Tradeoffs with public parks

I and many others who are interested in urban environments appreciate the value a public park can add. Two that come to my mind in major US metro areas are Central Park in NYC and Golden Gate Park in SF.

My question is: how do we calculate or value the utility that these spaces provide a city compared to the massive forgone tax revenue and economic activity that otherwise might occupy the space if it were not used for a pleasant green space?

Is there any theory as to how one allocates an efficient amount of park or green space? I know there are private parks that presumably charge for admission, although I do not see many of them, leading me to believe that park space is not a very efficient use of such a limited supply of land located in a metropolitan area.

While a park may not be profitable, are the positive externalities that result worth it? Are there any ways we try to calculate or value the positive externalities when devoting extremely valuable land to green space?

Would love to hear thoughts on the questions above!


1 comment

  • Comment author
    Rodney Rutherford

    I tend to think that parks in low-density areas are not so useful...unless there's something significant to bring people together. People in these areas already have the amenities that a park why would they go there? On the other hand, parks near higher-density residential areas are vital...and, unfortunately, also often lacking.

    The park creates value for the people around it, especially if it meets needs that are not met by their own individual homes. If it does that, it adds value to those homes--and, in that way, increases the assessed value of the homes. Unfortunately, in states like mine (WA), cities are not rewarded with any more tax revenue as a result of their local investments like parks--instead, it just means that those whose property values increase due to the park pay more of the taxes that are collected, while those who are further from the park (and don't benefit as much) pay less. This is because property tax collected by each jurisdiction can only increase by 1% per year...and the only (significant) exception is the increased value resulting from new construction. I'm curious if other states are plagued by similar constraints that inhibit cities from reaping the value they create through public improvements like this.


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