Measuring Impact: Evaluating the Economic, Social, and Ecological Services of the City of Ann Arbor Greenbelt Program

Client Organization: 
The Conservation Fund
Project Location : 
Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, Michigan
Summary of Project Idea: 

In 2003, residents of Ann Arbor passed the Open Space and Parkland Preservation Millage, known as the Greenbelt Millage. Money generated through this tax levy is used to protect farmland, open spaces, and natural areas within portions of eight townships surrounding Ann Arbor, known as the Greenbelt District, with a smaller portion of funds reserved for purchasing park land within city limits. The primary purpose of the initiative is to preserve open spaces, natural habitats, working lands, and the City’s source waters in the Huron River watershed. Since its launch, the millage has provided funds to add 72 acres of additional park land within the city and to protect over 4,700 acres of farmland and open spaces within the Greenbelt District.

There are few examples nationwide of citizens voting to tax themselves to preserve land outside of the cities where they live by funding the purchase of development rights. Observations by local policy makers, the media, and members of the public lend  support for the claim that over the past decade, the Greenbelt has provided lasting benefits to both Ann Arborites and to surrounding communities of the Greenbelt District. But how might we take a detailed, rigorous approach to quantifying and qualifying the benefits of the Greenbelt? Indeed, what measurements should we be using and why? Furthermore, how might we convey those benefits, not only to the various stakeholders who will decide its future, but to other communities that might wish to explore this novel approach to land preservation?

The Conservation Fund and Greenbelt Advisory Commission seek assistance in measuring and then describing the impact of the Geenbelt millage, including evaluating (and valuating) the economic, social, and ecological services provided by the Greenbelt. We believe this is a timely undertaking as the millage approaches the halfway point of its lifespan. Most obviously, we would like to evaluate the economic and ecological benefits of the Greenbelt in ways that a broad audience can understand. But we would also like to consider a range of social, educational, and other outcomes that the Greenbelt has generated, and to put these outcomes in a comparative context, evaluating them against other similar programs nationally, and even in comparison with a “business-as-usual” scenario for this region had the Greenbelt millage never passed. Such an analysis is especially timely given the emerging national discussion about the value (or not) of land protection, as federal, state, local agencies, governments, and NGOs consider the effectiveness of land preservation programs already in place or that might be put in place.

This proposed analysis requires an integrated approach of varied team members so that all the impacts of the Greenbelt millage can be captured, measured, and evaluated. Because we hope that the contents and conclusions of the study will reach a broad and diverse audience, we hope to work with team members on exploring several ways to share and disseminate their findings. 

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Environmental Policy and Planning
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Environmental Informatics
Environmental Justice
Sustainable Systems
Landscape Architecture
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Catherine Riseng
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Patrick Bradley
  • Sharon Hu
  • Devin Kinney
  • Daniel Tanner
Project Status: 
Past Project