Enhancing the benefits of outdoor recreation

Our research uses a mixture of analytical methods and data sources – including on-site surveys, citizen scientists, and ubiquitious data from mobile phone and social media platforms – to map and measure park use, visitors’ behaviors, and demand for outdoor opportunities. Maps and analyses can reveal where there are disparities in existing networks of public lands, evaluate ongoing efforts to address unmet demands for greenspace, and predict the outcomes of proposed acquisitions or management options.

Regional and cultural differences in people’s preferences for different types of parks, amenities, activities, and programming have traditionally hampered planning. Using data from cities across the US, we have used patterns of visitor movement and behavior recorded by mobile phones to measure local and regional variability in people’s preference for various natural environments and built attributes of parks, across gradients in park accessibility. We have quantified for the first time in multiple regions around the world how local demand for public land aligns with local supply. These methods – which use local to national data and spatially hierarchical models – are being applied in projects globally to identify local and regional gaps in the availability of different types of outdoor opportunities, or predict the benefits of proposed management actions and land acquisitions.

Preferences of urban park visitors in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, according to multiple generalized negative binomial regressions visualized using dot-whisker plot (on left) of coefficient estimates and t-statistics to illustrate direction and magnitude, from Donahue et al. (2018).