Saturday, June 5, 2010

Benefits of Parks, According to the Neighborhood Parks Council

Excerpts follow from "The Green Envy" report published by the Neighborhood Parks Council (NPC).

Other resources and links provided by NPC at the bottom of this page.

The environmental benefits that green spaces bring to cities are commonly known. Trees produce oxygen, but also absorb carbon dioxide, which cuts down on global warming—no small benefit these days. The flora of parks provides shade, reduces wind, absorbs rain and curbs runoff, cleans the air, and fights soil erosion. Urban parks provide much-needed shelter for hundreds of species of insects, birds and animals that keep the natural world in balance.

Yet less is known about the significant economic and physical effects of open space on people and cities. Much of the information here is based on the research of Dr. John Crompton, Distinguished Professor of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences at Texas A&M University, and the nation's expert on identifying the economic impact of parks and recreation. We have also extensively referenced various studies by The Trust for Public Land (TPL).


Dr. Crompton’s research shows that parks add to a city’s tax base, as residential properties located near open and green spaces achieve even greater market value, and this in turn leads to an increase in property taxes paid by the homeowners.[1] This theory, which Crompton names “The Proximate Principle,” is supported in two recent studies. TPL reports that the value of homes bordering a new greenbelt in Boulder, Colorado, for example, increased by 32 percent over properties located 3,200 feet away. In addition, a 2001 survey for the National Association of Realtors found that 50 percent of respondents reported that they would be willing to pay 10 percent more for a property located close to a park or open space.[2]

Often this increase in property taxes is large enough to quickly pay off the bonds that the city required to purchase the open space.[3] In Boulder, Colorado, the $150,000 annual increase in proximate property taxes that resulted from the creation of the greenbelt enabled the purchase price of the greenbelt to be paid off in just three years. For a local example, look no further than San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park: homeowners in close proximity to this flagship park collectively pay $5-$10 million in property taxes each year.[4]

Commercial properties near new and well-maintained parks often see an increase in property values as well. The restoration of Bryant Park in New York City is a fine example of this. After a twelve-year renovation project, this piece of prime real estate was reopened in 1992. No longer a haven for drug addicts, the park instead was reborn as a vital midtown oasis where employees gather for weekday lunches in outdoor cafes, and friends assemble on summer evenings for open-air movies. A study by Ernst and Young reported that rents in office buildings surrounding the park increased 115 to 225 percent in the years 1990 to 2000. The same survey also studied property values near 36 other neighborhood parks across New York City and found that “commercial asking rents, residential sale prices, and assessed values for properties near a well-improved park generally exceeded rents in surrounding submarkets.”[5]

Cities with plentiful parks and open spaces also have an easier time attracting businesses to relocate there, because many companies want to be able to offer their employees a better quality of life.[6] In a study about the benefits of parks, TPL reported that large high-tech companies such as Intel and Hewlett-Packard decided to establish offices in Portland, Oregon, because of the abundance of natural resources within the city and surrounding it.[7] These companies reported that the caliber of employees that they wished to recruit cared as much about their quality of life as their paycheck.[8] Similarly, a vice president of Dell Corporation in Austin, Texas said that the company’s recruiters actively promote the quality of life in that city to potential employees to attract them to relocate there.[9] In these examples, we see Crompton’s assertion clearly illustrated: PULL QUOTE: “a strategy of conserving parks and open space is not contrary to a community’s economic health, but rather an integral part of it.”[10]

Aside from their role as valuable economic cornerstones of residential and commercial neighborhoods, parks are also becoming increasingly popular with tourists. New York’s Central Park receives more tourists each year than the entire city of Washington, D.C and Riverwalk Park has overtaken The Alamo as the most popular tourist attraction in San Antonio, Texas. Parks and open spaces stimulate the economy through tourism revenues, both directly and indirectly. While admission is free to most urban public parks, tourists spend big bucks in cafes and souvenir kiosks within parks, on programs, performances and festivals held in parks, and at nearby hotels, restaurants and retail shops. The city of Flagstaff, Arizona even supports acquisition of additional open space with taxes from tourist activities and products (known as the “bed, board and booze” tax, it totals about $3.3 million dollars per year.)

