The value of open space as a waterfront use: A mixed methods study on the Gulf Coast

End Date: 12/31/16

How do coastal residents value parks, open lots, plazas, courtyards and outdoor recreation facilities? That is what Jason Gordon and Robert Grala of Mississippi State University, Samantha Islam of University of South Alabama and Joan Wesley of Jackson State University will determine in a study that looks at public attitudes and values of open space on waterfront property. The project will deliver a report with economic and noneconomic impacts of open space as a waterfront land use. It will also show values of open space in relation to other possible uses. Project leaders will work with specific Alabama and Mississippi coastal communities and will offer recommendations and decision aids for community planners. The results will be tested for transferability to other communities.


This proposal addresses the MASGC research priority related to economic and non-economic tradeoffs between different waterfront uses in coastal communities. Specifically, we aim to examine the extent to which communities value the wide variety of public goods and services of waterfront open space preservation versus developed waterfronts. Such an analysis is important because open space is related to community resilience and the rapid growth along the Mississippi-Alabama Gulf Coast presents significant challenges for planning and development. Specific objectives include: 

  1. Identifies values of open space
  2. Testing the transferability and scalability of results
  3. Determining informational needs and engagement strategies in open space management
  4. Illustrating the spatial variability in open space values. We expect values associated with open space waterfronts to be associated with biophysical, sociodemographic, socioeconomic, and sociocultural differences within coastal communities 

To achieve our objectives and test our hypotheses, we will conduct a mixed method research design. Methods include facilitated discussions, a contingent valuation mail survey, and hedonic price modeling. A spatial model will identify clusters suitable for open space preservation. Deliverables include:

  1. A public report with results, recommendations, and decision aids for use in planning and land management activities
  2. Planning and management assistance
  3. Extension publications
  4. Peer-reviewed publications

We expect communities will increase their awareness and understanding of the interdependence between a healthy economy and healthy socio-ecological systems which effect resilience. In addition, communities will use findings to make informed decisions regarding alternative development scenarios. Finally, our synthesis of qualitative and quantitative findings – with appropriate consideration for potential environmental inequities – will move open space research forward as well as contribute to the literature on urban and regional planning, community sociology, and ecosystem services economics.  


The goal of this research is to assist coastal communities in making informed decisions about waterfront planning and management. To this end, our overall objective is to identify and quantify values associated with waterfront land use with a focus on non-developed open-space and the relationship of such uses to community and regional resilience. Specific aims are:

  1. To identify economic and cultural values of open space (in relation to alternative waterfront uses) and describe how these values may affect resource management objectives and urban planning
  2. To test the transferability and scalability of results across the Mississippi-Alabama Gulf Coast
  3. To determine informational needs and engagement strategies to be used by individuals and their communities in open space management
  4. To develop maps illustrating the spatial variability in open space values, information tools, and engagement approaches


We will use a mixed method, transdisciplinary research design with three phases taking place in the five coastal counties of Mississippi and Alabama: Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Mobile, and Baldwin. Daphne and Ocean Springs are municipal project partners. Our approach makes it possible to generate a more complete understanding of how communities value and use waterfront spaces than any single method alone. Such in-depth information is essential for guiding policy development. Facilitated group discussions will be conducted to generate insights about emerging phenomena and obtain contextual information (including environmental inequalities), both of which can be difficult to measure using quantitative methods. Using qualitative analysis software, data will be transcribed and interpreted line-by-line within and across cases. Findings will be reviewed and confirmed or rejected by community partners.

To generalize to larger populations, we incorporate findings from the facilitated discussions into a general population mail survey (N=4,000) employing a contingent valuation method (stated preference model) and using a modified Tailored Design Method. The survey will determine respondent willingness to pay (WTP) for waterfront open space preservation and tradeoffs with alternative waterfront uses. Contextual variables as well as material in the form of text, maps, and pictures will be included in the survey to avoid embedding problems. Values will be estimated using binary probit regression models while noting effects of selected sociodemographic, sociocultural, and biophysical characteristics of the study region on reported WTP amounts. Data from the survey will be incorporated into a spatial model using ArcGIS to conduct average nearest neighbor spatial pattern analysis. Potential hot spots and clusters suitable for open space preservation will be identified by conducting cluster, outlier, and hot spot analyses.

Finally, we will analyze secondary data using hedonic price modeling (revealed preference model), which uses market transaction data as opposed to stated preferences indicated in the survey. Data on sales prices and structural characteristics of properties will be gathered from the certified rolls of county property assessors for Ocean Springs and Daphne (with less than 25,000 residents) and Gulfport and Mobile (with over 25,000 residents). These data will include structural characteristics (e.g., lot size, finished square footage for a home, year built, property tax rate), community variables (distance to an arterial street, distance to the nearest shopping center, school district, race, income, housing density), and environmental variables (e.g., distances to waterfronts and open spaces). Analysis will use ordinary least squares regression with property sales price as the dependent variable. A synthesis of the value of open space will combine data from the stated preferences approach and revealed preference approach into a single estimated equation of housing value. 


This project will examine the extent to which communities value waterfront open space preservation versus developing waterfront open space. Urban open space near waterfront areas includes socially valued landscapes such as scenic sites, wilderness areas, historic and cultural resources, and recreation areas adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico, rivers, lakes, estuaries and salt marshes. Such an analysis is important given the population growth of the Mississippi-Alabama Gulf Coast. Rapid growth presents significant challenges for elected officials, planners, natural resource managers, social service organizations and others because urban development can stress the landscape and compromise environmental quality and community resilience.

Open space provides a wide variety of goods and services including aesthetics, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, urban heat island reduction, air quality improvements, stormwater runoff amelioration, energy use reductions, exercise opportunities, a place to relax and potential increased real estate values. Benefits provided by open space are critical to coastal community resilience. 

Resilience is also impacted by uneven, unjust, or inequitable distribution of open space resulting from disproportionate impacts of rapid changes in land use and land cover. Fair access to open space is important so that all residents, regardless of race and social class, can experience economic, sociocultural, psychological and health benefits that such spaces offer. Therefore, land use research and planning should consider environmental justice issues as well as economic impacts of open space in growing urban areas.