Quantifying Open Space Benefits: Donjek Presentation at MRPA Conference

Today, I am presenting to the annual conference of the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association on the costs and benefits of open space, with Jenna Fletcher, project coordinator of Embrace Open Space. View my part of the presentation here, and see Jenna's presentation here.

Intuitively, we all agree that parks, open spaces, greenways and natural areas have economic value. The real estate marketplace recognizes this: Studies consistently indicate that residential property owners pay up to a 30% premium to live within walking distance of a park. Similarly, access to bike and pedestrian infrastructure such as greenways also boosts property values.


Despite a surge in academic and practitioner analysis of open space premiums, many policy makers continue to view parks as cost centers, as opposed to stable assets that consistently support social and economic activity, as well as tax base, located nearby.

The case for identifying the benefits of open space more effectively is important. In addition to its relationship to residential and commercial property values, local policy stands to be improved by better information about the economic value of the physical activity, non-motor transportation, stormwater management and other benefits.

We have the tools in the form of property data sets and GIS analytics. We have the need to respond to overwhelming budget pressure. And we need urban design that helps rather than hinders our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Each of these factors call for a change in the way we understand, talk and make decisions about the role of open space in our cities and towns.

Talking Open Space

On May 28, I presented to the quarterly meeting of a land conservationPOS  collaborative that has brought together groups including the Metropolitan Council, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the McKnight Foundation, Trust for Public Land, and 1000 Friends of Minnesota. Embrace Open Space has released an analysis of five years of Hennepin County housing sale data, which illustrates the influence of nearby open space on home values. The analysis has identified that a typical Hennepin County home located near open space is roughly $15,000 more valuable than a comparable property located elsewhere. The study follows a related analysis of Washington County sale data, released in 2007, which reached similar findings.

As part of the program, I will present context for the study, describing the range of economic, fiscal, and ecological benefits that flow from parks and other conserved lands, in cities, suburbs and in rural places. I also expect to discuss how open space produces benefits that cross sectors – for example, open space has been shown to produce improvements to health and serve as transportation infrastructure (as with greenways), as well as meeting recreation needs. 

View the Donjek five-page summary here.

Photo: Post Office Square in Boston; courtesy of Flickr.