Last week, during the opening plenary of the City Parks Alliance Greater and Greener Conference in San Francisco, National Park Service (NPS) Director Jon Jarvis announced the launch of NPS’s Urban Agenda. The Urban Agenda lays out the Park Service’s strategy for increasing their presence and impact in urban areas. Three principles form the heart of the agenda and lay out a new, more sustainable and intentional approach to working in urban areas.
These three principles are:
Truly embracing these principles will fundamentally shift the way that NPS approaches and functions in new communities. It will force NPS to break down internal silos and to shift the paradigm from “How can communities serve our parks?” to “How can parks serve our communities?”
The announcement of the Urban Agenda spurred intense and thoughtful dialogue on the role of NPS in urban areas. It also began the critical discussion on how we activate and implement these principles.
One key component of this will be the roll out of NPS’s Urban Fellows program. The Fellows are ten mid-career professionals that will be placed into ten model cities across the country. Their mandate will be to demonstrate the principles of the Urban Agenda, capturing best practices and lessons learned and acting as a model and inspiration for NPS parks and programs in other urban centers.
We at the Institute find this announcement particularly exciting as we have been collaborating closely with NPS’s Stewardship Institute, the Center for Park Management, and the Quebec-Labrador Foundation to help roll out this initiative. After months of behind-the-scenes work, the launch of the Agenda and the announcement of the Fellows represent a key milestone in our work to promote parks and public lands as a key player in building sustainable, healthy, equitable urban communities.
We look forward to continuing to model the “Culture of Collaboration” with our partners within and outside the NPS as we continue to build and support this critical movement!
Missed this year’s George Wright Society Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites? Or want to relive it through the eyes of the Institute? Check out our insights and aha moments below and share yours in the comment section.
Catherine Carlton, Program Manager
Chris Spence, Director
Honore Pedigo, Operations & Outreach Manager
Oksana Shcherba, Project Coordinator
Kristin Wheeler, Program Director
The social determinants of health, which coincidentally are the social determinants of park use (credit)
At this point, is it safe to assume that the term “social determinants of health” is readily understood? What about “social determinants of park use?” Can we also work towards consensus that these two terms describe the same barriers, for both health and parks?
Social determinants of health (SDH) are factors outside of an individual’s genetic makeup that influence a person’s entire health. SDH focus less on DNA factors, but more on the societal, community factors that determine access, amount, and quality of prevention and treatment a person receives. Not having health insurance covering the cost of treating an overactive thyroid problem is an SDH. Not being able to find a therapist who speaks the same language as you is an SDH.
As parks inventory their programs and activities to figure out how to bring more residents to the great outdoors, they are finding more and more that there are a set of barriers that create social determinants of park use (SDPH). Uncoincidentally, these barriers look very much like SDH. Here are a few examples that illustrate the convergence of SDH and social determinants of park use:
Capital: Families that are middle class or above are more likely to be healthier and live longer lives. Additionally, most park users (especially for national parks) are middle class and can afford the time and travel costs associated.
It is not a coincidence that SDH and SDPU are aligned in these substantial ways. Most parks were built around the idea of improving community health; Central Park in NYC was intended to be a natural refuge from the mechanical toils of factory work.
As National Public Health Week focuses on positioning the country to be the healthiest nation by 2030, we should pay special attention to nontraditional community health stewards that are already part of the community infrastructure. Mitigating social determinants of park use will be much like mitigating social determinants of health; we will have to be diligent about using resources to uplift the communities especially suffering from these social determinants.
Taking care of a community's health starts at making sure everyone has health coverage, but it doesn't end there. Giving all fourth graders a pass to visit America's national parks is a great first step, but it doesn't end there. To ensure that communities especially feeling the compounded effects of social determinants use their parks and live their healthiest lives, we have a special obligation to dedicate more resources to these specific communities. For a healthier nation in 2030, the onus cannot be on a single mother of two to wait 2 hours in a waiting room to be seen by a physician. As well, the onus cannot be on families living in neighborhoods plagued by gang violence to seek out safer parks.
To create a healthier nation by 2030, systems of care need to be changed and improved so that everyone gets timely care from health care providers, and cities need to work together to reduce gang activity and ensure that every park, no matter their location, is a safe park.
Bonus activity: Can you think of anything that could not be considered a social determinant of health or park use? It's harder than you'd think.
