John L. Crompton

During the last quarter century, the way city residents use public parks has changed, a leisure and tourism expert told members of the Sandy Springs Conservancy recently.

Until about 1990, he said, people wanted parks for the views they offered. Since 1990, city residents have wanted parks they can use.

“What you see today is people walking. You see them skateboarding,” Texas A&M University Professor John L. Crompton told the scores of public officials, developers and residents who attended the conservancy’s “Connecting the Dots, Linking People and Places” lecture at Villa Christina on April 23.

“Where you’ve got parks, you see [people] going around the edges.”

And great cities need parks, recreation and cultural attractions, Crompton said. “There are no great cities in this world that do not have a great park system,” recreational opportunities or cultural attractions, he said.

Over time, those amenities attract investment and raise property values, he said. (However, professional sports stadiums, he said, do little or nothing for economic development in the areas around them. “They’re designed to keep all the spending inside, like fortress cities,” he said.)

Now, as residents seek more recreation, cities such as Atlanta, Sandy Springs and Dunwoody are installing trails for biking, walking and running. “It’s always a controversial issue when you start to install trails,” he said. “Trails are different from parks. In parks, value comes from views. In trails, the value comes from access to the trail, not the view.”

Despite the uproar trails often produce at the beginning, properties with trail access may increase in value over time. “When people say, ‘Put a trail behind my house and my quality of life goes down,’ yes if the have been used to having no people there, and you’re people there and they don’t like it, it does.

“But then those houses sell to people [who want to live near trails] …. Age the project out 25 years and you get a premium. But in the meantime, you’ve got a NIMBY problem.”

Parks and attractions also attract retirees, he said, and they can provide a new development market for a city such as Sandy Springs. At the same time, “if you don’t do a good job of providing amenities, your retirees will leave,” he said.

Those amenities also lure visitors. “Attractions drive tourism,” he said. “Nobody comes to Sandy Springs because they want to spend two hours on Delta and an hour on MARTA. … They come for the attractions.”