Earlier this year, the World Cities Culture Forum shed light on how much — or how little — public parkland is available to residents and visitors of 34 major cities.
With the forum's list ranking each individual city by percentage of total land dedicated to parks, gardens and other publicly accessible green spaces, it should be noted that the data used comes almost exclusively from participating member cities of the London-based organization. (Several member cities including Zurich, Lisbon, Oslo, Lagos and Dakar have been omitted while non-member cities like Dubai and Berlin are included.) The year that the data was pulled from also varies city by city.
Some cities boast a relatively small percentage of public green space — not a shocking revelation to many. Istanbul, for example, has long publicly struggled with shortcomings in the park department. Conversely, the green space-starved nature of certain other cities might be an eye-opener to those who assume the opposite.
Case in point is Paris, an outwardly jardin-stuffed city that, in reality, is comprised of only 9.5 percent parkland. The city’s relative dearth of pollutant-absorbing, temperature-cooling green space likely plays a role in the city's recent struggles with poor air quality, deadly heat waves and other climate change-related phenomena that Mayor Anne Hidalgo and her administration are actively countering.
Paris' 9.5 percent is notedly low for a European capital — far lower than other European capitals such as Warsaw (17 percent), London (33 percent), Rome (34.8 percent), Madrid (35 percent), Stockholm (40 percent) and Vienna, which comes out at the top of the tree-shaded heap with a staggering 45.5 percent. Only Amsterdam (another surprise) and Berlin come close to Paris' low with 13 percent and 14.4 percent green space, respectively.
Asian cities that are positively bursting out of their seams are also seriously lacking in the parkland department. But this isn’t necessarily true across the board. Thanks in part to smart planning, some space-strapped Asian mega-cities such as Hong Kong (40 percent), Shenzhen (45 percent) and Singapore (47 percent) have a whole lot of open green space to spare.
Only a small number of North American cities belong to the forum — and they mostly fall in the middle of the road. Home to a number of generously sized and oft-overlooked parks in its outer boroughs, New York City leads the pack with 27 percent public green space followed by Austin, Texas (15 percent), Montreal (14.8), San Francisco (13.7) and Toronto (12.7 percent).
In addition to having the smallest amount of public parkland of North American member cities, Los Angeles also ranks amongst the lowest of all cities, just narrowly missing the bottom five. With a paltry 6.7 percent green space, it falls between Bogotá (4.4 percent) and Tokyo (7.5 percent). Underserved neighborhoods in L.A. and throughout California, however, are due to benefit from Proposition 68, a $4 billion general obligation bond passed in June that, among other things, will help to improve and expand small parks in low-income urban communities as well as spiff up larger, more established green spaces throughout the state.
Another eye-opener: Far from the bleak, gray wasteland that many assume it to (still) be, Moscow has seriously upped its park game at the direction of authoritarian President Vladimir Putin, who uses ambitious beautification projects in and around the Russian capital as a means of placating and currying favor with voters. Today, more than half (54 percent) of its land is now dedicated to protected open green space, more than any other member city of the Forum.
In addition to percentage of public parkland, the forum has compiled data on a large number of other "cultural indicators" including but not limited to the number of bookstores (Shanghai handedly tops the list with an astonishing 3,800), the number of Michelin star restaurants (congrats, Tokyo), the number of annual film festivals (Seoul and Sydney beat out New York and L.A.) and number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Amsterdam, Paris, London and Rome can all claim four.)
Starting with Moscow, here's a look at the five cities with the highest percentage of public parkland followed by five cities that could do with a whole lot more of it.
Cities with the highest percentage of public green space
Named after writer and political activist Maxim Gorky, Moscow's 300-acre Gorky Park celebrated its 90th anniversary in August 2018. In 2011, the once down-and-out park underwent a dramatic transformation. (Photo: Ana Paula Hirama/Flickr)
Population: 12.9 million
Percentage of public green space: 54 percent
Top parks: Gorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure, Tsaritsyno Park, Vorobynovy Park, Izmaylovsky Park
Created in the 1970s on reclaimed land on the southeastern coast of Singapore, the 460-acre East Coast Park is the largest patch of public green space in the island-bound Southeast Asian city-state. (Photo: jimmy thomas/Flickr)
Population: 5.61 million
Percentage of public green space: 47 percent
Top parks: Gardens by the Bay, East Coast Park, Mount Faber Park/Southern Ridges, Fort Canning Park
While not Sydney's largest swath of parkland, Hyde Park is its oldest. Founded in 1810, the 40-acre park, famed for its stately monuments and sporty heritage, is also the oldest public park in Australia. (Photo: Philip Terry Graham/Flickr)
Population: 5.1 million
Percentage of public green space: 46 percent
Top parks: Centennial Park, Hyde Park, Robertson Park, Barangaroo Reserve
Home to the Riesenrad, a late 19th-century Ferris wheel, the Weiner Prater is a sprawling green oasis in the heart of Vienna. Ample public parkland contributes to the Austrian capital's famously high quality of life rankings. (Photo: John Menard/Flickr)
Population: 1.87 million
Percentage of public green space: 45.5 percent
Top parks: Stadtpark, Prater, Volksgarten, Lainzer Tiergarten
Located in the middle of Shenzhen's notoriously chaotic urban core, Lizhi Park is an idyllic refuge spanning 70 acres. Public parkland is one of the greatest assets of the fast-growing mega-city in southeastern China. (Photo: Timmy Denike/Flickr)
Population: 12.53 million
Percentage of public green space: 45 percent
Top parks: Lizhi Park, Honghu Park, People's Park, Lianhuashan Park
And the least amount of public green space ...
Due to an unforgiving climate, many of Dubai's leisure and recreation activities are tucked away indoors. Still, there are a modest number of outdoor green spaces including the popular Zabeel Park. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Population: 3.14 million
Percentage of public green space: 2 percent
Top parks: Zabeel Park, Safa Park, Al Mamzar Park, Al Barsha Pond Park
To many visitors, Istanbul may appear to brim with beautiful, lushly planted parks such as Gülhane Park, one of the city's oldest. But for its size, the Turkish city is actually green space-starved. (Photo: Harold Litwiler/Flickr)
Population: 15 million
Percentage of public green space: 2.2 percent
Top parks: Gülhane Park, Emirgan Park, Bebek Park, Yıldız Park
India's largest city is home to a handful of tranquil and well-trafficked public parks, including the Hanging Gardens. Still, designated green space is scarce in intensely jam-packed Mumbai. (Photo: Elizabeth K. Joseph/Flickr)
Population: 18 million
Percentage of public green space: 2.5 percent
Top parks: Nirvana Park, Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Central Park of Khargar, Hanging Gardens
Shanghai has numerous very large and very lovely swaths of public green space including People's Park. But in this chaotic and impossibly dense concrete jungle, open parkland is still relatively meager. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Population: 24.18 million
Percentage of public green space: 2.8 percent
Top parks: Zhongshan Park, Century Park, People's Park, Fuxing Park
Taipei is another major Asian city that, on paper, appears to have ample public green space. (Pictured here are the 'green lungs' of the city, Daan Forest Park.) However, considering its size, it could do with a lot more. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Population: 2.67 million
Percentage of public green space: 3.6 percent
Top parks: Daan Forest Park, Xinsheng Park, Rongxing Garden Park, 2/28 Memorial Park