Village Park Jersey City
Village Park Jersey City

According to the Trust for Public Land’s newly released annual “ParkScore” ranking, Jersey City has the smallest parks of any of the country’s 100 most populous cities, but it also has (nearly) the most accessible. Such is the calculus that resulted in Jersey City’s ranking 36 overall in 2022. TPL also looked at the “equitable” distribution, funding, and amenities of the nation’s parks.

Commenting on the report, Mayor Fulop’s spokesperson, Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione, told NJ.com, “Improving parks and open space has proved to be invaluable for our residents’ mental and physical health, property values, environmental impacts, community engagement, and other intangible benefits.”

Last year Jersey City ranked 46 in the study, which seems to imply the city made major year-over-year major gains on all things park. But for several years prior to 2021, the city did not respond to TPL’s requests for information, according to Will Klein, a member of TPL’s research team. That means that last year’s ranking was based on incomplete data. Ironically, it was artificially low.

“The jump from last year’s ParkScore data thus is due to adding in additional historical spending data rather than necessarily an increase in the actual three-year average,”said Klein in an email.

A deep dive into the ParkScore data shows results in Jersey City that are mixed. Jersey has 76 parks that together make up almost 12% of the city’s land mass. This percentage is lower than the study’s median (19%), but it is nowhere near bottom.

Roughly half the park acreage in Jersey City is owned and operated by the state (in the form of Liberty State Park); less than 20% is owned and operated by the city.

Jersey City scores lowest of all the cities on park size with an average mass of 0.5 acres compared to 5.4 acres nationally. Even compared just to cities with similar populations and densities, Jersey City’s parks are small: one-fifth the median size.

Jersey City benefited from the low bar set by the Trust for Public Land, which considers areas such as the 0.1-acre Meluso Park and the 0.2-acre Woodland Park (which does not even appear on Google Maps) “parks” because they are public open space.

But if the city’s parks are tiny, they are also highly accessible and “equitably” distributed, according to the report. A whopping 97% of Jersey City’s residents live within a ten-minute walk of such a space; and compared to white residents, people of color in Jersey City enjoy virtually the same proximity to parks. Residents of low-income neighborhoods enjoy virtually the same proximity to parks as do those in wealthy neighborhoods, too.

For these reasons, Jersey City scored 97 for “accessibility” and 82 for “equity.” The Trust for Public Land defines equity as whites and wealthy residents living farther from parks than their non-white and poorer neighbors.

On “investment,” Jersey City lags nationally. As of 2021, the year upon which the current ParkScore is based, Jersey City’s municipal government spent $45 per person on parks on average for the prior three years compared with an average of $83 for the other local governments covered. This explains why Chilltown scored a low 31 out of 100 on investment.

The city did better on funding when compared to a smaller subset of its peers and when the analysis was limited to 2021 alone. The Jersey City Times identified twelve cities in the study with populations and densities like those of Jersey City. Compared to Stockton, CA, which spent $21.31 per person last year on parks and yet has a poverty rate virtually identical to Jersey City, Jersey City’s parks appear well extremely funded. Compared to St. Paul, Cincinatti, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo, Jersey City is underinvesting in its parks. St. Paul spent four times that of Jersey City (and also has poverty rate equal to Jersey City’s). Buffalo has nearly twice the poverty as Jersey City and yet managed to spend more on its parks (15% more to be exact).

Jersey City scored in the middle compared to the other six cities in the subset.

Jersey City’s parks boast average amenities. In terms of dog friendliness (measured by the number of dog parks per capita), the city is Fido’s dream. Jersey City has 2.1 dog parks per 100,000 residents compared to a national median of 1.2, explaining its score of 84 out of 100 here. And splash pads? The city scored a perfect 100.

Less abundant were playgrounds and restrooms in parks, which scored 7 and 19, respectively. Recreation and senior centers (together) and basketball hoops per capita were closer to the middle.

The Jersey City Times reached out to Paula Mahayosnand, president of the Jersey City Parks Coalition, for comment. She declined.

Elizabeth Morrill

Deputy Editor Elizabeth Morrill has worked in business, not for profit fundraising and as a freelance copy editor. She holds degrees in American studies and education from Yale and Harvard.