Tech Innovations In Parks: Notes From Our Presentation At Greater & Greener

Tech Innovations In Parks: Notes From Our Presentation At Greater & Greener

Smarter parks are responsive parks; they let us know when and how they’re being used, what’s working well, and where there are opportunities to improve

Last month, we spoke on the Tech Innovations In Parks panel at the City Parks Alliance Greater and Greener Conference in Minneapolis. We were thrilled to share the stage with Los Angeles Recreation and Parks, Denver Parks and Recreation, and the Land Art Generator. The panel was moderated by our good friends at the National Recreation and Park Association, with whom we’ve partnered on events like the Boston Innovation Lab and collaborated on articles examining the role technology plays in parks.

The Tech Innovations In Parks conversation was wide ranging and discussed best practices for how to implement new technology, both hardware and software, to update outdoor environments to meet the expectations of hyper-connected people today and improve internal department operations. Ultimately, the goal of testing and using the latest technology available is to continually enhance the user experience of park visitors on a daily basis. The full presentation slides are available on the Greater and Greener website.

At Soofa we think about parks that benefit from technology and data analytics as smart parks; these are parks that respond to the needs of people and communities in the present and at the same time inform those who are planning, designing, and managing them what’s working well and what needs to be improved.

In our presentation at Greater and Greener we shared our research showing just how valuable parks are and offered thoughts on new ways to measure this value and maximize it, all while maintaining a focus on improving the experience of the communities served.

Meet the Soofa Bench. Solar powered USB charging for the public, sensor inside to measure park activity happening nearby. 

Meet the Soofa Bench. Solar powered USB charging for the public, sensor inside to measure park activity happening nearby. 

Graph illustrating increase in pedestrian activity (red) on the day of the Boston Marathon. Average day pedestrian traffic is shown in blue. 

Graph illustrating increase in pedestrian activity (red) on the day of the Boston Marathon. Average day pedestrian traffic is shown in blue. 

 

Every dollar spent on parks returns 20 dollars to the economy 

The importance of parks is measurable and smart parks provide data back showing just how valuable they are. Our Smart Parks white paper shows that for every dollar spent on parks, 20 dollars are returned back to the economy.

These returns are made up of things like increases in property values adjacent to parks and public spaces, more spending by tourists drawn to neighborhoods because of noteworthy and attractive parks, and decreases in overall healthcare spending in communities where there are an abundance of opportunities for healthy, preventative physical activities to take place outdoors (i.e. biking on the 100s of miles of trails in and around Minneapolis or jogging along the Esplanade or through the Fens in Boston).

Knowing that parks provide such a substantial economic return is only the beginning; contemporary tools that keep track of how parks are being used offer park managers a new way to measure economic returns, in the moment. Armed with this insight, park managers can maximize returns by adjusting strategies in real-time as opposed to looking through a retrospective lens at the end of a season or even over multiple years for how a park or park network performed and was used by people. Not only is this methodology incredibly tedious and expensive, it is also prone to inaccuracies because of an inevitable lack of data. 

 

 

Real-time pedestrian activity measurement provides a new way to evaluate the success of capital improvement spending, programming strategies, and community based events

We focus on providing a better way of measuring park usage with solar powered, human-centered public infrastructure like park benches that charge phones and count pedestrian passerby. The connection with people, providing a clear public amenity like free phone charging in the case of Soofa, is the key to the success and sustainability of the smart parks movement - advancements in technology and data analytics applied to public spaces are most effective when there is a real, authentic relationship created between these new tools and people.

It’s all about gaining and maintaining the public’s trust. The industry can collect as much data as it would like using the latest, cutting-edge technology, but if the public doesn’t feel a benefit, or worse, if there is a feeling of privacy being infringed upon to gather data, and if agencies aren’t able to justify the expense back to elected officials, taxpayers, foundations, or donors, spending capital and operating dollars to test new ideas and products won’t happen.

