by TOM BERG for the Irvine Standard 

If you want to see what the No. 1 park system in California looks like, visit an Irvine park.

There are 268 to choose from — so many and so green that the Trust for Public Land’s 2020 ParkScore ranks them No. 1 in California and No. 7 in the nation.

This is the fifth straight year that the nonprofit has placed Irvine’s parks and open space in the top 10 nationally.

“They make me feel healthy,” says Mony Tep during a recent run through Mason Park. “I come here every day to get my daily dose of exercise.”

The annual ParkScore ranks the nation’s 100 largest cities based on factors including park access, acreage, investment and amenities. Irvine’s parks were ranked higher than those in Portland, Seattle and Chicago.

“We are pleased to have one of the top 10 park systems in America,” Mayor Christina Shea says. “Our parks are essential to our mental and physical health. That has never been more evident than during the coronavirus pandemic.”

Master planned for parks

Irvine’s Master Plan has created one of the greenest cities in America, with one-third of the city dedicated to parks, trails and open space.

Irvine residents, on average, live just 432 feet from a park, compared to the Orange County average of 1,612 feet. Proximity to parks has been proven to increase property values by up to 20%. And spending time in parks has been shown to improve memory, reduce stress and make people happier.

“Sunlight, fresh air, exercise and access to nature all have a positive effect on our physical health and emotional well-being,” says Sadiya Muqueeth, director of community health at the Trust for Public Land. “Parks are a critical part of health and wellness.”

Visit parkscore.tpl.org for the full rankings.