How can we quantify the benefits of community greenspace to drive shifts in policy and investment?
The benefits to community greenspace are extensive and highly validated: they include improved physical and mental health for residents; reduced rates of air and noise pollution; reduced rates of the urban heat island effect; and more social and educational opportunities for residents outdoors. Greenspace also offers tremendous opportunities for urban resiliency against natural disasters such as flooding, storm surges, and extreme heat. Yet in many cases, these benefits are mainly qualitative and have limited corroboration through qualitative data.
Data communicating the financial benefits, particularly to property owners and investors, is especially lacking; this is especially prevalent when planning greenspace for resiliency functions, as it has been validated conceptually — but not qualitatively — how proactively investing in greenspace can cost less in the long-term for governments and property owners than reactively investing to repair the damages of a significant natural disaster. In capitalist economies, it is precisely this type of financial data which catalyzes different forms of urban development. Even local governments, which are typically lobbied by the real-estate industry, have limited leverage to invest in greenspace which is not clearly beneficial to property investors.
To advance how community greenspace is implemented in cities around the world, the costs and benefits to greenspace development must be presented in ways which demonstrate its long-term economic advantages to local governments, property owners, investors, and most importantly, residents.
THE DESIGN CONTEXT
To construct a model for calculating the financial costs of implementing community greenspace over repairing the damages of a natural disaster, LÆRO partnered with South Bronx Unite, a nonprofit organization based in The Bronx, New York City, to conduct an analysis of the organization’s greenspace plan, called the Mott Haven-Port Morris Waterfront Plan, to demonstrate the economic advantages inherent to investing in the waterfront plan over the potential costs of a significant flood event in the neighborhood.
To effectively conduct this analysis, we brought on additional academic and NGO partners from Columbia University and Earth Economics, between which LÆRO served a consultative role in coordinating the contributions of different researchers.
The South Bronx is a unique and valuable context to construct such a model due to its history of environmental injustice which has caused residents to be situated alongside extensive industrial infrastructure with highly limited local greenspace. The neighborhood is surrounded by three large highways which conduct a considerable amount of traffic into and out of New York City. Furthermore, the world’s largest wholesale food market, the Hunts Point Cooperative Market, is located in the South Bronx and causes a high rate of truck traffic to move in and out of the neighborhood on a daily basis.
On top of this, the neighborhood has only one park for approximately 90,000 residents, and the local waterfront remains largely abandoned or reserved for ongoing industrial activity. The combined impacts of these activities have led the neighborhood to have one of the highest community rates of asthma in the world, with other health impacts closely following.
The current developmental context of the South Bronx is largely informed by redlining — where U.S. policymakers originally segregated populations of color from white populations through urban planning — as well as the prioritization of profits over people, specifically where industrial zoning aimed to increase economic activity in New York City despite the adverse impacts it would have on South Bronx residents.
Constructing this model strategically aims to leverage this pattern by contextualizing the benefits of community greenspace in a way that advertises how it could profit property owners, who typically have the most leverage in local urban development. By taking their interests into account, along with the priorities of city government, this project will communicate how activist and investor interests can actually align in ways which respond to human needs and climate resiliency.
Through this project, which will last through Fall 2022, we aim to provide a series of key deliverables which can further be synthesized and used in South Bronx Unite’s advocacy work: first, we’ll provide our research findings which confirm or deny the economic advantages of constructing the Mott Haven-Port Morris Waterfront Plan over paying to repair the damages of a significant flood event. To do so, we will demonstrate quantitative data across two scenarios to show where financial costs are lowest; these scenarios include:
- The cost of constructing the Waterfront Plan plus any costs incurred by a significant flood event, and
- The costs of a significant flood event — including the costs of business and facility closures, and the cost of government services to displaced individuals — without the Waterfront Plan in place to absorb flooding.