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The Payoff of Park Investments

Steve Pearlstein wrote a great column in this week’s Washington Post on the wisdom of investing in parks, using New York’s Central Park to show how this has resulted not only in great community pride, but economic benefits to the city as a whole. Pearstein writes of two lessons:

The first is a reminder of the importance of creating and sustaining public facilities that are accessible to everyone and nourish a sense of community. Over the past 20 years, the tendency has been for those who can to abandon public schools, public transportation, public recreation, with the result that American society has become increasingly segregated by class and polarized by political ideology. In Central Park, I found hints that Americans were eager to reverse that trend.

The second big lesson is that investment in public infrastructure can have big payoffs. The Central Park Conservancy calculates that it invested $350 million over the past 20 years to restore the park to its former glory and requires $37 million a year to maintain it. That may sound like a lot of money, but when compared with the enhanced property values in the surrounding neighborhoods, the increased tourism it has helped to spawn and its contribution to making the city a more attractive place to live, my guess is that the return on investment easily equals that of the average hedge fund.

The Center for City Park Excellence research into the economic value of city parks has looked deeper into this, even quantifying the entire economic benefits of Philadelphia’s park system to be over $1 billion per year.

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