Park life - reassessing the value of public spaces

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Most councils value their public parks at a mere £1, says the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment

Many parks were either common land taken on by the local authority, or were at some point bequeathed by rich landowners. This means that many were never ‘bought’ as such, meaning that on a council balance sheet a park will simply be assigned a notional value, usually just £1.

Does it matter? Well, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment says it does, because by making public spaces worth pocket change it encourages underinvestment.
‘It matters because if you have a building on your stocks valued at £5 million and a park valued at £1, then maintaining the building will appear the better investment. But if the park is valued at £100 million, it merits an appropriate maintenance budget and investment in the people that manage it,’ says Sarah Gaventa, director of CABE’s special public realm unit ‘CABE Space’.

Even more tricky for the accountants is that whilst ordinary assets on a balance sheet ‘depreciate’ over time (i.e. lose some of their value each year), a natural asset like a park may actually increase in value, as the environment improves and visitor numbers increase.

The way to overcome this, CABE says, is to value all of the assets in the park, such as trees, benches, and lawns, separately, and then add them all together. This would then give an idea of how much it would cost to replace the park, and would make justifying care of public spaces to those holding the purse-strings easier.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist March 2009