A Push to the Park
One of the most intriguing parts about living in a city is the perpetual refresh of moving parts. The ephemeral nature of passer-by’s insinuates a certain heartwarming social randomness, making blogs like Humans of New York so popular. These serendipitous moments are one of the most enchanting things about our cities and often contribute to a greater sense of community and social wellness.
As densification and development pressures rise, the ways, places, and amounts in which we interact with one another have taken a turn for the worse. Social isolation and loneliness are now common ails and pose great health risks to city dwellers at all scales.
Many argue that technology is making this issue much worse. Particularly with the use of social media which exacerbates social isolation while giving the illusion of cohesion. Could we instead use this technology for good?
Meet me at the Swings
Sidewalk Labs recently tested out a mobile app called Park Time, geared towards parents who take their kids to the park and want to get to know other parents during their time there.
The beta model lasted for five months and was used by eight families in Chicago whose children were all part of the same school group. Although their children were friends, the parents hardly knew one another and were interested in further connecting.
Park Time sent mobile notifications to participants when one of the other parents entered the park, lightly encouraging them to join as well. The app worked by placing a Bluetooth beacon at the park entrance which scanned app user’s phone when they passed through. Once scanned, other app users were notified of who passed through the beacon, making it easy to know when they could expect to see people they knew.
Park Time uses Bluetooth technology rather than GPS in order to provide users with maximum accuracy and security. While GPS tracks the user’s location, Bluetooth only shares the participant’s location with other pilot families when scanned, and does not infringe on people’s privacy.
Parents were positive about Park Time and appreciated the real-time information that encouraged them to connect with others. The app was best received by parents with more flexible availability as well as those interested in expanding their friend groups. Parents with tighter schedules or secure friend groups did not find the app as helpful. Instead, these “planners” wished that the app provided a function to plan for park meet ups, although this was not the intended function of Park Time.
Sidewalk Labs sees opportunities for the app outside the beta community, and imagines similar results for other meet up arrangements such as those looking for a co-working buddy or running friend. Park Time’s beacon technology could be leveraged to reframe both privacy and community as urban rights and help us mitigate social isolation. In the era of lonely cities, how else can we use technology to bring us closer together?