The Necessity of Green Space

Laura Adams, Executive Director
Shelby Farms Park Conservancy

It has long been recognized that parks, greenways, and open spaces provide a diverse and quantifiable range of benefits to cities and counties. In 1868, after designing Central Park in New York City, Fredrick Law Olmstead lectured about the “vast increase in value of eligible sites for dwellings near public parks.” From strengthening our economy to improving our environment, to supporting our physical and psychological health, and making our cities and neighborhoods more attractive places to live and work and play, the benefits of parks are measurable and extend far beyond regular users to enrich the lives of every person who lives and works in our community. That’s why Memphis and Shelby County are working to leverage the substantial and essential benefits provided by parks and greenways and open spaces. Economic Benefits Research has established that conserving and investing in green infrastructure —such as parks and trails—are investments that produces important economic benefits. A study conducted by John L. Crompton of Texas A&M University suggests that property owners are willing to pay up to 20 percent more for property close to a park or greenway. That translates into higher property taxes which then enrich city and county government coffers. Parks and greenways also play a vital role in economic development through the quality of life benefits they provide. In his 2002 book, Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida reported that in the “new economy” the environmental quality of a city is a key consideration for companies looking to expand or relocate, as well as for the attraction and retention of talented workers. Environmental Benefits Parks, greenways, and other types of public open spaces serve communities by providing critical functions such as reducing energy use and storm water runoff, cleansing our water and air, providing habitat for wildlife and ecological integrity, and a host of other measurable environmental and public policy objectives that communities would otherwise need to pay for. Social Benefits Parks, greenways, and open spaces are valuable contributors to social community policy objectives, such as improved public health, youth development, providing “green job” opportunities, and building community. A study published by the Center for Disease Control showed when people have access to parks and open spaces, they exercise more. Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of a wide range of diseases, including heart disease, hypertension, colon cancer, and diabetes. Physical activity also relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety, improves mood, and enhances psychological well-being. Beyond the benefits of exercise, a growing body of research shows that contact with the natural world improves physical and psychological health. And according to the American Planning Association green spaces, when adjacent to residential neighborhoods, have been shown to create neighborhoods with fewer violent and property crimes and whereneighbors tend to support and protect one another.