The folks at Lawnstarter have conducted a study that examines the best and worst cities for playgrounds, jungle gyms, and other kids activities. Low and behold, while multiple cities in Illinois scored high marks, one city in Iowa managed to be ranked as the third worst for playgrounds.

Before we look at the specifics, let's address Lawnstarter's methodology. The researches compared over 340 of the biggest cities in the United States based on three categories. From there, they looked at seven key metrics to help compile their data:

Photo Credit: Lyudmila Chetvertnykh
Photo Credit: Lyudmila Chetvertnykh
  • Number of Playgrounds
  • Walk Score
  • Number of Top-Rated (4.5+ Stars) Playgrounds per Square Mile
  • Average Number of Reviews
  • Registered Sex Offenders per 10,000 Residents

Illinois Ranked Highly in This Study:

It might not be too much of a surprise that Chicago, IL was within the top five of Lawnstarter's study for cities with the best access to playgrounds. Chicago is an incredibly walkable city, so children and caregivers have easy access to the many play areas and playgrounds within the city. The number of playgrounds in Chicago also led to it being ranked #4 on the list.

Also within the top 10 is Waukegan, IL, which ranked #8 on the list of cities that have the best access to playgrounds.

Photo Credit: Billings
Photo Credit: Billings

The Top 10 Cities with the Best Access to Playgrounds:

1New York, NY
2Cambridge, MA
3Somerville, MA
4Chicago, IL
5San Francisco, CA
New Rochelle, NY
Boston, MA
Waukegan, IL
Quincy, MA
Jersey City, NJ

This City in Iowa Made the Bottom Three:

Sioux City, IA came in at #428 of 430 cities, ranking dead-last for quality of playgrounds in the process. The city compiled an overall score of 19.08 (for perspective, #1 ranked New York had a score of 67.96). Here's how Sioux City fared in a breakdown:

  • Access Rank: 246 (of 430)
  • Quality Rank: 430 (dead last)
  • Safety Rank: 338 (of 430)

Iowa's Capital Ranks in the Upper Tier:

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Des Moines, IA was slotted at #195, in the upper half of Lawnstarter's list, with an overall score of 33.72. The city's playground quality was greatly diminished by its safety rank (#343 of 430), but saw its boost based on access to parks (#147) and quality (#106).

The 10 Cities with the Worst Access to Playgrounds:

1Pueblo, CO
2Fayetteville, NC
3Sioux City, IA
4Lafayette, LA
5Richmond, VA
Gastonia, NC
Tyler, TX
Macon, GA
Independence, MO
Flint, MI

Other Insights from the Study:

Two states stood out in our ranking: California boasts 34 cities in the top 100, and nearly all Massachusetts cities in our ranking finished in the top 100, except for Brockton (No. 342) and Springfield (No. 350), where playgrounds have low visitor ratings.


Less populous suburbs like New Rochelle, New York (No. 6), Waukegan, Illinois (No. 8), and Johns Creek, Georgia (No. 24) have fewer playgrounds to choose from when compared with NYC, Chicago, and Atlanta (No. 220). However, they scored near the top thanks to their high playground ratings and safe communities. - per Lawnstarter's website

See the full list of best and worst cities for children's playgrounds on Lawnstarter's website.

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