April 2019 🍂
Land Connections 4 Part Planning Series
Part 2: Inventory & Analysis
Author: Alison Kelly, Landscape Architect
The previous issue of Land Connections kicked off our planning series by highlighting current trends in recreation planning. In this second installment of the four-part recreation planning series , the focus will be on inventory and analysis methodologies used in parks and recreation planning. Upcoming issues of Land Connections will address public outreach techniques and financial management strategies
The practice of planning is no different from any other field in that the best and strongest recommendations are based upon careful interpretation of real-world data. How do parks and recreation planners obtain and interpret data? Some of this comes in the form of public outreach feedback, which will be discussed in more detail in month’s Land Connections article. Much of the data that shapes our cities and towns, however, comes in the form of data-based maps. 
A History of Data-Based Mapping
Data-based mapping is not a new practice. Practitioners of landscape architecture and planning began to utilize a system of map overlays to generate new insights into planning efforts in the mid-20th Century. At its inception, the practice included analysis using transparent maps of a given area at the same scale. Each sheet would show a different aspect of the map – watersheds, elevations, soils, zoning, population, etc. When layered over one another with a particular question in mind, such as, “where is the most appropriate buildable land in this area?” the data provided a window into the area’s unique strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). The basic concept of this practice remains unchanged, although advances in technology and data gathering have created new and complex ways to generate and analyze this data. GIS, or Geographic Information System mapping technology, is the most common system currently used. (1) GIS provides a way to overlay data-based information associated with geographic points. Many municipalities maintain GIS systems to visually demonstrate for the public complex planning concepts such as land use zoning.
Parks and recreation planning professionals most commonly use GIS to study existing conditions and illustrate areas of particular need within a geographic location. For example, a planner may begin with a question about how equitably public parks are currently distributed across a City. Using map layers showing population density, income levels, racial distribution data (if available), and locations of existing parks, the planner can begin to draw conclusions about whether or not current distribution is equitable for the community and how to prioritize locating future parks.
Rethinking GIS
At the forefront of groundbreaking new planning studies, is the concept of utilizing GIS to provide a window into previously unexplored issues of equality and environmental justice. One recent article posted on CityLab.com arguing for equitable distribution of dog parks across public recreation systems used GIS maps showing dog ownership, dog park location, racial distribution, and leash law violations of two US Cities to build a compelling case demonstrating how the unequal distribution of dog parks across City boundaries reflects and reinforces systemic inequalities. (2)  The Harvard Kennedy School produced the Mapping Inequality project, an interactive, publicly-accessible online mapping tool using data mapping overlay tools.  (3) Mapping Inequality allows users to see New Deal era redlining maps of different Cities across the US along with racial distribution data and environmental risks, and to compare this data to current City data in order to illustrate how historical practices have continued to affect today’s populations.
A New Hi-Tech Era
Inventory and analysis in planning is entering a new era. Data powerhouse Google launched Sidewalk Labs in 2015 with the goal of “reimagining cities to improve quality of life.” Utilizing parent company Google’s strengths in data gathering and management, Sidewalk Labs has begun to reach out into the public realm via subsidiaries such as Coord and apps “Open Curbs” and “Common Space.” Focused on creating up-to-date maps of public places, these mechanisms offer public partners ways to inventory details of public spaces. Open Curbs provides municipalities a method to catalogue City curbs in terms of use/restrictions and is currently most helpful to areas which experience dense urban traffic. Common Space, still in its pilot stage, aims to partner with public clients to launch project-specific apps for public parks and open spaces through which members of the public can contribute data about usage patterns, creating a crowdsourced post-occupancy study.
While data-based mapping remains the most commonly used tool for maintaining inventory of the public realm, practitioners will continue to find innovative ways to analyze and interpret data. The practice of analysis through inquisitive layering of mapped data is elegantly simple in practice and continues to lead to new revelations about the ways land planning affects the lives of a given area’s residents. Moreover, the integration of new technologies and methods of data-gathering will increase the relevance of planning maps as information that is loaded into databases in real-time. Crowdsourcing information about the public realm, from how people use parks to the condition of public sidewalks, will in turn create new opportunities for public agencies to respond to the needs of their residents.
While every project is unique due to context, location, and the needs of the public, these rising trends have been identified from among recent projects in California and surrounding regions. These are just a few highlighted trends in the large and diverse practice of parks and recreation planning. More facets of planning for today’s communities will be discussed over the next three installments of Land Connections features, as we continue our four-part planning series.  

For more articles like this, please visit  Land Connections  on our website.

About the Author
Alison Kelly, PLA, LEED AP ND, is a Landscape Architect with O’Dell Engineering. She is the Co-Chair of the ASLA Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network and Chair of the ASLA Archives & Collections Committee. 
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