Last May we launched our Fellowship for Emerging Leaders pilot with two amazing additions to our team – Ruth and Hector. We were inspired by their desire to solve problems with new communities, impressed with their final reports and needs assessments, and bowled over by the amount of fun they brought into our office. It was bittersweet to see them move-on to the next stage of their respective careers, but we find comfort knowing they are both working for fantastic organizations now.
Today, we are opening the application pool for our 2015 Fellowship for Emerging Leaders. This isn’t an opportunity just for the typical “park nerd,” but for anyone who desires to have a lasting impact. We at the Institute believe solutions to our society's biggest challenges will come from passionate individuals of all ages, backgrounds, and experiences working together.
We are so excited to start the search for our 2015 class of Fellows; we hope you check-out this wonderful opportunity! More information can be found on our NEW Fellowship page.
We all stand on the shoulders of earlier generations of radicals and reformers who challenged the status quo of their day. I certainly would not be the woman I am today if not for those who paved the path before me. My entire life I've been no further than a phone call or a short walk from a strong, visionary woman. For this I am forever grateful.
So in honor of Women's History Month I'd like to highlight the revolutionary women doing the work today! The women who will be remembered in history as blazing the way for the next generation of bold women.
Naomi Klein - A social activist, holding corporations accountable for climate change
Amy Schur - Giving Wall Street a heart attack by building a fierce movement for social and economic justice
Rue Mapp - Reconnecting African-Americans to natural spaces
Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins - "the Robin Hood of the Silicon Valley"
Angelica Salas - Giving voice to the immigrants whose lives are often ignored
...and this is only five of the millions of women around the globe working to make their lives and their communities better for the next generation. Who would you add to the list?
A special thanks to the phenomenal women who I have the privilege of working with everyday - thank you Donna, Lori, Honore, Catherine, and Oksana for your compassion, humor, and commitment to being on the right side of history.
Co-authored by Oksana Shcherba
Recently, the Institute attended a few events centered on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. One event was presented by Green 2.0, the other was hosted by 4S.
On March 4th, Green 2.0, in partnership with New America Media, hosted an event called “Breaking the Green Ceiling.” This conference, based off their report, was designed to raise awareness and find solutions to a major issue facing environmental organizations – the lack of diversity. To give some context, the report found that “people of color do not exceed 16% of the staff in any of the organizations surveyed.” In the report, the reason for this “green ceiling” is attributed to unconscious bias and alienation when hiring and retaining qualified people of color. As an organization in the environmental field, this is something of which we are already very aware, but we are glad to see that the conversation is gaining momentum amongst the masses.
There were several solutions presented on how organizations are tackling the diversity challenge, but first, this question was posed – why is it important to share diversity data in the first place? The most common answer was transparency and accountability. Hank Williams, Technologist and Entrepreneur of Platform said, “We all know the data is bad, just come clean.” Once organizations offer their data, it gives them something to measure their success against in the future, and allows them to be held accountable, both internally and externally.
A few highlights from the presentations included:
However, none of these solutions will be successful unless the change comes from above.
Similarly to the “green ceiling” effect, which may help explain the dearth of people of color in environmental organizations, unconscious bias is also prevalent in education. This was the topic covered in 4S’s March 18th meeting on “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy / Communicating with Diverse Populations.”
The audience was comprised of dedicated professionals involved with youth programming, with a genuine interest in learning how best to bridge the gaps created by implicit biases. From the start, the facilitators from the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) fostered an environment that made us feel comfortable with feeling uneasy, as conversations about race tend to do. We jumped right into probing questions such as “when you tell your friends and families that you work with urban kids, what do they think that means? What places are urban?” For many of the educators present, the word “urban” actually denoted other things—pollution, poverty, communities of color—and was used euphemistically, perhaps to avoid any uncomfortable follow-up questions or negative connotations. This sentiment reflects the point made by the SFUSD facilitators that in wanting to be allies to underserved communities, people sometimes avoid discussing things like race and poverty altogether, which can detract from this important discourse.
In avoiding difficult discussions, educators may also avoid delving deeper and addressing personal unconscious biases, which are attitudes or stereotypes that may affect our understanding, actions, and decisions. Additionally, we listened to an illuminating TedTalk by UCLA law professor Jerry Kang on how people assume they have “immaculate perception,” judgment without stereotypes, but that in reality, the way we perceive others is highly dependent on prior mental constructs. Characteristics of these implicit biases is that they are pervasive, do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs, tend to favor our own in-group (people like us), and—perhaps most importantly— they can be changed!