Retirees, or GRAMPies (Growing, Retired, Affluent, Mobile Population), are another potential income source that are attracted by parks and recreational facilities. This demographic is a large percentage of the present population, as the “Baby Boomers” are now reaching retirement age. GRAMPies often have the flexibility to relocate in their later years, and they tend to be attracted to areas that offer significant recreational options, such as parks. In a recent lecture at City Hall, Dr. Crompton warned San Francisco‘s public officials that GRAMPies are currently flocking in higher numbers to states such as Texas and Illinois, which have invested more funds in parks, rather than to California.[11]


In addition to the positive economic impact of open spaces, Crompton also notes that there are positive social effects for people who have convenient access to parks. Recreational facilities and structured athletic activities within parks provide young people with opportunities for social networking with peers and establishing positive relationships with adult mentors. These opportunities give young people important social skills and keep them away from criminal activities. Crompton points out that the cost of supporting city parks and recreational centers over time is minimal when compared to the long-term cost of incarceration.

Parks and green spaces also serve as important areas for social interaction in urban communities. Researchers in Chicago have shown that people who live in public housing developments that include green spaces tend to build stronger social relationships with neighbors than people who live in public housing surrounded primarily by concrete. Residents in greener neighborhoods also reported they felt safer.[12]

Neighbors also visit their local parks and recreational facilities to attend social activities such as sporting competitions, music performances, and art classes. Through these activities residents have a chance to connect with new people as well as old friends.

Community gardens have also proven to foster positive social and economic benefits for neighbors. A 2003 study of community gardens in St. Louis found that the monthly rent for residences immediately adjacent to gardens increased by $91, while the median price of rentals in the rest of the city decreased by $4. The same study found that neighborhoods with community gardens had a more stable population: while the city of St. Louis lost 13 percent of its total residents between 1990 and 2000, the neighborhoods with community gardens lost just 6 percent.[13] Community gardens advocates nationwide have reported that these spaces reduce crime, encourage neighbors to become responsible custodians, and foster interaction between people from diverse backgrounds.


It is well known that people who engage in regular exercise gain dramatic physical and emotional benefits. Exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease by encouraging weight loss, improving respiration and circulation, and lowering blood pressure.

A 1996 study by The Center for Disease Control (CDC) revealed what park advocates had suspected all along: people who have access to parks indeed exercise more. The study found that the percentage of people who exercised at least three days a week increased by 25.6 percent after a new exercise space (i.e. a park or recreational facility) was created, or if access to those spaces was enhanced. Similar studies almost doubled this percentage of frequent users (48.4 percent), though the increase can perhaps be attributed to “informational outreach” or marketing, which increased the public’s awareness of the new facilities.[14] Clearly, investing in parks is an excellent preventative medicine as compared the costs to long-term health care costs for inactive people.

Urban green spaces act as therapeutic oases to which people can escape to connect with nature, wilderness and aesthetic beauty. Studies have shown that people report mental health improvements when exposed to parks. Spending time in green spaces makes people feel more relaxed, alert, and peaceful, and less fearful and angry. Even an indirect connection to nature, such as the ability to look out a window at a green space, has been proven to have dramatic physical effects. A study at a Pennsylvania hospital reported that patients with views of trees from their hospital room windows needed fewer painkillers, and had shorter hospital stays than patients whose rooms faced a brick wall.[15] A study in the Netherlands in 2001 reported that people with access to green space reported feeling healthier, both physically and mentally. In fact, when a person’s access to any type of green space (a park, farm, or forest) was increased by only 10 percent, their health complaints were reduced to an amount equal to a person five years younger.[16]

[1] “The Proximate Principle: The Impact of Parks, Open Space and Water Features on Residential Property Values and the Property Tax Base,” 2nd edition. John L. Crompton, National Recreation and Park Association, 2004.

[2] “The Benefits of Parks: Why America Needs More City Parks and Open Space”, Paul M. Sherer, The Trust for Public Land, 2006.

[3]Not surprisingly, Crompton explains that parks and open space can have a negative effect on surrounding housing values if the park is not properly maintained, if it is too secluded to discourage deviant behavior, or if the park is so popular that foot traffic and noise become a nuisance to neighbors.

[4] “Economic Benefits of Parks and Open Space”, Trust for Public Land, page. 13.

[5] The Benefits of Parks: Why America Needs More City Parks and Open Space, The Trust For Public Land, 2006, page 17.

[6] Access to parks was cited as one of the two major elements necessary for a satisfactory quality of life, according to a 1995 poll by the Regional Plan Association and the Quinnipac College Polling Institute. The other element was safe streets and low crime. (“Economic Benefits of Parks and Open Space”, Trust for Public Land, page 14)

[7] The Benefits of Parks: Why American Needs More City Parks and Open Space, The Trust for Public Land, 2006, page 18.

[8] New York Times as quoted in “The Economic Benefits of Parks and Open Space”, Trust for Public Land, 2006, page 14.

[9] The Benefits of Parks: Why America Needs More City Parks and Open Space”, Paul M. Sherer, Trust for Public Land, 2006, page 18.

[10] John L. Crompton, The Proximate Principle: The Impact of Parks, Open Space and Water Features on Residential Property Values and the Property Tax Base”, 2nd edition, 2004, National Recreation and Park Association

[11] Crompton, speech in SF City Hall, September 2006.

[12] “The Beneifts of Parks: Why America Needs More Open Space”, The Trust For Public Land, 2006, page 22.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid, page 14.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid. page 15.

Some important links to research and data that supports the vital links between the health of our communities and our parks are provided here:

* San Francisco Shape Up Coalition
* Center for Disease Control - Active Community Environments (ACEs) is a CDC-sponsored initiative to promote walking, bicycling, and the development of accessible recreation facilities.
* Australian Healthy Parks, Healthy People Initiative
* The Influence of Community Factors on Health
* Kids Walk to School
* U.S. Obesity Trends 1985 to 2006
* Diabetes Trends Among Adults in the U.S
* Physical Activity helps prevent problems of aging
* U.S. students at age 11 are in the top third of countries for frequent television watching, with 34 percent of girls and 36 percent of boys reporting that they watch four or more hours of television per day.
Read more about the Health of U.S. Youth
* Of the total Asian adults in San Francisco, 28.1% are overweight, and 43.2% are physically inactive.
Read more here.
* NPC cited as a San Francisco resource for disease prevention and public health interventions that work.
* Teens Living in Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Lack Access to Parks and Get Less Physical Activity
* The Influence of Community Factors on Health: An Annotated Bibliography, Fall 2004 Developed by PolicyLink, and funded by The California Endowment, this annotated bibliography contains more than 150 entries of research on how community factors affect health. This publication and many other excellent resources on this page:
* SF Department of Public Health Program on Health Equity and Sustainability Main page:
* Public Parks and Physical Activity Among Adolescent Girls:
* Inactive America: What Can Parks Do? National Recreation & Park Association
* The Trust for Public Land: Healthy Parks, Healthy Communities initiative.


* Standards for open space:
o A national standard of 10 acres per 1,000 residents is set by the National
Recreation and Park Association:
o There is some international work in this area as well:


The primary purpose for investing in a city park is rarely economic. Although few in San Francisco would argue that parks and open space are an indispensable part of a healthy and sustainable urban mosaic, financial justification is nearly always required, especially when the cost of land is high. Due to the concern over the preservation of parks and open space in San Francisco, there has been an increasing interest in quantifying the value of its parks system.

Measuring the economic value of parks and open space is a difficult yet necessary exercise. This is because while the costs associated with acquiring, developing, and maintaining a city's parks system is relatively easy to calculate, its benefits are hard to quantify. As San Francisco grows and develops, a more complete picture of the economic benefits of parks will provide city agencies, voters, and developers with necessary information to set priorities and develop policies that will strike a balance between open space, development, and other objectives. Unless these decision-makers are better equipped, the city may risk losing one of its most valued assets - it world renowned parks system.

In response to the lack of information available on the economic value of parks in San Francisco, Neighborhood Parks Council is writing a report which will explain the importance of measuring the value of parks, estimate the impact parks have on property values in San Francisco, explore the role parks can play in economic development, and provide recommendations on how the city can maximize the economic value of its parks system. The report, Do Parks Make Cents? , will be available at the end of July 2007.

The following is a list of resources on the economic benefits of parks:

* Dr. John Crompton -
* Bibliography of Economic Impacts of Parks, Recreation and Tourism
* Economic Impacts of Protecting Rivers, Trails and Greenway Corridors
* Suggested Readings on Economics of Outdoor Recreation - Part of Sources of Socioeconomic Data for National Heritage Areas
* Investing in local parks offers excellent economic, social returns
* TPL - Urban Parks ROI
* NPC Green Envy Report
* Creating A Healthy Environment: The Impact of the Built Environment on Public Health
* Energy (under construction)
* Transportation How Land Use and Transportation Systems Impact Public Health:A Literature Review of the Relationship Between Physical Activity and Built Form Lawrence D. Frank. PhD and Mr. Peter Engelke
* Birds, not birdies? Is there a trend emerging that indicates that people want homes near natural areas versus golf courses? Read the article at
* Parks cool big cities:


* Enrique Penalosa Why Parks are Important to Cities - Active Community Environments
* Neal Pierce, Obesity and Sprawl, the Connection Tightens April 21, 2001
* Planning Healthier Suburbs, Where Cars Sit Idle and People Get Moving New York Times; New York, N.Y.; Oct 17, 2000; Jane E. Brody
* Sprawl Harms Our Health - The Sierra Club
* Perils of suburban living gain attention - The Bergen Record
* Does the built environment influence physical activity? - Examine the evidence.

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