Economic Benefits of Parks and Open Lands

Sep 16, 2013

Economic Benefits

Parks and open space are often evaluated by levels of conserved land or recreational facilities. Less obvious benefits can be found in municipal revenues and the balance sheets of nearby businesses. Well-planned parks and open lands are linked to increased property values, more efficient use of public resources, and healthier local economies where implemented. In short, public parks are often financial assets.

Land Value

In 25 studies of properties surrounding parks, 20 correlated the parks' presences with increased property values (Sherer, 2006). According to a 2001 survey by the National Association of Realtors by Public Opinion Strategies, 50 percent of respondents said they would pay 10 percent more for a house located near a park or open space. There is a close relationship between housing prices and proximity to urban environmental amenities (Wu & Platinga- 2002). However, the opposite is true of properties near poorly maintained parks (Sherer, 2006). The greatest home value premiums seem to occur within 800 feet of a park (Nicholls, 2004). Results also vary depending on the size of an open area, purpose and whether it is located in the city or the suburbs.Buckingham Fountain

There is also some debate among experts concerning the economic impacts of different kinds of parks. One study claims, "In our full sample, we find that proximity to special parks and golf courses has a positive effect on home value, while proximity to regular parks and cemeteries has a negative effect on home values. The sizes of these areas all have a positive effect on home value, however. The unintuitive result, which other studies are unable to detect, indicates that the various dimensions of open space may have differing effects on home value. Specifically, we find that proximity to parks generates negative externalities. Holding proximity constant, however, size generates positive externalities" (Anderson and West, 2002).

We conclude that land value increases with proximity to open space depending on the size and state of the space. In Chicago, the large, amenity-rich Millennium Park has been attributed with a $1.4 billion boost to local residential development and millions more in tourist dollars (Goodman Williams Group, 2005). Golf courses have shown the most consistent and significant positive impact on property values of any open space type (Nicholls, 2004).

Additionally, property value increases due to greenspace have been seen in neighborhoods of every income level (Sherer, 2006). However, there are distinct challenges that can come with parks for low-income areas. According to a paper by the Community Open Space Partnership, "although increasing the aggregate property tax base is generally viewed by municipalities as a positive thing, increasing the property value of homes designed for young families or low-income individuals can make it more difficult for a community to meet its need for these types of residential units. There is a need for recognition that goals for equity in distribution of green space may be at odds with affordable housing. This may suggest a need for addressing this matter at a policy level. In order for communities to best take advantage of the property price increment that results when a new park is built, the park, its shape, amenities, and location, and the uses planned for the surrounding area should be designed together to maximize the overall social, economic, environmental, and quality-of-life benefits to a community" (Community Open Space Partnership).

Millennium Park

Millennium Park was proposed by Mayor Richard M. Daley in the late 1990's. He directed his staff to place a music venue over the active railroad tracks and surface parking in the space occupied by Millennium Park. Everyone was excited about the park until the costs began to escalate – corporate sponsors began making requests for exhibits in the park. As corporate sponsors were accommodated their donations increased. The City of Chicago contracted with Goodman Williams Group and URS Corporation to complete an Economic Impact Study of Millennium Park. The study findings determined that the total value of residential development attributable to Millennium Park is $1.4 billion. The report also found that new retail facilities have opened in the year following the opening of Millennium Park. Hotels have used the park as a marketing device and have been able to command higher room rates since the park has opened. Restaurants have also noticed that sales have increased during summer evenings since the park has opened.


Are there sites in the region and in your community that you would like to see converted to green space?


Gross Regional Product

Land aside, parks and open space have also proved beneficial to labor and capital. One study states that parks and conservation areas in Illinois compose a $3 billion industry that employs 62,900 people who earn a collective $621.8 million in wages and benefits. These include 4,000 construction jobs, which pay a total of $185 million. This accounts for $16.7 million in state income taxes. Illinois businesses, suppliers and contractors capture about 73 percent of park agency annual spending, or $347 million (Economics Research Associates, 2005). "According to the 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation, while participation is down somewhat, these activities still make a significant contribution to the state's economy: more than $4 billion dollars in economic output, 42,000 jobs, and $315 million in state and local taxes" (Tale F). Other states have relied just as heavily on parks and open space to provide a solid economic engine. According to one study in Texas, the incremental increases in state revenue caused by local parks represented $171.6 million a year. This was seven times more than the funding proposed by a parks task force (Perryman Group, 2006). Many park jobs also provide a gateway into the working world for local youth who find employment as camp counselors, lifeguards and maintenance workers. In Chicago, the Garfield Park Alliance embraces this with a two-year docent program for area high school students (Walker, 2004).