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Our partner cities and organizations help co-create our products and public space data analytics tools

Over the last year we have been working with leading parks and recreation agencies nationwide to continually improve and refine the way we analyze the data we collect on park activity. Our partners include the Park District of Oak Park, IL, Prince George’s County Parks, MD, Washington, D.C. Parks and Recreation, Miami, FL Parks and Recreation, and dozens more.

Some of the uses and data stories we are helping our partners craft and tell include:

  • Capturing data in one park with multiple sensors to see where people enter and exit, where they dwell the longest, and to understand how the park gets used on different days and during all seasons.

  • Analyzing usage rates of many parks within the same city to see which is the busiest and by how much over the others.

  • Monitoring the attendance at temporary pop up events; seeing when people tend to come, how long they stay, and what types of marketing and advertising gets people to come in the first place.

  • Telling the story to elected officials, foundations, sponsors, and the public about the value that parks provide back to the community - using data that shows exactly how much use parks get and why spending more money on them is justified.

 

Ready to transform your parks? Connect with us to learn more about what it’s like to be a Soofa Smart Parks Partner

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Las Cruces, NM is using Soofa Pro data to transform its downtown public spaces

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Las Cruces, NM is using Soofa Pro data to transform its downtown public spaces

Dots represent relative pedestrian activity levels within about a 150 foot radius of each bench and core location. They do not represent actual people in space, but instead are designed to illustrate general patterns of downtown activity. 

Dots represent relative pedestrian activity levels within about a 150 foot radius of each bench and core location. They do not represent actual people in space, but instead are designed to illustrate general patterns of downtown activity. 

Animation reveals downtown activity levels in Las Cruces at key intersections along Main Street

By visualizing a 24 hour period we can see patterns of pedestrian activity emerge. July 20th was a Thursday; the downtown is most active during lunch and the early afternoon, then foot traffic tapers off in the early evening. 

While this is only a very small sample size, a moment in time, it does highlight one of the key goals that the City of Las Cruces has in working with Soofa. The goal is to understand activity levels downtown, particularly after 5pm, to ultimately test strategies that generate more economic activity in the evening hours.

One example of how this goal will be achieved is that the baseline data collected by our sensors will be used to evaluate the impact new businesses opening downtown have on overall pedestrian activity - and to share with businesses to convince them to stay open later. They currently close on the early side for fear of not having enough customers to justify the added cost of remaining open. 

What happens in one location downtown influences activity levels elsewhere; measuring the ripple effect and more

The team from the City of Las Cruces not only wants to know what happens at one location or in one moment in time, but also how certain activities or new developments have a ripple effect across the entire downtown core.

For example, one ripple effect the data will provide novel insight into how events and shows at the Rio Grande Theater (pictured above) draw in people before the show and to what extent they stick around after. 

Looking at data over time shows the success of events based on relative attendance and activity scores

The line graph above shows activity downtown over the course of July. Each line shows the pedestrian activity around strategically placed benches and cores. This type of data visualization allows the City of Las Cruces to look back on the month of July and correlate spikes in activity with the events that occurred those days as well as with variables like weather and holidays (note the dip on July 4th). 

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A Midsummer Launch

A Midsummer Launch

We raised some money 🙌🏽 and we're about to launch a new product 🙏🏽 the 42" Soofa Sign, so we threw a party... 

In a few short weeks we’ll be bolting Signs into the ground and bringing them online for our first pilot projects around Boston and we wanted to find some time to let loose. With the launch of the Sign, we’ll be entering a new phase with a fresh set of offerings for a wider range of consumers.

With its soaring 35 foot ceilings, the Multicultural Arts Center, around the corner from our office in Cambridge was the ideal venue for the menagerie of silk dancers, live logo wall and Keytar Bear. Fueling the party with seasonal cocktails, fresh lemonade and DJ Knife on the 1s and 2s, the team and our guests had a great time. It won't be our last party or launch for that matter, so stay tuned!

Also, Ben gave us the gift of a very own Soofa Song.  

