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Winter 2012

Urban Jungle

The changing natural world at our doorsteps | Illustration and text by Patterson Clark      

March 13, 2012

Appraising urban parks

As spring unfolds, many people escape the confines of their walls and head to local parks for exercise, entertainment, fresh air and connection with nature and neighbors.

It costs taxpayer money to maintain parks, but those dollars are well spent, says Peter Harnik, director of the Center for City Park

parks in the district of columbia

Excellence, a research arm of the Trust for   Public Land. "We get value from our
    parks," he says, "and the goose
      laying all these golden eggs needs

            Since 2005, Harnik has
              been developing
                models for
                  determining the
                    economic                         contributions
                  of city parks.

              Certain aspects of a
            park, such as its aesthetic
          value and benefits to mental
        health, simply can't be
      quantified, but Harnik, drawing
    from a wide spectrum of sources,
  identifies seven factors that can be gauged:

parks in the district of columbia

Annual value of the District’s park system*

People often visit a public park rather than pay higher prices for recreation at private facilities. This direct use value saves residents money.

Those using parks for regular vigorous exercise tend to realize health benefits, saving as much as $500 each in yearly medical costs.

Parks such as the Mall attract outside visitors who bring tourist dollars to nearby vendors, hotels and restaurants.

Proximity to parks can increase property values by as much as 15 percent, yielding additional tax receipts for the city.

Parks promote community cohesion, which builds safer, stronger neighborhoods, reducing the need for police and social services.

By soaking up excess rainfall, parklands help reduce stormwater runoff, keeping it out of the local sewage treatment system, which saves taxpayer money.

A park's extra vegetation helps eliminate air pollution — 244 tons every year in the District — that would cost more than $1 million to remove with machinery and filters.

Amount spent on District parks in 2006 by D.C. Parks and Recreation and the National Park Service.

*All figures are for 2006, the latest year for which complete data are available

The Trust for Public Land used the following sources: U.S. Forest Service; University of California at Davis; Water Resources Council; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; a random-digit-dialed telephone survey of D.C. residents; Chenoweth & Associates/Health Management Associates; John Crompton, Texas A&M; public records; Washington Convention and Tourism Corp.; Dan Stynes, Michigan State University