As city dwellers, it’s nice to have a nearby park where we can see a bit of green among all of New York’s concrete.
But depending on exactly where that park is located, it may have way bigger benefits than just aesthetics, like residents living longer and saving money, according to a new report.
Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health looked into the cost-effectiveness of a deck park, or elevated park, built on top of the Cross-Bronx Expressway — a major freeway that was rated one of the most congested roadways in the country.
Using a computer simulation, the researchers were able to look at how a park over a 2.4-mile section of the highway would affect the nearly 230,000 people who live nearby.
That green space would benefit each resident to the tune of an extra $1,629 and nearly two months of healthy living added to their life expectancy, researchers found.
“It is extremely rare for social policy investments to save both money and lives,” said Peter Muennig, senior author of the study and a professor of Health Policy and Management, in a statement. “Examples include vaccines and basic automobile safety measures like seatbelts. Turning a highway into a park is a bit of a seatbelt or vaccine for a whole neighborhood.”
The expressway, 6.5 miles long in total, has been linked to a number of health problems in the community. The more than 175,000 vehicles driving on the expressway per day have contributed to air pollution, experts say, which in turn has led to respiratory issues, like asthma, for residents.
“If you start looking at the statistics, it's very mind-boggling the statistics on asthma in the Bronx. It's mainly related to the built environment,” said one informant for a 2014 Bronx Community Needs Assessment report. “I mean there is a genetic predisposition, no doubt. … But we call it the asthma alley because …you have I87 Highway, you have the Cross Bronx [Expressway], then you have I95.”
Though a park over the expressway would cost about $757 million, the benefits would more than make up for that price tag, according to the report, published in the American Journal of Public Health.
A park would increase property values, which would help cover that cost, and also lead to improved schools and lower crime, researchers said. The green space would not only work to counter the air pollution but would also lead to fewer pedestrian accidents and more opportunities for residents to get exercise.
This would be beneficial because, according to Muennig, the neighborhoods through which the expressway cuts see some of the highest rates of diabetes and obesity in the city.
"Turning sections of this highway into a park is a unique opportunity to reverse this damage,” he said.