Public parks could provide economic benefits

May 13, 2015

The benefits of parks seem obvious – bringing social, cultural and environmental impact while at the same time working to minimize pollution and crowding. But is it also possible to demonstrate how an investment in public parks can provide an economic return?

That was the question posed to Arizona State University researchers by the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department. Lake Pleasant Arizona Download Full Image

"In an era of stiff competition for public funding, philanthropic support and private-sector investment, it is critical for parks and conservation organizations to go beyond touting the quality of life and health benefits afforded by a parks system. Understanding the economic benefits and impacts of parks and open space are critical in telling a well-rounded story,” said R.J. Cardin, director of Maricopa County Parks and Recreation.

Deepak Chhabra, a professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, led the study with help from graduate research assistant Eric Steffey and doctoral student Shengnan Zhao. Based on survey data from park visitors to eight iconic parks – six in Maricopa County and two that span into Pinal and Yavapai counties – the team ran impact studies for each park, as well as an aggregate study on the Phoenix metropolitan area.

“For an economic impact study, you must first define a visitor, second determine the total number of visitors to an attraction, and third to see where they are spending money,” said Chhabra.

Spending was broken into categories, such as camping and lodging fees, eating and drinking, and shopping.

The team also looked at types of spending:

• direct spending, where a visitor shops and provides a direct benefit to a vendor

• indirect spending, when a vendor purchases from another vendor

• induced, where employment is generated

“Although the positive benefits these open spaces provide to us are profound, many are intangible and difficult, if not impossible, to quantify. However, in working to inform policy and planning, numbers matter,” said Stacie Beute of the Central Arizona Conservation Alliance.

The results were good.

“We were able to show how much is generated after costs for every dollar invested by Maricopa County parks,” said Chhabra. “Overall, we found that for every dollar invested, approximately $1.40 was generated after costs.”

Chhabra noted that although individual park returns varied, it is difficult to determine why. The size of the park and amenities offered all differ and could factor in. Yet, it provides feedback to the parks on how they might improve results.

“The county is very good at researching data and impact,” said Carlton Yoshioka in the School of Community Resources and Development. “We frequently work together on customer research studies, and they use the information to guide better decisions.”

One area that Chhabra noted that could help boost results: linkages.

“For example, if a park has a restaurant and sources food locally rather than leaking resources out, it creates a strong linkage,” she explained. “The more connections they have – joining resources – the better impact for the park.”

“The work of ASU has helped us demonstrate the range and extent of benefits offered by the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation properties," Cardin said.

Beute also praised the research.

“Time and time again, the people of Arizona proclaim our open spaces, trails and the natural environment as our state's greatest assets. Yet, in the face of rapid development and urbanization, these spaces are under threat,” Beute said. “In asking ourselves what we want for the future of Maricopa County, there is much to weigh. This is exactly the kind of use-inspired research we need to make the case for continued and increased support for conservation of open spaces in Arizona.”

Heather Beshears

director marketing and communications, College of Public Service and Community Solutions


ASU, Eastern Arizona College partnership produces 21 grads

May 13, 2015

ASU 2015 commencement banner

Twenty-one spring 2015 ASU graduates have completed bachelor’s programs without having to uproot from home in Arizona’s Gila Valley, through the innovative educational partnership between ASU and Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher. group portrait Download Full Image

“I had the opportunity to better myself in a place that I love, doing what I love,” said Sharon Kluzek-Bast, one of the graduates.

Twelve students completed the bachelor of interdisciplinary studies in organizational studies, and one completed the bachelor of arts in liberal studies, in the College of Letters and Sciences. Eight earned the bachelor of applied science in operations management in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Eastern Arizona College (EAC) hosted a recognition event for the graduates and faculty at the Thatcher campus on May 9, giving extended family and friends who might not be able to make the six-hour round-trip drive to Tempe the chance to formally share in a celebration.

“Today I’m bursting with pride and a sense of accomplishment,” said EAC provost Jeanne Bryce in her opening welcome to those gathered to celebrate the second cohort of graduates to come through the ASU-EAC partnership programs.

Similar emotions were echoed by ASU College of Letters and Sciences dean Duane Roen, who gave remarks on behalf of ASU. He told the graduates to “take that pride, that sense of accomplishment and confidence that you have today, with you and apply it to the next goals you set for yourself and your future life choices.”

The cohort chose Michael W. Fox, ASU faculty associate and EAC business instructor, to present an address on behalf of the faculty at the recognition event. Fox noted he had the good fortune of teaching these students both their first semester in the program and the last and talked about the growth he’d witnessed in them.

"You've considered viewpoints you never would've considered before. You've held your ground – and changed your mind – when evidence dictated you do so,” said Fox. “I've watched, like a father full of pride, as you provided meaningful advice to small-business owners worried about becoming obsolete, seeing the excitement on their faces as you presented recommendations that caused them to fall in love with their business all over again."  

Interdisciplinary studies graduate Wayne Stephenson spoke on behalf of the graduates, many of whom had postponed their bachelor’s degrees for a time because of work and family commitments.

While enrolled in the program, Stephenson increased his GPA from 3.46 to a 4.0 and was named the Outstanding Graduate for spring 2015 by the College of Letters and Sciences. He was recognized at ASU undergraduate commencement in Sun Devil Stadium on May 11 and will be presented with an award from the ASU Alumni Association at the Letters and Sciences convocation on May 15.

He and his wife, Laurissa Stephenson, also in this cohort of ASU-EAC graduates, are the parents of a 9-month-old daughter, and both worked part-time while finishing their degrees.

Fellow graduate Janiel McNeill first attended Eastern Arizona College right out of high school, where she played volleyball and earned an associate degree in 2005.

“I started on a bachelor’s at Western New Mexico that following year, but just never finished,” said McNeill, now the parent of three young boys. “This program with ASU worked perfectly for me, allowing me to finish up in two years right here in Thatcher.”

She has begun applying for jobs and is considering taking the coursework to obtain teaching certification.

Indicative of this pioneering partnership’s potential to lead participants to advanced degrees is the experience of Anica Rose Aguero Curtis Norton, who graduated in the first cohort of ASU-EAC graduates last spring. She cheered on her husband, graduate Christopher Norton, from the audience at this year’s recognition event.

“I’m starting the master’s in management at W. P. Carey [School of Business] in the fall,” she told Roen after the ceremony. “I’m so excited to be on the ASU campus!”

Maureen Roen

Manager, Creative Services, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts