The dollars and cents of environmental issues

Assistant Professor Amrita Singh on urban planning's bottom line and the inaugural class of the master's in urban and regional planning.

Katie Willis - 4 June 2018

When it comes to environmental problems and practices, Amrita Singh is an expert on quantifying the cost for municipal governments and communities.

"I look at environmental amenities, primarily water bodies, I examine how changing water quality and levels affect a community's property values, an important source of revenue for any community" explained Singh, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences' urban planning program.

The masters in urban and regional planning program, has completed its first successful year. The first cohort of graduate students have already begun working on their masters projects on important and timely topics such as land use planning for federal legalization of marijuana, economic sustainability of resource based communities, and adaptation planning for sea level rise among coastal communities. Singh is an instructor for many of the programs courses, where her expertise in economics of ecosystem services and environmental amenities and municipal finance is an asset.

Quantifying land-use choices

Her past projects, part of her PhD research in Southern California, focused on quantifying the economic costs of several water bodies sourced by the disappearing Colorado River. One prime example is the notoriously problematic Salton Sea. The large, man-made lake is situated in Southern California's Imperial Valley, the state's second most productive agricultural region, and is the source of long-standing major environmental problems.

"As the water level drops, the dust from the salty shoreline becomes a major contributor to worsening air quality in the region, it is a major health problem for the local residents. The Imperial Valley has the highest rates of childhood asthma in California. It has been an ongoing issue for many years," explained Singh. In conjunction with the Salton Sea Initiative, Singh conducted a value analysis, examining the worsening air and water quality on local real estate values.

"The study showed that the deteriorating environmental conditions are having an effect on real estate value," said Singh. "Being near this big body of water had a negative impact on property value, as does air quality. The environmental conditions are impairing an important source of revenue for the local county government."

This type of research is important for forming, implementing, and assessing policy.

Local perspective

Back in Alberta, Singh is now branching into the areas of land annexation by municipal governments. "Within the last decade over 120 municipalities in Alberta have undergone annexation, or an acquisition of and control over neighboring land," she explained. Although Alberta has among the highest rates of annexation in the country, little is known about the financial implications of it."

Alongside her fellow Professor Sandeep Agarwal and two urban and regional planning graduate students,Kristin Knudson and Cody Gretzinger, Singh is working on this Alberta Land Institute funded project. "The question is is what are the motivations and what is the bottom line" explained Singh. "Are municipalities financially better off, worse, or about the same following land annexation?"

Curious about the MSc in Urban and Regional Planning program? Learn more on our website.