Will McCullough

The Great Outdoors, Indoors: An Evaluation of Green Spaces and Housing Prices in Pittsburgh, PA

April 6, 2021   /  

Student Name: Will McCullough
Major: Economics
Minor: Psychology
Advisor: Dr. Moses Luri

Green spaces, or public parks, playgrounds, and athletic fields, are a community hub. Many studies have highlighted the benefits of green space on surrounding neighborhoods. However, comparatively little research has assessed the relationship between park proximity and housing sales price. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, city officials have shown a renewed interest in increasing park access and quality, although no economic literature has examined role of green space in the housing consumption decision in the city. I develop a theory of green space preference in a consumer maximization framework to hypothesize that home prices will increase with proximity to green space. I then use a Spatial Auto-Regressive Moving Average (SARMA) model to estimate the impact of green space proximity on single family home sales prices in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. My results show that house sales prices will decrease by 2.34% with each additional mile from green space. This indicates a price premium on access to green space, further exacerbating inequalities between high and low socioeconomic status neighborhoods. This research highlights the need for additional research into environmental justice topics in Pittsburgh. This study was interesting to me because I was able to explore a topic relevant to urban planning and environmental causes, which I am passionate about. It also challenged me to learn new statistical techniques beyond what I was familiar with previously with enough support to do so successfully.

Will will be online to field comments on April 16: Noon-2 pm EDT (PST 9am-11am, Africa/Europe: early evening).

39 thoughts on “The Great Outdoors, Indoors: An Evaluation of Green Spaces and Housing Prices in Pittsburgh, PA”

  1. This is really interesting work. It really supports the economic value of green infrastructure development for environmental protection and for increasing property values for local residents. Does this research predict that investment in green spaces be a way to improve the economic value of property in urban areas?

    1. Thank you for this question Dr. Edmiston!
      The findings of my research do predict that investment in new green space area will increase home sale prices. However my research did not make a distinction between green space quality or features. Renovations to existing parks, while likely to increase surrounding home values, cannot be predicted from my research alone.

  2. Fascinating project, Will. I hope it can be replicated in cities across the country and world. At some point the empirical force of your basic thesis will become irresistible to policy makers.

    1. Thank you for this comment, Dr. Mariola! I hope that my research will contribute to the many findings on the health and ecological benefits of urban green space.

  3. This is a very interesting project, in particular in regard to issues of inequality in public goods and green space. It would be valuable to extend the research to urban areas where other variables would clearly be part of the analysis. NYC is one example, where the city started in the 1960s to expand green space with pocket parks across the city.

    1. Thank you for this comment, John! The concept of improving green space access through a large number of small parks is a topic I studied researching the relationship between urban parks and green space. If you are interested, there is a great article published last year titled “Green gentrification or ‘just green enough’: Do park location, size and function affect whether a place gentrifies or not?” in Urban Studies that looks at this.

  4. Very interesting work Will! Im curious if you think this economic incentive you have found might cause a continued privatization of green space, and how you think that may affect the larger ecosystem of the natural wildlife and animals that live within these states/cities?

    Well done and incredible job explaining it so clearly as always!

    1. This is a great question, Gian! I think that green space privatization is a fascinating development in green space access. I think this incentive could certainly lead to housing developers working to incorporate green space into new apartment complexes. I think this could lead to two competing effects on wildlife populations: increased green space in residential areas could be beneficial, while landscaped plants could become invasive to the local environment and attract other invasive species.

  5. Very nice research and presentation Will. As you may know, asthma rates are higher among poor communities and higher for Black and multi-racial youth according to the CDC. In a study by Science Daily in 2018, access to parkland and open space might help with asthma in children. Do you believe your study could also have public health implications?

    1. Thank for this important question! This study definitely has public health implications, and shows all the more how health outcomes are predicated on the design of the built environment. In areas where people cannot pay the price premium associated with green space proximity, there could certainly be a correlational link to negative health outcomes.

  6. This is very interesting and full of information. It raises ideas that I had not thought about and represents a great deal of investigating. How much time did you spend in Pittsburgh doing your research?

    1. Thank you, Mimi! I did a majority of my research online, although walking Bea around the city did inspire the topic.

  7. Congrats Will! I hope you are proud of all the impressive work you have done. Question: What tools/methods did you use to conduct geo-spacial analysis, making your maps, and to gather distance data from each of your data points?

    1. Thank you, Tessa! I used a few programs in my analysis. My dataset listed street addresses of all the homes, which I transformed into geographic coordinates using Geocodio, an online service. I then used ArcGIS to create my maps as well as calculate my main experimental variable. While I intended to conduct my geospatial analysis in Stata, my spatial files could not be opened in the program, so I used GeoDa space, an open source spatial econometrics program to conduct my final analysis.

  8. Awesome study and interesting findings. As a prospective home buyer with young children in Wooster, proximity to parks is certainly an added factor when looking for homes. From a modeling standpoint, were you able to include some statistical controls to account for other factors that could impact housing prices such as proximity to public transportation, shopping areas, and the racial composition of neighborhoods? Would love to see this study replicated. Congratulations on your work, Will. See you in class next week.

