Place Indicators: Parks & TrailsThere is ample evidence of the health benefits of green space (Maas, 2006). Insufficient green space and lack of access thereto is associated with increases in crime, obesity and chronic illness, and decreases in learning, physical activity, self esteem, and mental health (Crompton, 2011; deVries, 2003; Lachowycz, 2011; van Dillen, 2012).
The Trust for Public Land (TPL) created a ParkScore for the 40 largest U.S. cities. Houston ranked 30th out of 40 cities. Although Houston’s actual per capita park acreage is higher than in cities with better ParkScores, Houston scored exceptionally low on services, investment and access. The Center’s 2009 Community Indicator Report found that the counties of Harris (at 14.05 acres), Fort Bend (at 14.23 acres) and Montgomery (at 4.35 acres) fall short of the national standard of 20 acres per 100 residents.
Several significant initiatives are underway. The map on this page shows the Bayou Greenways Initiative, a plan to create and connect greenways and trails along the bayous. Once completed, park space in Houston will increase by 1,500 acres and in Harris County by 3,000 acres (Houston Parks Board, 2012). More than 52% of Harris County residents will be within 1.5 miles of the system, still below the national standard of 0.5 mile.
As impressive as the Bayou Greenways Initiative is, the region still lags in accessible park space. Accessibility is the critical factor between parks and people. The Trust for Public Land has set the median number of playgrounds per 10,000 city residents at 2.2. The city of Houston has 275 playgrounds or 1.3 playgrounds/10,000 residents. Philadelphia has 1.7 playgrounds/10,000 residents; Dallas, 1.8; Chicago, 1.9; and Atlanta, 2.6. Playgrounds can be an important community tool in battling the obesity epidemic among children.
Additional indicators regarding parks and trails will be available in the Natural Environment section.