The Felicity of the Commons

The Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) has completed a year-long study, conducted in partnership with the sociology faculty at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), to determine how many people use the community’s parks, who they are, and what those parks users think of the 36 acres of public space spread throughout the neighborhood.

The BMCC team, headed up by professors Michelle Ronda and Robin Isserles, interviewed 549 randomly selected park visitors, made direct contact with another 2,836 visitors, counted more than 32,000 visitors, and held seven focus groups with local stakeholders.

The study concluded that approximately 690,000 people visit Battery Park City parks each year. (This figure excludes users of the ball fields and people who come to the community for special events or programs. When these populations are included, the overall tally swells to more than one million.) On the single busiest day that the BMCC team was counting visitors, they spotted more than 4,900 people, which translates into 136 people per acre, per day. Of all the open spaces in the community, Rockefeller Park is the most visited (with 853 daily users), while Rector Park is the least heavily trafficked (with just 37 visitors), according to the study.

Surprisingly, the largest cohort of people who pass through local parks are not residents. Visitors comprise 45 percent of local park users, while residents represent only 36 percent, and people who work in the community make up 16 percent. The reasons for coming to local parks include sightseeing (30 percent of users), walking (19 percent), and dog walking (10 percent).

When asked for ways to improve the community’s parks, residents and people who live elsewhere diverged sharply. The latter group was mostly unable to come up with ideas for making the facilities better, with a minority of this cohort cited amenity-based dislikes, such as too few restrooms and poor wireless connectivity.

Residents of Battery Park City were more likely to voice specific concerns about dog waste, safety hazards caused by bicycles on walkways, and perceptions of crowding at certain times of the day.

Both groups, suggested more special events (such as concerts and festivals), but residents preferred those focused on children, families, or dogs, while non-residents were most interested in sports and athletic events.

Other suggestions included block parties and cookouts, more signs in languages other than English, the installation of tennis courts, locating emergency phones along the Esplanade, building a pier for kayaking, and creating a series of outdoor exercise stations.

BPCA president B.J. Jones said of the report, “in this data, it’s wonderful to see that users love our public spaces. Residents like the backyard feel, visitors appreciate the stunning views, and workers enjoy a serene respite from a busy day. There’s also useful data on opportunities for improvement, many of which substantiate concerns we have heard from our engaged community. This will be instrumental in helping us build on our strengths when it comes to maintenance, programming, and horticulture, and help us focus our efforts in addressing matters like resiliency, safety, and making our spaces more engaging and welcoming to everyone.”

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