Donjek Project: Site Evaluation and Selection

Over the last few months, I’ve been partnering with a client to examine potential redevelopment sites along a planned rail transit corridor. As I described in this previous post, some property owners and users are in search of sites that are not only near station areas and other nearby assets, but clearly and conveniently connected.

In my home market in the Minneapolis Saint Paul region, the same impulse can be observed. Take, for example, the 34-story residential redevelopment recently approved by the Minneapolis Planning Commission, which is adjacent to a light rail transit platform at the Nicollet Mall station, next to the prospective Gateway Park, and reachable (both by pedestrian and transit mall and skyway) from all work, civic and entertainment locations in the central business district.

The Minneapolis example, however, made for easy site selection – its value is obvious. As customer preferences shift and transportation (both in mode and in cost) evolves, new opportunities will arise to identify and redevelop less evident, but very high-potential sites. Welcome to the future.

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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.

The American Dream, Part 2

Yesterday, I participated in a program that generated some very interesting discussion. The Urban Land Institute’s event, titled “The New American Dream: The Demands of a New Generation,” brought together four of us with varied backgrounds and perspectives. A few of the ideas on which I focused:

• The American Dream isn’t specific to the postwar suburban boom – it’s a desire for choices and access to ownership (or at least investment) that Americans have long held.  

• The average annual U.S. GDP growth, when examined in constant dollars, has declined each
GDP_Trend_jdecade since the 1940s. The shorthand interpretation is that we have become less able to afford the maintenance of a system of development and financing created during times of economic plenty. Not only is the status quo growing less affordable – it is also saddling us with environmental costs we simply cannot continue to accept.

• Prices do motivate us, including the kind we recognize in full (such as taxes), in part (such as gas, which is heavily subsidized), and the kind we ignore (such as costs associated with stormwater runoff into area waters). As a society, we decide which to recognize and which to ignore, and with rapid improvements in GIS analytics, we can measure costs and benefits more than ever before.

• Younger Americans’ aesthetic is more urban than previous generations, but the extent of this is unclear. For example, even in nearly fully-developed Ramsey County, Minnesota, 70% of 20-24 year olds drive to work solo, as opposed to 75% statewide. Of family households under age 45 in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, only 20% live in either of the Twin Cities. (2007 Census data).

I enjoyed the event and the opportunity to engage the prospects for the American Dream, and am enclosing my slides – presented in twenty seconds of fewer each, according to the Pecha Kucha format – here. Contact me for more discussion!

Donjek Tools: Evaluating Commercial Property with GIS

A thread that has connected my work over the last eighteen months: An interest by placemakers in more fully understanding how and why places work in an economic sense. Doing this effectively is more important in this economic climate than at any other time in recent memory. We have varying reasons for wanting know what makes a place economically vibrant:

• Lenders want to know more about factors that influence the value of collateral, that are external to the property itself. They seek a basis to evaluate the surrounding environment.  
• Urban designers are assembling ideas with an eye on how physical layout can most powerfully combine with topography and geography, land use, and transportation. 

• Developers are evaluating opportunities based on the land and its relationship to nearby assets, as well as on the attractiveness of location to prospective tenants or buyers.

• Planners working with public agencies and private firms are seeking to use available data to better understand market values, the impact of foreclosure or public investments, and a range of other factors essential to planning and policy formation.

This month, Donjek has introduced tools to strengthen the ability of each of these parties to reach these objectives. These tools harness geographic information systems (“GIS”) analytics to provide a comparison of the area surrounding one property versus others, and provide additional capacity to plan, rate and prioritize projects.

Clients need GIS, but don’t need to invest the resources to develop GIS tools in-house. Read an example of how Donjek’s GIS tools are applied (in this case, to the needs of a lender), and contact us to discuss gathering and understanding information that influence your land use decisions.

Join a broader discussion about using GIS to explore urban life by joining a LinkedIn group I just started, called Planet Mashup.