by Barbara Barnes, RLA
In a period of fiscal uncertainty urban centers across the nation are seeing investment in parks, plazas, and open space as localized economic drivers. There is a new focus on the creation of jobs, increase in property values, and positive economic development in addition to the social and ecological value generated through city greening. Creating vibrant livable cities is not only good for residents and visitors, it is also a boost to local business.
City greening was a leading topic during the recent Greater & Greener: Reimaging Parks for 21st Century Cities conference in New York City. Several presenters stressed the important link between improving the quality of life for citizens and supporting the local economy. High Line Park, an abandoned rail structure transformed into a mile-long public park in New York City, has become the symbol for green investment generating redevelopment dividends. The City invested over $115 million to develop the property which is now one of New York’s best places to visit. The NYC Department of City Planning reported in five years since construction began, the innovative project has created over 2,500 new residential units, 1,000 hotel rooms, and more than 500,000 square feet of office and art gallery space!
New York City is not alone. San Antonio is investing $350 million in river and park projects. Oklahoma City has invested heavily in its downtown and continues to with a new $120 million dollar 70-acre central park. The country’s largest redevelopment is taking place in San Francisco. Hunter’s Point, a 720-acre former naval yard, will have commercial and residential development with over 320 acres of open space uniting the campus.
Amongst the endless examples, Chattanooga has seen the payoffs of its commitment to open space and quality of life, in particular with the opening of a new Volkswagen manufacturing plant in 2010 that brought over 2,000 jobs to the city. Located next to a new 2,800 acre nature park and preserve, employees can to enjoy the bicycling to work on greenways, lunchtime respites, and weekend hikes. The Chattanooga Office of Sustainability believes such green amenities are key components companies look for when choosing a new location.Green investments not only benefit existing residents, but attract visitors and help to draw in new businesses looking to grow in attractive and livable cities. The economic boost open space provides is not exclusive to city parks or plazas.
A recent study by the US Fish and Wildlife Service found that residential properties have higher values when located within a half a mile of a wildlife refuge and within eight miles of an urban center. Homes within this category boasted a 3 to 9 percent higher value than similar properties located outside of this zone. In terms of dollars, the thirty-six wildlife refuges studied added between $83 million and $122 million to local property values! Not only do wildlife reserves benefit property values, but in 2006 Banking in Nature detailed the dramatic impact of the more than 34.8 million visits on regional economies. Wildlife visits created over $1.7 billion in sales, approximately 27,000 jobs, and $542.8 million in employment income!
During a period when federal, state, and local governments are tightening their budgets and reducing investments in capital and maintenance programs, the quantifiable data supporting greener cities is the key to ensuring our urban centers remain vibrant, viable, and livable. Success stories such as the High Line and Chattanooga’s rebirth support bold visions for green investments and prove that parks provide more than just picturesque views and pretty flowers. They are essential for the economic health of our cities.
For more information on how parks provide economic, ecological, and social value visit the Center for City Park Excellence.
 McGeehan, Patrick. “The High Line Isn’t Just a Sight to See; It ‘s Also an Economic Dynamo.” The New York Times.
 Goodsell, AV. “Civilizing the Neighborhood: The High Line Park Creates Economic, Social, and Environmental Value”. Catalyst Strategic Design Review.
 Stapleton, Richard M. “The Green Way to Grow”. Land & People Magazine.
 US Fish & Wildlife Service, News Release. “Home Values Higher near National Wildlife Refuges, New Study Finds.”