After going over the realities of implicit biases and how they can be addressed, we discussed the systems or structures present within our organizations that may lead to inequitable outcomes and how we are disrupting these systematic inequalities. During this exercise, I thought of the Urban Program I work on here at the Institute. In the Urban Program, we act as strategic partners to the National Park Service (NPS) on a number of issues, including increasing the relevancy of the NPS in urban communities. One inequitable outcome we’re facing is that non-Hispanic white people are more likely to visit national parks and reflect the makeup of the NPS staff. The U.S. Census estimates that by 2050, the population of children of color will be 62%, making them the majority. This implies that the NPS, in addition to other organizations grappling with a lack of diversity, must create enduring relationships with new audiences in order to adequately adapt to the changes occurring throughout the country. The NPS has already made great strides in disrupting these inequalities through initiatives aimed at improving diversification among its staff and visitor population. However, there is always more work to be done. Understanding how implicit biases work and how we can address them, both individually and in our organizations, is a critical first step to making sure all communities feel empowered to be a part of and help advance the environmental movement.
Photo credit: Green 2.0
With the Emmys, the Oscars, the SAGs and more having come and gone this year, awards season has made us at the Institute think about those in our field that deserve a little love and recognition – who has excelled this year, who has made us laugh, who has inspired us.
With award season on our minds, and an ever present love for superlatives (those silly “Best Smile”, “Most Likely to Succeed”, etc. that you voted on in school), we decided to give out a few of our own “Park” awards.
Best YouTube Video: This Week at Interior has become a must-watch event in our office. Every Friday, you will find the Institute staff gathered around a computer speculating what the Department of the Interior has decided to highlight that week, what sort of outdoor equipment Secretary Sally Jewel will need, and if we will spot any park friends. This weekly digest is underappreciated and we want to fix that. (Also, if anyone know who does the voice work for these videos, have him call us!)
Best Twitter-game: Moore Foundation (@MooreFound) covers all areas of conservation and sustainability – science, environment, patient care, and more. Their feed is filled with articles and photos that display the foundation’s wide range of interests and it is always a fascinating read.
Runners up – Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (@Parks4all). Okay, okay, we may be biased, but their mix of informative event info, beautiful photos, and hashtag #Parks4all gets us every time.
Bay Area Open Space (@) is a fantastic place to read about local park news and events. Their staff is on the go and regularly live tweet from all the best sustainability events and weekend hikes. Sadly, they haven’t continued their Friday Park Quizzes, but we are hoping they resurrect them soon so we can move into first place!
Twitter handle we would love to see resurrected: @SkunkRiverNPS. Way back in the Fall of 2013, when the government was shut down and all of our federal park friends left us for a time, one snarky and sanctimonious Twitter account emerged – Skunk River NPS. Not affiliated with an actual park site, or sanctioned by the National Park Service, this twitter handle kept us smiling until our friends and countless federal employees could get back to work. Sadly, Skunk River has not been active since December 2013, but oh how we wish it would come back to life. Just think of all the zombie jokes it could use!
Best Mustache: @JonsMoustache, aka the hilarious Twitter handle belonging to none other than the head of the Park Service, Director Jon Jarvis’ facial hair. It was a tough call with local competition here at home with former Golden Gate National Parks Superintendent Frank Dean’s mustache putting up a good fight. With Mr. Dean leaving our park to join the Yosemite Conservancy team, our hearts broke a little and sealed the deal for the NPS’s Mustache in Charge. @JonsMoustache’s witty account of the Park Service’s happenings and good nature make this a must follow.
Best Instagram Handles: With so many amazing photographers – both amateur and professional – in our parklands, this was a hard decision. In the end, we went with tried and true favorites - @USInterior and @USFWS. Whether it’s an image of two bald eagles fighting mid-air or the Northern Lights over Denali National Park and Preserve, the images will remind you how awesome nature really is.
Most likely to tell you how it is: Our friends at Grist are good at keeping it real. Grist is great at collecting the internet’s best sustainability news articles and adding their own special snark for your reading pleasure. Whether they are interviewing Pulitzer prize-winning composers or telling you where to get the cool veggie-themed temporary tattoos, Grist is a good way to keep up to date on the latest environmental conversations.
