Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Making Smart Parks

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Making Smart Parks

Article excerpt

In the past 10 years, technology has rapidly disrupted industry after industry, becoming deeply intertwined with everything we do. The ways we get around, connect with our friends, meet new people and do business have been revolutionized. Even the infrastructure of our cities and the buildings we live in have been transformed. Why, then, has technology been so slow to find its way into parks and open spaces?

Is this slow adoption of technology causing our parks to be less desirable to, or worse, less used by, the growing connected generations? Are park managers missing major opportunities to improve the management of park networks with the aid of technology?

To answer these questions, it is important to first define how technology can be implemented in a park setting, clarifying what value it provides. Soofa, a startup out of MIT's Media Lab, calls these technology-enhanced parks "Smart Parks." Since its inception in 2014 and through a partnership with Boston New Urban Mechanics, Cisco and Verizon, Soofa has worked with numerous innovative cities and park departments across the United States and Canada to implement its internet-connected, solar-powered park benches in public and private settings. Soofa's philosophy dictates that effective technology in parks provides a clear benefit for the public while adding value to park departments. This includes, for example, improving operations management and programming. When operations and programming become more effective, visitors enjoy parks more, giving park agencies additional ideas for improvement.

Creating technology-enabled Smart Parks does not require a monumental shift in management practices or departmental organization, nor does their creation require excessive capital expenditure. Quite the opposite. Soofa's approach is to start small and build on success with incremental changes. Through testing ideas with innovative partners ranging from the size and scale of the NYC Parks Department to the city of Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, with a population of approximately 20,000 people, Soofa has begun building the foundation for a nation of Smart Parks.

Why Smart Parks?

The need for creating Smart Parks arises in part from the demand of park users. Today, connectivity is a basic facet of life. For many, connection is a lifeline. It's no surprise, then, that amenities like public Wi-Fi and free phone charging have made their way into public places and spaces.

A Smart Park goes far beyond just giving connected generations what they want. …

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