3.1 Research Concept and Methodology
This section discusses how CyberParks Action participants perceive the notion of cyberpark and its dimensions, vis-à-vis other, more conventional, POS, i.e. POS that are not enhanced with technology. Data was collected through a questionnaire survey that explored a number of issues, such as: the elements and qualities of both cyberpark and POS, the facilities they should offer, the activities they should facilitate, the type of space and location that are most suitable to accommodate them, their appropriate size and manner for their development, their target user group and other aspects of their configuration.
Established studies in the area, such as the one by the Project for Public SpacesFootnote 1, have observed that in order to be relevant and occupied (i.e., be sustainable and alive), a POS must:
Encourage the sociality and socialisation of its users, by being hospitable, friendly, interactive, multi-thematic, collective, familiar, etc.
Offer a variety of uses and related activities, by being pleasant, lively, unique, useful, local and sustainable.
Provide comfort and an attractive image, by being safe, clean, “green”, providing places to sit and rest but also paths for walking, being pleasant, encouraging intellectual pursuits, being attractive and showcasing local historical moments.
Be accessible and hospitable to all, by providing continuity with the urban fabric, proximity, connectivity, being easily readable and recognisable, convenient, and by not excluding any social group.
These considerations have been taken into account for the construction of the questionnaire that contributed to this chapter. Also, the authors acknowledge that POS, with its complexities, indeterminacy, and abundance of possible interactions, when it is accessible by the wanderer, local or tourist, offers a sensual experience. This became a point of entry for the development of both CyberParks and cyberpark, as it is further discussed in other chapters of this book. The enriched appropriation of citizens to public space and to data overlaid on physical space, and most importantly, the enhanced capacity for both individual and collective action for the management of the POS, are considered some of the added values over conventional public space.
The questionnaire developed consists of three parts containing 24 questions where participants were asked to choose from a list of options and to evaluate specific characteristics of both cyberpark and not mediated POS, on a scale of 0 (denoting strong disagreement, negative opinion, etc.) to 10 (denoting strong agreement, positive opinion, etc.). In particular, the first part of the questionnaire informs the participants on the purpose of the research and ensures the anonymity of participation. The second part gathers socio-demographic information, such as gender, age, nationality, discipline of specialisation, and occupation. Finally, the third part records views regarding the number of cyberpark’s and POS’s aspects examined. Survey questions were pre-tested in a pilot study enabling fine-tuning of the instrument.
The survey was conducted in April 2017 during the CyberParks’ Working Groups Meeting. Questionnaires were distributed in person by the members of the research team and asked to be completed on the spot. In order to increase response rate and quality, participants were given the choice of their responses to be recorded by the researcher, or, should they wish, to complete the questions by themselves on their own time. Questionnaires were collected, validated, and then coded and analysed to generate a number of statistics illustrating the respondents’ answers on the issues raised.
3.2 Composition of Respondents
From a targeted population of 48 experts that participated in the Ancona meeting of the project (where our data were collected), 44 validated questionnaires were acquired (91.7%). The gender composition of the respondents was about 63.6% male and 36.4% female. The average age was about 47 years, with the youngest expert being 30 years old and the oldest 69. The respondents are from 22 countries all over Europe and Israel, but higher participation was from Italy (5 respondents), Portugal (5), Spain (5), Poland (3) and Sweden (3) (see Fig. 1). The vast majority of the respondents (90.0% of the sample) hold a PhD, whereas the rest have completed postgraduate studies (9.1%). Their knowledge base is informed by 13 academic disciplines (Fig. 2), ranging from spatial planning and urban design, to information technology and various social science subjects (sociology, anthropology, economics, etc.). Most of the participants are academics (67.4%), some work in the private sector (16.3%), others in the public sector (11.6%) and a few are freelancers (4.7%).
Firstly, the participants were asked to specify which one of the three constituent elements, that is, space, people and technology, is the principal feature of cyberpark and POS. As Fig. 3 shows, experts regard that people is the central element of both, but whereas in POS technology plays a rather minimal role, in cyberpark this becomes the second most important component, followed by space, which comes last in array.
In addition, participants were invited to identify five keywords that best define the concept of cyberpark. Their responses are classified on the basis of the three constituent elements and are presented in Table 1 below. As becomes evident, from the 53 keywords provided by the experts, information and communications technologies (ICTs) constitutes the distinctive one that characterises cyberpark (identified by 23 people). Public space (here mentioned for short as POS) is the second one (identified 14 times), followed by enhanced and interactive space (both identified 9 times). Digital and inclusive space, come next, along with cooperation and community (8 times). Figure 4 offers a visualisation of these data, where the importance of each keyword (in terms of the times it has been identified) is represented by its different size in the graph.
Next, respondents were asked to identify the most important qualities of the spaces under investigation. Figure 5 presents the results. We see that information transmission is perceived to be the most important quality of cyberpark (a feature that is ranked very low in conventional POS), followed by safety and space quality, both of which are regarded as quite important qualities of good POS. Interestingly, the existence of natural environment and greenery is regarded as an essential quality of POS, but not that much of a cyberpark.
