Researchers follow Twitter to find out what people enjoy in New York City parks

North Carolina State University researchers found they could use Twitter to understand changes in what New York City park users valued most about four iconic city parks before and after COVID closures took effect -19. The researchers also found Twitter useful for tracking complaints about individual parks.

The results indicate that social media could be an important tool for park managers, park planners or others to respond in real time to changes in user needs or to plan future parks, potentially faster than use. traditional survey-based methods.

“We’ve found that you can pull in details about individual parks, as well as track what people like about parks, complaints they’ve had about specific events, and even broader societal issues people are talking about. “said study co-author Aaron Hipp, associate professor of community health and sustainability at NC State. “While we have further work to automate this and get closer to real-time monitoring, we believe our results indicate that parks can monitor this information and are confident that some social media traffic can be a fairly reliable reflection of the feelings of the public. ”

For the study, the researchers tracked tweets about Central Park in Manhattan, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Flushing Meadows in Queens, and Bronx Park from March 2019 to February 2020, and then from March 2020 to February 2021. They used the natural language processing and topic modeling. techniques to analyze a total of 71,792 tweets, which excluded retweets, influencer tweets, bots and tweets containing less than three words. Overall, they found that tweets about Central Park increased by 18% and tweets about Prospect Park increased by 87%. Meanwhile, tweets about Flushing Meadows were down 71% and tweets about Bronx Park dropped 32%.

The researchers said the results reflect the effects of a COVID-19 stay-at-home order. Since outdoor recreation was limited to solitary exercise, parks and trails became popular destinations after March 2020. However, this trend does not seem to hold true for all parks due to their distinct offerings.

“Flushing Meadows is famous for its sporting events, but during the pandemic, those have mostly been canceled,” said the study’s lead author, Jing-Huei Huang, a postdoctoral researcher at NC State. “In Bronx Park, people tended to tweet about the Zoo and Botanical Garden, but those were closed, which was reflected in the drop in tweets.”

Tweets about physical activity like walking, jogging and biking have increased at all four parks during the pandemic. The researchers also found concerns about social distancing and related issues in all four.

“At all four parks, we found that participation in outdoor physical activities was particularly important when people had to keep their distance from each other and were unable to participate in social activities,” said Huang. “We were also able to capture negative feelings when people were upset to see crowds in parks, or when people weren’t wearing masks,” Huang added. “It sends useful signals to the management team.”

They also captured tweets about specific incidents at each park that reflected broader social concerns. For example, they saw a spike in tweets about racial discrimination in May 2020 after the Central Park birding incident, when Amy Cooper, a white woman, called the police about a black man. , Christian Cooper, who watched the birds. They also saw complaints that Flushing Meadows was becoming a “giant parking lot” as part of a plea for a new greenway to increase access and keep pedestrians safe.

In a follow-up study, they plan to compare data collected using traditional surveys to what they found on social media.

“A long-term goal is to be able to get that feedback in real time, so park managers can initiate programming in response,” Hipp said. “For example, in the midst of a surge in demand, you could open a nearby street for waking up or cycling. There is also great potential here for evaluating programs and events, especially when decisions are made on the fly, such as during COVID. This social media data can provide a retrospective opportunity to gauge what people were saying about the specific park, program, or event.

The article, “Exploring values ​​through Twitter data associated with urban parks before and after COVID-19”, was published online in Landscape and urban planning. Co-authors included Myron F. Floyd and Laura G. Tateosian. The study is part of the “Characteristics of Green Spaces and Their Associations with Population Health” project funded by USDA Forest Service Grant/Agreement Number: 16-JV-11330144-065


Note to authors: Summary follows.

“Exploring values ​​through Twitter data associated with urban parks before and after COVID-19”

Authors: Jing-Huei Huang, Myron F. Floyd, Laura G. Tateosian and J. Aaron Hipp

Posted online in Landscape and urbanism.

DO I: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2022.104517

Summary: Since schools and businesses closed due to the evolving COVID-19 outbreak, city parks have been a popular destination, providing spaces for daily fitness activities and an escape from the home environment . Parks and Recreation departments and agencies need evidence to base their decisions on when adapting policies in response to rapidly changing demand and preferences during the pandemic. The application of social media data analysis techniques allows a qualitative and quantitative approach to big data to gain unobtrusive and quick insights into how parks are rated. This study examines how the public values ​​associated with New York City’s parks have shifted between pre-COVID (i.e. March 2019 to February 2020) and post-COVID (i.e. March 2020 to February 2021) through a social media microblogging platform – Twitter. A topic modeling technique for short text identified common traits of changes in Twitter topics regarding impressions and values ​​associated with parks over two years. While New York’s lockdown has resulted in far fewer social activities in parks, some parks have continued to be valued for physical activity and contact with nature during the pandemic. Concerns about people not observing physical distancing have emerged in parks where frequent human interaction and overcrowding appeared to lead to a higher likelihood of coronavirus transmission. This study demonstrates that social media data could be used to capture park values ​​and be specific to each park. The results could inform park management during disturbances when use changes and public needs may change.

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