Archive for the ‘Economic Benefits’ Category

Chattanooga wins trails award

November 18, 2010

Tennessee Riverpark - Photo: Billy Weeks

American Trails has been holding its biennial symposium in Chattanooga the last few days. Founded in 1988, American Trails bills itself as “the only national, nonprofit organization working on behalf of all trail interests, including hiking, bicycling, mountain biking, horseback riding, water trails, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, trail motorcycling, ATVs, snowmobiling and four-wheeling.”

The clever tag line for this year’s symposium summarizes an organizational belief that is hard to refute: “Trails: The Green Way for America.”

At the symposium, American Trails presented awards, and it should probably come as no surprise that two of them went to a project and a foundation within the event’s host city.

In the 1980s, Chattanooga—then a fading industrial center—very deliberately plotted a new future by enriching its quality of life, in part by creating trails and greenways. By the time TPL put together its first report on the economic benefits of parks and open space, in 1999, Chattanooga was a national poster child for a city that was attracting new businesses by creating a desirable place to live. By that time, as well, TPL had opened a local office in Chattanooga and was helping the community implement an ambitious greenway program, work that continues to this day.

So congratulations to Chattanooga for winning American Trails’ Planning/Design Award for its 13-mile-long Tennessee Riverpark. According to the American Trails website,

[The Riverparks’] development was a turning point for Chattanooga, revitalizing downtown and making trails more accessible to the local community. The most comprehensive and inclusive planning process ever undertaken in Chattanooga began in 1985 with an appointed task force. Their goal was to orchestrate a true, all-inclusive community planning process. After hundreds of public and private meetings involving thousands of citizens, the Tennessee Riverpark Master Plan was established. The vision operated under the premise that the Chattanooga riverfront was owned by everyone and should be developed “under a guiding idea which will bring its banks to life, make it a central point of pride for the City’s people, and move it to the forefront of national consciousness.” By reconnecting with the river, the city overhauled its image and fueled the engine of central economic development. Its impact has been so immense that the Riverfront Renaissance Story is being told internationally.

A second award, known as the Corporate Award, went to the Chattanooga-based Lyndhurst Foundation for “tremendous support and exemplary service for trails planning and development in the east Tennessee and north Georgia region.”

The foundation focuses on the enhancement and enrichment of the natural, educational, cultural, and urban environment of Chattanooga and the surrounding region. The foundation’s service has benefited thousands of people in the region by creating various outdoor recreational opportunities for them to enjoy. Organizations they have partnered with for better trails include the Trust for Public Land’s Chattanooga Office, The Lulu Lake Land Trust, the Southeast Watershed Forum, and the Cumberland Trail Conference.

It’s great to see this well-deserved recognition for the foundation’s important contributions to Chattanooga’s quality of life.

Details of all the awards can be found on American Trails website. More information on the economic benefits of parks and open space can be found in the benefits section of TPL’s website.

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Profits from recreation and the Land and Water Conservation Fund

August 9, 2010

Near the Appalachian Trail, ME - Photo: Jerry and Marcy Monkman

Outdoor retailers met in Salt Lake City last week, and Paul Foy of the Associated Press was there. His piece on how the outdoor industry is thriving during the recession was picked up by The New York Times and other newspapers nationwide. (I stopped counting at a dozen citations.)

The industry was spooked last year when the economy tanked, but it held its own and is rebounding fast. The recession hardly nicked it — sales were down 2 percent in 2009 but are rising at a rate of 6 percent, said Frank Hugelmeyer, president and CEO of the Outdoor Industry Association.

It helps that buyers of nearly $50 billion worth of outdoor gear are, by and large, discriminating, and that many brands like The North Face or Mountain Hardwear have moved into the fashion mainstream.

People are looking to outdoor recreation because it’s cheap, executives said. But there’s money in the business. It supports 6.5 million U.S. jobs. Together with $243 billion in recreational services and money changing hands, the industry has taken to calling itself a $730 billion enterprise — the better to sell politicians on things like the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Even in Washington, $730 billion is a respectable number, especially compared with $900 million, the Congressionally authorized funding level for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).  In most years, the authorization is an empty promise, with only a small fraction of that amount actually appropriated.

