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Peter’s Take: New Parks Report Boosts Community Dialogue

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

An excellent new report (“Valuing Arlington’s Community Parks and Open Space“) demonstrates the value of parks in our community dialogue about major issues, including:

  • Development
  • Zoning
  • Siting school facilities and housing

The new report should help us avoid serious mistakes like Arlington’s decision to sacrifice Rosslyn Highlands Park to the interests of a private developer.

The new report is sponsored by the Arlington Park & Recreation Commission. The principal authors are Elizabeth Gearin, who has a PhD in Urban Planning and Development and William Ross, who has a PhD in Economics. Both are long-time Arlington residents. They combined their individual expertise to highlight both the qualitative and quantitative benefits parks provide.

Neither author has any direct financial interest that would be served by accepting their conclusions. They prepared this report as a community service. Backed by extensive research and analysis, the report cites both intangible and tangible benefits of parks and green space.

Intangible Benefits (traditional literature review)

  • Health

Parks provide opportunities for exercise, creative play, and lowered stress levels.

  • Community Cohesion

Parks reinforce the social fabric, providing opportunities for residents and visitors to participate in activities, socialize with one another, and form a neighborhood geographic focus.

  • Environmental

Trees, shrubs and grasses improve air quality by reducing air pollution; ameliorating the urban heat-island effect with shade and cooling; acting as a noise barrier, and reducing urban runoff as roots capture and filter rainwater.

Tangible Benefits (economic analysis)

Some of the intangible benefits of parks are priceless, but the report provides a helpful methodological framework to quantify the tangible benefits of Arlington’s parks. The report quantifies for Arlington the dollar impacts of these 10 benefit categories:

  • Increased Property Values from Park Proximity
  • Increased Property Sales Taxes from Park Proximity
  • Increased Value of Annual Property Sales from Park Proximity
  • Direct Use Value for Park Users
  • Tourism Tax Benefits Attributed to Parks
  • Tourism Profits Attributed to Parks
  • Health Value of Parks
  • Storm Water Management Value of Parks
  • Air Pollution Mitigation Value of Parks
  • Community Cohesion Value of Parks

As summarized on the Arlington County website, the bottom line is that:

[T]he annual, ongoing benefits from Arlington parks and open space is $155 million. On top of that, “the existence of parks and open space may have resulted in a one-time increase in residential property values estimated at $160 million…”

These valuations represent a preliminary approximation. Arlington should study these issues further.

Conclusion

Arlington’s parks and open space are not “free.” When we use our parkland for other purposes, not only do we bear the replacement cost (if we even can afford it), we lose the benefits outlined in this excellent White Paper.

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