Parks are the lifeblood of a community. From small to big, these spaces contribute to the health and well-being of our environment and our communities.
At the same time, parks are like mini communities themselves that require the same maintenance and management that officials — and technologies — exercise in neighborhoods, counties and states. At GovLoop’s online training “Is Your Park Smart? How GIS Can Revolutionize Parks” on Thursday, industry experts with park agency backgrounds spoke about how geographic information system (GIS) technology can help park agencies modernize their workflows to ultimately serve visitors and their communities better.
GIS acts as a foundational technology to establish four technology pillars to deliver smart parks: operational efficiency, data-driven performance, planning and engineering, and civic inclusion.
The goal of operational efficiency is to enable parks to collect information in real time and feed it back into performance dashboards to gauge real impact.
Tennessee State Parks, for example, used Esri’s Survey123 tool to collect points and information on waterways. The easily configurable tool helped walk field workers through the workflow of the information they needed to gather in real time. The dropdown configuration option and mandatory fields helped control data quality by preventing random or multiple data entries and preset minimum requirements for data, said Sunny Fleming, National Solutions Engineer for State Environmental at Esri.
The mobile app is also offline-friendly, which is an important feature for rangers who are in the field with little connectivity. Reports can be saved to send later once they get back within reach of a network.
“Smart parks enhance and streamline operations to run better, providing for better visitor attraction and experience with parks, which is ultimately what it’s all about,” said Mike Bialousz, National Account Manager for State Government Environment and Natural Resources at Esri.
High-performing parks use location as the standard analytical approach to achieve data-driven performance that produces new insights and desirable results.
“These insights can drive important decisions, such as planning fiscal budgets, allocating for resources and funds, assessing and monitoring permits and so on,” Bialousz said. “Real-time data collected from the field or even from the public is critical to all this.”
For example, the R3 initiative, which is a national campaign from the conservation community to recruit, retain and reactivate interest in outdoor recreational activities, uses Esri’s ArcGIS toolset to better understand the people they can reach. ArcGIS can display a heat map of where people buy licenses for fishing and hunting to better focus their efforts in specific locations and communities.
Agencies can also use this capability to understand their market to achieve their goals when it comes to creating and delivering smart parks for their communities.
Planning and Engineering
Parks strive to balance the needs of people, infrastructure and the environment. A smart community information system that incorporates planning and engineering capabilities enables governments to model the impacts of proposed developments, adjust to changing demographics and lifestyles, and account for climatic and economic shifts.
“These sorts of considerations are critical to parks of all sizes, especially those with a lot of visitation and amenities,” Bialousz said.
That’s why to maintain their well-loved trails, Tennessee State Parks stood up a trails assessment dashboard to help them plan for some of the biggest needs in trail maintenance. Rangers walked and logged information in real time through a mobile app, which wired the data back to a main dashboard. Whereas the data was contained in various different sources before this tech was implemented, the dashboard centralized all of the information on trail conditions to keep track of and plan better for trail maintenance.
“This is a great way to show leadership progress of what’s been done, the costs and what else you want to configure,” Fleming said.
Civic Inclusion and Engagement
How do leaders support the full community’s needs? Bidirectionally, Bialousz said. “On the one hand, it’s getting information out to the public and educating them. It also occurs in the other direction, by enabling visitors to provide feedback on parks and engaging them as citizen scientists, allowing them to comment on various park projects.”
“The engagement fosters a true community concept, which optimally will lead to more visitation and, frankly, more investment in parks,” Bialousz added.
Fleming offered the Urban Wood Reuse: For Schools initiative in Washington D.C., as an example. The initiative uses Esri’s ArcGIS Hub Premium to encourage two-way engagement between government and its citizens on zero-waste wood use. The District Department of Transportation Urban Forestry Division (UFD) and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) partnered in this initiative to provide free wood products to improve school grounds and, ultimately, encourage civic engagement and inclusion.
Location-based GIS technology is foundational in supporting smart park strategies. “These pillars are not mutually exclusive at all. There is a lot of crossover,” Bialousz noted. A smart park strategy that is planned and engineered well, operates efficiently, performs based on data and civically engages all is possible, especially with current advancements in technology.
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