Best use of a ranger hat since Smokey the Bear: Let’s be real, Pharrell Williams rocked the ranger hat on enough red carpets to win him this prize. Still, our friends in the grey and green mange to pull it off day in and day out all the while keeping our parks safe and clean. Thank you park rangers!
We hope our silly superlatives inspire you to hop on your bike, get in your car, or put on your walking shoes and get outside and into the parks.
Photo credit: The Milky Way over Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. Photo by Paul Weeks (@paul_weeks) via @USInterior
Do you ever listen to The Moth Radio Hour? If you don't then I suggest binge listening immediately. The concept is simple - in dozens of cities across the country, people, just like you and I, stand on stage and tell a story. It must be true and there are no cue cards or scripts allowed. It makes for some powerful and entertaining radio. For the last three years I've listened to about 1-2 hours a week (yes I know I have a problem) of personal stories, from people I've never and will likely never meet.
It's not uncommon for me to walk into the office still wiping tears from my eyes after listening to a story during my commute. Some stories hit me hard and fast and others linger in my thoughts for days. One of the common threads in the hundreds of stories I've now consumed is the power of place. Many of the stories told are deeply personal and shed light on moments of stress, hardship, and loss. More often than not the most vividly described character is not a person but a place - a park bench, a lake front, or simply a backyard. Nature is often the backdrop or even the main character in our stories of healing and there's a good reason for that.
The research and evidence of why we turn to nature in times of stress is abundant. The healing powers of being in wild, green spaces are endless. From lowered stress levels to safe spaces for healing from trauma, time and time again nature has come to the rescue.
Around the world, people head out their doors and into nature to help mark milestones in their lives. We turn to nature to help us gain clarity on a tough decision, to find solace in the loss of a loved one, or simply to feel a part of something greater than ourselves. Nature has been there for many of us in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, no paperwork required.
The challenge for our rapidly urbanizing population is to increase these interactions and opportunities to heal in nature - to go from a society whose stories and memories of nature are marked by milestones to one in which nature is a daily part of our lives. To do this will require foresight from city planners and authentic engagement with more than just our park agencies. Spending time, safely, in nature should be easier than popping a pill. We can start by sharing these stories of healing and thriving around the bonfire and the water cooler.
"I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more."
- John Burroughs
See you in the parks.
With four out of five Americans living in urban areas, you’d be forgiven for thinking that our cities’ parks would be at the front of the line when it comes to resources and funding. After all, the evidence is pretty clear that parks bring enormous benefits to local economies, as well as to people’s health, wellbeing, and quality of life. Plus, parks in urban areas provide opportunities to serve new, diverse audiences and communities.
But in spite of all the evidence, our cities’ parks haven’t always been given the attention and resources they deserve.
In a time of leaner budgets and belt-tightening, how can we make parks in urban areas serve our local communities in the best way possible?
The Value of Collaboration
The answer is partnerships and collaboration. By leveraging the strengths of many different stakeholders – from park agencies to non-profit or corporate partners to local community groups – we have the potential to make the sum of our efforts greater than the individual parts.
The Urban Agenda
Our friends at the National Park Service have embraced this idea. For the past three years, the Institute at the Golden Gate has been collaborating with the Park Service's Stewardship Institute and a number of other organizations to support an “Urban Agenda”. This initiative supports collaboration across the United States, especially in areas where the Park Service has a presence and can help make a positive difference in people's lives. While many people view our national parks as mostly rural or remote, in fact that national park system has parks in dozens of major cities around the country.
The Next Stage – Hiring Urban Fellows
The next stage of the urban agenda is to hire “Urban Fellows” in almost a dozen cities across the United States. These new program managers will support the Urban Agenda and focus on how parks can serve local communities and meet their needs in new and innovative ways. The vacancies were recently announced on the government’s job board.
Here at the Institute at the Golden Gate, we’re proud to be working with the Stewardship Institute and our friends across the Park Service to assist this important initiative. This spring, we’ll be helping onboard the Urban Fellows and will continue to act as a partner as the Fellows start working in their new roles.
HPHP walk at Coyote Hills in January 2015. Credit to Mona Koh at East Bay Regional Park District.
February 15th was the last day of open enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. While we know that taking a walk in the park is enormously beneficial to our health and wellbeing, we also know that having health insurance helps ensure that accidents and illnesses are cared for.
