UEP in the Field: A Whirlwind Trip to NYC Department of Parks and Recreation

Last Thursday (March 21, 2019), five UEP students in the Data Science for Urban Sustainability (UEP294-8) course and Professor Shan Jiang boarded an early train to New York City to meet with one of their project partners for the semester: The NYC Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks).

After some rain and a few transportation delays, the team finally arrived at the NYC Parks Arsenal headquarters in Central Park. Once there they met with the First Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh and the Innovation & Performance Management (IPM) division team, including project manager Zachary Feder and data scientists Julie Tsitron and Sam Pollack. IPM is responsible for improving how NYC Parks runs across the five boroughs by leveraging data as an operational and strategic asset to produce new insights to develop and implement operating policies and procedures. As our project partner, NYC Parks shared with the class (via data usage agreement) their big datasets that entail New Yorkers’ visitation patterns and a large variety of spatiotemporal features of the parks. Employing
data-driven methods, the class aims to unravel and visualize the underlying factors that affect the visitation variations of the parks which will be helpful to understand their usership model and optimize resource allocations for their maintenance.

During the meeting, students had the opportunity to ask questions and present ideas for potential research projects. After receiving feedback from the IPM team, the Tufts UEP group were taken on mini-tour of the facilities which resulted in visiting the roof of the Arsenal headquarters to take in all of Central Park. While on the roof students signed a special guest book signifying their trip to the NYC Parks.

First Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh
discusses urban sustainability challenges in
city parks

Later that afternoon, the Tufts UEP group were able to tour Central Park, the High Line, and enjoy a bite to eat at Chelsea Market before heading back to Boston via train. It was a short whirlwind of a trip, but a great opportunity to learn project insights and network with the class project partner. The class will take Commissioner Kavanagh’s insights and IPM team’s feedback into their class project to develop data-driven solutions, and report back to the NYC Parks IPM division at the end of the semester.


  • NYC has more than 1,700 parks, playgrounds, and recreation facilities across the 5 boroughs that cover 14% of city land.
  • The last freight train to operate on what is now the High Line park in 1980 carried 3 carloads of frozen turkeys.