Economic Benefits of Urban Green Spaces














Persuasive Research Paper


Economic Benefits of Urban Green Spaces

Luke Fontes, Kevin O’Halloran, William Reich


NATSCI 397A Professional Writing

Evan Ross

December 4, 2014









Urban Green Spaces and the Green Industry

The economic and ecological benefits of urban green spaces are undeniable. The green industry is one of the fastest growing segments of the nation’s agricultural economy and has produced roughly 1,964,339 jobs, according to a USDA-funded research report (Hall, Haydu, & Hodges, 2011). The green industry is made up of green roof construction, sustainable landscaping, waste reduction services, arborists, garden centers, lawn care services, and many more (Hall, Haydu, & Hodges, 2011). In the most simplistic terms, the green industry are economies that striving towards a more sustainable development. Adopting policies that advocate for the green industry and green spaces in Springfield, MA would improve the economy and environmental health of the city and its inhabitants. These policies would act as solutions to some of the environmental problems that municipalities encounter, due to the natural benefits of green spaces.

The development of our natural environment into an urban landscape has eliminated vegetation that is crucial to a healthy and sustainable environment (Carter & Fowler, 2008). There are a number of ways in which green spaces can be effectively implemented into a urban environment. Ranging from green roofs to rain gardens between roadways, each serves an important purpose in a larger system. The Environmental Protection Agency (2014) defines green spaces as areas with any type of vegetation, whether it is grass, shrubs, or trees. However, for the sake of this paper, we will be referring to solely green roofs and sidewalk rain gardens when discussing urban green space. Urban green spaces are often made for recreational areas or for simple aesthetics, but there are a number of ways in which green infrastructure can also contribute to assist in resolving many environmental issues, such as storm water runoff and greenhouse gasses, while also having a monetary gain through savings (Gale, 2014).

Often when people envision green roofs they imagine a flourishing green garden. While sometimes this may be the case, the design and construction of green roofs vary depending on many factors. For example, the climate, orientation, location, and building characteristics are all considered when deciding the appropriate green roof to implement (Hilary, 2014). Green roofs are broken down into two different types, extensive and intensive. Extensive green roofs follow more simplistic requirements, and are often used on single and multi family residential homes. The planting medium usually ranges between 2-4”, and minimal vegetation is used to limit roof loads and maintenance needs. According to Hilary, the benefits of extensive green roofs are mainly water use and thermal advantages, with the intention of keeping overall weight low and requiring access only during maintenance. Hilary continues to discuss how intensive green roofs are more lavish and aesthetically pleasing, and typically are used on commercial buildings. Planting mediums range between 6-10”, and includes vegetation such as grasses, ground covers, shrubs, flowers, and even trees. Some intensive green roofs even include walkways and sitting areas, encouraging people to utilize the gardens. Intensive green roofs require additional maintenance because of the diverse variety of vegetation they support. Commercial buildings are ideal for intensive green roofs because they have higher roof loads that allow for human activity and higher abundance of materials. Intensive green roofs are often referred to as “rooftop gardens”(Hilary, 2010).

