Taylor Mountain Study Explores Economic Value of Urban Open Space, Finds Bias in Accepted Standard of Measure

Dr. Merlin Hanauer and Students Determine Recreational Benefit of Protected Urban Open Space Using Innovative Travel-Time Calculation
April 19, 2018
Rohnert Park, California - The School of Business and Economics (SBE) at Sonoma State University (SSU) today announced innovative research by Dr. Merlin Hanauer, Associate Professor of Economics, which pioneers a method of digital mapping to measure travel costs of 439 visitors to Sonoma County's Taylor Mountain Regional Park, as a way to estimate its economic and recreational value to the region. In the study, Professor Hanauer and 12 student research assistants reveal an average per trip access value of $13.70. This translates into approximately $1.5 million per year in consumer surplus, which is the difference between what visitors are willing to pay for access and the amount that they actually do pay. 
"Valuing Urban Open Space Using the Travel-Cost Method and the Implications of Measurement Error" was published in the May 2017 Journal of Environmental Management, and comes at a time when Santa Rosa and other Sonoma County communities enter a stage of recovery and rebuilding following the October 2017 wildfires in the north San Francisco Bay Area. 
"Communities everywhere grapple with the encroachment of urban growth on open space. It's important for both public and private stakeholders to understand in real terms the opportunity costs of preservation and the benefits derived from open space amenities," Dr. Merlin Hanauer, Associate Professor of Economics, said. "Using the most precise methods available, our team was able to demonstrate how travel-cost can be used to quantify the socioeconomic value of urban open space, as well as identify and eliminate bias found in standard travel cost methods."
While the travel cost method is widely used to measure the economic value of non-market resources or environmental features like Taylor Mountain, the accepted standard for determining travel time is through zip codes. The SSU team used a web-based technology to determine visitors' exact residential locations to eliminate bias stemming from the range of socioeconomic situations that may exist within a single zip code.   
For more information about research by Dr. Merlin Hanauer and other faculty of the School of Business and Economics, or for information regarding academic programs and degrees, please contact (707) 664-2377, or visit www.sonoma.edu/sbe.