For months, a coalition of conservation groups, with TPL is a leading role, has been working to make the $900-million-per-year authorization a guaranteed yearly appropriation. The House included the guarantee in the recently passed oil spill legislation. The Senate will take up the bill when it returns from recess.

“The industry regards the Land and Water Conservation Fund as its salvation, helping keep people interested in the outdoors,” Foy writes.

Some folks remain hard to convince that conservation is an investment and not a cost—that it can pour money into communities and industries. A conservation funding bill is also a jobs bill and an economic stimulus bill. If you have any influence in Washington—and all of us do to some extent—you might mention that to someone who gets a vote on the measure.

You will find more information on the economic benefits of parks and open space and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund on TPL’s website.

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Report: parks are also good for economic health

May 27, 2010

Enjoying a new TPL-assisted playground in New York - Photo: Nana Taimour

Active Living Research is a website funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and dedicated to “building the evidence to prevent childhood obesity and support active living communities.”

Some of that evidence suggests that access to parks, recreation facilities, and open space promotes exercise and health.  But in a down economy it apparently is not enough to suggest that parks keep kids fit; they should also be good for the bottom line. Which brings us to “The Economic Benefits of Open Space, Recreation Facilities, and Walkable Community Design”, a “research synthesis” newly posted to the Active Living Research site.

Walkable neighborhoods, parks and open spaces also are believed to generate economic benefits to local governments, home owners and businesses through higher property values and correspondingly higher tax assessments. The economic benefits of open, walkable spaces can play an important role in policy-makers’ decisions about zoning, restrictions on land-uses, government purchase of lands for parks and similar initiatives. This research synthesis reviews the sizable body of peer-reviewed and independent reports on the economic value of outdoor recreation facilities, open spaces and walkable community design. It focuses on “private” benefits that accrue to nearby homeowners and to other users of open space. While parks may also generate “public” benefits to the whole community, such as alleviating traffic congestion, reducing air pollution, flood control, wildlife habitat, improved water quality and facilitating healthy lifestyles, the literature estimating the economic value of these types of benefits is not reviewed.

Of course, conservationists have been making the economic benefits case for decades, and much of the research in the synthesis has been cited elsewhere, including in TPL publications going back more than a decade.

But everyone who has struggled to make this information accessable to non-scientists (as I have twice since 1998) understands how difficult this can be.  At that task, this synthesis excels. Particularly valuable is a matrix summarizing the findings and research methodologies of each cited paper–dozens in all.

This PDF is sure to become an important tool for advocates of parks, open space, and walkable neighborhoods.

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Easements a bargain for Colorado

February 3, 2010

Wet Mountain Valley, Colorado - Photo: Bill Gillette

Almost without fail, TPL research and publishing on the economic benefits of conservation attracts a flurry of media attention.  The most recent example comes from Colorado, where a study released Monday estimates that every $1 Colorado invests in  conservation easements returns $6 to the state in economic benefits in the form of  water-supply protection, flood control, waste treatment, production from farms and ranches, and recreation. Funds invested: $512 million between 1995 and 2008.  Return on investment $3.51 billion.  Pretty good return.

From Business Week:

Jessica Sargent-Michaud, an economist with the national Trust for Public Land, said she used geographic data to group Colorado’s conservation easements into 16 distinct ecosystems. She then assigned the land a per-acre dollar value based on figures used in about 10 published studies and consultations with state agriculture extension agents.

Examples include the premiums people pay to live next to open space, costs of cleaning up polluted water or money spent on recreation and tourism.

The Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts estimates that 1.7 million acres are protected from development by 3,900 easements in the state.  This includes ranch land protected by TPL in the Wet Mountain Valley, above, and elsewhere in Colorado.

