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Group 2 Delaware River Watershed Initiative


Seeing Green: Open Space Is a Smart Investment, Says Local Study

Our quality of life and the quality of our water depend on open space. Whether it’s a small city park or a vast headwaters forest, open space keeps our water and air clean. It also drives smart real estate development, informing land use decisions that will shape our communities for generations to come.

Much like our roads and bridges, open space is a vital part of our infrastructure. That’s why protecting space in the Delaware River basin has become a major priority—one that requires real investment from townships, counties and cities, together with the support of local land trusts.

But can communities really quantify the return on their investment in open space? In dollars and cents? Can we prove its value to our local economies? To our property values and our healthy and safety?

The answer is yes! To all of the above. And there’s solid economic data to show it.  

A new Chester County PA Return on Environment (RoE) study demonstrates the kind of rigorous, community-informed approach that can help decision makers understand the very real value of open space.

The study notes that: “Protected open spaces provide substantial economic, environmental, and health benefits to surrounding communities, but these benefits are often overlooked or undervalued in policy debates and investment decisions. A better understanding of these benefits can demonstrate how protected open space contributes to economic development and fiscal stability and can reverse the common misconception that conserved undeveloped land is non-productive and non-revenue producing.”

The new study measures economic benefits across five areas: property values; environmental benefits; recreation and health; economic activity; and cost of community services. Seen together, these dimensions provide a full picture of the value of open space. In particular, they help local decision makers understand how an investment in preserving open space is a wise investment in everything from health care to recreation, while providing nature’s benefits in the form of clean water and clean air.

For another example of this “return on environment” work in the Delaware River basin, check out the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s seminal 2010 study quantifying the value of open space in Southeastern PA.