How Smart Parks Revitalize the Urban Park Experience

Posted by on Aug 9, 2018 5:00:00 AM Carmi Brandis  
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Well-loved urban parks historically have served as community centers. With more than 100,000 public park facilities scattered throughout neighborhoods and cities in the United States, urban parks have the potential benefit of fostering community and providing kids and adults with a place to socialize, exercise, play, and connect with the outdoors. As one City Lab article reports, urban parks are, “an ideal place for Americans to meet the national recommendations for physical activity (an hour a day for youth and a 150 minutes a week for adults),” though, in more recent years, parks are struggling to fulfill this potential.

Shifts towards individualized, tech-based activities, like video gaming and cell phone usage, likely contribute to these declines in healthy urban park communities. Studies outlined in an article from King University show that Americans spend more than five hours a day on their cell phones and are verging on a public health issue of technology dependence. Though technology is an important part of modern life that provides people with new forms of information and access, finding the healthy balance between technology and outdoor recreation is key to rebuilding strong park communities. Urban park administrators now ask themselves, “How can we get people back into developing healthy lifestyles at our parks as they become more invested in internet-connected technologies?”

Smart parks answer this question with a tactful approach. Combining the modern need for technology with the enduring need for community and outdoor activities, smart parks innovatively integrate connected technology to revitalize the park experience.

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Connections Lay the Groundwork

Integrating technology to bring communities back into urban parks starts with Wi-Fi connections. A study from Purple Wi-Fi shows that 78% of respondents are more likely to visit places where they can connect to endless information and socialization opportunities through free Wi-Fi. Eco-friendly smart benches, such as those designed by Soofa, provide urban parks with Wi-Fi connections and their visitors with a place to sit, socialize, and charge their phones, laptops, and other wireless devices while on the network.

IoT innovations like smart benches lay the groundwork for the smart park concept. With a Wi-Fi connection, the park can learn from its visitors to inform park directors and landscape planners of the best improvement opportunities. Soofa’s technology, in particular, collects simple, anonymous data from each Wi-Fi connection by counting the number of connected devices, the duration of the connection, and its location within the park.

The brilliance behind smart parks comes with interpreting the Wi-Fi connection data. By knowing how many people are visiting the park, when they come and go, and how long they’re staying, park managers can use smart park data to see how things like weather, holidays, and city construction can affect usage rates. Insights that show lower visitation on relentlessly hot afternoons, for example, can signify a need for water features or more shaded seating. Visitor data also can bolster recreation programmers’ decisions on when to best schedule special events like a temporary ice-skating rink, a festival, or a class about local flora.  

Growth Through Park Feature Insights

The most direct way visitors engage with an urban park is through its features. To build a strong community around an urban park, park directors need an opportunity to experiment with implementing a variety of features and collecting data to understand which ones engage visitors. Smart park technology that pairs location and duration data will show the areas where people spend the most time, leading to deep insights about which features are working to increase park visitation.

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For example, an urban park with both playground and sports-related features may decide to implement a Wi-Fi network to start collecting smart park data. After a collection phase, the data shows that visitors are spending more time in areas with sports-related features such as batting cages, though not so much in areas with playground features. Park directors then can make the informed decision to remove the swing set and replace it with a tennis court. Similarly, a public art commission working on a five-year public art schedule might initially lack knowledge of what artwork style urban park visitors would most appreciate. The commission can start by testing interactions with a variety of styles, then use smart park data on visitation frequency to best determine the remainder of their public art schedule.  

A closer understanding of park feature engagement can help park administrators know what types of features would be worth expanding, and provide more compelling cases when securing funding for those expansions. In a case where smart park data shows frequent playground usage, park administrators can employ that data confidently when requesting funding for a new jungle gym.

Building A Smart Park Community   

Park administrators understand that their urban parks amount to more than the features within them; urban parks have great potential to foster thriving neighborhood and city communities. Consider the implementation of a data collecting, paperless sign station like the Soofa sign, where community members can post classified ads, lost pet signs, babysitting service flyers, or event invitations, all without wasting paper. Providing visitors with a new and engaging way to communicate with each other through these data collecting signs can bring a voice back to a park’s community and help park administrators know what interests are important and relevant to their patrons. Knowing more about the communities who visit a particular park can, in turn, help administrators better serve them by focusing on community building activities, like public programming events tailored to the patrons’ interests.

Neo: Bringing Public Communities Together with IoT

Urban parks that use network technology can revive healthy park communities. Smart parks inventively integrate IoT to provide park administrators and conservancies with valuable data collecting abilities. Neo, powered by Aeris, has experience working with city planners, park administrators, and product designers to create IoT networks for the greater public arena, whether that's smart park equipment or planning innovative ways to bring communities together.

To start building a smart park community in your city, contact Neo today.

Topics: smart parks, IoT connectivity, wi-fi connectivity