With warmer weather approaching, New York City’s parks will once again play host to a plethora of public programs. From concerts to exercise classes, the season of free activities is something I look forward to all winter. When Brooklyn Bridge Park first opened last summer, park programmers offered science lessons, a series of four world music concerts, Zumba classes, and the popular outdoor ‘Movies with a View’ series showing classics from Hitchcock to the Big Lebowski. Officials at the park wanted to get a profile of the typical park user: how did they hear about the park, how did they get to the park, and what activities were they most likely to take part in? Working with the Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation, I was the one charged with finding all that out.
In order to answer these questions I led a team of eight undergraduate students from St. Francis College in Brooklyn in surveying park visitors. The students put shyness aside and administered over 1000 two-page surveys of park-goers, asking people for demographic information, reasons for coming to the park, ideas for improving the park, and familiarity with park events. The park staff hopes to use the results of the survey to better determine how to advertise events at the park, as well as ensure that the park is drawing a diverse crowd citywide.
Despite some nasty summer weather, including a case or two of heat stroke, the survey team was able to get enough data to compile an interesting profile of the park’s first summer visitors. Park visitors tended to be rather young, well educated, and came to the area specifically to see the new park. About 40% of park-goers walked to the park, almost the same amount took the subway in from a different neighborhood, and 12% drove. (Not surprisingly, the drivers were the group most likely to suggest that building a parking lot would most improve the park.) The park drew an ethnically diverse crowd. Approximately 50% of the respondents were people of color, a proportion comparable to that in the Brooklyn Heights/Downtown Brooklyn area. However, some three-fourths of park visitors came from outside of the immediate neighborhoods, including 10% of which were tourists visiting from out of state or country.
Working with St Francis professor Julio Huato, we ran a regression analysis to determine the likelihood that park-goers woulod attend the different summer events offered at the park, including movie screenings, educational tours, rowing, concerts, exercise classes, and the water taxi service to Governors Island. While most of the correlations were not statistically significant, we did discover a couple of determinants for potential program attendance.
For example, people who drove to the park were less likely to attend events overall. People who did not complete a college degree were more likely than both those with a 4-year degree or graduate degree to attend educational events. African Americans were more likely to attend fitness classes. While in general park visitors who lived further away were less likely to attend events, the weekly movie screenings appeared to attract people from all throughout the City.
The data certainly provides an interesting look at the demographics of the new park’s visitors and the demand for proposed events. Perhaps more interesting, and definitely encouraging, is that the department is interested in who is going to the new park, and is conducting such sophisticated studies so early on. They are not done; the park plans to conduct more surveys this summer in order to see if last year’s guesses match this year’s realities.