Save Our Parks

by | Feb 7, 2016 | Economics

What’s a park worth? It depends who you ask. Ask a developer and they will look at the potential economic value very differently from a park neighbour.

Green Infrastructure

Ask a Mountain-Biker What This Green Infrastructure Is Worth.

Toronto has been forced to address the differing valuations with a proposal so sell off school parks. The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) “is looking at over 125 school as opportunities to generate cash. They are intent on selling up to and over 375 acres of public land to private developers.” – Save Our School Parks

An unseasonably warm, and snow and ice free, winter in Toronto has meant that I have been riding the Gatineau and the Don Valley trails on the weekends. Normally just a three season ride, there are only a couple of small patches of ice to avoid. I have written before about my personal willingness to pay for these linear parks and the public benefits they bring. Riding by some school parks this weekend reminded me of some work we did to support the (excuse the pun) grass roots organization to stop school parks from being sold to developers.

After talking to Rick Duncan last fall we helped him back in September with a presentation to The City-School Board Advisory Committee about a school site being considered for sale in Toronto – The Bendale BTI school / David & Mary Thomson Site. It is about 27 acres total, 10 Acres are buildings, 17 acres are open community greenspace. We agreed that the full value of the parks was probably not being considered. The recreational value, the reduction in flood risk, improvements in water quality, and urban heat island mitigation are benefits we regularly look at using AutoCASE.

AutoCASE has been used several times to value parks. Our friends Verdunity used it in Dallas. The study was written up in Informed Infrastructure: Green Infrastructure: Dallas Works to Quantify the Value of Parks. The study found that overall Dallas Parks return $1.2 billion every year to the local economy, a 15:1 return on public investment.

Recently we helped the Save Our School Parks organization with an analysis of the broader proposal – 367 acres of school land that has been proposed for sale. We looked at the value of the land when used for its current purpose as primarily schoolyards and greenspace, and found that it has a risk-adjusted median Sustainable Net Present Value, or S-NPV, of $183 million.

This means that accounting for the monetized value of the triple bottom line (financial, environmental, and social impacts), the properties have a large positive overall value to society. The conversion of the greenspace to primarily impervious land and buildings would mean a loss to the City in recreational space, increased carbon emissions, more air pollution, increased flood risk, reduced property value, and increased urban heat island.

The value of $183 million or approximately $500 thousand per acre values these public benefits that are not normally captured in valuation of land.

In addition to the environmental and social benefits of greenspace, with increased impervious area the City would be required to invest in more grey infrastructure (stormwater detention and piping) to meet the design storm. AutoCASE estimates that the increased capital cost of these investments would be approximately $17 million with an annual operations and maintenance (O&M) cost of around $109,000 (NPV of $3 million).

The full report is available here.

Cities are sitting on very valuable assets. The reason assets like bridges and roads are valuable is obvious. The value of other assets is more subtle. We are trying to help reveal the full value of these assets so better decisions can be made. Here’s how AutoCASE works on a park site within Autodesk’s Infraworks 360:

As an addendum on the hidden value of public assets, we have been working to value urban agriculture – more to come on that soon.

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