Study by Fairfield Students Assesses Value of "The Park City"
It’s easy for a municipality to figure out the value of its developed land: What’s the rent per square foot? What does the owner pay in taxes?
Attaching a dollar value to parkland is far more difficult. But that’s just what Dr. Dina Franceschi, professor of economics, and about a dozen students in her 2013 “Environmental Economics” course did for the City of Bridgeport, which boasts so much open space it’s known as “The Park City.” The city released their report during an October 6 press conference in Bridgeport’s Ellsworth Park.
Pairing with two Fairfield University students completing internships with the city, they determined how parks affect everything from nearby property values to air quality to physical fitness and healthcare costs. Armed with such vital data, Mayor Bill Finch can show how his administration’s emphasis on the citywide BGreen 2020 program, which is expanding and enhancing parks, will mean a better Bridgeport.
“The city can’t do all these things,” said Finch, noting busy city employees often don’t have the time to complete such in-depth analysis. “We need to have a good relationship with Fairfield U. We can’t do these kinds of things without the interns.”
What did the team find? Most striking for city residents might be the parks’ effect on home value. According to the valuation study, residential properties within one-tenth of a mile from a Bridgeport park have, on average, an 8 percent higher property value than residential properties located within the next tenth of a mile. The figure jumps to 11 percent when you compare commercial properties in the same zones, the report showed.
Parkland also affects the city’s Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA). In 2012, for example, the WPCA treated more than 10 billion gallons of runoff and wastewater, costing city taxpayers $10,615,452. Of this, 64 percent came from runoff of storm water. Every drop of water that doesn’t end up in the system and, instead, finds its way to “green infrastructure” saves taxpayers money. The Fairfield group estimated developing all of the city’s parkland would add 729,900,000 gallons of water to the volume treated at the WPCA each year, adding $751,289 collectively to taxpayers’ water bills.
In addition, parkland can provide a crucial barrier, protecting neighborhoods from storms. Bridgeport’s Seaside Park helped lessen the effects of Hurricane Sandy on South End residents.
Trees in the city parks filter pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter. The report shows the city’s tree canopy cover removes about $860,405 worth of air pollutants annually.
The students also studied the effects of city parks on residents’ health and volunteerism opportunities. About 88 percent of Bridgeport residents live within a 10-minute walk from a city park, many of which boast soccer and baseball fields, playgrounds, beaches, and hiking trails. The group found that residents who exercise regularly in Bridgeport parks, on average, spend $688 less on medical costs than those who are not physically active. Given the national concern over obesity, heart disease, and asthma rates, this gives Bridgeport residents “a free opportunity for health,” said Dr. Franceschi, who is a city resident.
Between April 2012 and May 2014, the Park City Schools and Community Alliance documented 386,375 hours of community service in the Bridgeport City Park System. It’s estimated that that’s equivalent to $10,211,891 in economic benefit to the city.
Since Bridgeport is home to about 100 University staff and faculty members and an estimated 1,100 graduates – and counting – University President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., said he was pleased students had the opportunity to work with city officials. The Office of Service Learning was instrumental in putting the partnership together.
“I’m delighted that Professor Dina Franceschi and her… class could support the viability and economic good sense of parks,” he said.
Pictured (left to right): Mark Marko, president, Board of Park Commissioners, City of Bridgeport; Davey Ives, environmental projects coordinator, City of Bridgeport; Melissa Quan, director, Office of Service Learning; Dr. Dina Franceschi, professor of economics; Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch; the Rev. Jeffrey von Arx S.J.