When Wendy Ng relocated to Irvine in 2018, the city’s park spaces played a big factor in her move.

Irvine is “beautiful,” Ng said. “It has so much green space (and) walking trails. I feel very safe running any time of the day in the neighborhood.”

Irvine was recently ranked No. 4 in the nation for its green spaces by the national nonprofit Trust for Public Land, ahead of other Southern California cities, including Santa Clarita (47), Long Beach (58), Anaheim (68), Riverside (72), Los Angeles (80) and Santa Ana (90). In 2022, Irvine was ranked 8th.

Washington, D.C., took the No. 1 spot. The list evaluates parks in the 100 most populous cities in the country.

Rankings are determined based on five categories: access, equity, acreage or how much of a city’s land is dedicated to green spaces, investment and amenities like dog areas, playgrounds and restrooms. Park investment measures how much a city spends on parks per resident, and equity compares how easy it is for communities of color to access a park versus White communities as well as accessibility in low-income neighborhoods.

Park equity is an important measure, according to Trust for Public Land, because it can reduce health disparities between income brackets and across racial groups.

Irvine climbed in rankings this year, according to Trust for Public Land, because 94% of Irvine residents live within a 10-minute walk to a park compared to last year when 89% of residents were within 10 minutes.

The city is also spending more on parks: Irvine spent $284 per resident on parks and recreation so far in 2023 compared to $185 last year.

Irvine offers residents and visitors 22 community parks, over 40 neighborhood parks and 6,500 acres of protected open space, making a grand total of 11,008 acres dedicated toward parkland. Community parks, designed with multiple amenities like athletic complexes and picnic areas, are larger than neighborhood parks which serve a smaller radius of people in their vicinity.

The total landmass of Irvine is just over 42,000 acres, meaning more than a quarter of the city’s land is green space.

And this is intentional on the part of the master planners of the city.

“For over 50 years, we have collaborated with the city of Irvine to place parks at the center of everyday life,” said Jeff Davis, the senior vice president of Irvine Company. “The Irvine Master Plan created a lifestyle where parks are a short walk from home and connect to the expansive open space preserves we’ve dedicated for public enjoyment.”

Ng said she is not surprised to learn that Irvine’s parks were ranked the best in Southern California. When she has guests visit her home in the Westpark neighborhood, they are always “so impressed” by the city, she said.

As a plastic surgeon, Ng has a busy lifestyle, but to maintain a healthy routine, she tries to run in one of Irvine’s many trails at least three times a week or exercise with a fitness group.

“It’s really helpful to live in a safe city with beautiful parks,” Ng said, who enjoys workouts or runs at Hicks Canyon Park and the Jeffrey Open Space Trail.

When Virginia Webber moved to Irvine in 1989, the northern part of the city was not as developed so she spent a lot of time on the south side, finding the parks to be a “wonderful resource” for her family.

“The wonderful thing is that as our community has grown, as the population has grown, the parks have grown,” Webber said. “They have grown to meet the needs so that everyone has a park that they can enjoy.”

When her kids were younger, Webber would use the parks daily “for the delights that they offer, for the refuge that they offer.” As a family, they enjoyed going to the University Community Park on Beech Tree Lane. Now the 62-year-old grandmother of two enjoys taking her granddaughters there as well as new ones.

“One of their favorite things when they come is (to) go to the park,” Webber said. “There’s age-appropriate play opportunities — playgrounds and play equipment at most of the parks — and there’s benches and there’s fields. Anything anyone might like is included in our parks.”

Given that most Irvine residents live near a park, Webber said, there is the health benefit of walking or biking to green spaces. And then spending time in a park, she said, can offer a multitude of health and wellness benefits including “being out in the trees and sunshine, moving our body, connecting with neighbors.”

Anaheim plans to increase its green spaces

Anaheim, Orange County’s most populous city, dropped four places and placed 68th in this year’s rankings. But it is “normal to see some fluctuation from year to year,” said Erin Ryan, a spokesperson for the city.

Anaheim plans to increase its green spaces by adding about 10 acres of park in the next three years, Ryan said, adding to existing parks and creating new ones.

The city will add about 3.5 acres of new park space at River Park, situated between Angel Stadium and the Santa Ana River.

Given that Anaheim is “well built out,” Ryan said, the city has to get “creative” to add park space or repurpose some areas. The River Park area has been “underutilized” so the city will turn it into a new park to benefit residents, Ryan said.

About 3 acres beside the City Hall building has also been earmarked for a park: Center Greens, which already has a KABOOM! playground installed. KABOOM! is a nonprofit that helps cities build park spaces for children, and the playground at Center Greens was built in partnership with the Anaheim Ducks.

Anaheim plans to add an exercise loop, a walking trail on the perimeter and a butterfly garden to Center Greens, Ryan said.

Boysen Park on State College Boulevard will also undergo an expansion with plans to add 2.5 acres to the existing 24.6 acres, said Ryan. The city has received $15 million from the state to add acreage to the park, Ryan said.

The upcoming $4 billion development project, OCVibe, will also bring an additional 20 acres of park space and open space to Anaheim by 2028, Ryan said. And these projects, she said, can lead to Anaheim rising up in the rankings.

Anaheim scored poorly in the measurements for park equity: 23 points out of a possible 100.

“It’s hard for any study to truly capture what happens at our parks,” Ryan said. “It doesn’t necessarily matter where you live, but we are still trying to increase everyone’s access to all of our parks across the city and so that maybe looks like transporting them by bus.”

Through the Project S.A.Y. (Support Anaheim’s Youth) program, Anaheim transports kids from around the city to the nature center to learn wilderness survival skills, how to identify edible plants and “these great concepts in nature that can carry over to life skills,” said Ryan.

“We are always looking at funding options, applying for grants and just setting goals high and working toward those so we can continue to serve our residents,” she said.