Staff, Pittsburgh Parks Dog Map

A Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania employee has set out to collect data on the city’s public walkways during the pandemic to improve local infrastructure access and public planning.

Experts are continuously investigating what urban planning geared towards equity capital looks like. For example, a recent California project set up a website to educate residents of Los Angeles County about the parks and facilities available. Some local governments, like that of Buffalo, NY, have even turned to augmented reality to get more people into their parks.

In Pittsburgh, a particularly unique project in this area was led by the Department of Performance and Innovation’s senior enterprise applications administrator Matt Jacob. With his dog Porter and a GPS device, he mapped all of the city’s park paths.

From summer 2020 to early 2021, Jacob started the data collection project with a Trimble R2 GPS that can be pole-mounted or put in a backpack – Jacob did both.

The impetus for the project came naturally when the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic sent everyone outside. With frequent requests from the community for information about the city’s available hiking trails – and since Jacob was already on the trails in his spare time – he decided to put together a GPS to create a comprehensive hiking map showing the smaller parks, greenways, and extensive trail networks includes.

“Many residents don’t even know these places exist or that these trails exist, so they really are missing out on the opportunity to explore some areas of the city that they haven’t seen before,” he said. “So many people don’t even know that these green spaces are open to them for relaxation.”

The public can now access the resulting walking map of Matt Jacobs and Porter’s walks.

(Matt Jacob)

After Jacob collected data with the GPS, he began to translate that data into a publicly accessible map – a labor and resource intensive process. It involved bringing together many of the city departments and groups who have an interest in the areas that would be highlighted on the map.

The Public Safety Department, Public Works Department, CitiParks, and Urban Planning Department all help maintain or protect these spaces. The conversation between the stakeholders allowed the team to make critical decisions about whether certain areas should be made public for safety or environmental reasons.

Jacob said that this public map is only the first version and the goal is to continuously improve mobile functionality and build on the information available.

“Of course, we want to use the data for planning purposes – and ultimately hopefully for public safety purposes,” he said.

As an example of the possible value in this area, he cited the use of signage in these areas, which can assign the emergency number 911 to a caller in order to be located more efficiently.

The pandemic has brought the need to improve the public outdoor space to the fore. Jacob said that knowing that outdoor spaces are being used by the community encouraged the city to devote more resources to these people in order to gain access to places or amenities they were previously unaware of.

Julia Edinger

Julia Edinger works for Government Technology. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Toledo and has worked in publishing and media ever since. It is currently located in Southern California.

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