Modernizing public transit: how the technology ecosystem approach enhances ridership experience

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Modernizing public transit: how the technology ecosystem approach enhances ridership experience

When we look at the built environments in our cities we see a quilt-like patchwork of many different and diverse neighborhoods and associated architectural styles, parks and public spaces, infrastructure elements, public transportation networks, and, or course, people.

At Soofa we integrate technology into each one of these components of the city to improve the quality of life and experience for residents and visitors. Ultimately, our technology not only provides function for each particular space in and component of the city, but also connects each element in a multi-beneficial manner; this is what we mean when we say technology ecosystem.

As an example, data gathered from a Soofa Bench in a park showing how busy it is and when people come can inform what type of content should go on the Soofa Sign at a nearby plaza adjacent to a popular main street to drive more traffic to the events hosted in the park. Knowing how people use the city and being able to communicate with them in a meaningful way is the true power of a unified ecosystem approach to making smarter, more livable and lovable cities. 

In the same way that we applied this ecosystem vision to make smarter parks and smarter downtown cores we are now deploying our technology to make smarter, more dynamic, and user friendly transit to improve the user experience for riders. 

Introducing The Soofa Sign For Transit

The Soofa Sign is solar powered, just like the Soofa Bench, and is wirelessly connected meaning content is uploaded from a web based content management system you control from your phone or office. Real time transit information is displayed on the sign using local transit system APIs and is paired with healthy community content like local events and unique offerings happening nearby, important community meetings residents are invited to attend, and wayfinding information to improve multi-modal transportation use and walkability across neighborhoods and cities.

The Soofa Sign Brings Real Time Transit Arrival Information Anywhere Under The Sun

In Porter Square, Cambridge, MA, the Soofa Sign informs commuters when the next bus, subway, and commuter rail is coming. Instead of having to go all the way down inside the station to find out when the next subway or train arrives, riders now know what to expect and can make plans accordingly. 

As one transit rider explained to us, "this is great, now I don't have to run downstairs to the station just to find out I missed my train."

Paired Together, The Soofa Bench And Soofa Sign Deliver Insights For Transit Agencies Like Never Before

Bring Sustainable Charging And Pedestrian Counting Sensors To Your Transit Stops

With the Soofa Bench Pro, transit agencies can now measure pedestrian traffic levels at and near stops and stations, assisting in fleet management and route optimization. Soofa Pro sensor data compliments existing data sets that may be disconnected and complicated to sync up, like GPS on buses and ticket readers on the same buses that don't talk to each other in an intuitive way. 

 

Sync Soofa Sensor Data With Transit Ridership Numbers

Pedestrian traffic data is visualized to the right from seven different locations along a downtown core. From this we see the busiest day of the week is Saturday on average and pedestrian activity is sporadic throughout the weekdays. This data can be cross referenced with transit rider data like bus ticket data to see when and where more people ride the bus and how this correlates with actual activity on the sidewalks and use of the downtown space overall. 

 

Is Your Community Actively Planning To Update Its Transit System? 

See If You Are Eligible To Participate In Soofa's National Roll Out of Transit Displays This September.

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How Las Cruces, NM is using Soofa Pro data to justify the expense of a public WiFi network

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How Las Cruces, NM is using Soofa Pro data to justify the expense of a public WiFi network

When faced with a nearly $400,000 capital expenditure to provide free public WiFi to residents and visitors, the City of Las Cruces paused and asked the important question, how many people actually spend time downtown? The City partnered with Soofa to measure pedestrian traffic and analyze the patterns of use. Learn more about how the City is transforming Soofa data into information to help make key strategic decisions. 

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Soofa Spotlight: Portage, MI

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Soofa Spotlight: Portage, MI

How does Portage, a small, lively city of just under 50,000 residents in Southwest Michigan improve quality of life, attract visitors, and engage its community - making it a natural place to move? By having the desire to be first to test new technologies and follow through on making sure they are successfully implemented and used by the public.