Although parks are not often thought of as involved to the Affordable Care Act, there is certainly a tangible connection that the law outlines that can truly shape the future of parks as health providers.The Affordable Care Act—formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—was created by lawmakers with the ambitious intention to make Americans healthier. Although the ACA’s most well-known facet is its insurance marketplace, this 2,000+ page law dedicates a hefty section (Title IV) to ensuring the connection of different formal and informal health and community systems to care for public health. Health starts outside of the clinic walls and that is why ACA’s Title IV emphasizes the need for healthier communities in community settings.
In Sec. 4201, the law states that the Department of Health and Human Services supports agencies that are “developing and promoting programs targeting a variety of age levels to increase access to nutrition, physical activity and smoking cessation, improve social and emotional wellness, enhance safety in a community, or address any other chronic disease priority area.” As part of Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area and the National ParkRx movement, we see parks as natural health providers because they help improve the health and cohesion of the communities that they serve. We fully believe that on guided Healthy Parks, Healthy People walks, participants increase their physical and mental wellness, as well as their understanding and appreciation for the landscape and community. Health in all policies is an idea that has burgeoned with the ACA as it charges community agencies, from shelters to city planners to parks, to be stewards of their community’s health. HPHP: Bay Area and ParkRx are putting the idea of health in all policies into action. To learn more about both programs, visit our health page.
Healthy Parks Healthy People was a great idea borne from our friends down at Parks Victoria in Australia over a decade ago. Now, however, is the time when American national policy is open and receptive to integrating the park system into its understanding of community health. There is no time quite like right now to position parks as health stewards.
Although open enrollment has ended, you may qualify for the special enrollment period if you have recently experienced a change in life events.Click here for more details.
“We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” ―Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods
Certain activities that have positive health benefits are measurable, such as how many steps a person takes or the distance of a jog. However, while there is tacit acknowledgement that concepts such as happiness, life purpose, and self-esteem factor into a person’s mental and physical well-being, they are incredibly difficult to measure. Awe most certainly falls under this category. To clarify, “awe” is a profound sense of reverence. As Jake Abrahamson of the Sierra Club notes: “it happens when people encounter a vast and unexpected stimulus, something that makes them feel small and forces them to revise their mental modes of what’s possible in the world. In its wake, people act more generously and ethically, think more critically when encountering persuasive stimuli, and often feel a deeper connection to others and the world in general…about three-quarters of the time, [awe is] elicited by nature.”
This past Thursday, I attended the Great Outdoors Lab conference co-hosted by REI, the Sierra Club, and U.C. Berkeley, which unveiled plans to launch a three-year longitudinal study of the cognitive and physical benefits of immersion in nature. This research will study the effects of the feeling of awe, as a result of outdoor recreation, on the physical and mental well-being of individuals, including youth participating in Sierra Club Outdoors programming and veterans. While many philosophers such as the American Transcendentalists and outdoor enthusiasts have long held the opinion that engaging in nature is essential for physical and mental health, this lab aims to corroborate this claim with scientific evidence, using state-of-the art lab, field-based, and mobile phone-supported data. Nature needs hard data to fuel the next generation of environmental stewards to use convincing science in addition to personal sentiment—which is also valuable—to highlight the necessity of maintaining our natural resources. In short, to change the perception of nature as a "nice to have" to a "must have."
Preliminary results from the 2014 pilot program from a cohort of teens participating in Sierra Club rafting trips showed that their experience in nature led to improvements in stress levels and quality sleep from baseline, increased feelings of social connection and life purpose, and led to an uptick in pro-environment behavior as a result of the positive emotions experienced during the trip. (Read a personal account of one of these youth river trips in Sierra Club Magazine’s latest issue).
In addition to detailing this study, the conference featured panelists and speakers from a variety of industries, including the healthcare, outdoor recreation, political, and academic sectors. Leaders from these industries further illuminated how physical, mental, and social well-being is intertwined and how nature can be at the nexus of these elements. Some of the most interesting dialogue of the conference was centered around how nature has helped and continues to help communities that have felt less engaged with their natural landscapes, including inner-city youth. For example, the non-profit Soul River Inc. recounted how meeting an African-American fly fisherman for the first time changed the ways some urban youth saw their role in outdoor recreation.
While the speakers at the conference came from different perspectives based on their given industries, the resounding multi-sectoral agreement on the importance of outdoor recreation is an incredibly hopeful sign of how collaboration will advance human and ecological well-being. In fact, it’s awe-inspiring.
