As pat of our involvement in the Nesta Rethinking Parks programme, we were involved in a recent webinar that described two different approaches to gaining an understanding of park visitor numbers.

Nottingham City Council have a £6m budget for their park services but around 60% of this comes from non-government sources. To improve their ability to raise additional funds they are looking to strengthen their funding applications with actual visitor numbers.  In partnership with Nottingham University they have deployed WIFI probes at selected high traffic locations within two of their destination parks.  These detect WIFI enabled devices in their immediate vicinity. They want to use data collected to answer questions like:

When should we schedule new events?

Did a specific park intervention have the expected impact?

How busy are our parks?

The university have been able to collect device counts that highlight traffic at different times of day across different park locations. They are able to identify usage patterns across typical 24 hour periods, between weekdays and weekends, and the impact of weather on visitor numbers.  They are are of weaknesses.  Some have expressed privacy concerns. Not everyone (eg young children) carries a device and if WIFI is disabled it will not be logged. Cyclists and runners are unlikely to be logged as they move too fast. However the outputs to date have been of value to the council and the university team are looking to roll out the approach to more parks across Nottingham.

A team from Edinburgh University are also working with City of Edinburgh Council and others to address this same problem.  They have adopted a different technological solution using auditory sensors to track both people and some wildlife, in particular bats.  Data is relayed wirelessly in real time through radio frequencies to a cloud-based server where it is made available to users through an online interactive dashboard. They have also developed a standalone ‘smart noticeboard’ that is solar powered and contains sensors and communications kit. This is attracting significant attention including beyond the parks community. Finally they have deployed ‘gate detectors’ in areas of the park that require access through a gate. These have generated useful data around use of specific facilities like playparks on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis. If you want to see the system in action and introduce yourself to Alfred-the-Owl via your mobile device then you can find one in Edinburgh’s Meadows and Inverleith Park. They are looking for other organisations interested in trialling their technology.

These are two approaches being trialled to address the challenge of monitoring park usage. greenspace scotland are also aware of other projects in this area so if you are interested please get in touch.