Using Cell Phone Location Data for Park Planning

Location data from mobile devices can help inform park planning and development, letting planners know how people move through parks and which spaces they actually use within them.

September 21, 2021, 11:00 AM PDT

By clementkhlau @clemusc


Coronavirus and Urbanism

Eddie Hernandez Photos / Shutterstock

Park planning has become increasingly data-driven. For example, the use of geographic information systems (GIS) for mapping and analysis is now commonplace for large public park agencies, as explained in previous Planetizen articles, "How GIS Helps Plan Parks" and "How the National Park Service Uses GIS." Many have also conducted and are continuing to update parks needs assessments to gather and analyze data to help inform planning and resource allocation decisions, as exemplified in recent articles like "Seeking Public Input on Regional and Rural Park Needs," "Understanding Regional and Rural Park and Recreation Needs," and "Rural Parks Planning Underway in Los Angeles County."

The use of location data from mobile devices is one of the latest trends in data-driven park planning. Specifically, the use of such data for studies on park visitors can be more affordable and accurate than conducting in-person counts and/or surveys at parks. In this article, Adi Reske of Unacast summarizes a conversation with Dr. Jamie Saxon, with the University of Chicago, regarding how location data is being used in the public sector and the different ways it can help create better public parks.  Here are a few insights:

  • Smartphone location data can show how people move through parks and which spaces they actually use within them.  
  • Sometimes, the data make common sense. For example, keeping parks within a short walk of people and they tend to visit more.  
  • Other times, the data can reveal the unexpected: things that at first may seem counterintuitive or even difficult to understand
  • The data can help focus resources on supporting and affirming communities and parks’ current users.

Thursday, August 12, 2021 in Unacast

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