Smart Parks: The Benefits of Combining Technology and Natural Spaces

February 20, 2020

Drawing visitors to open spaces and justifying city spending are two challenges facing public parks. IoT and connected technologies can equip public areas with the tools for combating both factors while increasing community health and cutting operational costs.

Increasing Park Visitor Attendance

The National Parks and Recreation Association (NPRA) believes smart technology allows parks to connect with a tech-focused generation. Public parks give children and adults essential places to socialize, exercise and spend time outdoors – but only if they are being used. Free Wi-Fi and charging stations can provide an incentive for connected individuals to step outside their homes.

In fact, Yellowstone blames their lack of high-speed internet for retention rates among staff, many of whom live in the park. Low internet speeds make it difficult for children to do homework and for parents to work remotely. Visitors to the park could experience similar internet benefits, theoretically prolonging their stay.

Some national parks may soon be testing the results of free Wi-Fi along with food trucks and hot running water in low-visitation sites. It is hoped park upgrades might entice special interest groups, such as senior citizens or families with young children who generally aren’t enthusiastic about the idea of camping rough.

Improving Public Health with Park Technology

In Miami’s future Underline park, officials plan to develop an app geared toward improving public health. Residents could provide feedback about their use of the park, and the app could alert users about upcoming programming, which could then be shared and promoted. The goal of the app would be to promote park engagement and greater health within the community.

When it comes to enticing children to outdoor areas, the NPRA believes augmented reality apps – similar to Pokemon Go – can help. These virtual environments are displayed through smartphones and activated at playgrounds and other park features. These apps present games to children to encourage learning and physical activity.

Though IoT can promote good health, another benefit to the public is safety and security. Free Wi-Fi and phone service eases access to emergency services, quick weather updates, and connectivity to friends and family if separated on the trail. Connected services at a public park allow visitors to relax and spend more time enjoying the outdoors.

Justifying Tech Upgrade Expenses

Paris is installing sensors and Bluetooth capability on park benches to gather data on visitor traffic and allow users of the space to provide feedback on park facilities through surveys. This information can provide insights on what aspects of the park are being used and what facilities are underutilized. These insights can then justify costs in upgrading park areas guests frequently use, adding new features guests want and transforming facilities that see little traffic.

Reducing Park Operational Costs

The Philadelphia Parks and Rec department uses IoT to visualize the various facilities under their care – such as office buildings, playgrounds, picnic areas and water fountains – and assign and update work tasks. Since employees always know what they should be doing, the app helps increase efficiency and cut operational costs. The department plans to update their technology usage through an improved work management system and a tracking system to monitor the city area’s two million trees. Other areas parks can use IoT to save money include identifying water leaks or power outages, tracking equipment and machinery, and scheduling need-based trash pickup.