Municipal Problems

Xie, Zhang, Zhang, Zhang, & Zhang (2012) argue that urbanization has interfered with the natural process of rainwater filtration, and in turn has lead to polluted runoff that is re-entering our waterways. There are a number of environmental circumstances that affect rainwater runoff. For example, type of precipitation (rain, snow, sleet), intensity of precipitation, duration of the precipitation, and amount of precipitation, to name a few (Speak, Rothwell, Lindley, Smith (2013) . Also, the buildings and structures in urban environments are predominantly made of impervious surfaces. Impervious surfaces are artificial structures such as sidewalks, roads and buildings made of materials that prevent rainwater to infiltrate into the ground (Xie et. al 2012). Impervious surface interrupt the natural filtration cycle of water, which leads to storm water pooling that gets redirected to the municipal sewage systems. The storm water collects pollutants as it runs down the buildings and flows along these impervious surfaces. In the process, unwanted contaminants are collected in the runoff and directed into the sewage systems as well (Xie et. al 2012). Our sewer systems are intended to divert rainwater from the streets, directing it to wastewater treatment plants and our natural waterways, ensuring that lakes and rivers remain at a capacity able to sustain life. However, these wastewater treatment plants are directing contaminated water from these urban areas into these lakes and rivers, harming the natural environment. MAKE BLOCK FORMAT- Why is storm water pollution so bad? As polluted water makes its way to the oceans, water quality can be affected, which often results in the closing of local beaches due to unhealthy water conditions. Storm water carries disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Swimming in polluted waters can make you sick. A study in Santa Monica Bay showed that people who swim in front of flowing storm drains are 50 percent more likely to develop certain symptoms than those who swim 400 yards from the same drain. Illnesses generally associated with swimming in water contaminated with urban runoff include earaches, sinus problems, diarrhea, fever and rashes. Polluted storm water can also hurt aquatic life. Cigarette butts, the number one most littered item in America, have been found in the stomachs of fish, birds, whales and other marine creatures that mistake them for food. The plastic loops that hold six-packs of beer or soda together can strangle seabirds. (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2014)

Urbanization not only takes away the landscapes ability to absorb water; it has caused problems within our atmosphere and environment with the reduction of vegetation in favor of large buildings, structures, and streets (e.g. impervious surfaces). Without the vegetation we lose carbon sink, which causes an abundance of unwanted greenhouse gas.   A “sink” is a naturally occurring part of the environment that absorbs gases and particulates from the air, with the largest being the worlds oceans and vegetation (“Trees Reduce Air Pollution”, 2011). Sinks are the opposite of “sources”, which add carbon and other gases to the air, such as the burning of fossil fuels. Urbanization indirectly causes a net increase of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which contributes to global warming. There is typically more air pollution in urban and developed areas caused by burning fossil fuels with the extra amount of activity. Therefore, resulting in high emissions from industrial and manufacturing processes to contribute with pollution coming from households. The added air pollution and the lack of vegetation to remove the particulates and gases from the atmosphere results in what is called the heat island effect.

The heat island effect is a phenomenon that occurs in more developed and urban areas in which the temperature is hotter than in the surrounding suburban and rural areas. In some cases the difference in temperatures can be as high as 22 degrees Fahrenheit (Environmental Protection Agency, 2014). The urban heat island effect can result in numerous negative side effects for residence of the community. For example, higher temperatures result in greater energy consumption and air conditioning costs, and in the most extreme conditions can even result in health complications (EPA, 2014).

Our Proposal

Urban green spacing is economically beneficial due to the positive effects it can have on the environment and human health. We chose Springfield to be the location that we work toward making a greener city. We felt that Springfield would be an appropriate city to implement this plan because its is still a developing city. To do so we want to use both green roofs and sidewalk planter boxes because they are the beneficial economically and environmentally. We want to install two policies in the city of Springfield to enforce the use of green roofs, with the first being that any new buildings should be required to have green roofs. This makes it so that owners have no choice of not using green roofs, whether it is for a preference of other sustainable rooftop system or opposition due to cost. The second policy is that every street should implement green space in the form of storm water retaining planter boxes. This encourages natural filtration of the rainwater into the soil rather than redirecting the water along the street into the municipal sewage system. Along with the resulting economic and environmental benefits of these policies, there will also be an aesthetic benefit. Much like what was done in the city of Toronto, green roof projects will be given grants at a value of $50.00 per m2 of green roofs up to a total of $100,000 to assist with construction costs (

