The Report on the Public Use of Central Park, the most ambitious and comprehensive scientific survey of visitor use in the Park's 150-year history, is now available for download.
The single most significant discovery in the report reveals that annual Park visits have tripled in the 30 years since the Conservancy's founding. Today, the Park has between 37 to 38 million visits a year. The figures exemplify the concept, "make it beautiful, and they will come."
Inspired by the 16-day visitor count taken during the 2005 installation of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's The Gates, Conservancy president Douglas Blonsky knew it was time to undertake the massive endeavor in order to document how people use Central Park. Blonsky knew the results would inform the Conservancy how best to serve the public while also preserving the Park's fragile landscapes. The survey was a huge and groundbreaking challenge for the Conservancy, which conducted entrance counts and exit interviews of Park visitors in the four seasons from July 2008 to May 2009.
Conservancy planner and project director Lane Addonizio, with guidance from sociologist William Kornblum of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, directed over 350 volunteers and Conservancy staff. They worked a total of 2,800 hours to collect over 4,600 sample entrance counts, 3,300 exit interviews and 9,100 observational surveys. Once the data was collected, it required over 800 hours of data entry and more time to coordinate, analyze and interpret the volume of data amassed.
The findings are fascinating
Eighty-five percent of visitors still come to the Park for the very same reason co-designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux created it in 1858 — as a physical connection with the natural environment in order to escape the psychological stress of urban life. Nearly two-thirds of those interviewed mentioned walking, strolling, wandering or sightseeing as their preferred Park activities — confirmation of the Park's original intent.
As stewards of the Park, the Conservancy maintains and monitors the Park's historic landscapes and structures. With the survey's findings in hand, the Conservancy now has a valuable management tool that will help us focus on enhancing the visitor experience while continuing to do the necessary restoration and maintenance operations.
The survey also shows the Park is most heavily used from 2pm to 4pm in the afternoon. This confirmed and quantified use patterns that led the Conservancy to establish night crews in the late 1990s to maintain the Park for the public during those busy hours. This extensive information will help us to be even more strategic, focused and effective with our time and resources devoted to the Park.
The information collected will help the Conservancy's Planning, Design and Construction department with public outreach about their projects, and will greatly benefit Park planners and managers in addressing issues of circulation, crowds and conflicts of use.
With the discovery that 75 percent of visitors come to the southern half of the Park, the Conservancy is now focusing on and developing tours and programs that will encourage and expand use of the Park's northern end. Conservancy volunteer greeters will be placed at the most heavily used entrances to the Park to welcome and guide visitors.
The Conservancy is also focused on improving way-finding signage, enhancing the visitor centers and forging relationships with large user groups such as soccer leagues, camps and dog walkers.
The true value of the Report on the Public Use of Central Park, says Blonsky, is that it has proven that the Park has a value that goes beyond even its reputation.
"In fact, the health of New York City — its well-being, its safety and its economy — is closely tied to the health of the Park," Blonsky says. "Central Park is central to the life of the city and this report has proven once again that the Conservancy is central to the Park."
See a full list of press coverage on our groundbreaking survey in our CPC in the News section.