Denver and Aurora Park Spaces Show Racial Inequities

Washington Park is one of Denver's outdoor recreational gems.
Washington Park is one of Denver's outdoor recreational gems. Flickr/Jeffrey Beall via Westword
A fascinating new study reveals racial inequities in Denver and Aurora regarding the amount of space devoted to parks in neighborhoods largely populated by people of color compared to sections that are predominantly white.

"Parks and Equitable Recovery," released May 27 by the Trust for Public Land, continues the organization's annual tradition of evaluating park systems in the 100 most populous U.S. cities. The methodology looks at park access (the percentage of residents living within a ten-minute walk of a park); park acreage (comparing the city's median park size and the percentage of city area dedicated to parks); park investment (park spending per resident); and park amenities (the availability of basketball hoops, off-leash dog parks, playgrounds, "splashpads" and other water-play structures, recreation and senior centers, and restrooms).

This year, however, TPL added a park equity component, which compares per capita park space in neighborhoods of color to that in white neighborhoods, and looks at space for parks in lower-income neighborhoods and high-income neighborhoods. Also calculated are the percentage of neighborhoods associated with various demographics that are within a ten-minute walk of a park.

Overall, Denver and Aurora placed well, landing in the top quarter of large American metro areas; Denver finished eighteenth, while Aurora settled in at number 25. Here's the rundown, including scores for each city, with the two Colorado settings italicized.
1. Washington, D.C: 84.4
2. St. Paul, MN: 80.0
3. Minneapolis, MN: 79.7
4. Arlington, VA: 79.6
5. Chicago, IL: 77.2
6. San Francisco, CA: 76.3
7. Irvine, CA: 76.0
8. Cincinnati, OH: 75.9
9. Seattle, WA: 75.4
10. Portland, OR: 75.0
11. New York, NY: 74.8
12. Boston, MA: 73.5
13. Madison, WI: 73.4
14. St. Petersburg, FL: 70.4
15. Plano, TX: 68.6
16. St. Louis, MO: 68.4
17. Spokane, WA: 66.9
18. Denver, CO: 65.7
19. Philadelphia, PA: 64.9
20. Kansas City, MO: 63.8
21. Pittsburgh, PA: 63.3
22. Henderson, NV: 63.2
23. Lincoln, NE: 62.7
24. Cleveland, OH: 62.3
25. Aurora, CO: 62.0
Denver did best in terms of access, scoring 85 out of a possible 100 points. It registered 50 points in the acreage category, 58 points for amenities, 69 points for investment ($132 per person, considerably above the national average of $96) and 68 points for equity.

The percentage of Denver residents within a ten-minute walk of a park actually showed Hispanic and Latinx individuals having an advantage over whites: 92 percent versus 89 percent. The other percentages: 87 percent for Black residents, 92 percent for American Indian residents, 89 percent for Asian residents, and 84 percent for Pacific Islander residents.

The bigger gaps, however, were found in park space per capita relative to the combined median of the top 100 largest U.S. cities. In Denver, neighborhoods of color are estimated to have 16 percent less park space than the median, while white neighborhoods have 3 percent more than the median. Likewise, low-income neighborhoods in Denver have 11 percent less park space than the median, while high-income neighborhoods have 20 percent more.

In Aurora, the top category was investment, netting a score of 85 points out of 100 (the city spends $166 per person on parks), followed closely by 80 points for access. But amenities earned just 33 points, acreage came in at 61 points and equity was barely above average, at 52 points.

As in Denver, a lower percentage of white Aurorans are within a ten-minute walk of a park than are members of several other groups: 84 percent for whites, 89 percent for American Indians, 86 percent for Asians, 88 percent for Blacks, 90 percent for Hispanics and Latinx residents, and 90 percent for Pacific Islanders.

But the inequities regarding park space per capita are much greater in Aurora than in Denver. People of color have 44 percent less than the median amount of park space devoted to their neighborhoods, while whites have a staggering 89 percent above the median. Likewise, low-income Aurora neighborhoods have 33 percent less park space per capita than the median, and high-income folks enjoy 46 percent more than the median.

The bottom line: Most people of color and low-income residents of Denver and Aurora have a park within a ten-minute walk, but that park probably won't be nearly as large as those in close proximity to high-income white people.

Click to get more details about parks in Denver and Aurora, as well as to read the Trust for Public Land report "Parks and an Equitable Recovery."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts