Lurie Garden

Lurie Garden in downtown Chicago’s Millennium Park. Photo: Chicago Tourism

One of the great joys of a post-graduation summer is the freedom to travel. Unfortunately my summer does not include backpacking through wild and ancient China or cruising the mysterious Amazon this time around.

My graduate student budget means that my travels need to stay a little closer to home this year. I spent last weekend hiking through snow drifts in Rocky Mountain National Park. The week before I was trying to keep warm in my tent in Colorado’s Indian Peaks Wilderness during a blizzard. These high altitude locations were stunningly beautiful and also relatively free of people. This was most likely due to the chilly climate this time of year, but I think it also has to do with the fact that these locations are far from where we live.

Wilderness areas are, by definition, free from human habitation. It takes time to get to wilderness areas. It also requires planning and preparation. But the reward for our efforts is a respite from the humdrum of our daily lives. I look forward to the escape of wilderness trips as much as anyone, but do we really need to be in a designated wilderness area to enjoy nature?

Conservatory of Flowers

Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A new project called ParkScore suggests that our collective backyard might be able to meet our need for nature, when other options are out of reach. It depends on where you live, though. ParkScore assesses cities’ acerage, access and investment into urban parks. Cities are assigned a score, measured in park benches, on a scale of one to 100. So far, The Trust for Public Land has analyzed the 40 largest cities in the U.S., and they plan to expand the project in the future.

I am looking forward to putting these scores to the test in my upcoming summer travels. Lucky for me, the cities I’ll be visiting are on the top of ParkScore’s list. San Francisco is no. 1 for parks and Washington D.C. is no. 5.

So until you can head out on another wilderness excursion or Natural Habitat Adventure, enjoy your local parks!  How does your city rank?