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NYC's Internet of Things Guidelines: how Soofa's Highbridge Park deployment helped shape them

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NYC's Internet of Things Guidelines: how Soofa's Highbridge Park deployment helped shape them

Written to help cities deploy internet of things technologies in a responsible manner, the City of New York's Internet Of Things Guidelines were published late last year and have been adopted by cities across the globe. Soofa's smart parks deployment with the New York City Parks Department was the first project to follow the guidelines, and helped inform their structure. 

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Top 5 Uses of Soofa Pro Data

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Top 5 Uses of Soofa Pro Data

  1. Get reliable and accurate baseline data on park use - without counting by hand

  2. Measure the success of events and programming strategies

  3. Make better decisions for capital improvement projects

See the full list >>

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How and why the Park District of Oak Park, IL is using Soofa Pro Data

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How and why the Park District of Oak Park, IL is using Soofa Pro Data

The Park District of Oak Park is one of Soofa's first early adopters of the Soofa Pro sensor, which measures pedestrian traffic in outdoor public spaces. This case study shares insights into the project, data visualizations, lessons learned, and next steps to maximize the value of Soofa Pro data to the Park District's operations. 

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A First Look At Soofa Data

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A First Look At Soofa Data

Since launching the Soofa Beta Cities network in May of 2016, we have been developing Soofa Pro, the sensor embedded version of the Soofa Bench and Soofa Core. Our sensor measures pedestrian activity in public spaces and we provide this data in an easy to use monthly report as well as through raw data exports and an API. In this post we detail the analytic tools available and how they are currently being used by our beta partners like NYC Parks, the Park District of Oak Park, IL, and many more. 

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2016 Year In Review

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2016 Year In Review

From the beginning our mission has been to create smarter, more social, and more sustainable cities. As we look back on 2016 and reflect on where we’ve come since this time last year, we wanted to share our successes and challenges, and look ahead to what’s coming in 2017.

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First Soofa Sign is up and running in Faneuil Hall, Boston

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First Soofa Sign is up and running in Faneuil Hall, Boston

Today Soofa announced the launch of the Soofa Sign with the City of Boston and the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics. Mayor Martin J. Walsh is the first in the country to pilot this new technology which provides a new platform for the Mayor and the City to connect with residents and visitors. The Soofa Sign is the latest product in Soofa's smart urban furniture ecosystem that improves the quality of life for citizens while generating data for city leaders to make more informed decisions. 

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New Rochelle, NY: Competing for the Future

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New Rochelle, NY: Competing for the Future

Free public wifi, the most ambitious downtown development project in the Hudson Valley, 100% renewable energy, cohesive marketing and storytelling; these are just some of the things the City is doing to compete for the future. Check out this exclusive interview with New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson and Luiz Aragon, Commissioner of Development to learn more. 

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Innovation Stories: Newmarket, Ontario

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Innovation Stories: Newmarket, Ontario

How do smaller sized cities innovate? The Town of Newmarket, Ontario (with a population of just over 85,000 people) is a perfect example of how to do it. They are also our second Canadian city and the first in Ontario. Learn more about our collaboration and see what else Newmarket is doing to be a leader in civic innovation and to improve the quality of life for residents and visitors. 

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Spotlight: Parkland County, Alberta

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Spotlight: Parkland County, Alberta

We are big proponents of making innovative projects happen in all cities, big or small, dense or rural. Parkland County is an amazing example of how a rural county can innovate successfully. At a population of just 12 people per square mile, it's about as rural as you can get! We did a spotlight with Barb Scully to learn more about how her and her team use technology to improve the quality of life for everyone in the county. 

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We are now in Canada!

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We are now in Canada!

On June 7th, we officially launched in Canada with the help of the City of Edmonton. The City kicked off its Environment Week by showcasing its new Soofa Benches to the public, the press, and city leaders. Learn more!

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Soofa Atlas Milestones!

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Soofa Atlas Milestones!

Since March 2016, we've been monitoring the usage of Cambridge's Soofa Bench network. The City's 16 benches suprassed the 4000 devices charged, 1000 total hours of charge milestones. Keep in mind that this is before summer made its way to the Boston area! Take a look at some highlights from these exciting milestones. 

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