From a list of facilities that public spaces could offer, experts were asked to choose those that are most necessary to cyberpark and to POS. As Fig. 6 illustrates, internet facilities, interactive information and places to work are essential for cyberpark, and of rather low importance to POS. In turn, places to sit and facilities for visitors in general, including facilities for specific groups (such as disadvantaged citizens or children), are regarded as most important for POS.
Turning to the activities that the public spaces under examination should facilitate, experts indicated that relaxing, socializing and communicating with people constitute the most important functions that a cyberpark should offer (Fig. 7). The first two are also the two main activities that POS also facilitate, along with strolling and leisure. Interestingly, educational, work and communicate facilities are ranked quite high in cyberpark (fourth, fifth and third, respectively), but very low in POS, which are mainly appreciated for their recreational and leisure role.
The next question asked respondents to assess what types of places are best for each of the spaces examined. Figure 8 presents the findings. We see that mainly parks, followed by squares, historic sites and river banks and canals, are the most suitable places for deploying both cyberpark and POS, whereas cemeteries, parking-spaces and sport-fields are the least appropriate for both. Spaces that are regarded as suitable to host a cyberpark, but are not that appropriate for POS, are leftover or vacant spaces (ranked fifth), as well as bus and railway stops and stations (ranked eight). In turn, experts believe that places which could better accommodate a cyberpark, rather than conventional POS, are institutional public spaces (like, university campuses, libraries, church and school yards), internalized ‘public’ spaces (such as, interior of shopping/leisure centres and retail space), and any other space with public access. We note with interest that CyberParks experts do not confine cyberpark to outdoor locations.
Next, we asked the specialists to specify, which locations are best for a cyberpark vis-à-vis POS. As Fig. 9 illustrates, city centre and downtown are most appropriate places for cyberpark. City centre is also a good location for POS in general; however, downtown locations are not regarded as suitable. Third in line comes sites within neighbourhoods, which is seen as a quite good location for the development of all POS as well.
The appropriate size of both cyberpark and conventional POS was another issue explored with the experts. As Fig. 10 makes evident, medium and small size spaces are most appropriate for a cyberpark, whereas for POS medium to large size should be sought. Of course, what constitutes small or large size of space is a relative and rather subjective measure (which might differ between different disciplines or exerts), however the answers we received provide an indication that size could be a characteristic that distinguishes cyberpark from conventional POS.
Figure 11 presents the results concerning the target population of both cyberpark and POS. We see that city dwellers are the main target group of both spaces. Moreover, a cyberpark should focus on servicing tourists and visitors (ranked second), and the youth (ranked third), whereas POS should primarily target local residents living nearby. Intriguingly, we also see that elderly people is a legitimate target group for POS, but are not regarded that can take advantage of the special facilities that a cyberpark can offer.
The development and maintenance of public space constitutes a major issue, especially during the times of economic crisis, where local authorities are facing increased financial problems and difficulties. The question that follows examines who the experts reckon should bear the costs of providing and maintaining the spaces under investigation. Four options were given: the users of the spaces, all citizens, the local authorities with the municipality, and the private sector. As Fig. 12 depicts, the vast majority of experts agree that local authorities should undertake such costs, for the development and maintenance of both cyberpark and POS. However, in contrast to POS, experts seem to be open to other sources of finance when the question turns to cyberpark. Interestingly the 13.6% of the respondents regard that the private sector could contribute to the provision and maintenance of cyberpark and 9.1% is willing the users themselves to bear part of these costs.
The final set of questions explored the views of experts on various characteristics of cyberpark. In particular, the participants were asked to evaluate a number of statements concerning the value and specific aspects of cyberpark development, using an eleven-point Likert scale, ranging of 0 (strongly disagree) to 10 (strongly agree). The statements were the following: (1) cyberparks are essential to a city, (2) they are costly to create, (3) they are costly to maintain, (4) they increase the welfare of the citizens, (5) controlled access should be applied, (6) security cameras should be used, (7) entrance fees should be applied, and (8) the users should contribute financially to their creation and maintenance. Table 2 presents the results. We see that the majority of experts believe that cyberpark places are quite important to the city (mean: 6.7, with most of respondents favouring the highest values); although they are costly in their development and maintenance (means respectively 6.3 and 6.0) they increase substantially the citizens welfare (mean: 7.3). When the question turns to issues of security, experts seems to be somewhat divided; although many are sceptical on applying security cameras and access control (most respondents are favouring the lowest values), there are a few who feel that such an approach would overall benefit cyberpark spaces (as the high standard deviation reveals). As regards the application of entrance fees and financial contribution by the users, respondents are rather reserved to both (means 1.5 and 2.1, respectively), corroborating the previous finding that cyberpark is essentially a public good and the local authorities should be those to bear its costs.