Two Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) professors and a team of 24 BMCC students have been contracted by the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) to conduct an extensive user count and visitor survey of all public spaces within Battery Park City in lower Manhattan. Now underway, the survey runs through November 2017.
BMCC Social Sciences, Human Services and Criminal Justice Professors Michelle Ronda and Robin Isserles will lead the BPCA Count and User Survey. The 24 BMCC students and five BPCA interns will participate in the study, working both as research assistants and supervisors.
The Battery Park City Authority maintains and operates the parks and public spaces in a 92-acre area bordered by Chambers Street to the north, the West Side Highway to the east, the Hudson River to the west and Pier A at the southern tip of lower Manhattan.
Gaining insight into the number of users of public parks, as well as their activities in the spaces, can assist BPCA as it responds to the needs of visitors and plans for future funding and projects.
BJ Jones, acting BPCA President, describes his aim in partnering with BMCC: “Battery Park City Parks are quite simply public treasures, visited by tens of thousands each year in a lower Manhattan more vibrant, sustainable, and interconnected than ever before. Anecdotally, we have a sense of when and why people visit our Parks; this study will enable us to put science behind those estimates – and there’s no better local partner for that than BMCC.”
Survey will take place in green spaces across 92-acre area
Placed primarily at entrances to green spaces within Battery Park City, students use clickers to count visitors. The survey portion of the research includes in-person interviews with approximately 1,200 park users to occur over three months, reflecting both the summer and fall seasons.
Questions the student research assistants will ask during the survey portion of the study include, ‘If you could design the next event or activity in this park what would it be?’ and ‘What are your favorite parts of the park?”
Ronda says soliciting people’s input speaks to BPCA’s commitment to support the local and greater citywide community and to the democratic principles the public spaces embrace.
Similar studies have been done at parks around the nation including New York City. William Kornblum, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, the Graduate Center, CUNY, had conducted similar studies on Central Park throughout the 1980’s and 90’s. Then, in 2008, he was commissioned by the Central Park Conservancy to conduct the extensive and widely cited Central Park User Survey and Count.
The two-year study was released in a 2011 report that showed the number of annual park visitors had increased from 25 to 45 million over a 15-year period. The Central Park Conservancy used results from the survey data to inform decisions about capital improvements and infrastructure maintenance.
“The more social scientists help park managers understand the patterns of public use in parks such as those in Battery Park City, the better equipped they will be to deploy their limited resources to manage these precious areas,” said Kornblum.
BMCC’s Ronda worked with Professor Kornblum in the mid 1980s on an earlier study while she was an undergraduate student at Queens College (CUNY). Years later while pursuing their doctorate degrees, both she and Isserles worked with Kornblum on the 2011 Central Park User Survey.
“Working with Bill Kornblum changed my entire life,” Ronda says. “I never would have considered that this sort of research was something I could do as a career.
She says the BMCC students working on the BPCA project will gain similar invaluable social science experience.
“Students will gain skills in social science research, which is not only valuable for planning a career in that area, but they will gain practice at interviewing and talking to strangers as well as precision counting skills,” said Ronda.
Student immerse themselves in BPCA community
This survey will also be an introduction for many of the students to the parks, gardens, and other free public resources located right across the street from BMCC in Battery Park City, according to Isserles
“BMCC is part of the downtown community,” Isserles said adding, “I think it’s important that students to get to know this environment.”
Isserles is incorporating the Battery Park study into her Sociology Capstone course—a research driven class that is the final Sociology course BMCC students must complete before graduating in the major. The Capstone students will also conduct systematic counting and randomized survey interviews, says Isserles. They will also learn how to take that data and enter it as code and then conduct preliminary analysis.
She says BPCA selected the BMCC team, in part, because of the educational component of incorporating students into the research process.
“We’re delighted to partner with social science experts from Borough of Manhattan Community College – and especially pleased to hire students as research assistants,” said Abby Ehrlich, BPCA Director of Community Partnerships and Engagement. “The aspiring young professionals are gaining experience using the city as a classroom and are instrumental to the project’s success. We hope that one of the project’s outcomes will be that students administering the study become part of Battery Park City’s community along with their friends and families.”
There are added benefits when students work alongside professors in a research setting such as the BPCA study, as Ronda can attest to.
“I was the first person in my family to go to college. I didn’t even know professors conducted this sort of research,” says Ronda.