How This Affects You

As we have discussed thus far urban development has been the cause of many environmental downfalls. Therefore, it is important that the people living in these communities are well educated about the problem, and also how they can partake in the solution. An effective way in any situation to create awareness amongst a community is when there is opportunity for economic benefit. The impacts of green roofs economically affect residents in many ways. By implementing green roofs and other vegetation you are reducing energy consumption through heating and cooling costs .In a study conducted by the City of Chicago Department of Environment (2003), green roofs were found to reduce roof temperature fluctuations by about 8 degrees compared to traditional roofing materials, making for a more consistent interior temperature.   This of course would be dependent on the type of green roof being used. Intensive green roofs range from 6-10” of soil with vegetation, while extensive green roofs range from 2-4” and have minimal vegetation. In a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University (2011) about the thermal performance of green roofs on two campus buildings, they were able to conclude that the green roof improved the thermal performance of the roof by reducing heat gain in cooling months and reducing heat loss in heating months. In the heating months of 2009 and 2010, it was found that on average, 26% less heat was lost from the green roof than was lost from the control roof (Becker & Wang, 2011). Also, the presence of plants and growing media reduces the amount of solar radiation reaching the roof’s surface. In doing so, you are also decreasing roof surface temperatures and heat influx during warm-weather months (Becker & Wang, 2011). This again is dependent on the type of green roof and the consistency.

The hidden and more indirect benefits of having green spaces that we cannot put a price tag on, is our health. There are two sides to this, your mental and physical health. Urban areas are usually characterized by cement buildings, asphalt roads, and virtually no trees or other forms of vegetation. In a project put together by Ph.D. K. Flora and K. Wolf (2010) they claim that “urban nature, when provided as… walkways and incorporated into building design, provides calming and inspiring environments and encourages learning, inquisitiveness, and alertness… Planter [boxes], gardens, green roofs, and other features can be incorporated into building design to address mental health and cognitive function.” This study shows that having planter boxes on the side of the road would be conducive to improving people’s mental health. Also, in a study published in BMC Public Health (2010) it was found that, compared to walking or running in urban environments, physical activity in green spaces led to decreased anger, fatigue, and feelings of depression in addition to increased attention levels. The benefits to your mental health are less documented and recognizable than physical benefits, but studies have been done to conclude the benefit.

Urban green spaces also help to increase workplace satisfaction and productivity. One study found that Employees with an outside view of plants experience less job pressure and greater job satisfaction that workers viewing man made objects. These same workers also reported fewer headaches and other health conditions that workers without a natural view. Another study by the Virginia Cooperative Extension (2009) claimed that psychologists have found that access to plants and green spaces provides a sense of rest and allows workers to be more productive, thus bringing in more money for the company

The physical health benefits that come from green roofs and planters boxes are mostly respiratory, and again, hard to give a monetary value. This can be attributed to the better air quality that results from more vegetation in urban areas. The vegetation isn’t just a carbon sink; the particulates that you can breathe in can be in the form of smoke, ash, dust, pollen, and pollen (Maryland DNR, 2009). All of these particulates can harm your lungs, and there are many gases and other particles that are absorbed through trees that could proven to be carcinogenic. Some of the gases that are absorbed from the atmosphere are known to be harmful such as carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, and in turn oxygen is released leaving our air more fresh and healthy for us to breathe (“Trees reduce Air Pollution”, 2011). Having more vegetation around would lead to fewer people with respiratory diseases and other illnesses.


What Has Worked Elsewhere

Some cities such as Toronto have already began to make progress towards a more sustainable future by implementing green strategies and policies. In 2008, the City Council put in place a strategy for climate change adaptation, as well as placed an increasing importance on the creation of a city that is “resilient to the projected effects of climate change”(City of Toronto, 2009). In doing so, the city changed and introduced environmental policies into their official plan. The following year in 2009 the City Council approved the Toronto Green Standard, a two-tier set of environmental performance measures applied during the planning process to create more sustainable developments and help build a resilient city. The Toronto Green Standard is an important performance management tool for new development, aimed at lessening future infrastructure demands and environmental impacts. Also during 2009, Council adopted the City’s Green Roof By-law, making Toronto the first City in North America to have a by-law to require and govern the construction of green roofs on new development. Overall, Toronto has paved the way for other cities when it comes to innovative and progressive sustainable strategies. The Toronto Green Standard integrates environmental performance requirements established through City policy, guidelines and regulations (City of Toronto, 2008). By making sustainability part of the Official plan of the city, they have set the precedent for others that are interested in striving towards a more resilient and sustainable community.

