The parks located in Battery Park City are a vital part of the fabric that makes lower Manhattan dynamic and diverse. Approximately 690,000 people visit the 36 acres of parks and public spaces in Battery Park City (BPC) each year according to findings from an extensive research project led by a team of Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) professors and students.
BMCC Social Sciences, Human Services and Criminal Justice Professors Michelle Ronda and Robin Isserles and a team of current and former BMCC students were contracted by Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) in 2017 to conduct the first ever BPCA Parks User Count & Study 2017-2018.
The 130-page report is designed to help BPCA meet the challenges of maintaining the high level of satisfaction that park visitors currently enjoy.
In a BPCA press release, B.J. Jones, President and Chief Executive Officer, said the report’s findings will help inform future decisions about the park’s maintenance, horticulture and programing. The report will also help BPCA focus efforts in addressing matters like resiliency, safety and making its spaces more engaging and welcoming to everyone.
The study offered students and faculty unique learning experiences that included science research methodology and analytical skills.
“We are very proud of BMCC professors Michelle Ronda and Robin Isserles who engaged students in this important study to analyze the use of Battery Park City’s parks and public spaces, with the aim of continually improving New York City’s urban landscape,” says Karrin E. Wilks, BMCC Interim President. “This study served as a unique research opportunity for our faculty and students, and established our partnership with Battery Park City to strengthen our local community.”
- The average length of residency for those surveyed is eight years; the average length of time having worked in BPC is six-and-one-half years; and the average time that people have been coming to BPC parks is six years; About 47% of visitors come from the New York City Metro area, 31% of visitors come from out-of-state, and 22% are within walking distance of BPC.
- Most visitors to BPC parks (residents and non-residents alike) come in a group (six out of 10) and about three in 10 people come with a dog; about 11% of people come to BPC parks on bikes; About 25% of visitors to BPC parks were there for the first-time.
- When asked what brought them to BPC parks on the day of the survey, about three in 10 people report that they came to BPC parks to sightsee, 19% said that they came to walk, and 10% report that they came to walk dogs.
“Although parks are often places for solitary exercise or contemplation, these public spaces in BPC are also clearly important places for people to socialize, and many people have made visiting these places into a daily habit,” said Ronda.
BMCC visitor counts and the survey of park visitors, confirm BPC parks are highly successful. Nonetheless, a series of focus groups showed some BPC residents and non-residents have concerns such as insufficient restrooms, crowded pathways and bicycles that ride too fast or do not follow existing two-path rules.
One of the more interesting findings from the focus groups was the sense of ownership some residents expressed about the parks and a desire to safeguard these public spaces, and their uses. As one participant said, “Unlike Central Park, this is a residential community. We want to protect this.”
Focus group participants also expressed pride in their neighborhood being recognized and widely enjoyed which could translate into higher property values.
Suggestions from focus groups
Among the suggestions that focus group participants offered to BPCA were more signage in languages other than English, outdoor exercise machines and stations, emergency phones by the river, more tennis courts, piers for kayaking and better bicycle management. The groups also suggested more activities such as dance events and outdoor activities for older residents.
The BMCC team said any limitations of a social science research project are also opportunities for future research. The focus groups offered varied suggestions, such as recruiting more people in order to compile a more accurate census.
“There is more that could be explored in BPC in terms of health and public spaces, beyond the relationship of workers to this public space. Urban parks serve as an ‘oasis’ for so many workers, but also those people who do not have regular access to more natural environments. Research indicates such access may reap health and mental health benefits,” said Ronda.
Applying scientific data to park management
The study took place from July 2017 to May 2018. During that time, Ronda and Isserles hired and trained 43 research assistants. Of those, five were BPCA summer interns, nine were students in Isserles’ BMCC sociology capstone course and the remaining 29 were CUNY students, many who are currently or formerly enrolled at BMCC. Criminal Justice Professor Illir Disha served as a consultant on the report, helping sort and compile the collected data.
Ronda and Isserles presented the team’s findings at a BPCA open community meeting on October 3. The professors will present the report again to the Manhattan Community Board 1 meeting on November 7.
William Kornblum, professor emeritus, sociology, Graduate Center of the City University of New York who served as a consultant on the project, said a vast number of those surveyed in the study expressed love and admiration for the BPC parks.
“For planners and park managers, however, what makes a park system like that of Battery Park City successful hinges on additional questions to be addressed through data gathered about park visitors, and the “BPCA Parks User Count & Study” was designed with just that in mind,” said Kornblum.
“This study answers many of our questions with scientific clarity and neutrality thanks to the expertise of BMCC professors and students,” said Abby Ehrlich, BPCA Director of Community Partnerships and Engagement.
Ronda said the benefits from the partnership between BMCC and BPCA go beyond the study.
“Faculty, administrators and students have expanded our professional networks, and found new opportunities for employment, internships, and the possibility of future educational and research projects,” said Ronda.