Great Parks make Good Financial Investments

01 Mar, 2016 Blog, Design Tips

How many great cities build community ownership and pride based on their exceptional sewer system? How many businesses and visitors do you attract to a city boasting a great rubbish collection system? How many cities promote themselves to new residents and investors on a comprehensive water supply network?

The reality is that these public services are expected in a good city, but the most successful cities, the richest communities, the fastest growing cities are those that put a high priority on their public realm – their parks, open space and public plazas. Investing in well-planned, meaningful public amenity makes good economic sense. A major reason why I believe Landscape Architects make better Urban Designers than Architects, but we will save that discussion for another blog post.

Last week we saw the Mayor of Ipswich announce plans to include an urban public swimming lagoon in the heart of redevelopment plans for the Ipswich CBD – check it out here. This comes on the back of the opening of the Orion Swimming Lagoon in the heart of Springfield. Since its opening in October 2015, Orion Lagoon has averaged 55,000 visitors a month, but for the local traders, the real success has been a 35% uplift in retail trade at the adjacent Orion Shopping Centre. Read more.

But it’s not just the economic benefits; it’s also the Health, Environmental and Social benefits of a great public realm in cities that makes investing in parks and open space non-negotiable for our new cities and communities.

The direct economic benefits are definitive:

  •  land directly adjacent or close to green space will demand an increased property value;
  • by helping to increase the value of land in this way, parks and other public spaces bring wider benefits in terms of increased rates paid to local government;
  • companies are attracted to locations that offer well-designed, well-managed public places and these, in turn, attract customers, employees and services;
  • In town centres, a good-quality and well-maintained public environment increase the number of people visiting retail areas, leading to improved trading for local retailers. This results in increased rents and property values.

The indirect economic benefits are also obvious:

  • Parks can save public health care costs by improving general physical/mental health and wellbeing
  • Parks act as natural cooling for our cities
  • Popular parks promote community pride in turn reducing crime
  • Parks produce important social and community connection

So if all of this common knowledge, why is quality public open space in our cities seen as “a nice to have”, rather than a valuable investment for which the return is high.

If you are still not convinced, consider how our changing global economy will shape our future cities…

Our Future Smarter Cities

A significant change has and continues to occur in our economy. The once industrial age has made way for an economy based on high-level technology and creative industries.

If you have not noticed, something interesting is happening in our global economy.

“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.” Tom Goodwin – VP of Strategy and Innovation for Havas Media, NY.

And our cities hold the economic key to this new global economy – it appears that Malcolm Turnbull seems to think so. Australia is now focused on developing “liveable cities” that support vibrant communities and highly skilled workforces in an attempt to foster the global marketplaces of the future. World-class knowledge-based businesses needing world-class knowledge workforces are now unconstrained by location and are actively choosing to locate in urban centres that support the needs of their workforce. They are discovering that these knowledge workers in creative industries, (young people with young families) are attracted to urban areas that offer amenities that contribute to an excellent quality of life.

“…cities are characterized by a sense of place, beauty in the natural environment, a mixed-use transportation system and a 24-hour lifestyle. These are the characteristics that will attract the creativity and brainpower that undergird the new economy.” – Steven Roulac, futurist, The Roulac Group.

New urban cities such as the new Maroochydore City Centre on the Sunshine Coast are great models for where our future cities need to be positioned to maximise the new global economy. Cities designed around a vibrant public realm of well-maintained networks of parks and open space, a civic plaza and waterways close to the beauty of natural beaches and national parks are essential to support public health, a strong economy, a sustainable environment, education, and community pride.

So isn’t it time we widen our perspective to put parks, open space and public urban plazas higher up the list of essential public infrastructure?

Three key takeaways

1. The planning of any new or reinvigorated city should start with well-designed and integrated public realm to create meaningful community amenity. 

2. Great public parks, open space and civic plazas are investments that will reap great economic returns. Engage a Landscape Architect early in your project, to maximise the return on your investment.

3. The world is changing rapidly and you need to keep up, so try something different, just remember: ” If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten” – Anthony Robbins

Vee Design