The Gotham Gazette argues that the economic development benefits of urban parks shouldn’t be underestimated, citing a report from the Central Park Conservancy that contends Central Park contributed USD 1 billion to the city’s economy in 2007. Another assessment by the Center for City Park Excellence of The Trust for Public Land calculated the “real economic benefits that parks provide, using examples from cities around the country” (see earlier post on an assessment of the economic value of Philadelphia’s park system). Furthermore, there is already discussion about how the new High Line Park helped spur economic development in Chelsea even before it opened. The New York Times says the High Line Park brought USD 4 billion in real estate investment to lower Manhattan, and is expected to generate USD 900 million in revenues over 30 years (see earlier post).
Well-maintained, accessible parks play a role in increasing real estate values, so cutting park funding could negatively impact NYC’s property owners, argues Gotham Gazette. “A 2008 analysis found that the completion of the Greenwich Village section of the Hudson River Park raised real estate prices in the adjacent two blocks by 20 percent. In 2003, a study by Ernst & Young and New Yorkers for Parks looked at the results of investment in six city parks, with supplemental data from 30 additional parks. It found that real estate values were higher on blocks closest to well-managed and maintained parks, such as Prospect Park.”
Gotham Gazette says parks support economic development by drawing tourists and tourist dollars. “Central Park attracts more than 25 million visitors a year, about one fifth of whom come from outside the city, according to ‘The Central Park Effect,’ which was prepared by the economic analysis firm Appleseed for the Central Park Conservancy. The study determined that in 2007, spending by visitors and enterprises in the city’s most famous park directly and indirectly accounted for $395 million in economic activity. This activity, as well as increases in property values near the park, generated $656 million in revenues for the city in 2007.”
Parks also have environmental benefits and provide valuable ecosystem services that can be quantified. “Trees and vegetation absorb runoff and reduce costs for treating stormwater; they also absorb air pollutants. Using Philadelphia as an example, the study found that the city’s park system saved $5.9 million in 2007 in stormwater management costs. In 2005, the 4,839 acres of tree cover in 7,999 acres of Washington, D.C. parkland produced savings of $1.13 million in air pollutant removal.”
In addition to real estate, tourism, and environmental benefits, parks also provide health, community or social, and “direct use” benefits, found the Center for City Park Excellence at The Trust for Public Land.
In the case of NYC, Gotham Gazette says the Bloomberg administration understands the connection between parks and economic growth, and has made more parks and plazas a component of PlaNYC 2030, the city’s sustainability plan. A few years ago, the Bloomberg administration had increased the NYC parks department operating and maintenance budget to USD 270 million a year. However, next year’s budget, says Gotham Gazette, will cut USD 16 million on top of USD 24 million in reductions since 2007.
Just as well-maintained parks can support the economy, poorly-maintained ones can be dangerous, and impact community health. “To capture the economic benefits of parks, however, a city must invest in their upkeep. Parks help the economy when they are well maintained and well used. They can have a negative effect when they are neglected, attracting vandalism, drug-dealing and other crime. During the New York City fiscal crisis of the 1970s and ’80s, dirty, worn and dangerous parks became a potent symbol of the city’s decline.”
Furthermore, parks in disrepair can also negatively impact real estate values: “Many of the neighborhoods surrounding these parks have been affected disproportionately by the mortgage crisis and declining real estate prices. Given the economic benefits of well-used and maintained parks — and the increased need for free recreation and relaxation during a time of financial stress for many residents — can the city afford to pare down the parks budget further?”
Image credit: The Central Park Effect / Central Park Conservancy