New Yorkers for Parks Releases Playground Utilization Study

Monday, December 16, 2013

In an era of budget constraints, how can the Parks Department most effectively allocate limited public dollars?

Answering that question requires tracking visitor patterns across the park system. In a new research brief, Understanding Playground Utilization, New Yorkers for Parks partnered with New York University to test a simple methodology for counting users – specifically, in ten playgrounds across New York City, across the four seasons – without expending significant staff resources.

“To make the most of the Parks Department’s budget, it’s imperative we understand how, where and when New Yorkers use their open spaces, and target funds accordingly,” said Holly Leicht, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks. “It’s a daunting task to count users of the city’s extensive network of 1,900 parks, but we’ve demonstrated a way to do it economically and effectively, particularly in small spaces. And doing so will provide data that helps the department deploy staff and budget dollars more efficiently, and track the effectiveness of new open space initiatives.”

In addition to a discussion of methodology and potential applications, the brief presents several findings about playground use in New York City, based on the NYU research team’s interviews with adults in ten playgrounds throughout the five boroughs.

There are three main findings:

·    Playgrounds are vital neighborhood resources.

Of adults interviewed:

79% use the playground at least once a week
75% live in the neighborhood in which the playground resides
75% walk to the playground

Of caretakers interviewed:

2/3 reported that the playground is the primary place their child plays outdoors

·    Neighborhood playgrounds are particularly important assets for adults and children from lower-income households.

Adults from households earning more than $80,000 per year have approximately half the odds of reporting frequent playground use compared to adults from households earning $20,000 a year or less.

Compared to lower income caretakers, those earning more than $60,000 per year have lower odds of stating that the playground is the main place their children play outdoors.

·    There are large disparities in users’ assessments of playground upkeep and personal safety.

"Measuring utilization of parks and playgrounds throughout the city is an important part of managing these public resources,” said Diana Silver, Assistant Professor of Public Health at NYU, who led the research team. “This study demonstrates that it's possible to do this, and that such information could be used as part of performance benchmarks for the Parks Department and other agencies that manage open space. Asking users what concerns or issues they have with safety, maintenance and programming as you measure utilization also gives the City vital information about how these resources can be improved. Our study also reveals that the Department of Parks and Recreation needs support from other agencies to succeed in making the sure that city residents feel safe and secure in using and traveling to these playgrounds."

Tracking Playground Utilization was made possible by generous contributions from the Booth Ferris Foundation, the J.M Kaplan Fund and The Merck Family Fund.

You can read more about the project in this story from last Tuesday on The Wall Street Journal’s Metropolis blog.

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