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Managing Urban Green Spaces Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 4681 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In the past recent decades there has been an increase in urbanisation and urban sprawl, which has resulted in a decline of green spaces, especially in urban areas. This has contributed towards a degradation of the natural environment, as developments are overtaking rural areas at an increasingly rapid rate. Furthermore, this has also had an impact on climate change as less green spaces increases the effects of global warming. This also creates other environmental issues as urban areas have a high risk of flooding due to lack of green or open space. This creates social problems as higher pollution levels in urban areas also create health problems. These factors also create economic problems, for example it is expensive to recover from disasters, especially as the impacts of flooding are higher when there is less green space. Therefore careful and sustainable management of urban green spaces is especially important for social, environmental and economic reasons. These processes have led towards the developed of new techniques and schemes for managing and creating urban green spaces. Urban green spaces are areas of land that consist of permeable surfaces such as grass, trees and soil. Examples include parks, play areas, areas specifically intended for recreational use, private gardens, and urban woodlands (Dunnett et al 2002).

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The aim of the following essay is to discuss critically the environmental, economic and social aspects of managing urban green spaces. In order to achieve this aim the essay will be split into three main sections. Section one will look at the characteristics of the environmental problem the nature of these problems and who is affected by them, linking this into how environmental problems create economic problems. Section two will look at what is and what could be done to address the environmental problems, such as new forms of green spaces such as green roofs. It will also look at the economic aspects of these courses of action and economic valuation of urban green spaces. It will argue that making a city ‘greener’ can increase its economic performance, and lead to sustainable economic growth. However, the final part of the essay will challenge this, arguing that creating urban green spaces may not be the best solution for economic sustainability. Finally, the conclusions reached are that there needs to be a well managed balance of ‘green’ and built areas in cities.

Market failures in the urban land market

“Today we realise that we must protect networks of open space” (Benedict and McMahon 2002:3).

Regarding natural resource use, market forces determine the choices people make. However, resources such as urban green spaces do not have securely enforced property rights which result in a lack of markets. Therefore, environmental resources cannot be directly traded in an open market which leads to externality problems. Thus, due to market failures the full costs are not represented in the private costs (Panayotou 2000). The structure of the market fails to maximise social welfare, and the true cost to society is higher than the private costs to the producer as property rights are neither defined nor enforced, the private costs of using environmental resources is zero (Gwartney et al 2000). Therefore producers have no incentive to protect environmental resources (Cropper and Griffiths 1994). To illustrate this problem of environmental externalities Pigou (1932) used the example of a company who builds a factory in a residential area and thus destroys some of the amenities of the neighbouring sites. The result is that the company sells its products at a lower price than the full costs felt by the society.

Consequently, as a result of these market failures there has been a rapid increase of urbanisation and urban sprawl without efficient land-use planning, and conservation of environmental resources. Nationally, urban areas consist of approximately 14% green space (Comber et al 2008). However, the United Nations (2001, cited in Tzoulasa et al 2007) estimated that in Europe the level of urbanisation will increase to almost 80% by 2015, which will result in a further loss of urban green spaces. Environmental amenities are usually ignored or underestimated by urban planners, resulting in a shrinking of urban green spaces that have gradually been taken over by urban development (Kong et al 2007). Therefore urban development projects create negative externalities (Tyrväinen and Väänänen 1998).

This level of urban growth presents numerous environmental challenges for tackling environmental issues such as climate change and biodiversity (Tzoulasa et al 2007). Less green space contributes to global warming, which is especially important in cities where the mean pollution levels are higher. Urbanisation replaces green spaces with impermeable built surfaces which causes negative environmental effects as green spaces provide rainwater interception and infiltration, evaporative cooling, and shading functions (Gill et al 2007). Furthermore, urban areas are more at risk to global warming due to the lack of green spaces, and urban areas are usually hotter than the surrounding countryside. In urban areas, the concentration of buildings and paved surfaces creates higher temperatures, this is known as the ‘heat island effect’ (Dunnett et al 2002). City centres can be up to 7°c hotter than the surrounding countryside (Hilliam 2010).Furthermore, build environments restricts wind flow which in turn restricts the dispersal of pollutants, and causes an increase in surface run-off from rainfall. Furthermore, levels of pollution are higher in urban areas as emissions mainly come from the use of private vehicles (Morancho 2003). It is important to tackle these issues as in 2003, during the European summer heat wave, 35,000 lives were lost (Gill et al 2007). Moreover, tackling environmental issues in urban areas is especially important as in 2001 nearly eight of every ten people in the United Kingdom lived in urban areas (Pointer 2005). Therefore due to a higher population and an increase of built surfaces, urban areas are where climate change impacts will be mostly felt in these areas (Gill et al 2007). Therefore as the level of urbanisation increases, this create environmental externalities as urban developers ignore the external environmental costs.

