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November 15th, 2007
GUEST COLUMN: Parks mean 'green' in more than one way

BY JOHN THOMAIDES

As a proponent of parks, green space and bike/pedestrian facilities I was surprised and pleased to hear a leading economist praise them for their contribution to economic development.

This past week I attended the Texas Municipal League annual conference in Dallas. One of the sessions I attended was with Dr. Ray Perryman. Many people in our local Chambers of Commerce and our development and business community will recognize his name. For those who do not, Dr. Perryman is regarded as one of the worlds most influential and innovative economists. He is the founder of the Perryman Group of Waco, Texas. He has spoken several times in San Marcos, and at the university, about the world economy, oil markets, energy, and healthcare issues and about the Texas and the Central Texas economies.

In this session he talked about something I have never heard him speak about before. The study his firm completed was titled “Sunshine, Soccer, and Success”. The study was about the economic effects of municipal investments made in parks, green space, and bicycle & pedestrian infrastructure. The study can be found online at www.tprfoundation.org. Some his most notable conclusions were:

Seven percent of tourism in the State of Texas is attributed to municipal parks.

This is easy for residents of San Marcos to picture since we all see the Rio Vista Falls area packed every day in the summer. I’ve even found out of state drivers licenses floating in the lower pools and mailed them back to their owners. Many local moms and dads have been at our award winning soccer and softball fields and seen the out of town parents attending the games. The figures show that 46,000 Texans are employed because of parks and their direct tourism impact.

A presence of good parks and green space system raises property values, and not just those that are adjacent to the park.

Evidence was presented to document how property values increase when parks are nearby and how they decline when open space near neighborhoods is removed.

Healthcare costs are reduced and lower in communities with good outdoor resources and places to exercise.

Dr. Perryman is an expert in the healthcare economy and points out that there is no way we can pay for the current healthcare system if trends continue. The only way is to change the current trends through a healthier lifestyle.

Economic development opportunities are directly linked to community parks and facilities.

Attracting smart people is the way to grow our local economy. The companies follow talented workers. These people like a nice attractive place to live and many can work anywhere in the world they wish. It is critically important how we present our community to them. Major knowledge based companies that are creating new products and services for industry and the public, will not locate where their workers don’t want to live and knowledge based workers love parks and green space. These people are generally healthier and exercise more. Having good recreational facilities is critically important to attracting these companies and their workers.

It’s nice to hear from respected and qualified experts that your community is on the right track, and that one of your council priorities is forward thinking. We need to remember in the future when we make decisions about our investment in public parks, that what may seem to be “wants”, are in reality “needs”, when it comes to growing our economy as well as making our citizens healthier. If we can also get our citizens better and higher paying knowledge-based jobs in the process, then we are making a major positive impact on their quality of life in San Marcos.


John Thomaides is in his second term as a San Marcos City Council member.

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3 thoughts on “GUEST COLUMN: Parks mean 'green' in more than one way

  1. Thanks for posting this information. It’s pretty neat (and telling) to hear Perryman talk about the direct linkage between economic development opportunities and community parks and facilities. So many other cities only have green space from their golf courses! San Marcos has a great opportunity to further distinguish itself in this area.

  2. Thanks to John Thomaides for sharing the Perryman Group study on the economic value of investing in parks and natural facilities. Some of the benefits in the study such as the reduction in health care costs were not quantified in dollars but have significant impact. If people have access to places to walk and exercise they are much more likely to use them and when they use them they are more likely not to need the health care system. (That’s probably true for the dogs, too)

    San Marcos could add another big benefit to the ledger by using flood prone areas for greenways and trails thereby reducing flood and water pollution costs and ultimately enhancing the total benefits gained.

    We are a two river city with significant creeks draining what meteorologists call “flash flood” alley. If we allow development in flood prone areas we will be condemning ourselves to enormous expense in terms of our municipal budget, personal and commercial losses, environmental degradation and, God forbid, lives. Some claim the rebuilding activity after a flood is good for the economy. This is a perverse notion that at best provides a temporary boost to a select few.

    Another consideration is the quality of the water that flows in our rivers. Right now we are holding the line on water quality. Clean water keeps our river parks the kind of place that will yield the greatest economic activity. If the water becomes polluted and begins to flow erratically from parking lots and roof tops too near the water ways we will loose the jewel of our park system. Permeable top soil thick with natural, mature vegetation is the best way to keep the water clean and flowing more evenly.

    If we act on what the Perrryman Group tells us and seize our opportunities to create productive greenways along yet undeveloped flood plains we could have a stellar system of parks and natural facilities as part of our legacy. The natural facilities will typically require less maintenance than fully developed parks but over time, as resources become available, they could become the location of an interconnected trail system. Their linear shape means many more people can access them, usually by walking from their homes. These greenways may someday extend beyond our borders to other areas, e.g. eventually we might link via Five Mile Dam to the recently announced trail to be built between Zilker Park in Austin and Onion Creek north of Kyle.

    We are about to revamp the city of San Marcos parks, recreation and open space master plan, receive the long overdue flood protection planning study (prepared by Espey Consultants, Inc, Flood study), and adopt a downtown master plan (Broaddus and Assc.,Downtown Plan) . Meanwhile the county is seeking requests for projects worthy of investment from the $30 million approved by voters in May. Survey after survey, vote after vote confirms that the citizens want our rivers and creeks protected and want more opportunities for recreation.

    The Perryman Group tells us:
    The overall benefits to local economies far exceed the costs associated with parks and recreation programs, and funding for local parks represents a good investment of taxpayer dollars, bringing overall benefits which far exceed costs.

    So let’s do it; let’s act. Let’s carefully plan and invest our resources on par with other infrastructure and public health and safety initiatives because in the end it is part of those basic programs
    Let’s combine all these elements and create, methodically, over time, the best parks and greenway system imaginable.

  3. I just remembered this on-line newspaper was available now and after skimming it quickly, I am not only pleased but very impressed. I will send links to my contacts. John’s article is great, as is Chris Jones’. Keep up the good work!

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