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Cities across the United States increasingly are debating the best way to use vacant “infill” lots. The community garden movement is one of the major contenders for the space, as are advocates for small public “pocket” parks and other green spaces. To allocate the land most efficiently and fairly, local governments need sound research about the value of such gardens and parks to their host communities.

At the same time, cities are looking for new ways of financing the development and maintenance of public garden and park space. Some have turned to tax increment financing to generate resources, other are introducing impact fees or special assessments to cover the costs of urban parks. In order to employ such financing mechanisms, both policy concerns and legal constraints require local governments to base their charges on sound data about the impacts green spaces have on the value of the neighboring properties that would be forced to bear the incidence of the tax or fee.

Despite the clear public policy need for such data, our knowledge about the impacts community gardens and other such spaces have on surrounding neighborhoods is quite limited. No studies have focused specifically on community gardens, and those that have examined the property value impacts of parks and other open space are cross-sectional studies inattentive to when the park opened, so that it is impossible to determine the direction of the causality of any property value differences found. The existing literature also has paid insufficient attention to qualitative differences among the parks studied and to differences in characteristics of the surrounding neighborhoods that might affect the parks’ impacts.

Applying hedonic methods to a unique data set of all property sales in New York City over several decades, we compared the prices of properties within a given distance of community gardens to prices of comparable properties outside the designated ring, but still located in the same neighborhood. By examining whether and how this difference changed once a community garden was established, we account for any systematic differences between the sites used for community gardens and other land in the neighborhood, thus resolving questions about the direction of causality and helping to disentangle the specific effects of community gardens from other contemporaneous changes occurring across neighborhoods and properties in the city.

We find that the opening of a community garden has a statistically significant positive impact on residential properties within 1000 feet of the garden, and that the impact increases over time. We find that gardens have the greatest impact in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Higher quality gardens have the greatest positive impact. Finally, we find that the opening of a garden is associated with other changes in the neighborhood, such as increasing rates of homeownership, and thus may be serving as catalysts for economic redevelopment of the community.

Date of Authorship for this Version

March 2006