This paper describes seven economic benefits of parks and provides a case study for each. Parks increase the property value of nearby properties; lead to increased sales tax revenue from spending by tourists who visit primarily because of a city’s parks; provide city residents with free or low cost recreation; provide residents with a multitude of ways to stay healthy; create stronger, safer and more successful neighborhoods; lower stormwater treatment costs; and reduce health care costs by absorbing air pollutants and reducing the impacts they have on residents’ cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
In 2003, two-dozen park experts and economists collaborated to identify the economic benefits of a city park system. While some benefits cannot be economically quantified, such as the mental health value of a walk in the woods, seven economic benefits of parks were identified. This paper describes and provides a case study for each.
Proximity to parks increases property value and increases revenue from property taxes. Research of property values has shown that a 5% increase in property values for houses within 500 feet of a park is a conservative estimate of the change in property value due to proximity to a park. In Washington, D.C., parks range in size from the 1,754 acre Rock Creek Park to small parks surrounded by homes. The 5% average increase was applied to D.C. houses within 500 feet of a park. Because of the increased value, parks increased property values and allowed D.C. to earn an extra $6,953,377 in property taxes in 2006.
Parks lead to increased sales tax from spending by tourists who visit primarily because of a city’s parks. Some parks, like Balboa Park in San Diego or Central Park in New York, are tourist attractions by themselves. Other parks host festivals, concerts and other events. In 2007, park-derived tourist spending in San Diego in 2007 was an estimated $114.3 million, which generated $8.6 million in city taxes.
Parks provide city residents with free or low cost recreation. Because city parks are generally free to use, their value can be calculated by determining what park users would be willing to pay for a similar recreation experience in the private market. In 2006, the use of Boston’s park and recreation system was valued at $345,352,000.
From jogging and bike paths to playgrounds, to sports facilities, parks provide a multitude of ways to stay healthy. In Sacramento, California’s 5,141 acres of parks, about 78,000 residents sufficiently engage in active activities (moderate, vigorous, or strenuous activity for at least half an hour, three days a week) to improve their health. This activity created $19,872,000 in medical savings in 2007.
Strong webs of human relationships lead to stronger, safer and more successful neighborhoods and in some cities, parks strengthen this social capital. One measure of how parks contribute to community cohesion is the money and time residents give to their parks. In Philadelphia, this was measured by calculating the financial contributions to “friends of parks” organizations, and by volunteer hours given to improve parks. In 2007, this created a community cohesion value of $8,600,000.
City parks lower the cost of treating storm water and absorb air pollutants. In some cities, stormwater flows off of impervious surfaces like roads and sidewalks, picks up pollutants, and flows into waterways. In other cities, stormwater flows into water treatment plants. During large storms, treatment capacity can be exceeded, resulting in untreated rainwater and household sewage being released into waterways. In parks, unpaved, pervious surfaces absorb rainwater, recharging ground water supplies and allowing storm runoff to be released more slowly. Vegetation stores water and allows some to be evaporated. The cost savings this provides is significant. In 2007 in Philadelphia, parks reduced runoff from rain by 496 million cubic feet. Philadelphia can treat stormwater at a cost of 1.2 cents per cubic foot. Therefore, its park system provided the city with $5.9 million in stormwater retention.
The plants in a city park absorb air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, and some particulates, reducing the impacts they have on residents’ cardiovascular and respiratory systems, reducing health-care costs and decreases in productivity. In 2005, the trees in Washington, D.C.’s parks removed 244 tons of carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide. This service is valued at $1,130,000.