Three essays on the economics of open space

Date of Completion

January 2009


Economics, General|Economics, Agricultural|Urban and Regional Planning




Land scarcity and conflict over rural land uses—agriculture, open space, housing, etc.—are common in many countries and particularly acute in high-density areas. Pressure to develop remaining rural land for residential and other uses remains strong in many places, but the demand to preserve open space also has grown, highlighting the need for better-informed land-use policies.^ This dissertation explores several related aspects of the economics of open space. First, in a series of models, Chapter 1 focuses on the determination of an optimal mix of open space and development within a geographically bounded community. Chapter 1 also applies econometric and simulation methods to Connecticut town-level data to investigate how fiscal instruments—local property taxes, government spending, and state-aid—influence open space provision. This chapter also considers the simultaneous determination of land-use restrictions and local fiscal decisions within a more complete model of local government behavior, including an extension that allows for household mobility and determination of population size.^ Chapter 2 investigates, theoretically and empirically, a fundamental dilemma of optimal land use—how to reconcile people's desire for larger housing lots and their wish to be surrounded by undeveloped land. Contingent valuation is used to examine this question, using data from a survey of Connecticut households about their willingness-to-pay for open space. This chapter focuses primarily on the aesthetic value of open space, as opposed to its use value. ^ Chapter 3 also examines the personal valuation of open space based on recent Connecticut survey data. Parametric and semi-parametric methods for censored data are applied, and the non-marketed recreational value of open space is derived. While Chapter 2 investigates the relationship between the aesthetic value of open space and private lot-size, Chapter 3 examines the relationship between the recreational value of open space and lot-size. Thus, two independent non-market values of open space are inferred from the separate application of contingent valuation and travel cost methods. Understanding the value of open space to Connecticut residents, and the methods used to obtain these estimates, should facilitate similar estimates for other states where suburban growth has infringed on rural areas and increased the willingness-to-pay for open space.^