Infrastructure Costs

Literature has consistently shown that residential development does not ensure thicker tax rolls. In fact, the American Farmland Trust (AFT) claims that, in the 70 communities that it studied, the ratio of tax revenue generated by residential development to service costs for those parcels was 1:1.16. That ratio shifts to 1:0.35 when applied to parcels of open land (Sielski and Frank, 2003). The extensive infrastructure and services that residential developments require is a central reason for this cost disparity. In many areas, promoting open space conservation not only avoids or minimizes these costs, it can also improve municipal bond ratings, which allows governments to borrow more at lower rates (Fausold and Lillieholm, 1996). For infrastructure that must be built, whether the immediate area is developed or not (e.g. reservoirs, pump stations, ventilation shafts, etc.), additional provisions must be made for access routes, security, and other considerations (Urban Services).

Infill-Greenfield-Brownfield Development

By encouraging open lands throughout the region, local officials can not only conserve existing greenspace, but also promote new parks and natural areas on formerly built-out sites.BrownfieldsAccording to a report by the Trust for Public Land, "Outmoded facilities like closed shipyards, underutilized rail depots, abandoned factories, decommissioned military bases and filled landfills can be converted to parks. Sunken highways and railroad tracks can be decked over with parkland. Denver even de-paved its old airport to restore original land contours and create the city's largest park" (Harnik, 2006). In Chicago, the abandoned Bloomingdale rail line is currently being adapted into a greenway for the public.

Following a decades-long decline of manufacturing jobs, many cities across the country are deciding to "grow" by shrinking – that is, they are reducing their built environments to meet the needs of smaller populations. Nationally, Richmond, Virginia and Youngstown, Ohio are each attempting this strategy. In these cities, entire blocks are being cleared to make way for new parks and green space (El Nasser, 2006).

Brownfield conversion into green space is also a possible attempt at encouraging openlands (Link to Brownfields White Paper). The economic benefits of converting Brownfields into green space are similar to those of any new park; however the cost to complete the conversion is generally more. The number one obstacle limiting the conversion is high costs and lack of funding (DeSousa, 2006). Within the region, Waukegan has initiated a strategy to phase out much of the aging industrial infrastructure near its downtown to make way for new residential, retail and recreational construction – including an increase in public open space (Zawislak, 2005, The City of Chicago has also converted brownfields into open space. One example is the Ping Tom Park located in the Chinatown neighborhood. The Chicago Park District acquired 12 acres of old rail yards in the early 1990's to build the park.

Setbacks and Negative Effects

While well-maintained parks have been proven to boost the value of properties nearby, those that have not been kept up can have a deleterious effect on property values (Harnik, 2006). If parks are under-attended and ill-maintained, they can negate other positive residual effects like tourist spending. Also, as mentioned under the infrastructure evaluation measure, infrastructure that must be built in undeveloped areas (e.g. reservoirs, pump stations, ventilation shafts, etc.), can require additional provisions like access routes, security, and other considerations (Urban Services).

While an open space policy insures that some land is safe from bulldozers, it creates incentives for more land development, specifically from the residential sector (Wu & Platinga- 2002). This is a counter argument to the one that states that open space policies control growth. When public open space is placed outside the city it may cause leap-frog development due to the development of the nearby areas for residential purposes.

Since leap frog development (arising from proximity to open space in an urban setting) tends to increase average commuting per household, this may result in reductions in total land rent (Wu & Platinga- 2002). Alternatively, cities may expand to encompass open space when the location is close to the city limits and when the open space offers significant amenities to city residents.

Potential Indicators

  • Land Value
    • Property Value, New Construction, Services/Amenities, Aesthetics/Community Character
  • Gross Regional Product
    • Employment, Income, Consumer/Tourist Spending, Property Value/Tax Bases
  • Costs/New Infrastructure
    • Amenities/Services, Land-Use Decisions, Property Value/Tax Bases
  • Infill/Greenfield Development
    • Redevelopment vs. New Construction, New Infrastructure, Transportation Modes, Property Values/Local Economics


Well-sited and maintained parks are a common economic boom to local communities. They increase nearby property values and invite tourism. They create jobs and inject capital into the regional economy. They minimize service costs to a municipality and replace moldering and unsightly industrial sites. However, parks and open lands may also cause costly "leapfrog" development and consequently, increased commutes. Like the maintenance requirement to ensure positive outcomes for quality of life, parks must also be thoughtfully laid out to reap all of their potential economic benefits.

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