TPL’s study last year  showing that New Jersey gains $10 in benefits from every $1 invested in conservation helped convinced the New Jersey legislature to put an ultimately successful conservation funding measure on the ballot.  In this instance, also, there is a political context.  From the Denver Business Journal:

Under current law, taxpayers are allowed to claim a state income-tax credit for donating a conservation easement. The credit is equal to 50 percent of the fair market value of the easement, with a cap of $375,000 per easement.

The conservation tax credits are one of the items on the chopping block as Colorado legislators and Gov. Bill Ritter struggle to cut the state’s budget. A bill introduced in the House on Jan. 22 would cap the amount of tax credits that could be claimed at $26 million a year for three years — 2011, 2012 and 2013 — which would funnel more money into the state’s general fund.

But this would divert a huge conservation investment that is paying the state back many times over.

Other studies and publications on the economic benefits of parks and conservation can be found in the Parks Benefits section of TPL’s website.

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Conservation and taxes in Vermont

December 28, 2009

LaPlatte River Headwaters, VT - Protected 2007 - Photo: Kurt Budlinger Photography

In the decade since TPL published “The Economic Benefits of Parks and Open Space,” that and succeeding reports on the same topic have been best sellers on the home website.  It is a complex subject– so much so that TPL now employs its own economist to decode the issues–but in many instances it can be shown that conservation does not cost, but pays.

One question that comes up repeatedly is the impact of conservation on local taxes. A recently released report from the Vermont Land Trust attempts to answer that question for the Green Mountain State. 

What is the impact on local property taxes when someone permanently conserves their land? Do taxes increase, decrease, or stay the same? Does it matter if the land is conserved by a conservation easement or if it is purchased by a government entity?

In response to these and other questions from landowners, members, town officials, and assessors, the Vermont Land Trust asked Deb Brighton, VLT Board of Trustees member and legislative tax policy consultant, to analyze the short- and long-term impacts of land conservation on Vermont property taxes.

The report concludes:

The conventional wisdom is that more development means lower taxes and more conservation
means higher taxes. Except in communities that have a high percentage of vacation homes, the
reality is often just the opposite.

Open space tends to require few public services. More people tend to require more public
services, resulting in higher taxes.

The purpose of this research is not to suggest that conservation is always good or that development is always bad. Each town must decide what it wants and what it needs to be a great community and make choices about conservation and development based upon those goals. If this research has shed some light on the associations between land use and taxes, so that local officials can make better decisions, then the author’s objective has been accomplished.

The full report runs 7 pages, is a PDF, and can be found here.

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What a difference a few numbers make

September 25, 2009

It’s official,  New Jersey governor Jon Corzine has signed a bill putting a  $600 million conservation bon measure on the ballot.  But as recently as last spring it was not at all clear that the legislature would pass a bill for the governor to sign.  It could be argued that one number made all the difference.

New Jersey has a great record of state funding for land conservation.  Since the 1960s voters have approved nine bond issues to preserve land, and in 1998 they authorized an annual dedication of $98 million from the sales tax.  The Garden State Preservation Trust uses this money to fund three preservation programs, including the Green Acres Program for natural land and parks. 

But the trust’s coffers are essentially empty, and in the midst of the recession, there was resistance in the legislature to passing additional bonding authority for conservation.  Then a coalition of preservation groups had the idea of analyzing the economic impact of the proposed legislation. Calculations by TPL based on the state’s own 2007 Natural Capital report came up with a game-changing comparison. 

While the total cost of borrowing the $600 million would be $960 million over 20 years, the value recovered in goods and services from land preserved as a result of those funds over that same period would be about $10 billion. Such goods and services include farm and fish products, outdoor recreational activities and natural services such as filtering air and water and controlling flooding. 

This better-than-ten-to-one return on investment became the highlight of  news stories, editorials, and op eds  after the study was released. And in the face of this publicity, it was hard to argue that voters should be denied the opportunity to make that investment.  The legislature passed the measure on to the governor with strong bipartisan support,  We won’t know until November 3 if New Jersey voters will approve the “Green Acres, Water Supply and Floodplain Protection, and Farmland and Historic Preservation Bond Act of 2009.” But at least they will get the chance.


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