Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Learning Virtually Everything about Your Park: Cities Need to Take Advantage of the Opportunities the Web Offers to Reach Residents

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Learning Virtually Everything about Your Park: Cities Need to Take Advantage of the Opportunities the Web Offers to Reach Residents

Article excerpt

Do you need to disseminate information about your park system? Want to advertise where residents can take their dogs off-leash or catch a game of chess during lunch hour? Need help getting people to join a greenway clean-up organization?

Ten years ago, if you were driven by any of these needs you would have simply made a flier, maybe created a bulletin board in your recreation center and hoped to raise your residents' awareness. Today, your first stop is most likely your city park department Web site. But what would your community find there?

If you live in Seattle, Wash., or Cincinnati, Ohio, you would be pleasantly surprised--even amazed. You'd find interactive maps, lists of parks with their addresses and hours of operation, compilations of facilities and events, photos, prices and registration forms. You'd even find written histories of each park. And, if you still couldn't find what you were looking for, the sites even provide a way to directly contact the park director with your questions or suggestions.

In fact, in an analysis of the park agency Web sites of the 75 largest cities, every one of those cities plus Fresno, Calif., and Wichita, Kan., ranked tops for the quantity of information they provided their citizens and the ease in finding it. The study was carried out by the Trust for Public Land's Center for City Park Excellence (CCPE).

For each park department site, CCPE took note of the resources offered as well as the ease of finding it. The best overall sites provide excellent park maps, descriptions, lists of facilities, and park histories, all in an accessible, easy-to-navigate manner. Other high ranking sites include Mesa, Ariz., and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., which missed top ranking only by lacking historical information and written park descriptions.

Cities that present outstanding historical information include Chicago and New York. In Chicago, the history of Abbott Park, for instance, not only includes a small biography of Robert Sengstacke Abbott (1868-1940), for whom the park is named, but also an explanation of why and for which community the park site was acquired. New York is noteworthy for integrating the text of its historical park signage into the Web site. San Francisco's Web site is the only one that goes so far as to display vintage photographs of what its parks looked like in the past. Combined with an honest park description, park histories and historical images help to deepen the appreciation, vision and sense of stewardship communities and residents feel for their nearby parks.

Interactive maps--maps that allow site visitors to click directly on a location and instantly receive a wealth of new information--make the most dramatic difference in the attraction of a site, CCPE found. While most sites offer some version of a park list with addresses, only about 30 percent provide an interactive map. Two particularly successful maps are oil the sites of Mesa, Ariz., and Seattle, Wash.

Click on an area of either city and you'll be presented with a birds-eye view of parks on a neighborhood level. Click again on any of these parks and you'll be directed to a page providing a description of the park, a list of amenities and park features, as well as other important information.

The power of an interactive map has tempted some city park departments to rely heavily on their city's GIS (Geographic Information System) to provide Web site content. GIS is the name for a software application that can generate maps combining statistical and geographic data. …

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