Mapping Walks for Older Adults in Pittsburgh

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Client:   Venture Outdoors

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has the oldest average population of any U.S. city. It also has an enviable network of city and county parks. In 2016, a group of health and park advocates contacted GreenInfo about making a web app to connect older residents to parks, in hopes of increasing physical activity and health outcomes for an often-vulnerable population. Instead of just building an app, we proposed and carried out a pilot project, engaged in onsite user research, and ultimately produced a "Walks" microsite for Venture Outdoors, a local nonprofit focused on facilitated outdoor experiences.

At GreenInfo, we love making park maps and working with parks data. After all, we keep track of the boundaries, ownership, and management for some 15,000 parks in California. In the process of that work, we've also learned that simply knowing where to find a park is rarely enough to get someone to visit that park. What can they do there? Will they be safe there? Will they have a fun experience or might they get lost?

These were all core concerns for us over the course of several visits to Pittsburgh, including onsite interviews at parks and senior centers, as well as roundtable discussions with healthcare providers. Across the board, participants told us that walking outdoors was as important for social connection as for fitness or nature experience. We also heard that visiting new places and parks could be fun, but also a source of anxiety if there was any uncertainty about transportation, parking, bathrooms, or other amenities.

From that, we developed a larger use case: A walk leader from Venture Outdoors selects an existing walk or develops a new one, checks to be sure that the walk is well-described on the Venture Outdoors Walks website, and then uses the print-optimized walk view to create handouts for walk attendees. The goal, then is for attendees to do the walk together as a group the first time, but then feel well equipped to return to that route in the future themselves or with friends.

We developed that overall approach over the course of two rounds of site design and build, first for application hosted by the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, which funded the project, and then for Venture Outdoors, whose work is also partly funded by the foundation. The key learning in that transition was that the site we built needed to be owned and managed by an organization whose main work is expert-led walks, since that's the main way that more seniors will actually get outdoors.

Focus:   Recreation  

Services:  Interactive Solutions, Communications, Strategy, Applications Development, Web Mapping, Website Design 

Project Years: 2017-2019

GreenInfo Network creates, analyzes, visualizes and communicates information in the public interest. We specialize in mapping and related technology for nonprofits and public agencies, focusing on using it for conservation, social equity, public health, environment and foundation grant making.
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