Recent research shows that national park visitors do not accurately reflect the changing face of the American people. While the general population is growing ever more urban and diverse, the range of visitors to the national park has not kept pace. A 2008-2009 survey showed that 13% of the US population identify as Latino and 12% as African American. However those same groups made up only 9% and 7% (respectively) of park visitors.
In looking to the next generation of park stewards and advocates, this represents a serious concern for the health and future of our national park system. The Institute’s newest report examines one potential solution to this challenge: targeting diverse, urban youth through programming designed by and for the youth themselves.
Engaging Diverse Youth in Park Programs highlights two such programs that have successfully engaged new audiences in urban areas. In the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Crissy Field Center is an effective model for reaching more diverse audiences. A youth environmental education and leadership development center, it focuses on “engaging people who traditionally have had little—if any—access to national parks.”
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area near Los Angeles also has been implementing innovative programming to reach new audiences, including a downtown LA outreach office, targeted transportation support, and a suite of youth programs aimed at diverse students.
Based on methods and approaches used in these two locations, the Institute at the Golden Gate has identified best practices, devised a roadmap, and created a “how-to” guide for engaging with new audiences and communities. While recognizing that there is no “one size fits all” model, we hope other parks will find these tools useful in their own diversity efforts.
We would love to hear about your efforts to reach new communities through park programs. If you would like to connect with us about this report or our Urban Program generally, please leave a comment or contact us directly.
How can we support and protect nature in our growing and ever-changing cities?
This was the question posed at a recent event, “Bridging the Nature-Culture Divide”. The event, which was organized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation and the Presidio Trust, took place from January 22-24, 2015, at the Presidio’s newly-opened Officers’ Club.
The event was both instructive and entertaining. Some speakers highlighted climate change and rapid population growth, which create even more challenges as we try to preserve or support nature in cities. One presenter, Peter Del Tredici from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, provocatively argued that we should stop trying to create neat, orderly urban landscapes or even worry too much about what flora and fauna is “native” or “non-native”. Instead, he recommended embracing “messy ecology” that adapts to our changing world.
The event encouraged different voices and points of view. While the first half gave voice to experts from landscape design and park management, the second focused on those offering public programs in our parks and urban landscapes. This panel, which I had the pleasure to moderate, demonstrated that people need to be part of the solution to supporting nature in our cities. The Institute’s very own Kristin Wheeler spoke about the need to engage authentically with new audiences and communities, to listen to their needs and values, and to make our parks and other landscapes serve and welcome them. Sarah Schultz, a leading educator and curator from the museum world, spoke of the role art can play in engaging with the public in new ways. Jessica Chen and Guilder Ramirez from the Crissy Field Center told the audience how the Center has fostered a sense of empowerment and engagement with nature for young people from every neighborhood in San Francisco.
For me, the message I left the conference with was clear: if we want our city parks and cultural landscapes to thrive, we must make them as welcoming and valuable as possible to as many people as possible.
This past New Year’s Eve, as the clock struck 12am, I found myself straying from the usual resolution of re-activating my gym membership and instead set a goal of beginning a meaningful career. Once I was brought on at the Institute at the Golden Gate as Project Coordinator for the Climate Education and Urban Programs in January of this year, I felt that my goal of affecting positive change through my career could begin.
It’s not that I hadn’t had significant jobs before but, as some millennials can attest, I found myself going in few different directions after college. Through a series of events, I eventually came into the environmental policy space, with a keen interest in climate change. Throughout my graduate studies at the University of Southern California, I strove to strengthen that interest with research on everything ranging from AB 32-California’s Global Warming Solutions Act to looking into the history of environmental policy in the U.S., starting from one of the first cases on the rights of nature in Christopher Stone’s “Should Trees Have Standing?” Although my degree in Public Administration and Policy was general, I gravitated towards this policy tract, getting an extra kick when I could analyze the effectiveness of environmental policies, such as San Francisco’s plastic bag ban.
While attaining my Master’s, I worked with the City of Los Angeles, Department of Recreation and Parks on a year-long grant during which I gained an immense appreciation for the role of parks in urban landscapes. After much research, I found that parks held significance beyond the fact that they were the main backdrop of my childhood growing up in San Francisco as well as an infinite resource to my adolescent curiosity. They also have well-documented mental and physical health benefits, act as integral community spaces, and create economic revenue in the cities they are located in. Like nearly every other natural resource, they are threatened by climate change. This is just one of the salient environmental issues that the Institute at the Golden Gate hopes to address and I feel fortunate that I can take part in some of this work.
