Survey: Most San Antonio Residents Don’t Have Easy Access to Parks

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Children run through a portion of Brackenridge Park. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Children run in Brackenridge Park.

A national survey found that while the River Walk is the eighth most-visited park in the United States, more than half of San Antonio residents do not live within a 10-minute walk to a park.

The 2018 City Park Facts Report, released Wednesday by The Trust for Public Land (TPL), measures public access to parks by estimating the population within a 10-minute walking radius of a park. Sixty-two percent of local residents – about 860,000 people – live further than a 10-minute walk away from a park, according to the survey.

It also found that San Antonio has the equivalent of more than 18,500 football fields of parkland – a total of 304 parks and 294,997 acres – but falls below the national average for park access. However, park acreage in the city has more than doubled in the past 20 years, according to City officials.

ParkScore, another survey created by TPL that focuses on park quality, ranked San Antonio 67th out of 100 of the U.S.’s largest cities in 2018 for overall park quality. The survey scores cities by evaluating parks according to their size, accessibility, amenities, and the total spending on parks per resident.

The data shows that in San Antonio, lower-income groups have the greatest walking access to public parks. Forty-four percent of low-income residents (those earning less than 75 percent of the city’s median income) live within a 10-minute walk to a park, compared to 39 percent of medium-income people, and 31 percent of high-income residents.

ParkScore data also indicates that just 38 percent of San Antonio’s youth (residents younger than 20) live within a 10-minute walk to a park, compared to the 2018 national average of 55 percent.

Park access is linked to public health outcomes, especially among youth who seek spaces to gather free of charge, said Alexandra Hiple, program coordinator at TPL’s Center for City Park Excellence.

Municipal spending on parks in the 100 largest U.S. cities increased by 6 percent in 2018, from $7.1 billion in 2017 to $7.5 billion this year, according to TPL. When combined with $500 million from public-private park partnerships, total park spending totaled $8 billion in the last fiscal year.

In San Antonio, the average amount spent on parks per resident in 2016-2018 was $92.62, down from $94 in 2014-2016, according to the survey data. However, the expenditure was higher than the national median of $83 per resident in 2018.

Bond elections in 2007, 2012, and 2017 have provided $354 million for 216 park projects throughout the City, according to San Antonio’s Parks & Recreation Department.

Xavier Urrutia, the department’s director, said the challenge is not just to maintain existing parks but to strategically plan where to acquire new land for parks in rapidly growing parts of town.

“Here in San Antonio, we grew out, we didn’t grow up,” he said referring to the high rise density of other cities like Chicago or San Francisco, “As growth goes further north west, the city center moves further northwest as well. We have to look at growth patterns when thinking about the acquisition of future parks.”

Phil Hardberger Park Education Coordinator Susan Campbell teaches children about bees and pollination in the Starting Out Wild class in Phil Hardberger Park.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Education Coordinator Susan Campbell teaches children about bees and pollination in the Starting Out Wild class at Phil Hardberger Park.

Since 2005, the City has acquired 1,480 acres of linear creekways. A total of 65 miles of trails have been constructed, and 37 more miles are either being designed or under construction, the City said. The trails are funded through a sales tax, which has been approved by voters several times since 2000, at a total value of $190 million.

Amanda Merck,  a research specialist with the health advocacy group Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio, said City officials need to focus on improving how people navigate the city so residents can reap the health benefits that go along with enjoying a park regularly.

“San Antonio will not be able to move the needle on park access or various health outcomes, like obesity and diabetes, without addressing walkability,” Merck said.

By increasing the number of streets that allow for multimodal transportation, reducing traffic fatalities, and improving housing and transportation affordability, Merck said, San Antonio can also improve park access.

Instead of building new parks, cities such as Houston have embarked on joint-use agreements, said Hiple, under which city governments work with school districts to offer public access to school yards and playgrounds at certain hours.

“The focus on joint-use agreements is a great way to make sure these facilities are being used by everyone, and that equipment is up to date,” she said.

Urrutia said the City has a handful of agreements with local schools in which the City agrees to upgrade park equipment in exchange for public access after school hours.

“Parks are part of who we are,” Urrutia said. “While these national surveys and national ratings … give you a barometer and make sure you’re moving in the right direction, from my perspective, our parks stand out from parks all over the country.”

4 thoughts on “Survey: Most San Antonio Residents Don’t Have Easy Access to Parks

  1. “San Antonio will not be able to move the needle on park access or various health outcomes, like obesity and diabetes, without addressing walkability,”

    The population with the highest rates of obesity and diabetes already has the greatest walking access to parks, so is this really the issue?

    I think the issue is more cultural. This city doesn’t walk. What percent of the population of the entire city takes a 10 minute walk to anywhere, park or not? You can just walk for walking’s sake, who said you had to be going anywhere? The great majority of this city does have access to their legs, but chooses not to use them. That is the major issue.

    Until San Antonio starts looking at these major health issues with an element of extreme personal ownership instead of “access” (what can the government provide for me) then nothing will change no matter how many acres are acquired.

    • “The population with the highest rates of obesity and diabetes already has the greatest walking access to parks, so is this really the issue?”

      To which population are you referring?

  2. The study by the Trust for Pubic Land is faulty. The study ranked San Antonio 67th out of 100 large cities on park and walkability quality. The study shows that San Antonio’s ranking is low because too many residents are not within a 10-minute walk from a park.

    San Antonio ranking should be higher because San Antonio has over 200 miles of connected and integrated nature trails, and, these nature trails were excluded from the study. Thanks to City Council, the Linear Creek way Advisory Committee, City staff, the San Antonio River Authority, and others, for the 200 miles of nature trails, and growing.

    San Antonio’s integrated Nature trails are park-like, provide walkability, provide access to park amenities, and provide access to other destinations. San Antonio is embarking on aggressive integrated systems for sidewalks, VIA bus routes, and other transit options that will enhance walkability and access to parks and other destinations.

    See the website, NatureTrailMaps.net, for accessibility of parks and other destinations in San Antonio. Simply click or touch icons for a wealth of information such as amenities of parks, distances between streets, and much more. Map 67 shows moving VIA bus icons and bus stops to increase bus ridership along the nature trails. In map 67, click or touch a VIA bus stop for bus schedules.

    San Antonio’s integrated nature trails are along natural greenways, and, are a national treasure. San Antonio will soon be ranked number 1 for walkability.

    • Yes, we have the linear parks, but that is not a ‘park’ from a family standpoint. You can walk, run, bike, roller blade, skateboard or use a scooter on them. But that is not really what the survey means when they talk about a park. I agree with the report. I love the linear parks for myself and my dog. We use them all the time. But I also have to get into my car and drive to a park to play with my grandchildren. I really can’t have a picnic in a linear park because even the trail heads don’t have the facilities for that.

      Walk-ability on nature trails does not equal parks for the purpose of this survey.

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