Baltimore's parks slip in expanded rankings

Patterson Park is one of Baltimore's larger parks, but the average neighborhood green space is just 0.8 acres, according to Trust for Public Land. (Jed Kirschbaum, 2007 / June 5, 2013)

Baltimore's park system has slipped from 15th to 21st in an expanded ranking of open space in the nation's 50 largest cities with relatively low funding cited as a continuing problem.

The nonprofit Trust for Public Land gave Baltimore's 4,905 acres of parks the same overall grade Wednesday as it had last year -- three out of a possible five "park benches," or stars, in its ParkScore rating system.

But the city lost ground in the rankings because the trust added 10 new cities to its review of  municipal parks, several of which topped Baltimore, including Minneapolis, which came in #1, Omaha, Neb. (#11) and Colorado Springs, CO (#14).

As in last year's rating, the city scored well for accessibility, with 85 percent of its residents within a 10-minute walk of a park.  But Baltimore's historic park system, which dates back to 1827, fared poorly because most of its parks are small - just 0.8 acre, on average - and the city spends just $61.18 per resident to maintain its green spaces, down slightly from $63 per resident last year.

"Baltimore does a wonderful job of providing access to local parks, but many of those parks are small slivers that can't support a wide range of recreational activities," said  Peter Harnik, director of the Center for City Park Excellence, a research arm of The Trust for Public Land.

"To keep pace with the top-ranked ParkScore cities, Baltimore needs to invest more in its park system and strive to create larger multi-use parks that can become a destination for locals and tourists alike," he added.

UPDATE: Kia McLeod, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Recreation and Parks, didn't dispute the trust's ratings, but said the city's parks offer "something for everyone."

"Visitors can take a peaceful walk in the woods on the back roads of Druid Hill Park, sit quietly and watch birds by the lake at Patterson Park or play a relaxing round of golf in Clifton, Carroll and Forest parks," she said in an email. "Our smaller community parks provide areas to meet and greet neighbors."

The city's goal is to improve its parks to be among the 10 highest ranking in the nation, she said, adding that with the help of its friends groups, nonprofits, local businesses and other park advocates, "we believe that we are heading in the right direction."