This also has economic impacts as a lack of green space can increase the costs of public infrastructure and services such as, flood control and storm water management. Lack of green areas increases a community’s susceptibility to natural disasters, as green spaces tackle climate change through carbon storage, and flood protection (Goode 2006). Furthermore, a lack of green spaces was often seen to be the main motive for people leaving the city, as they moved to the urban fringe for more green space (Van-Herzele and Wiedemann 2003). Therefore this results in economic decline of an area as people move out. This then results in lower property values, which can act as a poverty magnet, attracting less wealthy people. This makes it hard to secure investment or attract and retain business in the area. A lack of green space also has negative impacts on tourism as fewer people will want to visit the area (Crompton 2001). Furthermore, a lack of green space creates health issues which are costly for the economy as an unhealthy society increases the costs of health care to UK tax payers (Mell 2008).

Therefore the demand for urban green spaces exceeds supply, which results in consumer shortage. Furthermore a rising concern for environmental and economic impacts of urban green space have resulted in a growing interest in, and a need for more urban green space (Shaw et al 2007). For example, in Greater Manchester the proportion of tree cover is fairly low, with an average of 12% cover, and 16% in ‘urbanised’ Greater Manchester (Gill et al 2007). The next part of the essay will discuss how to tackle these environmental and economic problems.

efforts to preserve natural areas, acquire new greenspace, initiate plantings, and manage existing greenspace resources.

Solution to the problem

Urban green spaces have many benefits which can be divided into market benefits and non-market benefits. Non-market benefits fall into three categories: use, option and existence value. Option value occurs when the future benefits are uncertain and depletion of the resource is irreversible. Existence value refers to the knowing the resource exists, and use value is from the direct use of the resource. Total value is the sum of all three. Thus, urban green spaces have existence value, and direct use value, such as recreational use. Furthermore, urban green spaces create consumer surplus, which is the difference between what one is willing to pay (WTP) and what one actually pays, as the cost of using urban green spaces is usually free (Goodstein 2010).

The issues discussed above raises the need for protection and allocation of urban green spaces. In 2004-2005 local authorities in the UK spent an estimated £700 million on renovating and maintaining urban green spaces (Comber et al 2008). Furthermore, London’s draft Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in May 2010 (online), proposes that there is a need to increase the city’s green spaces by creating small green spaces, which will help to absorb rain on wet days and cool the city on hot days. Therefore, green spaces are multifunctional, which is one the key aspects why urban green space are important for tackling environmental, social and economic issues. For example, regenerating a park may increase tourism and result in fewer medical expenses. Developing green spaces in urban areas is one way to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. Urban green spaces have many environmental functions that provide areas within the built environment where adaptation to climate change can take place (Gill et al 2007). Therefore making cities greener with parks, more trees and green roofs will provide cooling and ventilation, as well as water storage and infiltration (Bulkeley and Betsill 2003). Urban green spaces can also help to reduce pollution, and act as sinks for carbon dioxide which is a major contributor to global warming (Dunnett et al 2002). In cities, gardens and parks absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which come from private vehicles in urban transport (Morancho 2003). Vegetation, particularly trees reduce air pollution by absorbing pollutants in the air, and by intercepting particulate matter. Hence 20 trees can offset the pollution from a car driven 60 miles per day. Therefore trees can form a buffer round sources of pollution to control the effects. Plants reduce the urban heat island effect by shading heat absorbing surfaces and through evapotranspirational (ET) cooling, and evidence has shown vegetation lowers wall surface temperatures by 17°C (McPherson 1994). This has led to the phrase ‘park cool island’ to contrast ‘urban heat island’ (Gill et al 2007). This will ensure economic sustainability as less money will be needed to recover from natural disasters, and climate change impacts (Hilliam 2010, Goode 2006).

