Frederick Law Olmsted was among the first to undertake a study showing that parks increase property values. In 1856, a year before construction began, Olmsted estimated that the three wards surrounding Central Park were valued at $26.4 million. After completion of the park in 1873, this same property was worth $236 million. He used these numbers to justify the $13.9 million cost of building Central Park which greatly exceeded the original $1.5 million budget. In the years ahead, the tax revenues generated more than compensated for the cost of building Central Park.
According to a 2015 study, Central Park added more than $26 billion to the market value of properties on the blocks closest to the park. This is among the findings of a report commissioned by the Central Park Conservancy entitled The Central Park Effect: Assessing the Value of Central Park’s Contribution to New York City’s Economy.
Another study prepared in 2018 determined that properties within a half mile of the Olmsted parks in Louisville, Kentucky added $7 billion to the local tax base.
Beginning in the 1980s, developers have coveted New Jersey’s so-called “gold coast” along the Hudson River. They consistently built as close to the water’s edge as possible, leaving just the minimum state-required 30-foot walkway at the water’s edge. Often, developers built on piers over the Hudson River, effectively privatizing that portion of the waterfront.
Thirty years ago, the Fund for a Better Waterfront began advocating for a public park along the 1.5-mile length of Hoboken’s riverfront. At the time, the political opposition to this idea was nearly unanimous. Hoboken developer Joe Barry took out a full-page ad in the Hoboken Reporter, which he owned and published, calling us “waterfront zombies” and me a “cult-leader.”
Despite our advocacy, developers saw little value in creating public parks along the riverfront as they sought to maximize the build-out of their land. With fences, gates and guardhouses, developers often sought to keep the public out or make it difficult to access the water’s edge. Municipalities failed to assert their authority to designate public spaces and public right-of-ways, allowing developers to privatize the planning process.
Nevertheless, we persisted. Aided by two referendum victories in 1990 and 1992, the vision we put forth for a continuous, public waterfront park in Hoboken is being realized. Today, its value is clear. Bars and restaurants, retail shops and professional offices have thrived in Hoboken. At the South Waterfront, major companies such as Wiley Publishing, Newell Brands, Jet.com and Marsh & McLennan have filled up commercial office space.