|Economic Impact of Parks|
|Written by Administrator|
|Thursday, 16 July 2009 13:38|
Good Parks Are Good for the Economy
By the time the first section of the High Line opened in June to wide acclaim, dozens of new buildings had already sprouted up around it, including a glass-curtained hotel that floats above the park and a series of residential towers designed by world-renowned architects. City officials have predicted that development sparked by reinventing the abandoned elevated rail line as a park will bring $4 billion in private investment and $900 million in revenues to the city over the next 30 years, the Times reported.
The surge in development spurred by the High Line is the latest exhibit in the growing stack of evidence that having beautiful, well-maintained parks is much more than a nice amenity cities can ignore when times are hard. Creating and maintaining parks stimulates the economy and also provides quantifiable recreational and environmental benefits along with other services and savings to taxpayers.
In the most recent analyses of the economic benefits of parks, a study found that
In supporting the seemingly quixotic vision of West Side residents Joshua David and Robert Hammond, founders of Friends of the High Line, to save the old railway and make it a linear park -- and in incorporating it into the city's planning process for the far West Side -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg indicated he understood the impact public space can have on a city's economic growth. The mayor further recognized the link between parks and prosperity in his sustainability plan, PlaNYC 2030, which aims (though, since the recession, at a slower pace) to create new parks and plazas citywide.
Until the fiscal problems hit last year, the Bloomberg administration had modestly boosted the budget for operating and maintaining the parks department, to about $270 million a year. But next year's budget cuts about $13 million from parks maintenance, eliminating 250 summer workers as well as $3 million for tree pruning. This follows the previous year's reductions, for a total cut of $24 million since 2007.
The parks budget has not had consecutive cuts of this magnitude in more than 15 years. Advocates worry that the reductions could start the city back on the path to the dismal conditions of the 1970s and '80s, reversing a parks revival that contributed to the city's economic resurgence.
"I think we're going to see the consequences through the park system," said Christian DiPalermo, executive director of the parks advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks. "We're already strained to take care of our parks, and you're going to see the care go down."
How Parks Boost the Economy
Such cuts could turn out to actually cost the city money. Fine parks contribute to the economy by increasing property values and, as a result, real estate tax receipts. A 2008 analysis found that the completion of the Greenwich Village section of the
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
Parks also attract tourists and residents who come to events and activities or who just want to enjoy the surroundings, generating economic activity inside and near the park.
"Measuring the Economic Value of a City Park System," released in April by the Center for City Park Excellence at The Trust for Public Land, analyzed seven ways that city parks provide economic benefits: property values, tourism, direct use, health, community cohesion, clean water and clean air. Starting with conservative assumptions of park use and other variables, researchers calculated dollar values for each of these benefits in a different city.
By offering free or inexpensive recreation, parks also save residents money. In
The health benefits of exercise in parks offer further savings. The study calculated $19.9 million in medical savings realized by residents in
According to the report, "numerous studies have shown that the more webs of human relationships a neighborhood has, the stronger, safer and more successful it is." Well-used parks offer many ways for neighbors to get to know each other, and efforts to create, save, or care for parks create further community cohesiveness. This "social capital" can reduce a city's costs for policing, fire protection and criminal justice. Because the economic value of social capital can't be measured directly, the report cited as a proxy the amount of time and money residents contributed to "friends" groups and other park-oriented organizations and agencies.
Parks also provide quantifiable environmental benefits: Trees and vegetation absorb runoff and reduce costs for treating stormwater; they also absorb air pollutants. Using
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
The parks system, compared to other city services, takes a relatively small amount of money to maintain. Although the parks department operating budget has increased since the lows of the early 1990s, the number of park properties has increased by 20 percent, and the department still runs on a budget that park advocates say is not adequate to keep the entire system in good repair.
Especially at risk are parks in the outer boroughs and in lower-income neighborhoods, which have not benefitted as much from the private funding that burnishes the city's flagship parks. Users of some parks and sports fields still contend with trash, locked bathrooms and lack of maintenance. Daily News columnist Denis Hamill described these types of conditions recently inrecounting his experiences as a baseball dad in
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?
Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues.
Gotham Gazette is brought to you by Citizens Union Foundation. It is made possible by a grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Altman Foundation, the Fund for the City of
|Last Updated on Thursday, 16 July 2009 13:45|