Sunday, January 13, 2008

How much is that Park worth in Cold, Hard Cash?

Washington residents cherish the natural beauty that surrounds them, the majestic mountains, clear cool lakes, fresh and salt water estuaries, tidelands, rivers and bays that are unique to Puget Sound.

Northwest residents enjoy being outdoors and most urban residents consider open space in urban centers priceless. Green Lake in Seattle is a fine example of treasured green space around an uban lake. Traditionally, economic value is measured by attributing monetary value to something tangible like real property. Until recently, few studies have been conducted on the economic benefit of trees and open space to a community. But that trend is changing, now that researchers have determined that a number of emerging studies confirm that trees, parks and open space increase the economic value of commercial development in both suburban and urban settings and can act as a catalyst for economic revitalization within the community as a whole.

Real estate market studies tell us the value of a single mature tree can account for a minimum of $10,000 of resale value of a home and typically is 15% of the property’s value, according to the National Arbor Day Foundation. On a residential street lined with trees, the cumulative impact for property values is greater than the cost of the individual trees. The removal of trees changes the quality and character of the area for decades and that value is not always regained by the residential development that removed it.

A study in Beverly Hills, CA estimated that removal of trees along streets would decrease property values by as much as 25%; and its not just street trees that make increased density more acceptable. Parks, greenbelts, trails and other open space is essential as density increases. Residential sale surveys demonstrate that homeowners are showing a preference for homes that have easy access to shared open space than for homes on larger lots without open space area. Studies have shown that homes located near parks, greenbelts, trails and wetlands are easier to market, sell more quickly, at a higher price, and pay more taxes than homes not located near open spaces.

Using an urban park to stimulate economic development and revitalization is not a new idea. During the mid 1800s, Frederick Law Olmstead justified the purchase of Central Park in New York City by estmating the increased value of land surrounding the park and the tax revenues it would generate.

But it’s not just residential property that benefits from the inclusion of open space, trails and parks in neighborhoods. As urban density increases, so do the economic benefits derived from open space, plazas and courtyards in urban centers. With urban centers, open space provides public gathering spaces that are esential to our health and quality of life.

Bryant Park, also in New York, was recently transformed in to flower gardens and lawns. Nearly 4,000 office workers visit the park each day. The park has stimuated renovation of the derelict retail area and occupancy rates, property values and rents have gone up. Local coffee shops and retail shops are thriving. City officials estimate that the park will be economically self-supporting in the next five years.

Chattanooga, Tenn invested $356 million (private and public funds) in the revitalization of its downtown riverfront. Within the area, the number of jobs and businesses increased, assessed property taxes jumped $11 million (a 127.5% increase) and property tax revenues for both the city and county combined rose 99% for an increase of $592,000 per year.
In Oakland California, a three mile greenbelt around urban Lake Meritt added $41 million a year to surrounding property values.

Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is responsible for increasing property values $500 million to $1 billion for properties located within walking distance of the Park. The value of the park generates $5 million to $10 million annually in property tax revenue.
In San Diego County, a developer found that he could increase the sales price of his houses by 25% by scaling back development 15% and adding more open space for each home.

The City and Port of Bellingham have told residents that Parks are too expensive, that a large community park, open space, trails and generous shoreline buffers don't make economic sense for our waterfront and other parts of our community. I encourage readers to think about the long-term economic and quality of life benefits that parks, open space, greenbelts and trails provide citizens. Please do not fall prey to the City and Port’s false claims that open space and parks are too expensive.

And, how can the Port claim that there isn’t enough property on the waterfront to create a signature park for the benefit of the people who live and work downtown? The former G.P. Pulp mill site has 138 acres by itself!

Many communities have derived great economic benefit from the value added by open space. I think it’s time for the citizens of Bellingham to take a second look at the economic benefits our neighborhoods may reap from the inclusion of open space and natural features to our city.

Photo of Stanley Park courtesy of City of Vancouver, British Columbia

“A city that has been carved out of the forest should maintain somewhere within its boundaries evidence of what it once was, and so long as Stanley Park remains unspoiled that testimony to the giant trees which occupied the site of Vancouver in former days will remain. “The News Herald - October 30, 1939

Additional background information about the economic value of open space is available at:

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