6 min read

The Top Park Systems in the Country

Big Season for the National Parks // Equitable Access to Parks is a Priority // Building More Public Spaces for Teen Girls // Little Island Opens // Trees by Raghu Rai

Greetings! I hope you had a wonderful week and were able to get out to a park or hike a trail. We’re entering the summer months and it looks like all the pent up desire for nature is going to overwhelm the national parks which might make for some frustrating family trips. To make sure people are prepared the National Park Service has launched a campaign called ‘Plan Like a Park Ranger’ with some useful tips for travelers. My favorite one is ‘Travel off the beaten path’ which encourages people to visit some of the lesser known of the 400 national parks.

One of the joys of going to a National Park is capturing the beauty in photographs. In National Park Traveler, Rebecca Latson shares some beautiful photographs of the wide variety of trees you can encounter in the parks. And lastly, check out some of the most unique trees you’ll find in the national parks.

There was some big news this week about parks! Enjoy!


Washington DC Claims Top Spot in the 2021 Park Score Index

Cities should also put a park equity plan in place, she said, which emphasizes community-led design of public spaces and investments in areas that have traditionally been underserved. A March report from the Knight Foundation found community-led park design and planning can have a "ripple effect" on the rest of the city, as it can help in areas like workforce development and youth engagement and contribute to broader community development and resiliency. Hwang said it can also build a relationship between governments and their residents.

"The act of bringing people together to daydream about their parks and about their neighborhoods builds a lot of community trust," she said. "For a lot of folks who engage in a park design process, it's the first time that they've ever engaged in any kind of formal interaction with a city leader or decision-maker. When people have that experience, they realize there is a lot more they can control in their neighborhood."

Over the last year, I have been doing some research into city park systems, so of course I landed on the Trust for Public Land’s annual ParkScore index. As a Minnesota native, I was totally ignorant about the prominence of the Minneapolis and St. Paul park systems, which regularly rank in the top ten. This year Minneapolis was supplanted by DC at the top of the list, which you can find here. I am looking forward to getting down to the Twin Cities to start exploring myself.


Equitable Access to Parks is the Top Priority

But even as green spaces proved to be a crucial element to people’s physical and mental well-being — especially for urban dwellers — the pandemic further exposed the disparity in who has access to parks. New data from the Trust for Public Land shows that in the 100 most populated U.S. cities, neighborhoods that are majority nonwhite have, on average, access to 44% less park acreage than majority white neighborhoods. Low-income communities have access to 42% less than high-income neighborhoods.

The Trust for Public Land also just released a report on parks and equality. CityLab has a good rundown of the report that you should dive into. It’s a complicated issue that goes back decades and intersects with so many other issues around urban planning. But, as I have learned the last few years, equitable access to parks needs to be one of the top priorities for cities moving forward. It may seem like parks are not necessarily a high priority but they really should be!


Building More Public Spaces for Teen Girls

The idea for Make Space for Girls came to Walker when she read Caroline Criado Perez’s book Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. “In the book there’s a very small section on parks, saying there’s a holy trinity of equipment primarily used by boys” — namely skate parks, BMX tracks and multi-use games areas.

The U.K. Equality Act 2010 sets out a public sector equality duty, requiring public projects to consider race, disability and gender when spending public funds. “I was a lawyer for many years, and I can’t help seeing things from a legal perspective,” says Imogen Clark, Make Space for Girls’ other co-founder. Leaning on that law, Clark and Walker believe parks funders should be thinking about equity from the beginning of the process, identifying activities that are female-dominated, requesting design features that encourage girls’ presence and participation, and offering programming that balances arts, sports and free play.

The article in CityLab has some really cool visual examples worth clicking through.

“Even as a girl I always just accepted that most public spaces are male-dominated or adjusted to the male gaze, but I never even thought about trying to challenge these public spaces to find ways that I can make myself more comfortable,” says Paris Smith, 17. “Territory could think of ideas for teen girls that could help alleviate any tensions or discomfort that girls go through.”

Little Island Opens in NYC

I didn’t get a chance to visit Little Island while I was in New York. All I got was the photograph above but it looks like the opening is going well, and creating plenty of buzz. Interestingly right now it’s ticketed so you have to make reservations to visit. I’m not sure there are too many other cities in the USA where you could see this type of park developed. In NYC, parks are truly attractions and it’s one aspect that I’ll really miss about living in the big apple. You can read more about how Heatherwick Studio designed the island in this article on Arch Daily.


Learning From Brunei's Trees

Moreover, big trees store an immense amount of carbon, taking it out of the atmosphere and locking it away for hundreds of years. Because forest giants are increasingly recognized as an important buffer against climate change, there is now "huge interest in them" compared with a decade ago, according to Bradford.

Worryingly, however, big trees are on the decline worldwide. In California's Yosemite National Park, for instance, their numbers fell by 25% between the 1930s and 1990s. In Australia, the mountain ash population is predicted to shrink to 0.6 trees per hectare by 2070, down from 5.1 in 1997.

The biggest culprit -- a factor that has remained unchanged for 40 years -- is deforestation, said Arshad Ali at Nanjing Forestry University.

Giant trees are amazing, right? I have never seen the giant redwoods in California but it’s on my bucket list. This article in Nikkei Asia covers how professor Ferry Slik and his team are monitoring the giant trees in Brunei to learn about their growing patterns and the impact climate change might have on them.

There’s still much that we don’t know yet but there’s no question how important they are to the overall vitality to forests. Deforestation still remains the biggest threat, and while there are some worrying developments, the good news is that we likely won’t see them disappear due to climate change in our lifetime. We hope!


Art: Of Reverence and Awe: Trees by Raghu Rai

The tree has been one of those enduring subjects, which has been consistently photographed since the beginning of photography. It has been an object of reverence and awe. An avid gardener and nature lover, Raghu Rai’s photographs were not made in pursuit of a book or exhibition, which he has made many and had plenty of. Instead, we witness his unrelenting and private passion for a subject he had no option but to make photographs of.

This is a great short series of photographs about trees by Magnum photographer Raghu Rai.


Further Reading


I’m a photographer and digital strategist from Saint Cloud, Minnesota. You can email me at info@bryanformhals.com or follow me on Instagram & Twitter