    1. Dr. Miyawaki, thank you for this question! Due to a lack of data availability, I was not able to include other spatial controlling variables. However, the inclusion of an instrumented lag on home sales in the empirical model was able to account for other locational pull factors through similarities between surrounding home sales prices. I was also unable to account for neighborhood racial composition explicitly, given the complexities of calculating neighborhood boundaries in individualized housing data. However, the long history of racist segregation patterns in the housing market are still prevalent today, especially in Pittsburgh and future research should certainly account for this.

  9. Fascinating and constructive (albeit speaking as a biased grandparent). What policies and practices might support equity and diversity of access to greenspace? Zones of affordable housing in proximity to existing greenspaces and new greenspace developments? Have any metro areas tried that?

    1. Thank you, Boomer! I think that some policies that could be used to promote equity in access in the future would be to tie green space development to other urban development, such as dense, affordable housing. Increasing density near to parks through neighborhood rezoning, particularly in inner-ring suburbs, would go a long way to reducing inequalities in access.

  10. So fun to see your IS research, Will! What an amazing project and I am so impressed with your empirical analysis – awesome work!! It’s really fun to think about connections with your AMRE work for Habitat and your IS project.

    1. Thank you, Dr. Krause! The research done in AMRE was an invaluable learning experience, and I would not have been anywhere near as confident with my empirics without it!

  11. Will, this is such an interesting topic! It is great to see that your work came from your passions of urban planning and environmental activism. As someone from the Pittsburgh region, it would be great to see more green spaces, but the subsequent socioeconomic ills could exacerbate a problem that is already occurring. In the future, I hope that research like yours can inform decision making when it comes to implementing green infrastructure and equal access. Great work and best of luck in the future!

    1. Thank you, Caitlyn! Improving park access is so important, and is made all the more complex by the unforeseen consequences on the communities these projects are aimed to uplift.

  12. Hi Will. I’m Joseph’s mom. Your roommate from freshman year. Fascinating topic. Congrats 🎊🎈 and wish you well in all your future endeavors.

  13. Will this is a data-rich and fascinating project on important topic, especially the implications for the policy work required to promote greater equity in access to green space. I’m curious if there was part of the analysis that controlled for different types of green spaces (ie, large contiguous forested parks vs. pocket parks from converted lots, or mid-sized landscaped areas). Knowing that homes close to green space are more highly valued, a next interesting step would be to look at policies to ensure that people who have less ability to pay those values don’t get shut out. Great work!

  14. Will, this is an absolutely amazing project, and watching your journey has been an absolute privilege. Congratulations.

  15. Hi Will, singing buddy, congratulations!! I wish you all the best moving forward 🙂

  16. Fantastic research and a very insightful presentation, Will! What implications for the accessibility of future of park spaces in urban cities like Pittsburgh do you think your findings reveal? Also, do you believe that formulating your research in Pittsburgh provided your project with any unique strengths as opposed to studying a different city?

    Well done!

    1. Thank you, Ellen! These are great questions. Future green space projects should be focused on areas of new, dense, development so as to not increase prices of the current affordable housing stock. For current affordable housing, improving the quality of existing parks is a necessary first step, in addition to devoting vacant lots to urban gardens. Pittsburgh was a unique area to focus on because of how many parks there are give the size of the city, and how the geography of the city gives rise to the many unique communities within the city. I think that focusing here, where the steep hillsides and rivers dictate residential boundaries, made for an interesting analysis.

  17. Fascinating topic, Will! It’s been a privilege to watch how much work and passion you’ve put into this project. As we know, Pittsburgh is a fairly segregated city. Did you notice a decrease in greenspace in lower-income areas? You also mention that size preferences when buying a home are inelastic; what research suggests this?

    1. Thank you, Victoria, for these important questions! My analysis did not look at differences in the level of green space broken down by neighborhood; however, for Pittsburgh proper it is clear that many of the wealthier communities are located on the edges of the two largest parks in the city. I also noted that more price fluctuation can be attributed to locational effects, specifically green space proximity, which indicates that people have predetermined needs when engaging in the home buying decision. This suggests that such factors as number of bedrooms and number of bathrooms will be predetermined and unlikely to change home buying preferences for an individual.

  18. Hi, Will, Congratulations on a thought-provoking study and presentation! Impressive statistical analysis. You have raised many significant issues, gentrification, public health.

    Have you considered sharing with policy makers in Pittsburgh? What was the most challenging part of your research?

    I am a proponent for more green space for giving children the opportunity to experience nature.

    I am the mom of a COW Alum (’13), and I am grateful to have the opportunity to see so many presentations today. I am impressed and encouraged by the intelligence, energy and enthusiasm you all show. Fills me with hope for our future.

    Best wishes.

  19. Thank you for sharing such important and interesting research! As a Pittsburgher myself, your topic caught my eye. I do not live within the city limits, but as someone who lives in a Pittsburgh suburb, the correlation between green space and housing prices is fascinating. I appreciate the time and effort you took on this project because it is something that can be used to inform policies and future actions not only in Pittsburgh but in other cities as well. Congratulations, Will!

  20. Super interesting topic! Did you track, or do you suspect, any difference in the effect if the green space is, say, a large private cemetery rather than a public park? (We lived near both in Squirrel Hill for 16 years. House appreciated value at an astonishing rate… but the market was undervalued when we bought.)

  21. Congratulations on your IS Will! After four years, we’ve made it! Best of luck with your future endeavors!

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