Wichita’s parks rank 34th out of 50 cities on national index

For the first time, Wichita’s parks have been ranked on the Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore index.

The study, released Wednesday, rated the 50 largest cities in the nation in terms of the quality of their parks. Wichita came in 34th, tied with Los Angeles.

Each city was scored on its quality of parks, based on size, accessibility, service, maintenance and the percentage of the city devoted to parks.

Wichita received a high grade mainly because it ranked in the top 10 in terms of median park size – 10 acres. On the other hand, its total of 64 points was hindered by proximity: the study said only half of the city’s residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park.

“Wichita’s score of two benches in its debut year on the ParkScore index means that it’s doing a lot of things right but still has room to improve,” Peter Harnick, director of the Center for City Park Excellence, said in a press release issued by the Trust for Public Land.

In order to improve its score, the study suggested Wichita should focus on building parks in impoverished areas and making sure the city’s parks budget is adequate to maintain and improve existing parks.

The study’s outcome was no surprise to Doug Kupper, director of Wichita’s Park and Recreation Department. A few years ago, Kupper and city parks and council officials created the Parks Recreation and Open Space Plan.

“We wanted to see what it would take to get a better scoring overall,” Kupper said. “We did it not for scoring from the Trust for Public Land but from the eyes of citizens in Wichita. The City Council embraced the plan, and as the economy comes around, we will attack the plan and see what we can do to improve the system we have. When you think about it, I would rather be 34th than 50th. There’s always room for improvement, but as the economy comes around and citizens can afford to invest, we will get it to fruition and have everything spiffy.”

The top cities, which received park-bench ratings of between four and five, included Minneapolis in first place, followed by New York and Boston.

The bottom cities – which received only one park bench – included Indianapolis; Charlotte, N.C.; Louisville, Ky.; and last-place Fresno, Calif.