Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Economics of Urban Park Planning

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Economics of Urban Park Planning

Article excerpt

Urban park planning through strategic land use can lead to increased value for the community.

Trails, parks and playgrounds are among the five most important community amenities considered when selecting a home, according to 2,000 recent homebuyers surveyed in 2002 by the National Association of Home Builders and National Association of Realtors. Moreover, numerous studies conducted during the past 30 years have shown a direct correlation between a community's proximity to parks and greenways and increased property values, tax revenues and aesthetics to businesses and workers.

So it is not surprising that many communities envision park and recreation facilities as a key to economic vitality. A comprcheiisix c and strategic plan for park and recreation facilities at the state, regional or local level can enhance opportunities for economic development in urban areas by facilitating effective park site selection, program development and financing. Indeed, effective strategic planning is the first step in achieving a community's vision for parks and recreation, economic development and social and environmental benefits.

A Broad Analysis

Typically, when developing a parks master plan, planners focus only on the parks and open space component-examining the geographic distribution of parks across the service area, based on the number of acres, recreation fields or playgrounds for a certain population size. However, because land use drives the location of parks, a more effective approach begins with a comprehensive analysis of citywide land uses-residential, commercial and industrial, as well as parks and open space. A strategic land use plan enables planners to determine the most effective organization of land uses, including parks and open space, throughout the community.

The next step is the preparation of a park, recreation and open space master plan, which enables planners to effectively fit new and expanded park and recreation facilities into the strategic land use plan in order to stimulate development or to meet other community needs. Communities require a network of parks, recreation areas and open space to serve various populations, from the neighborhood level up to a county or regional level.

The master planning process inventories the distribution and services offered at various types of parks at each level. Based on this examination, each existing and proposed park in the master plan can be identified by its current and proposed function and appropriate amenities. Some master planners have even integrated geographic information systems (GIS) into the planning process to help identify appropriate sites and facilities by using layers of local information (e.g., topography, streets, utilities, flood plains, zoning, demographics and driving distances) over a base map.

It is also important to benchmark the community's park resources relative to other cities of its size, both for planning and fundraising purposes. In this process, planners generally look for at least two measures-the number of parks and the number of park acres per person-and then compare these figures with the national average per person for cities of the same relative size. Planners could also "localize" these benchmarks based on the community's unique characteristics and desires; for example, the national benchmark may be two acres of neighborhood park space per 1,000 people, but the city may want that to be per 500 people.

An Investment in Growth

This was the approach undertaken by the city of St. Louis, Mo., which completed a strategic land use plan and citywide park and open space master plan earlier this year. The park planning process was initiated following two recent developments: a very successful restoration of Forest Park, the central park of St. Louis; and the development of a new regional open space plan by the Metropolitan Park and Recreation District (now Great River Greenway), which receives funding from a regional sales tax and disburses it to park districts throughout the Missouri portion of the St. …

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