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Portal Solves Cities’ Park Accessibility Mystery

A new tool is ready for cities of all sizes to better manage their recreation assets and help make public parks more accessible to citizens.

Park planners and other public officials in thousands of cities and towns across the United States have a new tool to turn to for information related to parks access in the populations they serve.

The Trust for Public Land has turned to big data to develop a new Web tool, known as ParkServe, to offer detailed mapping and other information about more than 130,000 public parks in more than 14,000 cities and towns. The idea being to determine what share of the community’s residents are within a 10-minute walk to a park.

“For each of the 14,000 cities, we measured the 10-minute walk access metric,” explained Emmalee Dolfi, ParkServe project manager. “So the percentage of residents that live within a 10-minute walk, while also breaking the population living within a 10-minute walk into three demographics: race and ethnicity, age and household income.”

To build the database, ParkServe reached out to some 14,000 cities with a population of 2,500 or more to get information about parks including geospatial location and other data sets. Researchers heard back from only about 12 percent of the cities.

The rest of the data was created manually by the Land Trust’s GIS team in Santa Fe, N.M., using satellite imagery, Google’s Streetview, parcel data, city websites and other sources. The team also turned to Esri’s 2017 Demographic Forecasts. 

"From bringing in the raw data to doing the spatial analysis to publishing the final results as a collection of maps, Esri's ArcGIS technology is used from start to finish," said Sean Breyer, program manager for ArcGIS Content at Esri, in an email.

As a next stage, the Land Trust hopes members of the public and city officials will funnel more details about their communities park system to the ParkServe site to grow the dataset.

“We are really proud to have this out there and we expect a really intense feedback period over the next three months, of adding those new parks in,” said Dolfi. “The hope is that the data will encourage cities to grow efforts to have all residents within a 10-minute walk to a park.

“We want the cities and towns to use our data,” she added. “This website is going to remain open to the public. And we want them to see, how is their park system currently serving their residents and how can we help in planning efforts to increase the number of parks and increase the number of residents that live within a 10-minute walk?”

The hope is that the database will serve as a reference guide and tool for policymakers as they consider adding new parks or rolling out upgrades for existing parks, Land Trust officials said.

Tom Schrader, director of the parks department in Stevens Point, Wis., said the city is already using the ParkServe site, "as an outside source, we can now use it to reaffirm our needs for additional parks in certain areas of the city."

"It will help us as we move forward in developing our next five-year comprehensive outdoor parks plan," he added via email. 

In the future, ParkServe will become even more developed with more data levels and information related to the condition of parks and amenities.

“So maybe 80 percent of your residents are within a 10-minute walk, but maybe they’re driving 15 minutes to a different park because it offers a higher quality, or it offers a baseball field, or a basketball court, or a walking trail,” said Dolfi. 

“This was the baseline. Now that we have this comprehensive data set across the nation, now it’s how do we make it that much better?” she added.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.