The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department is planning to roll out its online “parks portal” in the first week of August.
It will allow residents to search for events in the city’s world-famous parks or post their own. When a group has an event in a San Francisco park, it will show up on the parks portal with a convenient Web address and a map.
“I could just e-mail that link to my friends and whoever it is I’m trying to get to come to my event,” said Lisa Seitz Gruwell, outreach manager of San Francisco Recreation and Park.
The city has been trying out the Beta version of the parks portal in a “soft launch,” working with hundreds of park volunteer organizations. (There is even a volunteer group of local comedians who are park enthusiasts.)
In this, the city is collaborating with the San Francisco Parks Trust, a long-active volunteer and fund-raising group.
At the top of the parks portal page are 18 colorful icons ranging from advocacy to science and technology, from arts and crafts to tours.
This comes on the heels of San Francisco merging its ParkScan system for reporting problems in the parks with the city’s 3-1-1 system for dispensing non-emergency city information.
The calls are coming in efficiently from the 3-1-1 system, Gruwell said, particularly for non-emergency yet urgent problems, such as graffiti and water-line breaks. The city has a zero-tolerance policy for graffiti. It also has old irrigation lines prone to springing leaks. Sometimes the water could flow all night except for a park-goer phoning or emailing in the problem via 3-1-1. With the notification, the city can dispatch a mobile team to fix the leak.
ParkScan is an interactive Web site that encourages email input from regular park-goers. The e-mailers can upload photos of problem spots in the parks or check a place on an aerial map to pinpoint the problem on the ParkScan Web site. San Francisco started using ParkScan, developed by the nonprofit Neighborhood Parks Council, with 11 parks in 2002 and it is now applied to all parks.
In the last year, ParkScan has launched for Portland, Ore. The ParkScan group also made a pitch to the city of Fresno in early June.
With a shaky economy poking holes in the city budget, Fresno does not plan to contract for the ParkScan system, but will investigate in-house ways of maximizing interactivity, said Heather Heinks, public information officer for Fresno Parks, After School, Recreation and Community Service (PARCS).
“As we build new parks, we want to know what people like and use these avenues (email and social networking programs),” said Heinks.
The city is planning a “Team Fresno” blog with information about the city and participation by teenagers. Heinks said she could envision interactive information about parks being a big part of that blog.
Orange County Parks has an elaborate Web site. It has been using social networking tools (including Twitter for half a year) to connect with a list of park enthusiasts. The department sends out Twitter messages, for instance, to update the public on trail closures, park conditions or upcoming events such as astronomy demonstrations.
Marisa O’Neil, public affairs manager at OC Parks, also uses Twitter to monitor what people are saying about Orange County parks.
“All government, not just parks, is faced with bringing more transparency and really listening to what the public has to say,” said O’Neil. “They are our customers and our users. We want to but we can’t decide what good customer service is for them. We need to listen to them.”