Pave Paradise? Some thoughts on the benefits of open space

Opinion February 15, 2012 1 Comment

by C. Nancy Evans

A bicyclist enjoys the scenic views of Kreishem Meadow, which is permanently protected under a conservation easement. (Photo by C. Nancy Evans)

We all know that development can lead to improved services, improved business traffic, higher tax revenue and more. We are also aware of the environmental impact of that same development. This has been a social tug-of-war for decades, at least since Joni Mitchell sang, “Pave paradise and put up a parking lot.”

For this reason, it’s important to quantify the actual value of open space versus development because, according to reports, the state of Pennsylvania is losing 25 acres a day to development. If that trend continues, there will be very little open space left by 2035. The Chestnut Hill Historical Society wants you to know why their mission of preserving open space is a wise investment and will enhance your life.

Open space enhances home values. That’s right – thanks to our open, green environment, your home is worth more. According to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning commission, homes closer to preserved, open space show a definite increase in home value, averaging a minimum increase of $10,000.

This effect is not just for a property on the perimeter of the greenery – the effect encompasses the entire community. How often do you see real estate ads touting the home’s proximity to the Wissahickon or to a park or walking trail in Chestnut Hill? Who wouldn’t rather live near a protected space versus a highway, and who doesn’t understand the premium associated with greenery?

Open space protects our environment by filtering drinking water and cleaning the air, thereby saving us money by letting nature do the mopping up. The DVRPC reports that Southeastern Pennsylvania “realizes nearly $61 million in annual cost savings from protected open spaces’ ability to naturally filter pollutants and replenish the water supply, and that the total annual benefit generated by natural flood mitigation services is more than $37 million, while the trees on protected spaces are estimated to provide $17 million in annual air pollution removal.”

Think about it: Open space may mean a dry basement for you. Is that specific enough?

Open space means parks, trails, and recreation, which in turn means health benefits to us all (both emotional and physical), and that translates into savings in health related costs, plus less sick days. Who doesn’t value the Wissahickon Park and its trails, using them to bike, fish, hike, walk the dog, and enjoy the weather?

Imagine our lives without the park. Where would you go for recreation? L.A. Fitness just isn’t the same, and you can’t bring the dog! On a more intimate scale, imagine our lives without the scattered protected parcels of land throughout Chestnut Hill that are protected by the Chestnut Hill Historical Society. Our environment would be less walker-friendly, more traffic-congested and far denser without thoughtful development that encourages and protects our greenery.

The Chestnut Hill Historical Society is the first nationally accredited Land Trust whose primary focus is urban parcels. Through the efforts of the joint Easement Committee with the Friends of the Wissahickon, CHHS now holds 36 easements, totaling more than 73 protected acres here in the community.

Many of these parcels conserve meadow and woodland, which create an integration of neighborhood into park, allowing the Wissahickon to spread its fingers right through our neighborhoods, giving us all a feeling of living next to the park.

Chestnut Hill is designated as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, which is certainly an honor for our unique architectural heritage, but did you know that this recognition comes without any regulatory protection? That is why the historical society works with the community to preserve what we value and to consider proposed development carefully, because once the open space is gone, it’s gone for good, along with all of its benefits.

If you own land that you think might be appropriate for our program and would like to consider an easement, contact Jennifer Hawk, executive director, CHHS at 215-247-0417, x201. The historical society is also searching for a part-time easement coordinator. If you have an interest in land conservation and historic preservation, www.chhist.org” www.chhist.org for a job description and how to apply.

C. Nancy Evans is a board member of the Chestnut Hill Historical Society.

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  • mikeg

    Is there a view or position that historic preservation easements are of less importance than conservation easements? And where the terms of a particular easement become either obsolete or actually thwart the underlying purpose, what can be done? In the case of Greyloch Mansion, we have an historic building “protected” by CHHS/FOW held easements that appears to be rotting and losing its value. Certain specific terms in the easements on this property have effectively rendered it unusable. While this may enure to the benefit and enjoyment of some nearby residents, it neither preserves the historic building nor protects the environment. Compare the ruins in the park along Cresheim Valley Road to the repurposed and developed property of the Woodmere. Which is more valuable to the community?

    I think the values of conservation and preservation can be (and have been) misused by those seeking to stop any and all development of particular property. If you’ve got the money to “fund” an easement, then you’ve got the power to misuse easements. Surely there is a difference between cutting up untouched park land, and carefully and intelligently re-purposing an already developed piece of land.