The award-winning public park at Hoboken’s South Waterfront built in the 1990s.

by Ron Hine | FBW | January 2, 2021

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, and Marsh & McLennan have filled up commercial office space.

The park enhances the quality of life for employees, residents and visitors alike. The economic benefits have spread throughout town. Realtors, developers and business leaders now recognize the value that the park brings to the community and their businesses. Today, the most valuable real estate in town sits upland from the four-acre Maxwell Place Park at Hoboken’s north waterfront.

The value of the waterfront park is enhanced by the vast open space that spans over the Hudson River with spectacular views of the entire Manhattan skyline. The fresh breezes emanating from the New York Harbor and the river are especially welcome during the current Covid pandemic. It is a place to retreat from the hubbub of urban life and a source for emotional well-being. The linear park is mostly connected now, allowing people to traverse its length unimpeded by private development that would block views or access. The contiguous waterfront park is a place for people to come together and a place for civic engagement.

In some communities, there are elected officials that have the foresight to invest in public spaces and public parks, knowing that these expenditures will pay off in the long run. In Hoboken, 30 years ago, civic-minded residents realized the opportunity that existed to transform its waterfront from the former industrial maritime use to a public one. Through the nonprofit Fund for a Better Waterfront this advocacy has so far been successful. In the next several years, we anticipate that this original vision will be largely fulfilled..

Referenced Studies

The Central Park Effect: Assessing the Value of Central Park’s Contribution to New York City’s Economy
The Contributions and Impacts of the Olmsted Parks (Louisville, KY)