I was recently approached by a journalist who is writing an article on the impact of covid-19 on park life, after having come across the WISEParks project. During the WISEParks project we developed a small device called a ‘WISEBox’ which can count the number of WiFi enabled devices passing within about 30m of the box.
Working with Nottingham City Council (NCC) we deployed these boxes around two large parks in Nottingham. Known as ‘destination parks’ both of these parks are the sort of place you’d make an effort to visit. You might go for a walk, a run, a swim, use the playground or hire a boat. Regardless of your reason for visiting the park, NCC were interested in using visitor counts to provide evidence for the effect of expensive park improvements, plan new concessions or simply plan maintenance.
When the WISEParks project ended in early 2020 we deliberately left the counting devices out in the parks. We even used some spare boxes to support a project being undertaken by NCC and expanded our deployment to cover two more parks. The journalists request prompted me to spend some time with all this data.
I started by looking at data from the park we’ve been monitoring since early 2019, Highfields Park. Comparing Spring 2019 [pre-covid] to Autumn 2020 [post-covid] I found the park was nearly twice as busy on weekdays and three times busier at the weekend. This is despite the lack of ‘in person’ teaching sessions at the nearby university and associated lack of commuters in the park. I found similar effects at Colwick park, where the increased post-covid usage has made local headlines with “parking chaos” in lockdown.
WISEParks started as one of five projects within Rethinking Parks – a programme jointly run by Nesta, The National Lottery Heritage Fund and The National Lottery Community Fund. Horizon has provided funding to continue this work after the initial project. We are now working with other councils to deploy WISEBoxes in parks across the country, from Bristol to Sheffield. We aim to develop interfaces to this information to allow people to access data from their own local park. We continue to develop the boxes themselves and increase our understanding of the data they provide. We’ve even taken our work indoors, measuring the busyness of buildings in the SoDis project.
Written by Dr James Pinchin
Tags: data, devices, digital devices, WiFi, WiseParks