Decades ago, Memphis acted often on the low expectations that translated into an “it’s good enough for Memphis” attitude.

Today, many years later, the impact of this disregard, which seems to stem from being a majority African American city, can be seen in challenges inherited by today’s leaders:  inadequate public transit, underfunded schools, disinvestment in neighborhoods, lack of attacks on child poverty, and declining parks.

Since starting this blog 14 years ago, of the 4,000 blog posts we’ve published, 300 of them have been about parks.  There have been posts about Memphis parks, particularly the need for Tom Lee Park to be improved, about major investments in parks being made in other cities, the economic benefit of parks, and an emerging understanding in Memphis about parks as a foundational public space for neighborhoods.

We have also regularly focused on the yearly reports by the Trust for Public Land that ranked cities on key metrics for – acreage, investment, amenities, and more.  That yearly report for the 50 largest cities evolved into the highly regarded ParkScore which grades a multitude of cities on their park systems while ranking the 100 largest cities.

Languishing Near The Bottom

Since the ParkScore index was created in 2012, Memphis has been found on the bottom rungs year after year.  It is again this year, ranking #87 among the 100 largest U.S. cities, slipping three spots since 2017.

While the rankings are always a call to arms, that is especially true this year.   After all, there is the proposal to turn 30-acre Tom Lee Park from a field into a real park, there is the master planning process under way to chart the future of Overton Park, and City of Memphis is developing a comprehensive plan for city parks.

Within this context, the ParkScore ranking should not be dispiriting but fuel for a sense of urgency to make the most of this unique opportunity to put parks front and center in our community’s planning and investment strategies.

After all, if Memphis is successful, it will have unlocked the potential of Tom Lee Park, the most spectacular riverfront park on the Mississippi River, it will have shined the jewel that is Overton Park even more, and it will have strengthened the backbone of this movement – the neighborhood parks.


The top 10 park systems are:

  1. Washington, D.C.
    2. St. Paul, Minnesota
    3. Minneapolis, Minnesota
    4. Arlington, Virginia
    5. Portland, Oregon
    6. Irvine, California
    7. San Francisco, California
    8. Cincinnati, Ohio
    9. New York City
    10. Chicago, Illinois

Some other cities of interest and their rankings:

14 – St. Louis
20 – New Orleans
28 – Raleigh
35 – Cleveland
42 – Atlanta
59 – Nashville
81 – Louisville
82 – Detroit
87 – Memphis
97 – Oklahoma City

Where Memphis Ranks

Memphis’ ParkScore is 34.1 out of 100.  Its highest score was for acreage – 60 out of 100; investment was for 30 out of 100; amenities average was 26 out of 100; and the lowest score was in access, which was 20 out of 100.

The maximum score for a city was 84.2 and the average ParkScore for the 100 largest cities is 48.9.  The lowest score – Charlotte, NC – was 25.

One of the key measures is the percentage of the public who are within a 10-minute walk of a park.  In Memphis, that amounts to 45%.

That said, no city in the Memphis region has bragging rights for doing much better.  Here are the percentages of their populations within a 10-minute walk of a park:

55% – Covington
50% – West Memphis
47% – Collierville
46% – Bartlett
45% – Memphis
41% -Germantown
32% – Millington
31% – Horn Lake
25% – Arlington
20% – Lakeland
10% – Southaven
10% – Hernando
3% – Olive Branch

Great Parks

As the Trust for Public Land says: “Everyone deserves access to a great park.”

The Trust for Public Land added that research proves conclusively that parks boost well-being by improving health, increasing property values, fostering community spirit, and growing the economy.

With the design by a nationally-renown firm for a spectacular riverfront, with the potential of an even better Overton Park, and with plans for a great neighborhood park system, Memphis may be on the cusp of turning its ParkScore around.


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