We all know that parks increase the level of enjoyment in our lives, but it’s becoming clear that high-caliber greenspace boosts our economy as well.

Recently, Riverlife—the nonprofit with the mission to reclaim, restore and promote Pittsburgh’s riverfronts—released an Economic Analysis report on Three Rivers Park, the 13-mile downtown riverfront park that extends from the West End Bridge on the Ohio to the 31st Street Bridge on the Allegheny and to the Hot Metal Bridge on the Monongahela.

The question to be answered: Do parks and trails generate significant economic value? Riverlife contracted Sasaki Associates—a Boston-based firm that won a public competition to design the Allegheny Riverfront Green Blvd. study—to examine this in a “rigorous and quantifiable way.”

“The findings strongly indicate that a well-planned investment can have a multiplier effect on economic value creation that definitively justifies its cost,” says Jay Sukernek, acting executive director of Riverlife.

“The benefits of these kinds of investment, however, go far beyond the economy,” he says. “They enhance a region’s cultural trust, perception, public health, physical environment, and mobility options, among other benefits. To accurately make a cost-benefit analysis, you must consider all of these factors, he says.

Key takeaways from the report:

  • Approximately $130 million invested in Three Rivers Park over the past 15 years has helped to catalyze nearly $2.6 billion in riverfront development activity—which includes the Convention Center, the Rivers Casino, the American Eagle Outfitters headquarters, PNC Park, Heinz Field, the Cork Factory, Hyatt Place at SouthSide Works—and nearly $4.1 billion in total riverfront and adjacent development. “We’ve always known these numbers in Pittsburgh,” says Sukernek, “but we’ve never had the quantifiable evidence.”
  • The ratio between park investment and riverfront development is 20:1. This 20:1 yield is the high end of what has been achieved in comparable cities, such as Atlanta, Chattanooga and Cincinnati. But these cities have seen improvement as well. “This is not just a Pittsburgh phenomenon,” says Sukernek.
  • Studying changes in property value since 2001, the data shows a 60% property value increase within the vicinity of riverfront projects. This compares with a 32% property value increase citywide outside the riverfront zone.
  • The area with the highest property value increase in the area is around the SouthSide Works where property values have increased on average by 117%. This is not just the case in the new riverfront neighborhoods; values have increased back into the South Side Flats, where people have owned their homes for years.

“Investment in public spaces along our rivers pays dividends to the community in numerous ways,” says Sukernek.

Here’s the link to the full report.