The economic impact of local parks

Aug 2020

They say money doesn’t grow on trees, but can it grow out of parks? In 2017, research by the National Recreation and Park Association found that parks and the programs run by park and recreation departments generated over $1.5 billion in economic activity, supporting over a million jobs. In Illinois, that translated into over $10 billion into the economy and over 78,000 jobs around the state. On top of that, park activities create a ripple effect that boosts local economies in ways you might not have realized. In this blog, we take a look at some of the primary ways parks drive economic growth across the country.

Parks provide a venue for events that can boost, or even launch, local businesses

Concerts. Festivals. Farmers Markets. Food truck rallies. Art shows. Across the country parks provide a welcoming space for community events that can provide an important showcase for small businesses and local makers. As events grow, they can even attract visitors from beyond city limits, driving more dollars into the local economy.

Events at local parks often provide a venue for local restaurants and cafes to reach new customers. Not only do they benefit from event sales, but they are able to reach new customers they may not have otherwise. These events provide opportunities for small businesses to establish a foothold and grow into solid operations. The Seoul Taco chain of restaurants grew out of a single St. Louis food truck that raised its profile through the Tower Park Food Truck Friday summer series that began in 2011. That truck has now grown into seven brick and mortar restaurants in two states. Parks help drive this economic growth and investment because they provide a centralized location that attracts locals and tourists alike.

Parks drive traffic to nearby businesses

After a brisk walk in the park on a fall day, a nearby café for some lunch or a nice hot chocolate sounds awfully good. Or some ice cream to cool off on a hot summer afternoon. Businesses located near a park can attract customers for the convenience of being able to combine recreation and errands, or simply from the increased volume of foot traffic associated with parks. Increased sales revenues benefit the individual businesses, as well as the municipality and state through increased sales tax revenues.

Proximity to parks attracts residents and raises property values

Proximity to a park is desirable to many homeowners, especially families.  Being close to a park means easy access to playgrounds, space to exercise, or a fun romp for the dog. Research estimates that the property value of homes located within 500 feet of a park is approximately 5% higher than homes of comparable size located farather away from parks.

A study by the American Planning Association shows that the presence and quality of parks attracts demographics to a community who are likely to significantly invest time and funds into the local economy, such as homebuyers, affluent retirees, or high-earning knowledge workers. Because parks are a public community space open to all, these economic boosts provide benefits to the community across the board.

In the 1980’s, Chattanooga, TN sought to attract more middle-class residents back to the city, and the creation of parks was a central component of their strategy. By the end of the 1990’s, property values had risen by over 120%, which in turn generated millions of dollars in increased property tax revenue for the city. The benefits of increased property value thanks to parks does not just benefit homeowners; they can translate into funding for community-wide improvements as well.

Parks spur investment and development

We have already seen that people go where the parks are, and on their heels, development will follow. The creation of High Line Park in New York City—out of an old, unsightly elevated railway bed—generated over 12,000 area jobs as a result of billions of dollars in investment motivated by the park as a hot new destination. The park attracted restaurants, shops, and residential construction to an area that no one expected to become a popular neighborhood.

Parks provide environmental benefits that save municipalities money

Plant life in parks can result in significant savings to a municipality when it comes to environmental costs and infrastructure. Parks with extensive vegetation can absorb rainwater, lessening the burden of storms on the community’s architecture. The cost of mitigating stormwater through trees and vegetation is also less than the cost of building infrastructure (plus, the green spaces are also just prettier). Trees also help offset carbon emissions. Strategically placed and planted parks around a community can expand on those savings, creating an environmental infrastructure that makes the community greener in both a literal and figurative sense.

More trees can also help keep a city cool. Shade helps cool the environment, resulting in less energy use by buildings located near green spaces. The Olmstead parks in Louisville, KY create microclimates that helps mitigate summer heat, saving resident money on their utilities. Right here in Urbana, there are numerous programs dedicated to the planting of, and preservation of, trees within our community. Did you know that Urbana is one of 13 charter Tree City USA communities in the United States? 

Parks encourage sports and recreation, which cuts down on healthcare spending:

In our last blog, we talked about how parks encourage exercise. They provide a free, enticing space for a walk, a run, a game, or other types of recreation. A well-designed park with trails and appealing scenery motivates visitors to get out and get moving. In turn, this increased physical activity reduces medical spending, leaving residents with more income to spend in the local economy and/or reducing what the city, state or local agencies spend in health care assistance. Research on San Diego’s Balboa Park determined that around 40,000 residents use their park as their main place to exercise each year, translating into medical savings estimated at $1,100 per individual on average. 

Whether directly or indirectly, parks provide a clear return on investment when it comes to supporting local economies. Creating and maintaining these welcoming community spaces brings the community together, supports local businesses, and saves cities and residents money through important environmental businesses. Parks definitely keep us in the green. 

Imagine helping to send a child to camp for a week each summer. Or helping to plant trees in parks for future generations to enjoy. These and so many more needs can be supported through your gift. Gifts in all sizes can have a real impact on parks and programs; they ensure that high quality programs and open spaces will be here for future generations. Consider making a gift to the Urbana Parks Foundation. Click here for more information.