Conservation, expansion, and maintenance of green, open space seems like an easy strategy to help mitigate some of the effects of climate change; however, as the principle of Occam’s Razor points out, oftentimes the “simple” answer is the right one.
Now that the holiday season has come to a close the Institute is gearing up for another joyous season: conference season. The San Francisco Bay Area will play host to multiple park themed convening's over the next four months. Representatives from the Institute will be in the audience or on stage at the following events and conferences and we wanted to take this opportunity to invite you to join us!
The Economic Benefits of SF's Parks hosted by SPUR
Bridging the Nature Culture Divide III: Saving Nature in a Humanized World hosted by The Cultural Landscape Foundation
Transforming California's State Parks: A Blueprint for a Sustainable Future a Commonwealth Club event
Science for Parks, Parks for Science hosted at UC Berkeley in partnership with the National Park Service and the National Geographic Society
Greater & Greener, an international urban parks conference presented by City Parks Alliance
If you've ever thought of paying the San Francisco Bay Area a visit, this may be the perfect time. If you find yourself at any of the above events be sure and say hi to us. Stay tuned for a report back and highlights from these convening's in the coming months. It's clear that "For City Parks, 2014 Was the Year That Was (Great!)" and it's certainly looking like 2015 may be even greater!
See you in the parks (and conference center),
What memories will stay with you from 2014?
Here at the Institute, there are several moments and milestones that stand out for me as we pushed forward with our mission to make parks and public lands part of the solution to major societal challenges.
In our health work, I vividly recall a day in late October when we helped host a training on park prescriptions for 180 professionals from San Francisco’s Department of Public Health. This training was the first of its kind and should lead to nature and outdoor activity becoming a major part of people’s lives. Looking around the room, I was inspired and energized by the passion and commitment of these healthcare professionals.
Another memorable moment happened in Charlotte, North Carolina, when the Institute co-hosted a second national park prescriptions meeting. I so enjoyed meeting with doctors, rangers and other parks and healthcare champions from around the country who are leading the charge on park prescriptions nationwide. It’s an honor for the Institute to be supporting this growing coalition.
(Participants in the second National Park Prescriptions Convening, 2014)
Fostering New Leaders
A third moment that will stay with me from 2014 is when two young professionals, Ruth Pimentel and Hector Zaragoza, joined our Institute team. Hector and Ruth were the first cohort of a new Institute initiative, the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders. Designed to support and foster new young talented professionals in the parks and conservation world, it was a pleasure to have Ruth and Hector join our team for nine months in 2014. We wish them every success as they start on the next stage of their careers.
Making a Global Connection
A final vivid memory from 2014 for me is my time spent in Sydney, Australia, at the World Parks Congress. The opportunity to meet with 6000 dedicated parks and public lands professionals and decision makers comes around only once a decade. I was thrilled to present our work on the unique role parks can and should be playing in educating and empowering the public on climate change, including our new Climate Literacy Collaborative in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was an honor to be on stage with such luminaries as National Park Service director Jon Jarvis, and a thrill to speak at a session on the critical role of our urban parks and protected areas. But more important than the Institute’s moments in the spotlight was the chance to hear from other experts around the world, to share in their trials and challenges, and to learn from their successes.
Our work at the Institute is rarely dull. In fact, it’s a privilege to be part of a team dedicated to making our treasured parks and public spaces part of the answer to the huge problems that face us today – our healthcare and education crises, rapid urban development, climate change. The opportunity to make a difference is one that’s hard to pass up.
Looking ahead to 2015, we’ll bring more news through our blogs, website and social media on our plans, successes, hot-off-the-press news, and even our trials and tribulations (hopefully we won't have too many of these!).
Thank you for supporting us on our journey.
Director, Institute at the Golden Gate
Fort Baker after the rain
The past few weeks’ torrential downpours have awakened Fort Baker. The parade grounds, thoroughly parched from the summer and fall, had conspired overnight to bloom into lush green carpeting. Despite the constantly foggy, bleary, and downright soggy days that we’ve gone without seeing the sun, the verdancy of Fort Baker and the Marin Headlands peeking through the Institute’s windows remind us of the urgent necessity of rain in this severe drought.
