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Green Space Investments Spur Placemaking Economic Development

September 2022

Park development in a community can provide a substantial return on investment and parks and trails often are an important placemaking strategy. The International Economic Development Council has defined placemaking as “the practice of enhancing a community’s assets to improve its overall attractiveness and livability.” Placemaking is defined as large-scale projects like the creation of new public or revitalized public spaces, alternative transportation infrastructure, pop-up retail, housing, or Downtown beautification projects. Bike trails, public beer gardens, parks, and other public spaces often mix uses and are attractive to residents and visitors alike. However, successful placemaking strategies require the use of multiple tools as well as an overall improvement in the quality of life available to area residents and visitors that create accessibility to employment centers, healthcare services, educational campuses, commerce centers, and recreational assets.

Five tools drive placemaking economic development strategies that transform communities, including:

  • Historic preservation redevelopment.
  • Parks and trail development.
  • Landbanks that spur housing redevelopment.
  • Housing development; and
  • Economic development incentives drive Downtown district redevelopment.

Public parks are drivers of substantial economic impact. Can anyone argue that the property around Central Park in New York City or Grant Park redevelopment in Chicago has not increased the property values in the area? According to the National Recreation and Parks Association, local park and recreation agencies generated more than $166 billion in U.S. economic activity and supported 1.1 million jobs from their operations and capital spending in 2017. Trails provide an economic benefit as well. Trails increase the value of nearby properties, boost spending at local businesses and can serve to link communities along trails, often called trail towns, creating a benefit from the influx of visitors going to restaurants, snack shops and other retail establishments. On longer trails, hotels, bed and breakfasts, and outdoor outfitters benefit, and trails make communities more attractive places to live, and trails encourage exercise often reducing resident medical costs. Studies in Wisconsin found residential lots near a trail system sold 9% faster and similar studies by the National Association of Realtors and National Home Builders Association found that trails ranked as the second most important amenity for homebuyers. Public spaces transformed into parks and trails create a location that brings residents and visitors together and develop a density of customers for restaurants, bars, arts centers, and other retail companies as well as drive up property values for the surrounding properties.

Often referred to as “active transportation routes,” trails, biking, and walking routes require creative and strong partnerships for building effective funding strategies and building an integrated trail system in your community. The states of Michigan and Ohio have robust active transportation route programs funded through federal, state, local, and private sources. 

Michigan. The state of Michigan has more than 2,100 miles of multi-use trail systems that stretch throughout the state and is one of the most scenic multi-use trail systems in the country. The state has been successful in extending multi-use trails through the utilization of federal funding programs but also using a robust menu of statewide funding and private funding programs.

State Funding Sources

Section 10k of Public Act 51 of 1951, as amended in Michigan’s transportation law (MCLA 247.660k), reserves 1% of state transportation funds for nonmotorized transportation. However, any improvement in a road, street, or highway, which facilitates nonmotorized transportation by the paving of unpaved road shoulders, widening of lanes, or any other appropriate measure is considered a qualified nonmotorized facility for the purposes of this section.

The objective of the Michigan Natural Resource Trust Fund is to provide grants to local units of government and to the State for the acquisition and development of lands and facilities for outdoor recreation or the protection of Michigan’s significant natural resources. Applications are evaluated on established criteria such as resource protection, water access, and community recreation and require at least a 25% match on either acquisition or development projects from local applicants. Recommendations are made by the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board (members are appointed by the Governor) to the State Legislature for final approval.

Michigan’s Recreation Improvement Fund is for the operation, maintenance, and development of recreation trails, restoration of lands damaged by off-road vehicles, and inland lake cleanup. There is no open application process and most of the money is used on DNR projects, so communities interested in accessing these funds must secure support from the local DNR Division which can sponsor local projects. 

Local Funding Sources

Transportation Improvements Program (TIP) and Capital Improvements Program (CIP) funding should be considered for nonmotorized improvements, especially those located within road rights-of-ways, which are most likely to be incorporated into and funded as incidental parts of larger transportation projects, and thus should qualify for the same transportation funds as the rest of the roadway construction or improvement project.

Downtown Development Authorities are formed to promote and fund investment in downtown areas. Districts are defined that qualify for TIF (Tax Increment Financing) and other special funding formulas. Local businesses both benefit from and contribute to these authorities. The public infrastructure improvements that are part of downtown revitalization often include pedestrian facilities and amenities. Bicycle facilities, including bicycle parking and bikeway implementation, could also be accomplished within these infrastructure improvements.

Millages, Bonds, and Assessments are often utilized by local, county, and state units of government through millage approvals or bond issues which are passed by voters or governing bodies. Several Michigan communities – for example, Ann Arbor, Rochester Hills, Grosse Ile, Novi, and West Bloomfield Township – have millages in place for park operations, maintenance, development, and land acquisition which can be one of the most effective approaches for funding a greenway or local trailway system initiative.

Utility Leases are another creative approach to funding public greenway/trailway corridors where communities can obtain lease revenue from compatible uses, such as buried pipelines or communication lines. There can be one-time payments for acquisition or development or annual payments for operation and maintenance.

Private Funding Sources

American Greenways Dupont Awards Program is administered by the Conservation Fund, in partnership with Dupont, and the National Geographic Society, and provides grants of $500 to $2,500 to local greenways projects. These grants can be used for activities such as mapping, conducting ecological assessments, surveying land, hosting conferences, developing brochures, producing interpretive displays and audio-visual material, incorporating land trusts, and building trails. Grants cannot be used for academic research, general institutional support, lobbying or political activities.

