Why would you want to put a dollar value on parks? We know they’re important, right? We understand their role, right? We don’t take them for granted…right?
While most of us believe urban parks provide a benefit to our community, how many of us would see them as a ‘critical’ public asset?
Parks are often seen as a ‘nice to have’, a sign of a ‘nice area to live’ or a luxury of a well-off society. However, parks are more than just a green patch of grass to kick a ball around. They are important environmental, social AND economic drivers in our society.
In fact, they not only generate benefits, but save costs for our economy. Here’s how.
Firstly, we face a challenge…
A few years ago, page three of the Sydney Morning Herald featured an interview with the head of a major property development company. The lead paragraph read: “It’s simple…Sydney has too much green and not enough grey, and if you want to look at trees – well, go climb a mountain”.
Then a few paragraphs later: “If they want to see trees, they can go to Katoomba, there are plenty of trees there.” (read full article).
If we put aside the commercial self-interest in the statements, what it does demonstrate is that there is a lack of understanding that parks and public spaces are actually economically beneficial as they are, and not spaces that are yet to be economically developed.
The economic benefits of parks
Many urban parks like Centennial Parklands are economic generators for the community. Here are a few examples how:
Parks employ people – and attract businesses that also employ people
Parks not only create jobs directly, but they attract and support a range of industries and business opportunities (e.g. food, accommodation, entertainment and recreation) that further employ substantially more people (you may be amazed to hear that up to 2,000 jobs are are provided by businesses across Centennial Parklands at peak times!).
Parks raise private property values
It is a well researched fact that proximity to a well maintained park, or having park views, increases the value of private properties. By how much? Some reports suggest it is up to 20%! This is not a newly discovered fact, by the way – a report by the New York Central Park Commission in 1861 stated that property values in its vicinity had quadrupled since the Park’s opening!
Parks provide space (and economic opportunity) for the community
Urban parks often provide their communities the opportunity to feature activities and events aimed at encouraging local, interstate and international visitors – thereby driving economic activity in the local economy. Here’s a few local statistics to consider relating to Centennial Parklands alone – last year: over 250,000 patrons patrons attended community and ticketed events, there were over 100 outdoor wedding ceremonies, and more than 150 professional filming and photography shoots (including one major movie production). It should also be noted that millions of dollars have also been raised for third-party charitable causes through events hosted in the Parklands.
Parks create, support and drive tourism
Tourism is the third largest industry in the world – and one in every 22 jobs in NSW (or around 279,000 direct and indirect jobs) are in the tourism industry. One of the key areas of tourism in Australia that is increasing rapidly is nature-based tourism, with parks are at the frontline of this trend. Research conducted a number of years ago demonstrated that Centennial Parklands directly contributed $10 million to the local economy from tourism, however with significant investment and upgrade of Moore Park Golf, the Centennial Parklands Equestrian Centre, and a richer, more diversified events program, it is anticipated that this figure is much higher today.
Costs saved by parks
Again, there are many – here’s just a few:
Parks can save public health care costs
Much research has found that natural environments offer low-cost preventative and remedial opportunities for public health. Health initiatives aimed at prevention of long-term and chronic illnesses are increasingly being prioritised as a means of controlling healthcare costs and governments are investing in programs to promote healthier lifestyles (read about this Canadian example). Parks are pleasant and accessible settings for combating the effects of our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, such as obesity, high blood pressure and numerous mental health illnesses (including depression).
Improving mental health and wellbeing
In Australia and New Zealand today, one in five people will experience depression, and more than 6 million working days are lost each year in Australia alone as a result. In a study of people suffering from mental illness, 90% or more of them indicated that ‘green exercise’ activities had benefited their mental health, they had greater self-esteem, focus of mind, were more relaxed, more motivated, enjoyed an improved quality of life, and felt ‘refreshed and alive’ (download a major report on the links between parks and mental health and wellbeing).
Parks act as natural cooling for our cities
Parks are natural ‘air conditioners’ for our cities. Research outlines that: “…green spaces in urban areas break up reflected heat from hard surfaces to bring a cooling effect. Through the shade they provide, trees can buffer buildings from excessive heat and reduce energy consumption and the costs of air-conditioning. The evaporation from a large tree is estimated to produce the cooling effect of 10 room-sized air-conditioners.”
Parks support and promote science and research
Parks (wild and urban) can act as carbon storage (or carbon reservoirs), can help maintain clean air and water, protect natural and built heritage assets, but they can also act as enormous opportunities to facilitate science, research and learning. At Centennial Parklands, for example, we undertake a range of industry and tertiary-linked research projects, including on the grey-headed flying fox colony, the long-finned eels, carp management, and energy management. We are also recognised as an industry leader in the life-cycle management of tree populations in urban environments. All of this work provides economic and environmental benefits beyond the Parklands.
OK, so what does all of this mean?
Parks are not simply the green spaces ‘between things’ in our cities. They are more than just some space that is empty and devoid of utility.
Parks are environmental, social AND economic amplifiers of investment. That is, the outcome for the community is far greater than the inputs required to create and maintain the spaces (learn even more in this short document: The Value of Parks).
Centennial Parklands is one of the world’s finest examples of this. As a self-funded public parklands we provide many millions of dollars worth of environmental, societal and economic benefit (for more information see our infographic on Centennial Parklands, or our infographic that provides a snapshot of what we provided Sydneysiders last year).
Come and enjoy Centennial Parklands. It’s good for you. It’s good for our community.