How much is your public park worth?

POSTED ON September 17, 2021

What is an urban greenspace worth to contemporary Edinburgh? We pose a question for residents to ponder in the coming days.

Almost everyone likes or even loves Edinburgh’s parks, but we may be considerably underestimating their significance to our health and wellbeing. Civic Edinburgh needs to embark on a conversation about what worth we place on our  parks, reviewing the available evidence of their value and begin making informed choices and careful decisions about how many parks and how much greenspace we need and what we do with it.

Parks and green spaces are an integral part of daily life for many Edinburgh residents, from taking a walk in the local park and enjoying the fresh air and the surrounding wildlife, to participating in sports, or taking the family to the local playground or picnic spot, urban parks and greenspaces offer something for everyone. And they are free and available to everyone with not entrance fee or ticket barre to prevent or impede access.

In recent years, considerable work has been done to study the value of urban green space for the wider environment, health and wellbeing. Urban parks and green spaces provide environmental benefits through their role in lowering urban heat, offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, and managing heavy rain runoff during storms. They also have direct health benefits by providing urban residents with space and opportunities for physical activity, social contact, and emotional refreshment.

Studies have noted that people use parks and greenspaces for rest and restoration and as means to de-stress. Greenspaces which are perceived to be serene, social, and natural are generally rate higher for their greater recuperative effects.

Can a monetary daily value be put on Edinburgh’s parks and greenspace? The City of Edinburgh Council seems to believe so.

The “Charges from 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022″ at the bottom of their “Parks and Greenspaces Permission Form” offers a price list for would-be event organisers for many of the city’s prominent greenspaces. Ranging from Princes Street gardens (“from £1000/day”) and Calton Hill (“from £500/day”) right in the heart of the city to other city neighbourhoods such as the grounds of Lauriston Castle (“£200/day”) and Sighthill Park (“£200/day”). The document does note that Princes Street Gardens hire costs varies in price from £1,000/day for a small affair to £2,820/day for a large event, but the Council may also consider low-cost or no-cost options for community and free events.

It would be helpful to understand if and how these charges reflect the nature, duration, and potential impacts of different events and to understand how the upkeep of the gardens directly benefits from these tariffs. They don’t appear to take into consideration the intangible value that can be attributed to the loss of access to public greenspaces that is now regularly associated with large private event activities.

Do we ever consider the ‘opportunity cost’ of losing or detracting from the environmental, health and well-being benefits of parks during events? Or indeed during the set-up and take-down and restoration activities before and after events which may considerably add to the time before free and unimpeded access to parks and greenspace can be restored? Apparently not.

There’s another and potentially better way of attributing financial value to our urban greenspace,  research from Fields in Trust, Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces, shows that UK parks and green spaces actually provide £34 billion of wellbeing benefits. This is because making use of parks and green spaces results in greater life fulfilment due to increases in both physical and mental health.

By giving residents a space in which to walk, play sports, and to socialise with friends, or in which to simply take a moment of quiet reflection, parks and green spaces help us to stay both physically and mentally well. They also foster a sense of pride in local communities and local places and spaces, which leads to fewer cases of vandalism and anti-social behaviour, which saves further money and generally promotes a greater sense of place within communities.

The research also shows that the NHS saves at least £111million a year because people make use of parks and green spaces to improve their health, rather than simply visiting their GP. Further money is also saved by non-referrals for treatments and prescriptions for those people who do choose to visit their GP. Rather than closing and building over urban green spaces, continuing to invest in them would have a beneficial knock-on effect, saving the NHS money

The average economic value of the UK’s parks and green spaces totals just over £30 per person per year in the UK, but this amount is higher for individuals from lower socio-economic groups, and black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. Because of this variance, loss of parks and green spaces disproportionately impacts the most underrepresented of communities.

In a city like Edinburgh, which has declared a “climate crisis”, there is a strong case for taking a holistic approach which values parks and green space in the round and combines all of their aspects, certainly not just their rental or pure commercial value as ‘cash cows’.

Whilst some parks do have inherent financial value as potential generators of income, it is also important to value the services provided by these parks, in terms of biodiversity, environmental benefits, and services to people. It is better to look at valuing the investment of time, money and commitment to our parks and urban greenspace because of the benefits that we all derive from them, rather than simply view a park or any green space as an economic asset.

There are also important issues around the cultural value of parks, which may not be easily captured in purely financial terms. It is important to look at how people value parks and what benefits they perceive from them. And such values and perceptions will inevitably change through time as the city’s communities change, develop and grow.

Unsurprisingly, the ways in which residents use and value their urban parks and greenspaces are as varied as the individual and community benefits that these special places provide for us. Our question to every Edinburgh resident and community group across the city is this: how much is your local precious urban greenspace worth?

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