Parks Make Places Nicer.

Communities with parks have healthier environments for residents, with better air quality, more opportunities for active living and positive social engagement. They benefit the regional economy as well. Parks and open spaces improve real estate values to nearby residents as well as attract visitors, in turn helping local businesses.

The county and city of San Francisco understands both the social and economic benefits of parks. Using its gilt-edged general obligation pledge (the city is rated Aaa/AAA/AA+), San Francisco issued $629.06 million in bonds through five series since 2010 for its Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks program. San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) applied the proceeds to acquire, expand, and improve the parks, playgrounds and other open spaces in the city.

The Golden Gate

There are a lot of them in the city by the bay, but of the 218 parks, playgrounds and open spaces within its city limits, the largest and oldest is the 1,017-acre Golden Gate Park, established in the 1870s. With nearly 7.8 million people calling the Bay Area home—nearly 900,000 in the city alone—the park gets a lot of use.

People love the park, perhaps “loving it to death.” Yes, parks add value, but only if they are well-maintained. They have to be kept safe and clean. That part falls to park managers. The first question those overseeing Golden Gate Park asked was basic: How many people were using the park? All the other questions stemmed from that–what they use it for, when they use it—all have a direct bearing on everything else, from when the park opens and closes to how often bathrooms are cleaned and trash gets picked up.

Being this is San Francisco and a short drive from Silicon Valley, the department naturally looked for a tech solution. Under the cleverly named Start Up In Residence Program (STIR), they prepared a request for proposal for an “affordable, scalable, portable technology” to count visitors. That was just the start. SFRPD had other specific needs. Reports required visualizations of more granular applications of captured data, compiling things like mode-share, hours of peak and low traffic, programming impact like parades, marathons, and car-free days, as well as situational factors like poor air quality during the Paradise fires. Capturing the data for all this demanded very sophisticated technology.