The DALMAC Fund was established in 1975 to promote bicycling in Michigan and is administered by the Tri-County Bicycle Association and supported by proceeds from the DALMAC (Dick Allen Lansing to Mackinaw) bicycle tour. The Fund has supported safety and education programs, bicycle trail development, statewide bicycle organizations, and route mapping projects.

In Southeast Michigan, the GreenWays Initiative helps connect the communities of southeastern Michigan through the creation of connected green infrastructure, including biking and hiking paths, conservation corridors, and habitats among and between communities. The GreenWays Initiative was developed to create opportunities for collaboration and shared environmental awareness and appreciation by the residents of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw, Livingston, Monroe, and Saint Clair Counties. A five-year program of the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan, the GreenWays Initiative is a comprehensive effort that will expand and enhance the region's natural landscape. Two types of grants are available: GreenWays Predevelopment Grants for predevelopment activities and GreenWays Land Grants for the physical construction of greenways and trails.

Ohio. Ohio is home to several creative funding mechanisms for building alternative transportation routes, many of which fall within the state’s Department of Transportation and Department of Natural Resources.

Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) provides funding for projects defined as transportation alternatives, including on- and off-road pedestrian and bicycle facilities, infrastructure projects for improving non-driver access to public transportation and enhanced mobility, community improvement activities, and environmental mitigation; recreational trail program projects; and safe routes to school projects. The TAP program funds up to 80 percent of eligible costs for construction and/or acquisition of property for eligible TAP projects.

Safe Routes to School Program (SRTS) is a federally funded program run through states that provides resources, technical assistance, and project funding to encourage and enable students in grades K-8 to walk or ride their bikes to school. A comprehensive approach to SRTS includes both infrastructure and non-infrastructure countermeasures and programs. 

This program is funded at $4 million annually for projects in 5 categories: Engineering, Encouragement, Education, Enforcement, and Evaluation. Funds are available for:

  • Infrastructure projects within two miles of schools serving K-8 students. ODOT will reimburse up to 100% of eligible costs for all phases, including preliminary engineering, detailed design, right-of-way, construction, and construction engineering. Project limit: $400,000.
  • Non-infrastructure activities such as education, encouragement, enforcement, or evaluation. Non-infrastructure funding may be requested for assistance with the development of plans. ODOT will reimburse up to 100% of eligible costs for items such as training and materials, program supplies, small safety and education incentives, and public awareness campaigns. Project limit: $60,000.

NatureWorks projects are funded through the Ohio Parks and Natural Resources Bond Issue which was approved by Ohio voters in November 1993. The NatureWorks grant program provides up to 75% reimbursement assistance with a $150,000 maximum award for local government subdivisions (townships, villages, cities, counties, park districts, joint recreation districts, and conservancy districts) for the acquisition, development, and rehabilitation of recreational areas.

The Clean Ohio Trail Fund (COTF) seeks to improve outdoor recreational opportunities for Ohioans by funding trails for outdoor pursuits of all kinds. Local governments, park and joint recreation districts, conservancy districts, soil and water conservation districts, and non-profit organizations are eligible to apply for COTF funding of up to 75 percent of eligible costs and a grantee match of 25 percent. Eligible projects include:

  • Land acquisition for a trail
  • New trails or connector-trail development
  • Construction grants also might cover the cost of engineering and design

The Recreational Trails Program is a federally funded program through the Federal Highway Administration where cities and villages, counties, townships, special districts, state and federal agencies, and nonprofit organizations are eligible to apply for up to 80 percent matching funds for a variety of eligible projects with a maximum award of $150,000.

Eligible projects include the development of urban trail linkages, trailhead, and trailside facilities; maintenance of existing trails; restoration of trail areas damaged by usage; improving access for people with disabilities; acquisition of easements and property; development and construction of new trails; purchase and lease of recreational trail construction and maintenance equipment; environment and safety education programs related to trails.

The PeopleForBikes Community Grant Program supports bicycle infrastructure projects and targeted advocacy initiatives that make it easier and safer for people of all ages and abilities to ride. PeopleForBikes accepts grant applications from non-profit organizations with a focus on bicycling, active transportation, or community development; from city or county agencies or departments, and from state or federal agencies working locally. PeopleForBikes funds a maximum of $10,000 for projects throughout the United States, with most grant funds awarded for bicycle infrastructure projects, such as:

  • Bike paths, lanes, trails, and bridges
  • Mountain bike facilities
  • Bike parks and pump tracks
  • BMX facilities
  • End-of-trip facilities such as bike racks, bike parking, bike repair stations, and bike storage

PeopleForBikes can also fund limited advocacy projects, such as programs that transform city streets and campaigns to increase investment in bicycle infrastructure. PeopleForBikes will fund engineering and design work, construction costs including materials, labor and equipment rental, and reasonable volunteer support costs. For advocacy projects, the program will fund staffing that is directly related to accomplishing the goals of the initiative.

Funding for parks and trail projects can be an important resource for community’s seeking to develop placemaking initiatives that tie communities together and encourage public health.

Please contact Jamie Beier Grant at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you need assistance with any greenspace, parks, or trail funding initiatives.

To view previous MEDA blogs, visit our Blog Archive page.

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