The Value of Open Space as a Waterfront Use: a Mixed Methods Study on the Gulf Coast

This paper examines the extent to which Gulf Coast communities value waterfront green space preservation versus developing waterfront open space. Urban green space near waterfront areas includes socially valued landscapes such as scenic sites, wilderness areas, historic and cultural resources, recreation areas, rivers, lakes, estuaries, and salt marshes. Green space provides a wide variety of goods and services including aesthetics, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, urban heat island reduction, air quality improvements, stormwater runoff amelioration, energy use reductions, exercise opportunities, a place to relax, and increased real estate values. Many wetlands along the Gulf Coast offer prime examples of how continued degradation of green space increases socioeconomic and biophysical vulnerabilities at local and regional scales. Nevertheless, green space policy-making is complicated by local governments’ dependence on property taxes for operating revenue as well as increasingly limited municipal budgets which exacerbate opportunity costs.

Despite these challenges, it is critical to consider the benefits of green space when evaluating waterfront uses, particularly in places characterized by increasingly land consumptive development patterns such as those along the Gulf Coast. The overall goal of this research is to assist coastal communities in making informed decisions about waterfront planning and management towards increased social and ecological resilience.

We used a mixed methods, multi-disciplinary approach to generate an in-depth understanding of how communities value and use waterfront spaces. Facilitated group discussions are conducted to generate insights about emerging phenomena and obtain contextual information (including environmental and social inequities). In addition, we incorporate these findings into a general population mail survey to determine tradeoffs among alternative waterfront uses and development scenarios. Finally, a revealed preference model was employed using market transaction data.

Findings expand on notions about community attitudes and values towards public goods and the local actions needed to efficiently manage those goods to improve social-ecological adaptations. Results point to the need for public intervention to address market failures, including public acquisition of land, regulatory approaches, and incentive-based approaches. Implications for planning and policy are considered in addition to recommendations for outreach education.

Period: 2014-2016