Preserved Open Space a Public Good But What's Its Value?

URI professor researching quantification of environmental values

By ecoRI News staff

 Corey Lang

Corey Lang

KINGSTON, R.I. — Corey Lang is on a mission to understand what value people place on non-market goods such as open space.

These goods typically have no observable monetary value associated with them, according to Lang, an associate professor of natural resource economics at the University of Rhode Island. But open space such as parks and recreational areas can influence the value people place on real estate and other goods.

“Preserved open space is a public good that isn’t bought and sold in a traditional market place, and thus there is no price on it, as there is for standard goods like milk,” Lang said. “Because there is no price, it's difficult to infer how much people value open space, even though it's clear they do.”

Lang was recently awarded two $500,000 grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to research trends associated with the value people place on non-market goods and their impact on the price of other goods and services.

“Land conservation is a somewhat sizable policy objective in many states,” he said. “This policy generates value through the property market and through recreation opportunities. One thing we want to understand is if there are disparities in benefits between different income, racial, and ethnic groups.”

Lang will conduct his study by examining where people live and how they vote on environmental referenda.

“By studying where people choose to live and the prices they pay, we can infer how much they’re willing to pay to live in proximity to open space and other environmental amenities,” Lang said. “We will also study why people voted the way they did to infer how they value the environment. Within this context of estimating value, we’ll then seek to understand if open space conservation benefits some groups disproportionately.”

Lang has been awarded more than $2.4 million in research funding since joining the URI faculty in 2011. Among his other research interests is the question of how the local community is responding to America’s first offshore wind farm near Block Island. In a study funded by Rhode Island Sea Grant, he is examining the economic impact of the wind farm on tourism by using data from real-estate transactions and rentals to determine if the wind turbines have had any significant impact on the real-estate and rental markets.

He has also conducted studies of onshore wind turbines and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) by using the housing market to learn whether prices responded to the siting of a turbine or a fracking well nearby. His 2013 examination of onshore wind turbines in Rhode Island found that the installations had no effect on property values.