WHAT IS A PARK WORTH? A Look at the Economic Impact of Nature

About the Author

Jennifer Bristol is the Coordinator for Texas Children in Nature (TCiN), which consists of 375 organizations committed to connecting children and families to nature. Before joining TCiN she was the program director for Camp Fire, where she developed award-winning, environmental science and outdoor skills curriculum for afterschool programs and family nature clubs. She is a former natural resource manager and state park ranger, business owner and marketing director. She has served on multiple national and local boards and is an avid volunteer. While at Texas State University she earned a BA in History.

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all rights JIM GALLOP

More than 100 years ago, Frederick Law Olmsted conducted a study of how parks help property values. From 1856 to 1873 he tracked the value of the property immediately adjacent to Central Park, in order to justify the $13 million spent on its creation. He found that over the 17-year period there was a $209 million increase in the value of the property impacted by the park.

When Texas finally got serious about wanting to prove that parks weren’t just nice to have around, but really added value to communities, they looked to Texas A&M professor Dr. John Crompton. Dr. Crompton produced the first Texas look at the economic impact of parks and green spaces in 2001. In 2014, The Economic Contributions of Texas State Parks was revisited and updated so that it could be current as a tool to help the Texas Legislator understand the true value of parks.

Texas Children in Nature (TCiN) knows that parks go beyond dollars and cents, but the economic impact is deeply important. When children and families spend time playing outdoors, they are healthier. The health of a community also has an economic value. When children are healthy they miss less school, which means parents miss less work, which increases the productivity of businesses. It also means fewer doctor bills and fewer insurance claims. All of which have value. 

TCiN also understands that children who spend more time outside or have access to nature perform better in school. A recent study conducted by Audubon Texas shows the direct link between spending time in nature and higher test scores. Children also demonstrate better problem-solving skillsmore creativity and better cooperation when they spend more time learning and playing in nature. These are all qualities that aid in children achieving a successful and thriving future, and that businesses are calling for in the workforce today. 

As the population of Texas continues to grow, it is important to strategically make the case for both the maintenance of our current parks and the addition of new parks. Texas currently has about 5% public lands. That’s not much when you consider Texas also has 6 of the largest cities by population in the US. 

Real estate developers are getting the message as well.  I recently passed a billboard for a middle-class neighborhood in Houston that stated, “Come Home to Nature.” A second billboard outside of San Antonio read, “Make Every Day a Play-Cation” and featured children splashing in a creek. 

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There is another method for tracking the economic impact of parks and that is through philanthropic investment in a community. For example, a single foundation in Austin has pledged over $24 million in investment for a natural play area and redesign of a beloved local park, and additional funding for a new YMCA nature-based camp. These types of public-private partnerships are the key to finding the balance in Texas to improve access to nature for all.

Frederick Law Olmsted knew parks and green spaces had economic value over 150 years ago. He also knew they had an even higher place in our social fabric- the intrinsic value that we each find when we spend time surrounded by a great wildness or in the intimate world of a pocket park. 

Photo credit: Texas Children in Nature

Additional Reading and Resources

Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN), a C&NN joint initiative with the National League of Cities
Texas Children in Nature
National Parks Economic Impact Study of Parks, Rivers and Trails
July Celebrates Parks and Rec Centers
After Public Outcry, Department of the Interior Expected to Continue Program for Kids in National Parks
365 DAYS OF PARKS: A Family Trip to Every National Park, and a Discovery About Fairness
Imagining De-Central Park by Richard Louv


Commentaries here and elsewhere on the C&NN website are offered to inform readers and to stimulate new thinking and debate. C&NN does not officially endorse every statement in every commentary.

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