Parks Provide Billions of Dollars in Benefits to NYC Residents Every Year

With at least 527 million visitors every year, parks are critical infrastructure for public health, clean water and air, economy, and tourism

March 17, 2022
NEW YORK

Today, Trust for Public Land released a report analyzing the economic benefits that parks and open spaces provide residents of New York City — the first report to value the entire park system, including city, state, and federal parks. TPL has also estimated for the first time the overall visitation to the park system based on a survey and found that residents alone visited parks in the city at least 527 million times, which is much greater than the number of visitors to the entire New York State and Federal park systems, combined. 

“Close-to-home parks that are accessible by walking, cycling, or transit can be used frequently, which translates to greater recreational, health, environmental, and economic benefits,” said Carter Strickland, VP of the Mid-Atlantic Region and New York State Director for Trust for Public Land. “These quantifying park benefits calculated show how parks are critical infrastructure for a livable and sustainable city and need investment on the scale of other systems.”   

To calculate the overarching impact of parks, TPL partnered with resource economists, an award-winning GIS team, and notable partners from research institutions to produce The Economic Benefits of Parks in New York City, which found that NYC has an extensive park system of nearly 50,000 acres with 99 percent of residents living within a 10-minute walk to a park that residents visit 527 million times per year.  

“Our expansive and varied parks system is one of the most valuable public assets New Yorkers have access to — its where they connect with community, stay fit and explore the wonders of nature,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue. “Across all five boroughs, our more than 30,000 acres of parkland, representing 14% of the city, is critical urban infrastructure that we are always looking to strengthening in order to ensure that these important spaces stay safe, clean, accessible and equitable for generations to come.” 

Outdoor recreational and health benefits are significant. TPL’s report found that parks provide recreational value to resident adults and children, worth $9.1 billion annually. The most popular park activities for adults are walking or hiking, following by running or jogging, picnicking or visiting with family and friends, viewing or taking photos of birds and wildlife, and cycling; the most popular park activities for children are similar, with the addition of visiting playgrounds.  Over a million residents in NYC use parks for sufficient exercise (150 minutes per week) to meet the CDC’s recommendations to improve their well-being, worth $1.14 billion in avoided health care cost savings

TPL’s report also found that parks provide essential natural services that protect the environment, including up to $2.43 billion in avoided stormwater treatment costs through runoff absorbed by green infrastructure.  In addition, trees, shrubs, and vegetation in parks reduce ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter in the atmosphere, avoiding $26.5 million in health care costs each year

Finally, parks strengthen the local economy by attracting visitors from outside of the city, supporting local jobs, boosting spending at local businesses, and generating local tax revenue. TPL’s report found that domestic travelers who visit NYC at least in part to participate in outdoor activities spend an estimated $17.9 billion in a typical year, and NYC residents spend an estimated $681 million annually on sports, recreation, and exercise equipment. Residents also want to live near parks, which contribute over $15.2 billion in increased property value that translate to at least $101 million in annual property tax revenues for homes within 500 feet of parks. 

"Parks enrich our physical and mental health, they support strong communities, and they build resilience against the deadly effects of climate change,” said Councilmember Shekar Krishnan, Chair of the NYC Council’s Committee on Parks and Recreation. This report by the Trust for Public Land shows that they also create billions of dollars of positive economic impact for our city. Now, more than ever before in our city's history, we must invest in our parks, playgrounds, and green spaces, especially in those communities that have been deprived of these benefits."  

As New York City navigates through the Covid-19 pandemic, parks and open space have proven to be both essential places to connect with each other, stay active, and find peace as well as opportunities for driving economic recovery through tourism and recreational value. Investing in parks must be a keystone part of how the city creates vibrant communities, drives revenue, and prepares for the economy of the future. 

“TPL has documented the multiple ways that parkland contributes to making New York a more livable city,” stated Kathryn Wylde, President & CEO of the Partnership for New York City. “And livability is what attracts the global talent pool that is the foundation of our economy. Investment in parks yields a far greater return that most New Yorkers realize.” 

TPL also recognizes the need to identify how these economic benefits are distributed among communities. TPL’s research finds that in New York City communities of color have 33.5% less park space per person within a 10-minute walk compared to white communities, and low-income communities have 21.2% less park space per person within a 10-minute walk compared to high-income communities. Because park quality and access are not evenly shared, populations made vulnerable by historic policies in NYC must be thoughtfully integrated into planning and policy development to support a more equitable distribution of these economic benefits of parks. 

“Substantiating the economic value of parks over the last 20 years has often focused on the at-times problematic metric of increased tax revenue,” said Adam Ganser, Executive Director for New Yorkers for Parks. “TPL’s study seeks to identify the broad economic impact of parks from a public health and environmental perspective, essential metrics as leaders plan for the health of their cities and their most vulnerable populations. The report’s conclusions provide even more reason for cities to increase investment in creating and maintaining parks.” 

“With 700 acres and 7 million visitors each year, the 8 NYS Parks in the five boroughs of New York City demonstrate the value of parks to individuals and communities alike,” said Leslie Wright NYC Regional Director of New York State Parks. “Parks are the sanity, serenity and fun for all New Yorkers, and typically provide an essential buffer zone protecting against the ravages wrought by climate change.” 

"As administrator of the NYC Green Relief & Recovery Fund, City Parks Foundation - on behalf of all our funders - is thrilled to have supported the documentation of the economic benefits our city's parks provide to residents,” said Heather Lubov, Executive Director of City Parks Foundation. “Seeing how critical parks were during the pandemic, the NYC Green Fund was created, in part, to spur policy-makers to address ongoing systemic challenges, with lack of adequate funding being the greatest challenge that our city's parks and open spaces face.  We hope this report serves as a catalyst for increased support." 

“New Yorkers can take a break from the city and immerse in nature by taking the subway, bus, or bike to wild places to the beaches, wetlands, and the open waters of Jamaica Bay that are maintained by the National Park Service,” said Suzanne C. McCarthy, Executive Director for National Parks of New York Harbor. “And because every dollar invested by taxpayers in the National Park Service returns $10 to the U.S. economy, the millions of visitors who seek a close-by wilderness adventure in Gateway NRA every year add $229 million to New York City’s economy.” 

About Trust for Public Land 

Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit that works to connect everyone to the benefits and joys of the outdoors. As a leader in equitable access to the outdoors, TPL works with communities to create parks and protect public land where they are needed most. Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 3 million acres of public land, created more than 5,000 parks, trails, schoolyards, and iconic outdoor places, raised $84 billion in public funding for parks and public lands, and connected more than 9 million people to the outdoors. To learn more, visit tpl.org