NY4P Interns at Work: Surveying in the South Bronx

September 11, 2017

 By Kim Ahrens, Communications Intern

This summer, NY4P was equipped with a diverse team of interns ranging from recent high school graduates to graduate level students.  Their task was to survey numerous different parks in the South Bronx to help NY4P and the neighborhood gain a better understanding of what exactly those parks can use to help better the community. The interns reported to NY4P’s Director of Research and Planning, Lucy Robson, who oversaw the surveying process and assigned the interns their daily tasks.

The primary purpose of surveying these park spaces is in support of the possibility that the city may be rezoning an area of the Bronx. The City is referring to this zone as the Southern Boulevard Neighborhood Planning Study Area. Although the City’s study focuses on opportunities for affordable housing, NY4P thinks it’s also an opening for park advocates to call for local park and open space improvements.  Lucy explains, “we at NY4P believe that access to a park is one of the many necessities for a livable neighborhood and appropriate action should be taken to maintain a livable neighborhood.” The Study area is bounded by Crotona Park to the west and the Bronx River to the east, with Hunts Point to the south, and the Cross-Bronx Expressway at the area’s northern edge. The interns have surveyed local parks including Stebbins Playground and Reverend J. Polite Playground.

The survey process consisted of collecting personal observations of the activity happening in the parks. Lucy described it was important that “the interns focused on who was using the spaces and what was being used as well as, and just as important, who was not using them and what was not being used.” The system of surveying that was used this summer is the System of Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC). It was developed by the RAND Corporation and has been primarily used in urban neighborhood parks. The information obtained by the interns will be used to determine what is in demand in a specific park and will also allow NY4P to work with local community groups to develop ideas and recommendations. 

The interns’ day began in the office where they checked in with their supervisor, Lucy, and received their assignments and partners for the day. They then hopped the subway uptown to the Bronx and once they arrived at their designated park, they began surveying.

Interns worked in pairs to ensure accurate observations. The first partner scanned the park and recorded the information on the SOPARC coding form, while the other partner took general pictures of the activity in the park and verified the information observed. Park goers were often curious as to the information the surveyors were recording, so it was also the job of the second partner to answer any questions so the first partner can perform a complete scan. The coding form recorded information on residents in the park.  Information personally observed and logged consisted of gender, age, race, activity, and activity level. Other questions that are answered on the form address the overall target area such as accessibility, usability, supervision, and organization. Each park was previously divided into smaller areas known as ‘target areas.’ This allowed the surveyors to view virtually every inch of the park, further ensuring accurate and precise observations. Each target area required a separate SOPARC form and each question to be answered according to that specific area.

Some information, however, was unobtainable through the SOPARC survey form, but was still valuable information to the interns. Jasmine explained that “our data doesn’t tell us information we wouldn’t know without talking to people. Talking to people tells us other kind of behaviors people see in the park that leads to our observations, such as the park being empty, or finding out that the park is never clean, so people of the community have to clean it themselves. This is information we would never be able to find out online, so that’s why it is helpful to talk to the people in the parks.”

Ab explained how “it is also fun to get anecdotal with the people you see. You can’t help but talk to them. [Jasmine and I] went to this community garden once and we met a guy who has been helping out in this one garden since he was a kid. His sister planted a tree in the 70’s or 80’s when she was five-years old, and now the tree is full grown.”

Ryan’s favorite part of the job was “being outdoors for the majority of the day, instead of inside an office.” There are two rounds of surveying each day with a lunch break in between. Times of the surveying vary between morning, early afternoon, and late afternoon. Once the proper information is recorded, the interns return to the office and put away the equipment used.

There are also designated “office days,” which is when the information collected in the field is summarized and inputted into a database. Each completed coding form is scanned and also stored in an online file. Before the official analysis of the park, the interns have noticed some trends. Jasmine noted that “the amount of activity considered vigorous is way less than sedentary. There is an extreme difference.” Awae said he “expected parents taking their kids to the park, but I didn’t expect most of the adults that I see to actually be involved with their kid in some way.”

The information collected can be used in various ways by NY4P and the community. After reviewing, analyzing, and summarizing the data collected, NY4P will eventually release a report along with recommendations to the public. The neighborhoods can then also use this information to form their own recommendations of what their neighborhood parks can use to better improve the community. An example of how this information can be used is if a park has handball courts, but the data collected by NY4P shows that those courts are rarely used, however, basketball courts are in high demand in that area, a plan can be sought out to renovate that part of the park supported by this information in an attempt to receive those desired basketball courts. 

The interns learned so much more than they thought they would and all thoroughly enjoyed their experience working with NY4P. Ab enjoyed “getting to know Bronx parks. I’ve never been to the Bronx before exploring these parks.” Andrew, a resident of the Bronx, was “excited he was able to discover and explore different parks in his home borough he has never been to before.” The interns and the rest of NY4P are excited to see the final outcome of this study and to release the information to the public and help improve parks and open spaces in NYC!

To learn more about our summer interns, see: ‘Meet the Interns