A hiker on a hiking trail on a summer day in the Hilton Falls Conservation Area. Credit: Conservation Halton, CC-BY 4.0, creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

New research has shown how anonymized GPS data from people’s smartphones can be used to track public use of parks and other green spaces in cities, which could help guide governance. Alessandro Filazzola of ApexRMS and the University of Toronto, Mississauga, Canada, and colleagues present these findings in an open access journal. PLOS Computational Biology On December 15, 2022

Parks and other green spaces in cities perform several key functions, including promoting human physical and mental health, maintaining ecological biodiversity, and providing services such as stormwater management and cooling. Human interactions with green spaces influence these functions, but capturing human activity with sufficient quality to inform green space management is challenging. Anonymized GPS data from people’s smartphones can help solve this problem.

To demonstrate such an approach, Filazzola and his colleagues analyzed anonymized smartphone data from visits to 53 green spaces in the greater Toronto area in Canada, including parks, trails and areas closed to the public for conservation purposes.

The GPS data showed that people capture insights about the use of these green spaces, for example, mobile device movements are strongly correlated with the location data people take to access parks. The data also showed which areas within green spaces have more or less human activity, with established roads being particularly popular. In addition, high human presence is associated with certain types of land cover, such as rock formations, as well as certain tree species.

These findings highlight the potential of anonymized smartphone GPS data to help inform the management of green spaces, particularly as cities grow around the world. Such efforts can be used in addition to the benefits of green spaces for people and protecting biodiversity.

The researchers note several challenges to this approach, such as the tendency for some people to disconnect from mobile devices when visiting green spaces and the difficulty of distinguishing between a smartphone in a green space and a car passing by outside the perimeter. Future research may address these issues and refine the methodology.

The authors added, “Access to parks is important for city dwellers for recreation, contact with nature, and social interaction, but understanding how people use these green spaces is challenging. Our study uses anonymized movement data to explain the relationship between people and nature in parks.”

Additional information:
Using smartphone-GPS data to measure human activity in green spaces; PLoS Computational Biology (2022) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1010725

Provided by the Public Library of Science

QuoteHarnessing Smartphones to Track How People Use Green Spaces (2022, December 15) Accessed 15 December 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-12-harnessing-smartphones-track-people-green.html

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