The term "open space" refers to an area of land purposefully left undeveloped as a green area. Examples of open space include parks, greenways, and community gardens.
Open spaces provide numerous environmental and community benefits. They can help to reduce flooding and sewer overflow by absorbing large amounts of stormwater, both replenishing our groundwater supply and preventing the need for the water to be channeled through our sewers. Open spaces also provide wildlife habitat, help to maintain air quality, reduce urban heat islands, and provide green space for neighborhood socializing and community building.
Open spaces can also have economic benefits to an area. They help to create a high quality of life that attracts tax-paying businesses and residents to the community, and have actually been shown to raise the property value and economic vitality of the surrounding area. In fact, a study by the Trust for Public Land found the following:
- In Salem, Oregon, land adjacent to a greenbelt was estimated to be worth about $1,200 an acre more than land only 1,000 feet away.
- In Oakland, California, a three-mile greenbelt near the city center, was found to add $41 million to surrounding property values.
- Homes bordering a 12-mile trail sold for 6 percent more than other houses of comparable size in Seattle, Washington.
- Residents of Denver, Colorado surveyed in 1990 reported that they would pay more to live near a greenbelt or park.
- In San Francisco, the Golden Gate Park is estimated to increase nearby property values by between $500 million and $1 billion, generating $5-$10 million in annual property taxes.
(Source: The Trust for Public Land 1999: "The Economic Benefits of Open Space")
Green Up is a program instituted by the Mayor's Office in which his Green Team, along with a team of volunteers clears debris, places topsoil, and plants trees and grass to reduce blight and improve City-owned vacant lots.
Green Up aims to promote environmental values while instilling community pride. With the help of thousands of volunteers, the Green Team has transformed over 100 vacant lots around the city into common green spaces. These areas that were once looked at as liabilities that lowered property value have been turned into assets that raise it. For more information, please check out the Neighborhood Initiatives website on Green Up.
The City is currently in the process of developing an Open Space, Parks and Recreation Plan with a three-pronged goal of: (1) ensuring fair use, distribution and connectivity of the City's parks and recreation trails system, (2) developing uses for vacant and surplus land, and (3) protecting environmentally sensitive natural resources to allow for growth and development in appropriate areas. The plan will consist of in-depth research into how the City's parks and green spaces are currently being used, and will make use of spatial analysis and mapping of the City's open spaces, data collection of citizen participation and usage among other things.
Quality open space not only serves existing residents, but can also bolster communities by attracting new development and residents. There are still large sections of the City that are lacking access to parks and proper open space. The Open Space, Parks and Recreation Plan aims to change this by recommending policies that will improve open space access and the quality of life for all of the City's residents. In addition, the plan intends to begin using much of the vacant land within City limits as mediums to introduce, produce and distribute healthy food to areas that would otherwise not have access to it, thus turning pieces of land that are now seen as liabilities into assets.
To learn more about the comprehensive plan, please visit http://www.planpgh.com.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority, the City of Pittsburgh's economic development agency, has successfully returned blighted former industrial sites (or brownfields) to productive use. To learn more, please visit the URA website.