In such a congested environment, existence of greenery along the streets and small parks within residential zones are considered to improve air quality. This creates social benefits from direct use such as recreational use and health benefits as a higher proportion of green space and less air pollution is associated with a better population health (Popham and Mitchel 2007). Health improvements lead to economic benefits, as a healthy community costs less to the economy. There is a growing recognition that green space can increase activity and will ensure a healthy population, which is essential for economic growth, as health benefits from urban green spaces would lower costs of health care to UK tax payers (Mell 2008). This results in economic sustainability as healthier communities work longer hours, take less sick days and cost less money in health benefits (Goode 2006). Bird (2004 cited in Tzoulasa et al 2007) found that if people live closer to green space then they are more likely to undertake physical activity, which would save the UK’s National Health Service up to £1.8million a year. Moreover, inactivity in children often results in inactive adults, which costs the economy approximately £8.2billion (Tzoulasa et al 2007). Therefore, protecting and creating green spaces ensures there is economic sustainability through a healthier society (Amati and Taylor 2010). Thus a key feature of green spaces is that they provide multiple benefits to communities and the economy (Dunnett et al 2002).

Urban green spaces can act as catalysts for wider economic benefits, such as increase in property prices, attracting and retaining businesses and an important role in attracting tourists to urban areas. This is a key part of the solution for economic growth as urban green spaces makes cities more desirable and this can result in local economic stimulation (Dunnett et al 2002). Green amenities attract the highly skilled, who pursue a higher standard of living and quality of life, Florida (2002) describes how green spaces can attract “creative class” workers and the businesses that hire them. Moreover, employers locate in areas where the skilled want to live and this further attracts skilled workers, and high-end restaurants and retail stores. Therefore urban green spaces can raise a city’s economic growth. Cities with more skilled workers experience an increase in population, house price and wages. Additionally, people who are highly educated will also be more likely to support investments for environmental protection and are usually willing to pay higher prices for environmental quality. Furthermore, a greener city will also have an insurance against recessions as the city remains attractive and people still want to live there. This will pull other industries into the area over time. Therefore it is important to protect existing urban green spaces. London’s Green Belt is an example of an attempt to reduce development in order to improve the environment by restricting housing supply (Kahn 2006). The Mayor of London has set targets to plant 10,000 more street trees by 2012, and enhance up to 1,000 hectares of green space (Environmental Agency 2010).

Additionally, new methods, such as green roofs have been developed to increase green space in urban areas. A green roof is the roof of a building that is covered by vegetation, most common are turf roofs. They have several purposes which are similar to urban green space in general such as cooling the heat island effect and absorbing rainwater. They also provide insulation and create habitats for wildlife. The benefits can therefore be divided into private and public benefits. Private economic benefits include saving energy cost and an increase in roof life. Public benefits include storm-water management (Dunnett and Kingsbury 2004). Currently there is only one green roof in Manchester.

These trends raise the need for green space protection and allocation, which in turn requires estimates of the value of green spaces (Kong et al 2007). Due to their lack of values, expressed in monetary terms, green spaces are often not considered in cost-benefit analyses of urban planning policies. Therefore, there is a risk they will fall below the social optimum. Furthermore, it is the failure of the market system, as discussed above, which creates the need for economic measures to value environmental services and guide policymaking (Freeman 1993). Environmental quality is an economic good that people are willing to pay (WTP) for.

Urban green spaces have non-market benefits and therefore do not have a market price. Thus there is a need for economic measures to values these amenities. Several methods have been developed to value non-market amenities such as the travel cost method, the contingent valuation method (CVM) and the hedonic pricing models. The hedonic pricing method uses house prices to quantify environmental amenities by how much consumers are WTP. The hedonic pricing model is a revealed preference method and is based actual behaviour in the market. Properties have many characteristics which reflect the selling prices such as housing structure, neighbourhood and environmental amenities. The monetary value of each characteristic is calculated by observing the differences in the market price of commodities sharing the same attributes. Once all the characteristics are collected the next step is to measure the portion of the property price that is attributable to each characteristic (Boyle and Kiel 2001). By using the hedonic pricing method the value of green spaces can be estimated from the prices of related actual market house transactions (Kong et al 2007).

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This method has been used to show the value of changes in the environment by looking at how the value of the average home changes when the environment changes, for example a new park is created. Therefore the amenity of urban green spaces can be valued in monetary terms according to how much people are willing to pay for such benefits in their housing. The concept of hedonic pricing is that property values can be affected by the presence of urban green spaces. Green spaces can have a positive impact on house prices. There is usually a shortage of land in urban areas, and therefore an increase in green spaces will increase the positive amenity values. proximity to urban green spaces has a positive impact on property values, while proximity to negative impacts such as highways reduces property values, as it is desirable to live close to a park, and people are willing to pay higher prices. Especially in city centres where demand for land is high, open spaces are often subject to development pressures. The demand for a property increases with the creation of new green spaces nearby (Tajima 2003). This then increases the price of those properties as numerous studies have shown that property values are typically 8-20 percent more expensive if they are located near a park (Crompton 2000). The real estate market often reveals that people are willing to pay higher prices for properties located close to parks and open spaces, than for homes that do not (Crompton 2000). The creation of a new park nearby increases the demand for a property, which in turn raises the price of those properties. Therefore, in dense urban areas the value of nearby parks and green space can be one of the key selling points and a stronger feature than lot itself (Tajima 2003).

Morancho (2003) did a study in Castellón (Spain) and found there was an inverse relationship between the selling price of the dwelling and its distance from a green urban area. According to the estimates obtained, every 100 m further away from a green area means a drop of approximately €1800 in the housing price.

Therefore, Green spaces in city centres are also an important aspect of the city’s character, such as Royal Parks in London. Urban amenities are becoming increasingly important as cities compete for skilled workers. Help to build a good reputation of an area, which will further increase house prices and encourage people to move there. This enables the community to grow economically, without damaging the environment, and simultaneously create a desirable place to live for present and future generations (Benedict and McMahon 2002). Urban green areas also benefit more people as the city draws more people into the area, such as residents, commuters, and tourists (Tajima 2003). Hedonic valuation can also be applied to retail situations as people are willing to pay about ten percent more for products in greener shopping areas (Miller and Wise 2004). Therefore to reduce the impact of urbanisation, allocation of new and protection of existing urban green spaces is required to ensure economic growth (Kong et al 2007).

DeSanto and others ( 1976 ) used the least-cost approach to compare trees and mechanical air pollution control devices to maintain air quality standards for particulates and sulfur dioxide in St. Louis, MO. They determined that open space plantings were over three times as cost-effective for controlling sulphur dioxide as scrubbers located in power plants. Benefits from trees are environmental externalities because these benefits are not reflected in consumer prices – we do not pay money to trees for cooling homes. McPherson 1992.

Urban green spaces in isolation will not increase economic growth

However, not all green spaces are equally beneficial. To ensure that urban green spaces enhance economic growth, they must be well maintained, safe and secure. Over the past recent decades there has been a decline in the quality of urban green spaces in England. This can be linked to the declining budgets for local authorities over the past 20 to 25 years (Dunnett et al 2002). This has a negative economic effect as green spaces that are dangerous or unmanaged are likely to decrease the value of nearby homes, which would lead to economic decline (Crompton 2001). Furthermore if green spaces are perceived to be overgrown or unmanaged this may have a negative effect on people’s well-being by increasing anxiety caused by fear of crime (Tzoulasa et al 2007). Research shows that open spaces which a most highly values are those which enhance the qualities of urban life and offer a variety of opportunities (Burgess et al 1988). If there is a lack of facilities or the area in poor condition then people are less likely to use it. Evidence suggests that lower-income suburban areas may have a larger proportion of poor-quality green space. Thus even if green spaces are in large quantities, if they are of poor quality then economic and health benefits are not felt by the population (Popham and Mitchel 2007). Additionally, if green spaces are poorly managed so that they become inaccessible, then less people will use them, especially the elderly or people with disabilities. Therefore, quality as well as quantity of green space is a key factor. Moreover, McConnell and Walls (2005) argue for the importance of distinguishing between different types of open space. The value of green spaces depends on its usage for example, whether it is a well managed park or an open field. Barker (2003) also reported that the value of open space depends strongly on its location and use. Green space in the urban core was valued higher than greenbelt land. Anderson and West (2006) show that the value of open space depends on the type of open space, how far away it from the house and the neighbourhood characteristics. They find that benefits from open space range from a “low of 0.0035% of sale price for every 1% decrease in the distance to the nearest neighbourhood park, to a high of 0.034% for every 1% decrease in the distance to the nearest lake”.

Furthermore, the net result of restricting housing supply is that prices are driven up. This results in poverty magnets in areas with low property prices, resulting in a segregation of the poor and urban social problems. For example, Glasgow has lost population over time, and relative poverty has grown. Therefore London’s pursuit to a greener city could further increase house prices and it could be argued that a city can become ‘too green’ when economic growth is damaged. An upward pressure on house prices could have a negative impact on some residents and first time buyers as it would squeeze out the poorer renters and new immigrants (Kahn 2006). The constraints on housing supply are already high and this will be exacerbated if more green space is created or current green space is not used for development. The result of this limited supply would not lead to economic sustainability as it would limit economic growth. Therefore it will not necessarily lead to a sustained economic growth nationally, but only benefits certain regions (Kahn 2006). It is often the wealthier people who benefit most, as studies have shown that vegetation and tree cover is lower in residential areas with higher levels of socioeconomic deprivation. Therefore only certain areas benefit as less wealthy areas might not be able to afford to maintain new green spaces (Pauleit et al 2005). Moreover, an increased economic wealth will also increase the values of losses; making the cost to restore damages after a disaster much greater (Shaw et al 2007). Therefore, there are difficulties in coming to a firm conclusion.

Therefore, conserving green spaces may restrict the supply of valued goods, such as housing, shops, offices or private open space. This results in distributional effects as those landowners who can build get an increase in their asset value, whereas those unable to develop will experience a reduction in asset values. Part of the market failure associated with urbanisation is the increase in land prices imposed on existing inhabitants by additional workers. Furthermore, policies of containment, such as greenbelts, may increase energy use as commuters move out beyond the greenbelt which results in longer commuter journeys. Therefore it could be argued that policy in the UK restricts urban growth which leads to higher costs and welfare losses. Hence land regulation can have adverse economic effects as it diverts resources from other growth activities. Therefore the solution maybe not regulating land markets but regulating or taxing energy markets (Cheshire).

However, the value open space is contextual as it rises with increased income. Open space is a ‘normal’ good, and therefore has a higher value in richer areas. The value is also higher in high density areas, which suggests that public green areas are a substitute for private open space (Anderson and West 2006). Therefore the willingness to pay for environmental quality is highly elastic with respect to income.

literature has also examined the degree to which brown cities have to pay higher wages (i.e. “combat pay”) to lure high quality workers relative to high quality of life cities. Kahn 2006

having a clear narrative voice, making judgements and interpreting others’ work and also the data. economic and policy concepts.


To conclude, this essay has highlighted the environmental problem of urbanisation, explaining how this is a result of market failures. It has also shown how this can lead to economic problems. This essay then goes on to argue that a solution would be preserving, maintaining and developing new green spaces in urban areas. It goes on to explain the environmental, social and economic benefits of urban green spaces. It also highlights the hedonic pricing method, which shows how urban green spaces can be valued. It also argues that green spaces create economic benefits by increasing property values. However, the latter part of the essay challenges this, arguing that not all green spaces is equally beneficial. It also argues that preserving green spaces could also have a negative impact as the cost of land increases further, resulting in large increase in house prices.

Therefore, it is important to maintain urban green spaces for the many environmental, economic and social benefits. However, this cannot be in isolation as for green spaces to be beneficial they must be well maintained and managed. Furthermore if too much green space is protected then this could have negative impacts overall. Therefore urban land policies need to be well managed in order to achieve the maximum benefits. Furthermore, methods other than land protections could also be used, such as taxes.


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