Public parks and green spaces play an important role in people’s lives. They are much loved assets, valued for many reasons, but also act as a useful barometer showing the liveability of our communities.
Traditionally, park managers have only had access to observational methods, such as manually counting visitors and conducting surveys, to understand how people use greenspaces. Nowadays, technology could provide them with faster, cheaper and richer data sources.
Visitor data analysis can help with a wide range of activities in parks, from tracking peak traffic volumes, times and areas (for instance for identifying underused areas to implement measures to revitalise them, or for identifying the right time for conducting maintenance work) to building a clearer understanding of how people interact with them.
Whilst the potential of data remains high, with public services in many parts of the world exploring the potential of data analytics to address public problems, not so much experimentation has involved parks. Parks managers are looking for practical examples and products to learn from.
Data breaches and privacy missteps regularly make headlines and have recently caused a profound and widening lack of trust among individuals, institutions and governments in the notion of safe data collection and analysis in the public realm. In addition, a culture of risk aversion in public sector agencies can mean that the privacy risks are seen to outweigh the potential benefits. Sometimes knowing how or where to begin is the biggest challenge.
The Rethinking Parks programme aimed to support the experimentation of using data to increase the livability for parks and greenspaces and two projects led by the University of Edinburgh and the University of Nottingham were selected for their commitment to collaboration with local councils and co‑production with communities, prototyping, open source technology development, and a strong data ethics framework.
This short leaflet outlines their experiences, some of the challenges faced, their key takeaways, and sets out the key concepts to keep in mind when implementing data projects in other parks and greenspaces.
We hope that this information will help councils and others interested in testing sensing technology as a way to benefit from the value data insights could bring to these important spaces.