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Philly studies shows positive financial impact of 'greening'

  • Subject: [cg] Philly studies shows positive financial impact of 'greening'
  • From: Don Boekelheide dboekelheide@yahoo.com
  • Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2005 16:35:40 -0800 (PST)

Philadephia Inquirer, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Greening up fertilizes home prices, study says

By Anthony S. Twyman

Inquirer Staff Writer

Thinking of planting a nice tree or some shrubs on a
vacant lot near your home?

A study by a University of Pennsylvania professor
shows that such neighborhood improvements may be not
only aesthetically pleasing, but good for your home's
bottom line.

Susan Wachter, a professor of real estate, finance,
and city and regional planning at Penn's Wharton
School, found, among other things, that planting trees
within 50 feet of houses in New Kensington - a
neighborhood roughly bordered by Girard Avenue, Front
Street, Allegheny Avenue and the Delaware River -
increased home prices by about 9 percent, or about

Wachter also found that sales prices of houses rose as
much as 30 percent, "an astonishingly large impact,"
when the homes were located near vacant lots that had
been "cleaned and greened."

"In the New Kensington area, this translates to a $4
million gain in property value through tree plantings
and a $12 million gain through lot improvements," the
study concludes.

Wachter plans to release a similar study soon of the
entire city. That one will look at the impact that
public investments such as Mayor Street's
multimillion-dollar anti-blight initiative have had on
neighborhood housing prices, public safety, and many
other measures of quality of life.

The citywide study will examine the sales prices for
more than 200,000 homes.

"I believe this is path-breaking work," she said. "We
haven't had a study of this scale on these factors in
Philadelphia before."

Officials from Mayor Street's Neighborhood
Transformation Initiative plan to use the study to
better target their resources and solicit additional
funds from government and private sources.

Mayor Street's initiative, which began in 2001, is
investing $275 million in city bond funds, $250
million in federal funds, and more than $50 million in
city general funds in hundreds of projects and
programs, ranging from removal of abandoned cars to
demolition of vacant buildings.

Wachter patterned the citywide study after the New
Kensington one, which she released in July. It looked
at the effect on home prices of a program that created
community gardens and side yards, and cleaned and
planted trees and grass in hundreds of vacant lots in
Kensington, Fishtown and Port Richmond.

Using information from the City Board of Revision of
Taxes and a complex mathematical formula, she factored
in the condition of the New Kensington homes and the
neighborhood as well as the homes' proximity to vacant
lots, parks, public transportation, schools, and the
Center City business district. (The citywide study
looks at even more variables, she said.)

"Tree plantings showed a significant, positive effect
on house price of about 9 percent," the study says.

It also found that proximity to vacant land "decreases
neighborhood values by 18 percent... and being within
one quarter mile from a park increased values by 10

In addition, Wachter found that home-sale prices
increased for houses that were close to public
transit, but not too close. "The initial upward trend
may be demonstrating that people prefer not to live
right next to the noise and other effects of an
elevated subway,..." the study says.

With help from a grant from the William Penn
Foundation, Wachter analyzed more than 3,000 home
sales from 1980 to 2003 in New Kensington and combined
them with data compiled by Philadelphia Green, a
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society program, that,
along with the New Kensington Community Development
Corp., oversaw a seven-year project enlisting the
community's help to plant trees and refurbish vacant

"For the first time, utilizing new technology... we
were able to measure the steady impact of greening,"
Wachter said.

Sandy Salzman, executive director of the New
Kensington Community Development Corp., said that,
combined with the lowest mortgage rates nationally in
decades and other improvements, the greening project
has had a large impact on housing prices in the

For instance, Salzman said, vacant lots that no one
was interested in seven years ago are now selling for
thousands of dollars. "We couldn't give the land away
when we started this program," Salzman said. "The
thing we worry about now, quite frankly, is

As a result of its role in New Kensington,
Philadelphia Green received $4 million last year from
the mayor's Neighborhood Transformation Initiative.
And it expects to get about $2 million this year to
oversee citywide lot-maintenance and greening
programs. The city has 31,000 vacant lots.

"How do you make a neighborhood more attractive so
that market forces start to kick in?" said Michael
Groman, Philadelphia Green's senior director. "We
really see [this] as the catalyst for how to deal with
these vacant lots."

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