Research Overview

Urban green space has been associated with a wide range of health benefits, but much of the pertinent evidence has relied on labor-intensive direct observation of utilization, self-reported health indicators and/or experiments in artificially controlled environmental conditions. Little research has been reported using intensive objective measurements of park utilization. The motivation for this project stems from the dearth of rigorous quantitative analyses of urban green space utilization and the shortage of designoriented evidence for landscape architects to improve urban green space design and enhance the health benefits of urban green space. This project will fill in such knowledge gaps by making use of the massive data of mobile phone locations. The project will examine the spatial-temporal utilization of urban green space, interpret the recreational behaviors from the mobile phone location data, and investigate how the characteristics of urban green space affect recreational behaviors. Focusing on Shanghai, which is one of the most densely populated megacities in the world, the project will quantify urban green space utilization and model the associations between park characteristics and recreational behaviors. The research team’s acquisition of massive mobile phone location data from Shanghai Mobile, existing remote sensing images and urban green space attributes from Shanghai Landscaping Bureau, ground evidence of recreational behaviors recorded by GPS-enabled cameras, and advanced statistical and modeling analyses will advance theory in the study of green space utilization and be of practical interest to decision makers in the government.

The overarching goal of the project is to unlock the massive data from mobile phone locations to assess the utilization of urban green space, interpret user behaviors, and subsequently provide evidence for policy-makers to improve urban green space design in megacities. The research will be conducted in Shanghai, where the scale and pace of urban green space expansion are unprecedented in the past two decades, with an increase from 19.1% in 1998 to 38.4% in 2015 in terms of green space coverage (Shanghai Landscaping Bureau, 2016). A substantial amount of capital and land have been invested to create such urban green space to not only provide ecosystem services within densely populated built environment (Byrne et al., 2015; Swanwick et al., 2003), but also fulfill the recreational purposes of urban residents that contribute to physical and mental health (Hillsdon et al., 2006; Thompson et al., 2012).

However, the rapidly growing body of literature on urban green space provides few intensive and quantitative assessments of the urban green space utilization, especially the recreational functions fulfilled by these parks. Ground-truthed, quantitative evidence is necessary to advance our understanding of urban green space utilization: lack of such evidence constitutes the fundamental motivation for this research project.

Research Team

  • Daniel Brown, Co-Prinicipal Investigator at University of Michigan. Professor of Natural Resources and Environment, Interim Dean, School of Natural Resources and Environment and Research Professor, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research
  • Shengquan Che, Principal Investigator at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Professor, School of Agriculture and Biology, Associate Dean, School of Agriculture and Biology.
  • Natalie Colabianchi, University of Michigan, Research Assistant Professor, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research and Associate Professor of Health and Fitness, School of Kinesiology
  • Chuan Liao, University of Michigan, Research Fellow, School of Natural Resources.