The cause of land conservation is often championed on philosophical, ethical, and / or spiritual grounds. It is far less frequently placed in an economic context.
One reason for this is that these intangible rationales are very difficult to quantify. Another reason is that land conservation, in the short term, can represent significant costs whether it be in the form of foregone property taxes, community acquisition expenditures, or tax abatements. In an era of tightened budgets and dwindling federal and state support, those not in favor of land conservation emphasize this short term fiscal reality.
In many communities today there exists a wide disparity of opinion on the issue of land conservation. Proponents may cite the more intangible reasons such as quality of life, future generations, and wildlife concerns while opponents might point towards maintaining economic growth. This debate has become increasingly polarized with each "side" viewing the "other" with an increasingly apprehensive level of skepticism.
This debate can be brought closer to the center and can be viewed through a more common lens. Economic analyses, both short and long term, of land conservation can provide this polarized topic a common language. Over the past fifteen years, various studies have begun looking at this economic aspect of land conservation and have sought to uncover what conservation really means to a community and what type of economic impact it brings with it.
I am interested in land conservation and am a Scarborough resident. I am also aware of the economic realities facing the town. I hope that this study helps to combine these two perspectives.
The goal of this study is to provide a framework to assist Scarborough policy makers in analyzing future land-use decisions. It is intended to demonstrate that there are short term and long term trade-offs inherent in both land conservation and in different types of development and that they can be compared empirically.
This study has three distinct parts to it.
1) An overview of the Town of Scarborough with emphases on planning, open space, and growth issues.
2) A Cost of Community Services (COCS) Study which breaks down Scarborough's expenses and revenues by residential, commercial / industrial, and open space land-use categories. A comparison of Scarborough's COCS situation will be made with other towns that have undergone similar analyses.
3) An application of the economic and social benefits of Scarborough's open space. This part will draw on other studies across the country and will apply those valuation techniques relevant to Scarborough.
I would like to thank all the people that I contacted and / or interviewed for this project. I would especially like to thank two people in particular - my advisor, Professor David Weil, who helped me formulate the idea for this project and Paul Lesperance, Scarborough Tax Assessor, who gave me a good deal of his time during my visits to Scarborough Town Hall.