WATERLOO REGION — Among the benefits of urban parks are improved fitness, better mental health and reduced exposure to air pollution, says University of Waterloo professor Jeffrey Wilson.
And those three trends result in lower health care spending and increased feelings of well-being, said Wilson, who teaches in the school environment, enterprise and development.
Wilson and his research team studied the impact of a new park in downtown Peterborough called Quaker Foods Urban Park, which cost $6.4 million to build and opened last year. They concluded the new park, built on the site of a parking lot, produces benefits worth $4 million a year.
“We were looking at the health-system savings,” said Wilson.
Quaker Foods Urban Park includes an outdoor skating rink, a stage for live shows, green space, washrooms, change rooms, space for a Wednesday farmers’ market, and a monument dedicated to United Nations peacekeepers.
The study is the first in Canada to put a dollar value on the benefits of an urban park. It was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
He stressed that his study focused on health-care savings produced by parks, but urban parks have many other positive impacts that boost the economic benefits.
“Urban green spaces and parks also mitigate exposure to hot temperatures, they reduce the heat-island effect and build resilience to climate change,” said Wilson.
Urban parks are also important for economic development and biodiversity in cities, he added.
Cities face a long list of competing demands for tax dollars, so it was important to quantify the benefits of urban parks, said Wilson.
“These investments, in terms of their health payback, are justified,” he said. “Parks are often seen as a cost, so we want to change the lens from costs to benefits.”
The research findings come as the City of Kitchener and 10 developers are preparing for a hearing at the Ontario Land Tribunal about funding the development of new urban parks.
Major parks and recreation facilities are needed for the growing suburbs in the city’s southwest. Last year, Kitchener increased the parkland fees developers must pay when taking out building permits for new condos and apartment buildings.
In the past, developers paid about $2,400 per unit in parkland fees. For an apartment building, the fees were about 10 per cent less. Last August, the council raised that to about $12,000 per unit.
The province passed legislation last fall that cut parkland fees for some developers, but not others. Qualifying for a reduction depended on how far along a new development was in the approval process.
“The main message coming out of our research is that investing in parks and green spaces is good for population health and provides substantial value to our communities,” said Wilson.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION