When Daniel Thut and his brother-in-law/business partner, Douglas Witmer, first considered the West Philadelphia property that is now the flagship of their small Greenline Cafe coffeehouse chain, they had to look past a lot.
Specifically, past the window frames of the dilapidated former flower shop to something across the intersection of 43d Street and Baltimore Avenue.
There sat what eventually convinced the young entrepreneurs that the property was worth sinking more than $300,000 into: Clark Park, nine acres of rare urban green space in what was, at the time, a University City neighborhood transitioning from a high-crime reputation.
"We just stood there and looked out the windows and saw the green and the trees of the park and said: 'Wow. This is really beautiful,' " Thut said. "In a lot of ways, the park was part of the inspiration for the cafe."
And, it turns out, part of a much larger and, until now, not fully quantified affirmation of the economic muscle of open space in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Open-space preservationists have long cited economic value as one of the advantages of keeping land protected from development. Now comes a first report on the economic benefits of the region's nearly 200,000 acres of greenway.
Among the findings of the report, "The Economic Value of Protected Open Space," released Tuesday by the GreenSpace Alliance and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission are that land off-limits to developers:
Increases homeowners' property values by an average of $10,000;
Supports nearly 7,000 jobs and generates $271 million in annual salaries and $30 million in state and local tax revenue;
Generates more than $566 million in annual spending;
Saves businesses $500 million in workers' compensation and costs related to lost productivity;
Spares local governments and utilities more than $132 million a year in costs associated with environmental services such as flood control and drinking-water filtration, and,
Helps open-space users avoid $795 million in medical expenses and businesses avoid $485 million in lost-productivity costs.
Because three-quarters of Southeastern Pennsylvania's protected open space is in Chester and Bucks Counties (47 percent and 26 percent, respectively), the cited benefits of open space were, naturally, highest there for many of the impact categories studied in the report, prepared by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, Econsult Corp., and Keystone Conservation Trust.
Although it makes no policy recommendations, the report says its aim is "to reverse the common misconception that undeveloped or conserved land is nonproductive and non-revenue-producing."
Such a reversal would enable "a huge shift in the way we can talk to the decision-makers about the importance of the investment of dollars" in open space, said Molly Morrison, who heads the GreenSpace Alliance and is president of Natural Lands Trust in Media, both conservation-advocacy groups.
"What this report hopefully does is put open-space investment on a par with the other choices that need to be made, instead of discounting it as a luxury," Morrison said.
The decision-makers to which she referred include elected officials, policy creators, and the general public. For much of the last two decades, even during the current economic struggle, taxpayers have been overwhelmingly voting for tax increases and bond issues for open-space protection.
Earlier this month, for instance, voters in East Coventry, Chester County, approved a 0.25 percent earned-income tax increase for land preservation.
The report did not address costs associated with acquiring, preserving, or maintaining open space, nor did it provide a cost-benefit analysis.
Defending ground from development in such a high-growth region - high, at least, until the 2007 recession hit - is indeed costly. Prices range from $10,000 to $100,000 per acre in the suburbs to even millions per acre in the city. Preservationists say public grants and other funding, especially at the state level, are harder to come by because of budget constraints.
Running a township is harder, too, said Elam Herr, assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Township Supervisors. For them, preserving open space "is just one more item they have to look at . . . and put into the scheme of things."
He said supervisors' decision-making might mean confronting such questions as: "Do we spend money on road maintenance and snow removal, or do we buy open space? Do we put money into a police department or open space?"
In the end, Herr said, the choice comes down to: "What does the community feel is necessary?"
At 43d and Baltimore, Greenline Cafe's name was inspired by both the color of the neighborhood's trolley line on maps and the park that gave Thut and Witmer the courage to start a business there.
They have not been disappointed. Of their three coffeeshops in the city, they say, that one is the busiest.
"I attribute that to our proximity to Clark Park," Thut said. "That's like an extension of our space."
Read the Southeastern Pa. open-spaces report via