Friends of the Eagan Core Greenway


St. Paul Pioneer Press
Sunday, November 20, 2005

"If you pave paradise, is there a cost?"

Two new studies look at the economics of shared open spaces in Minnesota

Enlightened public planning sometimes requires calibrated tools to measure aesthetic values. Recent work to gauge how much Minnesotans value open space gives local planners such useful tools by putting monetary measures on parks, nature preserves, greenways and such. As population increases, with ever-greater density in the metro area, now's the time to take advantage of the favorable economics of open space preservation.

In the metro especially, managing the math to maintain life quality has already become an apparent priority. Minnesota State Demography Center projections anticipate the population statewide will increase 27 percent between 2000 and 2030, with 68 percent of that growth in the metro area. New research makes it obvious that people understand the dynamics.

The economics and the public opinion behind open space management are favorable, as tracked in two recent research findings. Open space adds value to real estate and the tax coffers. That prospect for added value means the true cost of land use is more complex than commonly considered in development decisions.

A public opinion survey done by Decision Resources Ltd. found that nearby open space adds to the price Twin Cities people are willing to pay for a home, which elevates not just real estate prices, but also tax revenue. Almost two-thirds of people surveyed who had bought in the past two years or plan to in the next two said they would pay between 10 percent and 25 percent more for a home in walking distance of an open space, such as a park, wooded area or wetlands.

A noteworthy result, the survey finds, is that having open space where people can come together or enjoy the same natural asset fosters community connectedness.

A companion piece of research, done by Wilder Research's chief economist, Paul Anton, studied the economic impact of open space, evaluated that impact and crafted needed tools for local planners.

Both pieces of research were sponsored by Embrace Open Space, a coalition of public, private and philanthropic institutions that aims to mobilize Twin Citians on land use issues.

The study doesn't make recommendations, it just lays out key findings about costs and benefits for local decision-makers that rise on the data showing higher real estate values near open space and the potential for lower community service costs of such things as storm water management. Another tactic for planners is the idea of offering developers of proposed housing subdivisions a density bonus in exchange for maintaining open space.

The new research affirms what Minnesotans know intuitively: Natural surroundings are essential to the way of life here. The new information and analysis, though, point the way for action before paradise is paved, houses rammed in eave to eave and this region becomes another Los Angeles.

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