A tale of two greenways: a comparative study of greenway projects.

Author:Markeson, Gabrielle


In a recently developed smart growth (1) community located outside Portland, Oregon, the residents live in tall, narrow sculptured glass buildings, will travel via tram and the light rail system currently under construction, and socialize at restaurants and shops lining the waterfront. (2) Despite the modern impression, the community remains green by preserving open space and creating visual access to the natural surroundings. In addition, the community maintains a 1.2 mile river walk with different habitat regions to support wildlife and utilizes ecoroofs, which filter rain water before returning it to the ground. (3) This high-density community interspersed with green space reflects a recent trend in urban planning and is currently in high demand. (4) Smart growth communities provide a middle ground between the suburbs and a "gritty downtown." (5)

This smart growth community offers a number of highly desirable amenities including a greenway. The term "greenway" encompasses a broad range of green space including:

  1. A linear open space established along either a natural corridor, such as a riverfront, stream valley, or ridgeline, or overland along a railroad right-of-way converted to recreational use, a canal, a scenic road, or other route. 2. Any natural or landscaped course for pedestrian or bicycle passage. 3. An open-space connector linking parks, nature reserves, cultural features, or historic sites with each other and with populated areas. 4. Locally, certain strip or linear parks designated as a parkway or greenbelt. (6)

    The desire for greenways, however, is not limited to smart growth communities. (7) Despite this increasing interest, many communities have not been successful in building greenways. (8) This Comment identifies aspects of greenway projects that are keys to their success based on a comparative study of two greenway projects, one flourishing and one struggling.

    Part One discusses the environmental, economic, and health benefits of greenways. Part Two discusses common challenges when building a greenway, mainly community support and land acquisition. Parts Three and Four respectively outline the processes Chattanooga, Tennessee and Rockford, Illinois used in their greenway projects. Part Five compares the Chattanooga greenway project with the Rockford greenway project to ascertain important differences in Chattanooga's process that generated a thriving greenway.


      Greenways provide environmental, economic, and health benefits to individuals and the community as a whole.

      1. Environmental Benefits of Greenways

        There is currently a global trend towards urbanization: the population density at the core of cities is increasing, and at the same time, metropolitan areas expand through outward migration to suburbs. (9) Expanding cities and development cause open space to disappear, (10) but greenways mitigate or prevent environmental harm caused by development. (11)

        As development expands, open space is replaced with impervious surfaces, including streets, parking lots, and sidewalks. (12) Impervious surfaces negatively impact the environment because they contaminate source water. (13) Pollutants, such as motor oil, engine coolant, pesticides, and fertilizers, collect on impervious surfaces. (14) Storm water washes these pollutants off roads and into nearby natural water sources. (15) Normally, vegetation and soil filter out pollutants from storm water before it reaches natural water sources. (16) Impervious surfaces, however, prevent this natural filtration; (17) therefore, greenways located between impervious surfaces and source water improve water quality. (18)

        Greenways also protect biodiversity by preserving naturally linear habitats, such as riparian habitats. (19) They even preserve habitats for wildlife species that require more space than the greenway itself provides by connecting smaller, fragmented habitat areas. (20) The effective size of conserved land is the total of all linked open space. (21) This is a unique benefit of greenways which parks and non-linear open space lack.

        Further, greenways provide vegetation, which controls air and noise pollution. Vegetation removes pollution from the air (22) and mitigates thermal pollution caused by concrete and glass in urban areas. (23) Greenways also act as a buffer between inconsistent land uses and absorb and reflect noise pollution. (24)

      2. Economic Benefits of Greenways

        Greenways provide economic benefits to individual landowners, the local economy, local businesses, and state and local governments. Homeowners and landowners benefit economically because greenways increase the value of nearby property (25) and improve home marketability. (26) Proximity to open space increases home value because it lowers population density and pollutions High traffic greenways, however, may actually decrease the value of adjacent property if the open space is designed poorly and creates user-landowner conflict. (28) Developers may also benefit if reserving land for a greenway fulfills local green space ordinance requirements or qualifies for open space tax benefits. (29)

        The community as a whole benefits because greenways create new markets in the community, such as tourism (30) and outdoor recreation activities. (31) Increased tourism and outdoor recreation create greater demand for amenities like restaurants, lodging, and recreation equipment, which can have a significant effect on the local economy. (32) The greenway itself generates job opportunities for individuals planning, building, managing, and maintaining the greenway. (33)

        In addition to attracting new business, a greenway can improve existing business. (34) Greenways increase the quality of life by providing an attractive place to walk outside (35) and a useful means of public transportation, (36) which lowers business costs for transportation and insurance in part because increased physical activity improves employees' overall health. (37) Greenways support existing businesses by attracting customers. For example, the Katy Trail, a 225-mile bike path which extends across almost the entire state of Missouri, attracts up to 3000 to 4000 people per weekend. (38) Despite a national recession, many stores along the trail reported up to a tripling of sales since the trail opened in 1990. (39)

        State and local governments receive indirect economic benefits from greenways through increased tax revenues due to higher property values. (40) In addition, governments may save money by reserving open space--despite additional property taxes generated by development--because development also requires additional expenditures on public utilities and services, such as roads and schools. (41) Greenways reduce congestion on roads by providing an alternative to driving, and building a greenway is much more cost efficient than building a road to reduce traffic congestion. (42) Finally, governments buy a type of preventative insurance because greenways provide flood control (43) and reduce public health costs by increasing the fitness level of a community. (44)

      3. Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Greenways

        The rise of the automobile in American society led to a sedentary lifestyle. (45) As automobiles became more available, roads and communities were designed for cars rather than pedestrians and bicyclers. (46) Within communities, increased distances between home and work and other destinations make walking or biking impractical or impossible. (47) In addition, road designs were less safe and aesthetically displeasing for pedestrians and bikers. (48) These factors contribute to the problem of inactivity (49) which, combined with poor diet, led to what some public health experts call an epidemic of obesity in the United States. (50) But physical activity can prevent physical health problems as well as psychological health problems. (51)

        Local and federal governments facilitate physical activity by providing safe, attractive, and economical places to exercise, like greenways. (52) Greenways provide greater accessibility to more residents than a traditional park because of their length. (53) Public health experts believe that lifestyle changes that include enjoyable and active leisure time provide the most effective means to increase physical activity. (54) Any increase in physical activity, even small amounts, improves health. (55) When greenways are used as an alternative form of transportation, multiple short daily trips can add up to a significant increase in total activity levels. (56)

        Greenways improve mental health by providing opportunities for physical activity and visual access to greenery. Physical activity improves psychological health by reducing anxiety and relieving symptoms of depression. (57) In addition, studies link mental well-being with access to greenery. (58) The source of the greenery, whether an untouched natural landscape or an urban park, is immaterial because all greenery provides the same therapeutic effect. (59) Urban greenways provide the additional benefit of an escape from noise and other stressors particular to cities. (60)


      Two major challenges in building greenways are garnering community support, particularly from landowners adjacent to the proposed project, and acquiring land requisite to build the greenway.

      1. Community Support

        The failure of the Santa Cruz County greenway in California demonstrates the need for community support from the beginning stages of a greenway project. The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors incorporated a greenway plan into their county maps. In reaction, a grassroots movement against the greenway organized a group, Citizens for Responsible Land Use. (61) The Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in response to the community pressure requiring all trail measures to comport with state and federal law and constitutional property rights. (62) After continued...

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