The benefits of green spaces on psychological state, mental health, and physical health have long been documented, and the stringent lockdowns of COVID-19, implemented in cities the world over, have only served to underscore the importance of green spaces to urban dwellers. The goal of Terrascope 2024 is to protect biodiversity through engineering and scientifically-informed policy analysis, but the economic and social factors of the proposed solutions heavily influence the feasibility of the project.
One aspect of Terrascope 2024’s solution is to transform abandoned industrial areas, which will require the willingness of two groups to undertake the projects: citizens who might demand more green spaces and city governments which might finance the projects and support related policies. Analyzing the demand that these two groups have for green spaces and suggesting how demand might be increased will reveal the likelihood of implementation of Terrascope solution proposals.
A preliminary exploration of Google Trends shows that a greater value has been placed on, or at least a greater interest has arisen in, communal green spaces in the spring of 2020. The broad “go for a walk” search term trend is shown below. More specific searches related to geographic area or specific activities like hiking are not included as a control measure. The “go for a walk” search was the most general, and therefore least subject to regional queries like “green spaces in Boston,” across the US that could be analyzed in a large enough sample size for an overall trend.
When viewing the popularity of the “go for a walk” query, its peak is dramatic within a short time frame that aligns with the commencement of lockdown and unique for its time of year, compared to the same months in previous years. This suggests the reliance citizens have on green spaces in times of crises; the ability to retreat to a natural setting receives greater appreciation and the need to go out is more urgent. The importance of green spaces within walking distance of residents has been highlighted even more in the recent period.
Even before the lockdowns, studies have found that urbanites demonstrate a willingness to pay (WTP) for increased area reserved for nature and recreation. The ability for people to pay, which may hinder those of lower income brackets from enjoying neighborhoods green spaces though they may desire them, will be discussed in the Equity of Access article. A UK study has found that 75% of Manchester residents were willing to pay for investment in green infrastructure. Furthermore, those who could afford to were willing to pay up to 2% more in rent, surveyed in a different UK city.
Other surveys in Portland, Oregon and Amsterdam have found a similar trend—urban residents are willing to pay a premium so they can be closer to green spaces, finding their current options inadequate.
Despite the demand existing in the end users of green spaces, there are current shortages of green spaces. A literature review reveals that “many cities experience gaps between planned park provision and actual park provision,” usually finding that the ideal m2/person was not realized according to their own standards. That is, cities continuously fail to supply sufficient green space according to their own plans. With this shortage of green spaces comes economic disparities in who can enjoy them. Often, in the United States, owning a car provides citizens with a great advantage in terms of accessibility.
Boston, the city of focus for adaptive landscaping in the Terrascope 2024, in particular, faces disparities amongst its neighborhoods; for example, in the South End and East Boston, only 1 acre of green space is available for 1,000 people, compared to 6 acres in the Back Bay-Beacon Hill area.
An analysis of the 5-year budget of the City of Boston provides clues into how the expansion of green spaces and investment in green infrastructure ranks in its priorities to respond to the needs citizens have for more green spaces.
Natural infrastructure is primarily represented by the “parks” category in the budget, and “parks” refers mainly to maintenance rather than expansion or investment in new spaces. The 5-year “Capital Projects” budget, which focuses on long-term investment, similarly suggests that green infrastructure or parks is not a priority. The $3 billion total budget allocates roughly $246 million to any projects related to greenification and park renovation or maintenance. This is an allocation of less than 1% of funds from the “Capital Projects” budget. This rough calculation considered categories such as “Environmental Department,” “Park Renovation,” “Street trees,” and “Urban Forestry” to represent interest in greenification and conservation.
The Urban Institute research report “Investing in Equitable Urban Park Systems” stresses the need for urban residents to have park equity for reasonable access to quality parks. Equitable park investment prioritizes underserved communities for funding, and equitable development protects low-income neighborhoods from the risk of negative consequences such as displacement post-investment.
Unfortunately, funding for green spaces has been under pressure recently, as Linda Breggin, a senior attorney in the Environmental Law Institute Center for state and local environmental programs, states in a National Recreation and Parks Association 2018 study on parks budget cuts since 2016. The negative COVID-19 impacts on government budgets could add additional pressure on discretionary investments, such as parks expansion and maintenance.
Urban governments do have funding options available for green expansion, as outlined by the Urban Institute study with 19 suggested funding models for cities to consider and select based on which approach would work best for their area. Some examples are bonds, developer fees, federal project funds to incentivize low-income investments, shared-use agreements with schools, and brownfield conversion funds to transform polluted industrial land. Kevin Roth Ph. D. who is the National Recreation and Park Association Vice President of Professional Development, Research, and Technology states that 78% of Americans support increasing local funding for their local parks and recreation agency.
Attendance at the 50 state park systems from 1984 to 2017 increased by 25%, providing over 2 billion hours of recreation annually, which is about 33% of all US nature recreation. To handle the oversight and maintenance costs at the most local level, Colorado and Wyoming implemented entrance fee increases for their state parks, including higher fees during peak times. Charging fees for park entrance is a challenge with parks in urban areas serving low-income residents.
In 2016 the San Francisco parks department launched a program to allow residents to reserve a portion of Dolores Park, only the grass area, not picnic tables or pavilion, for an hourly fee. Immediately concerns of economic inequality of public space caused the launch of a petition which received 17,000 signatures in 24 hours, stating that public grass should not be rented. San Francisco residents complained that public grass should be available to everyone, without requiring an additional payment.
To continue to expand offerings, urban planners may consider increasing attendance at parks where fees are charged for extra services, such as renting a pavilion or playing on a tennis court. Charging fees at a public park does lead to some questioning equity, for example at Cedarvale Park, a public park located in Toronto, the city spent $423,500 in 2012 to update four tennis courts. Local residents then demanded to have free access to the tennis courts, since city funds were used to renovate them, stressing that for economic equity they should not have to pay extra fees to use the courts. Urban park planners will need to consider all factors before pursuing a fee for service park services.
As reported by Alasyn Zimmerman for KOAA News, lawmakers in Colorado fully understand and recognize the economic value that green spaces provide, with Colorado state parks contributing $1.2 billion annually. In January 2020 the “I Love Colorado State Parks Act” proposed $6 million for existing state parks maintenance and an additional $4 million investment to create a new state park. Representative Daneya Esgar-Pueblo is the Chair of the Joint Budget Committee and expressed that the new park will be “amazing, it’s going to be a huge economic driver for southern Colorado”. A key reason that this investment in new public parks is proceeding is because of the lawmakers’ knowledge of the short-term and long-term value of public parks. Society benefits when the public, lawmakers, and organizations recognize the value of green spaces and work together to continue investing for the future.