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Landscape Architecture: Value Added

As landscape architects, we intuitively understand the value that each of our projects brings to a client and community. The question is whether or not this intuitive ‘value’ is something that can be quantified or whether is it intangible and cannot be easily measured with numbers and data?

There are three primary values that are generally applied to Landscape Architecture: Economic, Environmental, and Social (quality of life). Is either one more important than the others, is a balanced approach best, and what other contributing factors affect the way in which ‘Value Added’ is measured?

With each project WDS undertakes, we strive for a balance of Value Added. Generally, the ‘value’ of a project is measured when the benefits are greater than the costs. For instance, when the economic, social, and environmental values to the client and community are greater than the planning, design, and construction costs then we can definitively say that we have value-added. There are numerous studies that attempt to measure, and in most cases succeed in quantifying a value for well-designed and built spaces and places. The most common types of studies generally focus on the economic and/or environmental benefits due in part to readily available data, but we also believe it's partly due to the pro forma profit-driven development culture. The social (quality of life) values are harder to quantify, with data being less readily available and therefore the number of studies are less common.

Two of the most iconic projects such as Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois, and The High Line in New York, NY, easily demonstrate the economic value Landscape Architecture can bring to a neighborhood, city, and ultimately a region.

Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois: Photo credit City of Chicago

For instance, Millennium Park attracts approximately 5 million visitors annually and generates an estimated annual revenue of $1.4 billion in direct visitor spending and an additional $78 million in tax revenue. The High Line project generated over ~$1.4 billion in tax revenue for New York City between 2007 and 2017, roughly ~$65 million annually.

The tax base isn’t the only economic value directly impacted by landscape architecture projects, development and housing are also some of the main benefactors of good landscape design. Adjacency creates a 25-40% price per square foot premium on newer residential condominium units that have views of the Millennium park, in some cases up to $125 more per sf than units with views of the city and lake. The High Line was a catalyst for over $2 billion in new adjacent development. Since 2007, there have been 3,000 net new dwelling units in West Chelsea, and as of 2018, 700 of these new units are rent regulated through the New York Real Estate Tax Law 421-a (Affordable NY Housing Program).

The High Line’s economic value, with the right public policies in place, also added to the Social Value of the project. In addition to housing options available to all socioeconomic levels, the High Line educates around 12,000 children each year through more than 400 educational sessions and an additional 2,500 adult visitors through more than 130 free public tours in 2016.

The High Line in New York, NY: Photo credit

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) commissioned “Value by Design” (Bookout, Beyard, and Fader 1994) to evaluate the contribution of landscape design to a variety of development projects. Some evidence, mostly anecdotal, was found that high-quality landscape design, site planning, and amenities generate added value. An approximate five percent (5%) premium was estimated, very similar to findings by others of roughly seven percent (7%).

The article “Landscape Architecture and Societal Values: Evidence from the Literature” (Kapper, T., Chenoweth. 2000.) emphasize something we as landscape architects all know. A keyway of demonstrating the direct correlation of the work we do and the value we bring to the health, safety and welfare of the communities we practice in is by employing post-occupancy evaluations (POE). Well-constructed POEs on implemented plans and designs can supply hard data on economic, social (quality of life), environmental value added, or in some cases lost, through quantifying user satisfaction, the relevant design features and providing a basis for comparison of outcomes between projects with and without the involvement of landscape architects.

WDS collaborates with each of our clients and their design teams to provide value-added designs. By tapping into our century of experience and expertise we strive to deliver economic, environmental, and social value in each of our designs. We intuitively know we do this and our goal moving forward is to grow our post-occupancy evaluations to clearly demonstrate how and where we add value.

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