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Statement: “But it appears that people who care about a priceless community asset, one of the largest urban parks in the world, are coming together to protect it,” Scott Lewis, voiceofsandiego.org CEO, wrote in a Dec. 1 piece.
Analysis: In a piece about the future of Balboa Park, Lewis claimed that Balboa Park is “one of the largest urban parks in the world.“
He made the claim in the context of a larger discussion about the importance of preserving Balboa Park. “I wanted to communicate how special and extraordinary it is to have so much of the city’s valuable land set aside for recreation, green space and culture,” Lewis said via email.
The claim definitely sets Balboa Park apart from the thousands of other parks in the country. It’s worth examining since supporters of extensive preservation efforts could use the claim to bolster their position that the park is unique and deserves special care.
Is his claim true? First, we’ve got to figure out what Lewis means by “urban park.” There’s no specific definition for the term: it could mean a park in a city or a park in an urban area. Lewis defined an urban park to me this way: “To me, it was something like Balboa Park or Central Park. A space surrounded on all sides by an urban area — seemingly cut out of what would have been a dense urban area. So, Mission Trails, coastal areas and Mission Bay would not be. Balboa Park would be.”
But several U.S. parks seem to fit that definition of being right smack in the middle of a big city, not on the outskirts, judging by my quick spot check of city maps and The Trust for Public Land’s 2010 list of the 150 largest urban parks in the U.S. (This list defines an urban park as being within the limits of a U.S. city, so it’s a more expansive definition than Lewis uses.)
To name a few parks that are in the middle of cities and bigger than Balboa Park, which clocks in at 108th place with 1,200 acres: Griffith Park in L.A., Forest Park in St. Louis, Lincoln Park in Chicago, Fairmount Park-Wissahickon Valley Park in Philadelphia, Swope Park in Kansas City, Water Works Park in Des Moines, Memorial Park in Houston, and Rock Creek Park and Anacostia Park in Washington D.C.
Plus: City Park in New Orleans, Beaman Park in Nashville and Van Courtlandt Park, Flushing Meadows/Corona Park and the Greenbelt in New York City.
Elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, there’s Chapultepec Park in Mexico City. In Europe, Paris has the Bois de Boulogne, and London’s Richmond Park seems to qualify too: it has about 2,400 acres and is in an urban area.
By Lewis’s own definition, Balboa Park doesn’t seem to place among the top 10 biggest urban parks worldwide. At least 18 appear to be larger. For that reason, the claim deserves a False. (For his part, Lewis agrees, saying the verdict should be “False” since the park is not in the top 10.)
By the way, Balboa Park isn’t the largest urban park in the city of San Diego if you use The Trust for Public Land’s definition — that an urban park is one that’s simply within a city’s limits. That would be Mission Trails Regional Park, which has 5,840 acres and is the 15th largest urban park in the country, according to the trust’s top 150 list.
Several more San Diego parks make the list with higher rankings than Balboa Park: Los Peñasquitos Canyon at No. 41 (2,405 acres), Torrey Pines State Reserve at No. 56 (1,800), Mission Bay Park at No. 61 (1,756), Tijuana River Valley Regional Park at No. 63 (1,720) and Black Mountain Park at No. 89 (1,284).
Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.