February 22, 2023

Impact Assessments for Public Green Spaces

Measuring success in order to advocate for & maximize the social, environmental, & economic roles of gardens & parks

public green spaces

By: Kaslin Daniels

The ‘What’ and ‘Why’ of Impact Assessments

As nature-focused professionals, we understand that public green space has profound economic, social, and environmental benefits, but how often do we ask ourselves, “what exactly is our return on mission?” In other words, to what precise extent do our efforts advance the mission of our organization, and how do we measure it?

What are Impact Assessments?

Impact assessments help to quantify the influence of gardens, parks, and other green space on the surrounding community and environment. However, each mission-driven organization must define what success looks like and how to measure it, based on the organization’s mission and context.

Gardens and parks are leaders in environmental education, climate justice, and the art and science of horticulture. They simultaneously function as repositories for plant diversity and cultural heritage, public space where a range of activities take place, and living laboratories for experimentation and problem-solving. They are inherently places of respite and solitude; stages for social interaction and reconnection to nature; and opportunities for education and discovery. Thus, they have deep economic, social, and environmental impacts:

  • Economic Impact describes estimated changes in income, employment, and other business activities. This is often measured by direct revenue and expenditures, nearby property prices, employment effects, wages paid, regional tourism, downstream spillover effects to other cultural institutions and supplier chains, mutually beneficial collaborations that positively impact the local economy, and professional development.
  • Social Impact is the “effect of an activity on the social fabric of a community and the wellbeing of the individual families who live there” “The Measurement of Museum Social Impact (MOMSI) project addresses the critical need of establishing best practices for measuring social impact within the museum field.” MOMSI measures four categories in museum social impact: health and well-being, intercultural competence, continued education and engagement, and strengthened relationships. 38 host museums were selected from applicants as study sites for the MOMSI project, currently underway. The public study report is expected to be published in the spring of 2023.
  • Environmental Impact analyzes the consequence of development actions on the environment, as well as the extent to which gardens positively influence environmental attitudes through education. The American Public Gardens Association (APGA) sustainability index includes water quality and consumption, biodiversity and conservation, energy use, and materials management, and influence on human behavior and thinking.

So why are impact assessments for public green space important?

As discussed, green space provides a variety of benefits to the surrounding community and environment. Impact assessments can help to articulate these benefits and are crucial for communicating the value of public green space to surrounding communities, benchmarking and tracking progress over time, garnering support for funding, defending fiscal accountability to policymakers, and ultimately driving strategic, operational, and programmatic decision-making. Measuring social impact helps gardens better understand and serve their audiences and communities.

When gardens and other green spaces can codify their impact, they can improve internal practices and leverage funding to strengthen their social, environmental, and economic roles.

Contact Canopy to learn more about how our assessment services can benefit your organization.

Next month, Part 2 of this series will explore how impact assessments are conducted, and in Part 3 we’ll dissect a few examples of recent cutting-edge impact assessments for public green spaces.

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