March 25, 2008

RALEIGH – Neighbors of Raleigh’s Neuse River Greenway are much more likely than other greenway users to object to the greenway’s potential costs in increased crime, decreased privacy, and lower property values, according to a recent John Locke Foundation survey.

Click here to view and here to listen to Dr. Michael Sanera discussing this Regional Brief.

A new JLF Regional Brief summarizes the survey’s findings. “It’s not surprising that many people who live directly next to the Neuse River Greenway do not see it as an asset,” said brief co-author Dr. Michael Sanera, JLF Research Director and Local Government Analyst. “The survey results confirm one of the central principles of economics: people take better care of their own property than they do of property owned in common. A publicly owned greenway is more susceptible to litter, crime, and degradation over time.”

Raleigh is building the greenway along the bank of the Neuse River from Falls Lake Dam to the Johnston County line. The city owns the greenway, and city government manages it. “For a greenway, the key questions are, ‘Who benefits? Who pays?’” Sanera asked. “Economic theory argues that those who live next to the greenway pay more in costs — such as litter, crime, and a lack of privacy — than they gain in benefits. On the other hand, greenway users who do not live next to the greenway receive more benefits than costs.”

A useful greenway survey must distinguish between the responses of neighbors who face greenway-related costs and the responses of greenway users who face few costs, Sanera said. “Unfortunately, most surveys make no such distinction,” he said. “These surveys do not tell us anything about the costs and benefits associated with those who live next to a greenway.”

That’s why Sanera and JLF research interns Justin Coates and Katie Bethune worked on the recent Neuse River Greenway Survey. It focused exclusively on residents in the Bedford Falls and Falls River Community neighborhoods who own property directly adjacent to the greenway or an associated access path. JLF mailed anonymous questionnaires to 121 residents. Sixty-one residents returned complete surveys, yielding a response rate of 50 percent.

“Most respondents thought the Neuse River Greenway would affect them in negative ways,” Sanera said. “While almost all of them believe their neighborhoods are safe now, 61 percent believed the neighborhoods would be ‘less safe’ after the greenway was completed. A plurality of 40 percent to 35 percent believed the greenway would not be an asset to the community.”

Neighbors also had strong opinions about the greenway’s potential impact on taxes, Sanera said. “A large majority — 85 percent — would not want to pay for the greenway project with an increase in property taxes,” he said. “Only 8 percent of respondents supported that option. By a two-to-one margin — 46 percent to 23 percent — respondents thought the greenway would decrease their property values.”

Negative reaction was especially strong among neighbors of the access path, Sanera said. “This should not surprise us, since the 25-yard-wide access path offers the prospect of little to no vegetation to block greenway users’ views of backyards and homes,” he said. “Neighbors of the access path would face especially high costs.”

Of 33 written comments submitted along with the survey, five favored the greenway, seven were neutral, and 21 were negative. “Some respondents raised serious safety concerns, while another key theme involved the invasion of homeowner privacy,” Sanera said. “One comment indicated that the proposed greenway had prompted one family to move out of the neighborhood.”

A city-owned and –operated greenway forces homeowners who live next to the greenway to pay higher costs in terms of lack of privacy and an increase in crime, litter, and noise than they would receive in benefits, Sanera said. “The survey results also imply that greenway users who would not live next to the greenway would receive more in benefits than they would pay in costs,” he said. “Such results could not happen if the greenway were to be constructed on private property.

“A private greenway operator would have to pay property owners for their land, and to recover those costs the operator would need to charge those who use the greenway,” Sanera added. “A system based on property rights and the rule of law would produce a more equitable result.”

Michael Sanera, Katie Bethune, and Justin Coates’ Regional Brief, “Raleigh’s Neuse River Greenway: Nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live next to it,” is available at the JLF web site. For more information, please contact Sanera at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].