This article reviews a sizable body of peer-reviewed and independent reports on the economic value of outdoor recreation facilities, open spaces and walkable community design. Open spaces such as parks and recreation areas can increase residential property values and property tax revenues for local governments; it is less expensive to provide roads, water and sewer services to homes in compact, walkable developments than it is to homes in large, suburban developments; and the parks and the open spaces and greenbelts offered by compact walkable neighborhoods create higher housing prices and marketing opportunities.
Open spaces such as parks and recreation areas can have a positive effect on nearby residential property values and can lead to proportionately higher property tax revenues for local governments (provided municipalities are not subject to caps on tax levies). A study of 193 parks in Portland Oregon found that parks increased the value of homes within 500 feet of a park by $845 to $2,262. Another study of that area found that large natural forest areas created an even larger rise in property values, an average of $10,648 for homes within 1,500 feet of the forests, compared to an average increase of $1,214 for homes within 1,500 feet from urban parks or $5,657 for specialty parks (playgrounds and skate parks). This increase may allow a park or recreation area to pay for itself, as was the case for a $5.4 billion green belt in Boulder, Colorado, though not if there aren’t sufficient nearby residential properties. Increased property taxes may not be able to completely cover a parks cost. This was the case for a 7.9-mile greenbelt in Austin, Texas, where the city was able to meet 28.4% of the annual debt charges from the greenbelt’s construction.
The houses within 500-600 feet of open space receive the greatest increase in property value. Community parks of at least 30 acres increase the value of properties out to 1,500 feet, but 75% of the premium value generally occurs within 500-600 feet. Increasing the size of a park tends to increase the rise in property values, but proximity to the park has a greater impact than park size. Access to a park is important, and direct paths to a park and parks surrounded by roads are both factors that will cause a greater boost to nearby property values.
The increase in property values due to proximity to open space occurs in urban, suburban and rural areas; the impact is greatest in urban areas. In rural and suburban areas, it is the houses near preserved open spaces and farmland that are associated with increases in property value.
It is less expensive to provide roads, water and sewer services to homes in compact, walkable developments than it is to homes in large, suburban developments. A study found that Rhode Island could save more $1.4 billion over 20 years if the state’s next 20,000 housing units were built within existing urban areas instead of in undeveloped areas. The savings are due to decreased costs for providing roads, schools and utilities as well as the benefits of not losing agricultural land to development and the prevention of decay of urban centers.
Some studies estimate that using a compact, walkable neighborhood design can save developers 32% on the cost of providing infrastructure services.
Open space tends to require fewer municipal services than residential, so land preservation can decrease a community’s tax burden. The design elements used in these neighborhoods can also create a tax savings on infrastructure. In one such neighborhood, swales were used to direct stormwater over porous soils, which irrigated nearby agricultural fields and saved $800 per lot compared to conventional storm sewer construction.
The parks, open spaces and greenbelts offered by compact, walkable neighborhoods, (also known as traditional neighborhood development), create higher housing prices, create marketing opportunities, and tend to cause the neighborhood’s houses to sell more quickly than conventionally designed neighborhoods.