 for access.
Forty-three percent of respondents said they walk to parks and recreational facilities, according to the city assessment. Fifty-five percent use multiple modes of transportation. Most respondents drive at 82%.
“Our service radius to a neighborhood park is about half a mile, which translates to about a 10-minute walk,” Creek said. “We try to achieve the same things (as included in the ParkScore survey). We just call them different things.”
Equity factored into the city’s access score, breaking down into income and race/ethnicity. With 49 out of 100 points, the city’s second-best score was in equity.
The percentage of residents within a 10-minute walk of a park was 58% for high income, 60% for middle income and 62% for low income. The median household income in Fort Worth is $60,205.
The highest percentage of residents within a 10-minute walk of a park by race was 65% for Hispanic residents. The lowest was 55% for Pacific Islander residents. The city is 39.4% white, 17.7% Black, 36.1% Hispanic, and 6.8% residents of “other races,” according to the city’s population page.
Fort Worth still has a ways to go in terms of access, Kent said. He pointed to Dallas, which he said was in the place Fort Worth is now.
Dallas “set a goal to have everyone in the city within a 10-minute walk,” Kent said. “They passed a bond program that included over $300 million for parks and trails. They put in place a partnership with the school district that opened up 20 campuses as park space. That’s a great way to bring park access to people because it doesn’t require you to spend millions on real estate.”
Fort Worth scored 33 out of 100 for investment, spending $74.39 per person on parks. The highest-ranking Texas city, Plano, received 100 points for investment, spending $223.12 per person.
“That’s certainly toward the upper end of agencies across the country,” Kent said. “You’re able to provide more, buy land, and deliver really high quality parks systems.”
The city’s highest score on the national ranking was in acreage with 52 out of 100 points. In the city survey, residents rated open, natural space as their second-highest priority.
The city spans 12,495 acres, 6% of which is used for public parks and recreation, according to the national ranking. The national median is 15%.
It is necessary to put the land usage in context with other cities because Fort Worth has more undeveloped land than other high-ranking largest cities, Creek said.
Jennifer Dyke is the head of the city’s open space interdepartmental team. The city will continue to acquire more land for parks and open space as it develops further, she said.
“Those Trust for Public Land numbers just start to scratch the surface about what’s really out there,” Dyke said. “I feel like it doesn’t really tell the whole story.”
The team works to protect high-priority natural areas as the city rapidly grows, Dyke said. It considers how city land can provide recreational benefits, health benefits like better water and air quality, and other economic benefits, she said.
“This is not something to stop development,” Dyke said. “But we’re growing very rapidly, and these natural areas are going to go away, so how can we identify the ones that are unique that we want to remain natural for the community for generations to come?”
Kent said the Trust is paying attention to the city’s open space plans and looking to explore partnerships that can preserve more.
For parkgoers like Williams, having abundant space is a highlight of Fort Worth’s parks.
“Parks like this, it’s nice because you can do whatever you want to do, you can do it,” Williams said while setting up in Trinity. “We’re painting, and there’s room to do it. There’s not muddy areas. It’s really nice.”
Brooke Colombo is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by grants from the Amon G. Carter and Sid W. Richardson foundations. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.