By now, many of us have read about the study that ranks our hometown 97th out of 100 in "ParkScore" as determined by The Trust For Public Land, with the last three cities given no score. The findings are, at the very least, embarrassing and disappointing. There are arguments made about the methodology, but this same study has ranked us at or near the bottom for the last five years.
Most noticeable to me are two items: park spending per capita and accessibility to that park land. Spending on park land per capita is currently one third of what the city of Atlanta spends, one fifth of Minneapolis. Accessibility to those parks gets the lowest possible score at one point out of a possible 40. Additionally, the study finds that only 28 percent of Mecklenburg County residents are within a 10-minute walk of a park.
There's much discussion in our community about social equity. What is more equitable than a park and access to that park? Our county parks are open to all during most hours of the day, free of charge. There is no membership required, no status or income requirements.
Access to those facilities requires not just more park land but also locating them equitably in the community. As our city becomes more densely populated, that becomes more difficult and certainly more expensive. But there are still opportunities. One way is to complete the 200-mile greenway network in Mecklenburg County. This system would provide not only hundreds of additional acres of linear parks but also transportation corridors throughout the county to other parks, as many are located along these greenways.
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These trails are located along the many creeks and streams throughout our community. They are dispersed throughout the county and when finished would allow ALL citizens to freely travel not just to areas of shopping, work and commerce but to our recreation centers, ball fields, and parks. Seems like a no-brainer, yet progress on this system is only 25 percent complete.
As I write this I am returning from Barcelona, Spain, an iconic European city with fantastic architecture, museums, and parks. This beautiful city was built over centuries but certainly with a vision in mind. What is the vision for Charlotte? Will it be an iconic city for its citizens? I believe it can be with an iconic park system of green space connected by a beautiful 200-mile greenway network available to all.
How many of these disparaging studies will it take before the citizens of Charlotte demand that something change? It is our responsibility to tell our elected officials what we want via phone calls and e-mails. Will this report be the wake up call that Charlotte needs to make it a city of parks and greenways, or is it just another study that is dismissed until next year when we find ourselves at the bottom of the list again?