Economic Development

The Great Outdoors

Cities discover the profit in parks
by | July 2005

A new generation of urban parks is showing that downtown parks are good for two kinds of green.

Chicago's new Millennium Park, for example, is more than a hit with the million-plus people who visited during its inaugural year. It's a boon for developers and the city's tax rolls, too. Over the next 10 years, some $1.4 billion in residential construction is expected to occur near the park, according to a recent study commissioned by Chicago's planning department.

Inspired by Millennium Park's success, Houston is turning 12 acres of parking lots and vacant land into a downtown park. Denver is planning a big makeover for its underutilized Civic Center park. And Detroit opened its 1.6 acre Campus Martius last November. The park features European tables and chairs in the summer and a skating rink in the winter.

With all of these park projects, cities hope to create outdoor "living rooms" where visitors will come to see concerts or movies, grab a picnic lunch or even to do office work outside using free wireless Internet. The hope is that the attractiveness of the park will fuel demand for neighboring condos, apartments and lofts. "Parks add so much value that they pay for themselves in a pretty short order of time," says Peter Harnik, author of "Inside City Parks."

New York's Central Park is the most obvious case in point. Atlanta also pulled it off with Centennial Olympic Park, once an aging industrial area and now the anchor for new hotels, condos, and soon, an aquarium. The challenge is to program the park with a mix of activities that will keep visitors coming back again and again.

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