Using social media to understand drivers of urban park visitation in the Twin Cities, MN

Marie L. Donahue, Bonnie L Keeler, Spencer A. Wood, David M. Fisher, Zoé A. Hamstead, Timon McPhearson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

157 Scopus citations


Green space and parks in urban environments provide a range of ecosystem services and public benefits. However, planners and park managers can lack tools and resources to gather local information on how parks are used and what makes them desirable places for recreation and a wide variety of uses. Traditional survey methods to monitor park use and user preferences can be costly, time consuming, and challenging to apply at scale. Here, we overcome this limitation by using geotagged social media data to assess patterns of visitation to urban and peri-urban green space across park systems in the metropolitan area of the Twin Cities, Minnesota, USA. We find that parks with nearby water features, more amenities, greater accessibility from the presence of trails, and that are located within neighborhoods with higher population density, are associated with higher rates of visitation. As cities grow and shifts in demographics occur, more responsive management of public green space will become increasingly important to ensure urban parks provide ecosystem services and meet users’ needs. Using social media data to rapidly assess park use at a lower cost than traditional surveys has the potential to inform public green space management with targeted information on user behavior and values of urban residents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
StatePublished - Jul 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank park agency staff from the Metropolitan Council, City of Saint Paul, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Hennepin and Ramsey counties, and Three Rivers Park District for valuable data and input during the development of this study. We also thank C. Shepard and L. Kne from University of Minnesota (UMN) U-Spatial for assistance in supervised land cover data classification and processing. We appreciate valuable comments and suggestions from Natural Capital Project partners during analysis and writing, as well as three anonymous reviewers who helped improve this manuscript. Financial support for this work came from the UMN Institute on the Environment (IonE) Sustainable Cities Discovery Grant and the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) under funding received from the National Science Foundation DBI-105287. TM’s participation was supported by the Urban Resilience to Extreme Weather-Related Events Sustainability Research Network (URExSRN; NSF grant no. SES 1444755). Appendix A

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018


  • Cultural ecosystem services
  • Green space
  • Park use
  • Recreation
  • Spatial analysis
  • Urban planning


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