Grunthal Park in the Grand Park neighborhood was renovated in 2023 to convert tennis courts into basketball courts with a playground space. | Will Brown, Jacksonville TodayGrunthal Park in the Grand Park neighborhood was renovated in 2023 to convert tennis courts into basketball courts with a playground space. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today
Grunthal Park in the Grand Park neighborhood was renovated in 2023 to convert tennis courts into basketball courts with a playground space. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Jax parks improving, but work remains, report says

Published on May 22, 2024 at 4:49 pm

A new report out Wednesday shows Jacksonville’s park system is improving, but it lags behind other large cities in Florida and most cities nationwide.

The U.S. Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit, ranked the park systems in the 100 biggest cities across the country. Jacksonville finished 69th, which was an improvement over its 81st ranking last year.

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St. Petersburg was the highest-ranked city in Florida, the 11th-best in the country. Tampa was 39th. Both cities improved four spots from last year.

Miami was ranked 36th nationwide and Orlando 64th, the same as last year. Port St. Lucie was rated last in the nation.

Doug Hattaway from the Trust for Public Land said the main reason Jacksonville’s park system improved is that more money was spent in the public and private sectors. In 2023, the community spent $78 per person, and that increased to $113 per person in 2024, the survey found. It’s still below the national average of $124.

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“One of the important components of parks is not just providing a green space or an open space for people to access. It’s also about programming and designing and providing amenities within that park that it attracts people to use it,” Hattaway said. “It’s this kind of investment that the city of Jacksonville has clearly done over the past year to activate the parks so that people can enjoy it,”

The survey assigns every city a score based on five factors: access, investment, amenities, acreage and equality. Jacksonville scored 45.3 out of 100.

Jacksonville’s park system received high grades for acreage and amenities. The survey said 18% of the area in the city is dedicated to parks, which is well above the national average of 9.5%.

The amenities category measures six activities found in parks that are broadly appealing to everyone: basketball hoops, dog parks, playgrounds, senior and recreation centers, permanent restrooms and splash pads. The survey said Jacksonville's park system was above average in this regard compared with other park systems in the U.S.

Access to parks was the lowest of the five categories, and Hattaway said that was the main reason Jacksonville's ranking was not higher.

The survey said only 35% of the population lives within a 10-minute walk from a park, which is well below the national average of 74%. Hattaway said the lack of access basically comes down to not enough parks in densely populated areas.

“If you look at a map of the county and you see where parks are serving well and where some of the gaps are, you do find that there is a lot of large open space, environmental lands on the edges of Duval County," Hattaway said.

More park space could become available Downtown in coming years. Plans are in the works to redesign Metropolitan Park, and construction has started on Riverfront Plaza, both Downtown. Also, $9.6 million in renovations to J. P. Small Park in the Durkeeville neighborhood are slated to be done by July.

Hattaway said holding more events that bring people together is an important way to help increase access to parks.


author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Steven Ponson has six years of experience covering news in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida. Prior to arriving on the First Coast, Steven also worked in radio in Orlando. He attended the University of Central Florida where he earned a degree in radio and television. Steven has been a reporter, producer, anchor and board operator. Outside of work, Steven loves to watch sports, cook delicious cajun food (as any good Louisiana native does) and spend time outdoors.
author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Steven Ponson has six years of experience covering news in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida. Prior to arriving on the First Coast, Steven also worked in radio in Orlando. He attended the University of Central Florida where he earned a degree in radio and television. Steven has been a reporter, producer, anchor and board operator. Outside of work, Steven loves to watch sports, cook delicious cajun food (as any good Louisiana native does) and spend time outdoors.

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