By Guest Columnist ARNIE SILVERMAN, owner of Silverman Construction Program Management.
Parks promote. Parks transform. Parks stimulate. Parks sell.
You can see it in Centennial Olympic Park, which transformed a dangerous and derelict part of downtown Atlanta into a vibrant commercial center with a growing tourism and residential sector.
You can see it in Piedmont Park, a focal point for residents from all areas of the city who gather to enjoy its trails, playgrounds and nearby restaurants and shops. Piedmont Park is the back yard for the tens of thousands of new residents who populate Midtown’s high-rises and neighborhoods.
Never has the selling point of parks and other public spaces been more important. Metro Atlanta is locked in an intense competition with cities across the nation to attract economic development and new residents.
Freed by technology and freed from the traditional constraints of location, retirees, knowledge workers and businesses more and more are making decisions based on quality of life.
Parks, plazas and streetscapes are vital to promoting a high quality of life and to attracting the residents and businesses that drive economic development – economic development that will generate the property and sales taxes upon which governments depend.
• Being located adjacent to a park increases property values by an average of 20 percent.
• According to the American Planning Association, condominium prices along Centennial Park rose from $115 to $250 per square foot after the park was built. All told, the park has attracted more than $4 billion in economic development.
• Chicago’s Millenium Park generates $18 million in annual tax revenue from visitor spending.
• 5,000 new housing units are approved and under construction around what will soon be Atlanta’s Historic Fourth Ward Park.
• According to the Atlanta Development Authority, shoppers are willing to pay up to 11 percent more for products purchased along tree-lined streets than they would pay for the same items in a barren setting.
In addition to driving economic development, investing in parks creates jobs. Hundreds if not thousands of private-sector workers contribute, including local landscape architects and planners, contractors, landscapers, growers and suppliers.
And these are just the jobs created within the parks themselves. Many more jobs were created building Midtown’s high rises, the development along the BeltLine, and the housing around Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett parks.
During these challenging economic times, the cities and counties that can make their jurisdiction a more desirable product will have the competitive advantage needed to ensure long-term economic growth.
Atlanta, which has a smaller percent of its land dedicated to parks than any other major city, has its work cut out for it. If we are to win the battle for economic growth and civic vitality, metro governments must find a way to continue to invest in our public space.
As Atlanta struggles to regain its economic footing during one of the most difficult times since the Great Depression, local governments must not lose sight of these facts.
Quite simply, our parks, plazas and streetscapes – our public realm – have never before had such an impact on our competitiveness and our prospects for economic recovery.
Atlanta’s ability to bounce back from this “Great Recession” – and to continue to attract residents – will depend in part on our ability to maintain, improve and expand our parks and greenspace.