When Jolyn Rademacher moved to Baltimore from Texas four years ago, she fell in love with the Patterson Park neighborhood, in part because of the open space and gardens to which she could walk from her new rowhouse.
Patterson Park renewal efforts began during the mid-1990s through a cooperative effort between the city and a nonprofit group of neighborhood volunteers. The volunteers tend to gardens and help keep the park clean. Real estate values around the city park have steadily increased ever since, in part, neighbors say, because of the beautification efforts.
A well-maintained neighborhood park shows homebuyers that residents care about their community and it can help increase home values, according to real estate experts and property appraisers. For all the talk about renovations to the inside of homes and the curb appeal that sellers often concentrate on when readying their homes for sale, nothing can replace a safe community, good schools and a well-maintained neighborhood, real estate experts said.
"It certainly increases the marketability of the [nearby] property," said Donald Gabriel, president of the Maryland Chapter of the Appraisal Institute.
Rademacher likes the Patterson Park neighborhood so much that she is moving across the street to a larger row home - one that is boarded up and vacant and which she plans to renovate. The house she bought for $65,900 in 1999 is under contract to be sold for $174,900 next week.
"It's a half-block from the park," Rademacher said of the home she sold, "and I know that, for the folks who bought it, that was the big thing for them: being so close to the park."
The park's physical improvement isn't the only factor in real estate growth - residents also appreciate neighborhood involvement, particularly the Friends of Patterson Park Association, which has taken a leadership role in improving the park during the past four years.
"Buyers come here because of the park," said Tara Tyler, sales manager for Patterson Park Community Development Corp., which buys and rehabilitates houses. "But I think a lot of credit has to go to the community association for unifying the residents in the first place."
This community bond is what makes city green space so important and helps to attract new buyers, said Peter Harnik, director of the Green Cities Program for the Trust for Public Land.
'A place to congregate'
"It is a place to congregate and meet neighbors, and increases the social connectedness of the neighborhood," he said. "You can feel an impact up to about 2,000 feet away from the park."
Harnik has begun a two-year study into the value that a city park system brings to an urban setting, with a concentration on property value, tourism and other economic measures. He has done a case study on Patterson Park and found that housing values increased in that area more so than in any other part of Baltimore. Real estate agents he interviewed for the study said a park isn't always a selling point.
"A park is a two-edged sword," Harnik said. "If it's up-and-coming, as Patterson Park is now, then it's a strong selling point. If it isn't, the agents may disguise the fact that the house is near a park."
Real estate values have grown nationwide during the past five years, thanks to low mortgage rates and an extraordinary demand for housing. Experts said that cleaning up a park in a neighborhood with other problems won't immediately increase values but that it often can be a start toward something better.
Common neighborhood efforts to improve parks strengthen a community and make it more appealing to buyers, said Steven Cohan, professor of landscape management at the University of Maryland, College Park.
"The beautification projects bring the neighborhoods together so there's a lot of community spirit built up," Cohan said.
Values nearly double
House prices in Washington Hill have nearly doubled during the past two years, and some have been selling for around $240,000, according to some neighbors - but Maureen Sweeney Smith, executive director of Citizens for Washington Hill, couldn't say whether the improvements to City Springs Park caused the real estate spurt.
Once a sleeping ground for vagrants, that park now has a community garden and well-maintained athletic fields, thanks to the efforts of neighbors and the local community organization.
"I'm sure that having the park look good and not having 50 guys in there shooting drugs would be a plus if you're buying a home," she said.
Collington Square Park
For many years, Collington Square Park in East Baltimore was drug-infested, unkempt and trashed with liquor bottles - like its surrounding neighborhood, said Buddy Jones, treasurer for the Collington Square Neighborhood Association.
"This was a very hard-core drug-infested neighborhood that I was literally afraid to walk in," he said.
But Jones now views the park and the combined effort of neighborhood groups as kindling the hopes for a better future there.