Urban green spaces can also help increase the property value of a building. The additional aesthetic benefit of the green space is attributive to its other functions. The increase in property value as a result of green space has been proven and documented in numerous studies. In an article by Smart Money Magazine (2003) it is shown that consumers value a landscaped home up to 11.3% higher than its base price. This is an incentive for business owners and municipalities to get excited and involved with sustainability movement. Also, in the study The Freeway Roadside Environment (2000), conducted by the University of Washington College of Forest resources, three neighborhoods in Boulder Colorado indicated that property values decreased by $4.20 for each foot away from a green space.

The ability of these practices to deliver multiple ecological, economic and social benefits or services has made green infrastructure an increasingly popular strategy in recent years (Philadelphia Water Department, 2014). While many cities have already made giant steps towards a healthier, more sustainable environment, others are now following having seen the benefits these cities are experiencing. The industry association Green Roofs for Healthy Cities announced last fall in a press release that Toronto’s green roof requirements had already resulted in more than 1.2 million square feet (113,300 square meters) of new green space planned on commercial, institutional, and multifamily residential developments in the city (Benfield, 2012). According to the association, the benefits will include more than 125 full-time jobs related to the manufacture, design, installation and maintenance of the roofs; reduction of more than 435,000 cubic feet of storm water (enough to fill about 50 Olympic-size swimming pools) each year; and annual energy savings of over 1.5 million KWH for building owners (Benfield 2012). On the other hand, cities such as Philadelphia are following Toronto’s lead and have began to take part in the process.

The city of Philadelphia has a vision to “protect and enhance our watersheds by managing storm water runoff with innovative green storm water infrastructure throughout our city, maximizing economic, social, and environmental benefits for Philadelphia”(Philadelphia Water Department, 2014). Philadelphia has also taken some big strides towards getting the community involved In the process of doing so. Philadelphia put into effect a number of different strategies to get the community engaged. Businesses committed to storm water reduction and management can earn storm water credits, recognition, and other rewards. Community groups, institutions, neighborhood associations and others are invited to partner on watershed protection programs. Toronto’s initiative to strive towards a more sustainable future has hopefully began a revolution. What Toronto has accomplished, and what Philadelphia is currently working in the direction of is admirable. By encouraging the participation of both the municipality and the community, we hope to make sustainability part of every city’s Official Plan.


Resistant Audience

When it comes to green roofs like any innovative technology, you are going to face opposition. While the benefits of green roofs seem to outweigh the downfalls, there are still some opposition that needs to be addressed. One opposing argument against green roofs is going to be costs. The initial estimated costs of installing a green roof start at $10 per square foot for simpler extensive roofing, and $25 per square foot for intensive roofs. Annual maintenance costs for either type of roof may range from $0.75–$1.50 per square foot (Environmental Protection Agency, 2013). While the initial costs of a green roof is more than that of a conventional roof, you will soon begin to see the payback through lower energy consumption, storm water management costs, and potentially through a longer life cycle than that of a conventional roof.   A University of Michigan study (2008) compared the expected costs of conventional roofs with the cost of a 21,000-square-foot (1,950 m2) green roof and all its benefits, such as storm water management and improved public health from the absorption of unwanted greenhouse gases. The green roof would cost $464,000 to install versus $335,000 for a conventional roof. However, over its lifetime, the green roof would save about $200,000,nearly two-thirds of these savings would come from reduced energy needs for the building with the green roof (Environmental Protection Agency, 2013). However, when installing a green roof you are doing it for the environmental value rather than the monetary value, but not everyone follows these same morals. Another opposing argument is the effectiveness of green roofs. However, this argument is easily rebutted by factual evidence and numerous case studies, and is equivocal to people arguing the legitimacy of global warming.

The implementation of these environmental policies and strategies into the overall plan of our cities is necessary. Green roofs are becoming popular in the United States, with roughly 8.5 million square feet installed or in progress as of June 2008(Environmental Protection Agency, 2013). With the levels of energy consumption and pollution that are a result of our urban environments, we need standards in place to assure we are working towards a more sustainable future. The benefits of going forward with urban green space is undeniable, and outweighs the opposing argument. In conclusion, we are involved in the beginning of a movement something that is essential to the well being of our future environment. With the education and participation within each local community, we can begin to move in the right direction.


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