Although we are still in a persistent drought, the past two weeks has given the state 94 billion gallons--by all means, a holiday miracle. As the Institute powers down to spend the next few days with our families and communities, we wanted share our stories of the miraculous gift of nature. Nature—whether it is the rain ushering in a green Fort Baker, a dandelion clock holding steady in the cracks of a driveway, or the brisk scent of eucalyptus trees wafting through the Presidio—is the foundation of the Institute’s work and we strive to protect nature, both professionally through our policy work, and personally through honoring the memories that we have of connecting with nature.
Noticing, appreciating, and caring for nature in any and all of its forms can start at any stage in life, in any circumstance, and in any place. Although everyone continuously moves through nature in the day-to-day, we wanted to recall our memories and share our stories of the first time that nature inspired awe in us. When did being in nature bring us feelings of community, acceptance, understanding, and joy?
These memories are still salient to us, these many years later. The gift of nature is perhaps double-acting: first, we have the initial sense of awe while in the moment, then we recall the memories of being in nature with a similar awe that transcends time.
As you spend this holiday season with your loved ones, consider giving them the gift of nature that they can look back on with as much clarity, wonder, and awe.
I didn’t realize it back then, but looking back now, I think my “awe moment,” or I should say moments, in nature were taking annual camping trips with my family and a large group of our family friends. No one bothered bringing any electronics, the only entertainment we needed was each other, and maybe a book for the car ride to and from the campsite. I remember doing skits and playing charades by the campfire, roasting marshmallows, waking up to the light of day and smelling pancakes and hot chocolate, and riding bikes with all the kids around the entire campground. It was fun for adults and kids alike because there was endless entertainment exploring the area, going on hikes, or swimming in a nearby river or lake. These are my favorite memories of being outside because we were closer to nature and closer to each other. My family is still good friends with all of the families we went camping with back then and I hope that when I have my own family I can start a similar tradition.
On a Tuesday in October my parents woke me and my siblings up before dawn and we loaded into the car without any explanation. I awoke a couple of hours later, still in my pajamas, rubbing my eyes I couldn’t believe I was staring out at Bridalveil Fall, watching the light bounce off of Half Dome, and counting the trees along the valley floor tinged with signs of autumn. This wasn’t my first time and certainly not my last time in Yosemite National Park, but it has been the most memorable. The overwhelming beauty of Yosemite is awe inspiring, but why my parents took us to this place, on this day, felt even more awe inspiring. It instilled in me the essential role that nature plays in healing and connecting us to one another, especially during some of the most difficult times in life. My parents helped me find my sense of place in this world and for that I will forever be grateful.
More of a preface than an excuse: I grew up in the suburbs of LA. In high school, a friend described to me the vast, star-studded skies over the Sonoran Desert she saw on a camping trip (“like someone took a piece of black construction paper and just pricked as many holes as possible with a tack and held it to light”). I saw approximately three stars on smog-less LA nights and this description of the desert sky was anything but believable. I filed that analogy away for years before I finally got to experience it for myself.
In college, I roadtripped to Arches National Park in Utah with friends. After a strenuous walk to the Delicate Arch at sunset, we trudged towards the car; sunlight vanished exceedingly fast and the rocks changed colors rapidly with the coming dusk. I happened to look up and saw the millions of stars that my friend had described to me all those years back. I never believed that I would ever be able to see something so Nat Geo with my own eyes—the stars really did twinkle and sit in cloudy clusters. This memory and analogy have sustained me for a very long time and have made me appreciate nature and love the American Southwest.
I grew up in a small town in northern England and our house was next to a canal. One summer day when I was 9 or 10, my friends and I took our bikes and followed the canal path further than ever before. First, we headed south. As the miles passed, pleasant middle-class homes gave way to an old city of run-down terraced houses, broken windows, shuttered factories and post-industrial decay.
Eventually, we turned around and cycled back, passing my house and pedaling north past open fields, streams and finally, purple and green moorlands. The contrast of urban decline so close to the stunning Yorkshire moors struck me hard. Imagine Detroit right next door to Muir Woods! I knew even then how much happier I felt among the trees and fields than in the city's crumbling foundries and empty sweatshops. I believe this experience was the start of my lifelong passion for environmental stewardship and sustainable development.
My high school had this amazing yearly science trip to Death Valley for Juniors and Seniors in good academic standing. It was a weeklong trip – leaving at 4am on a Sunday morning and returning Friday afternoon. We had old army canvas tents that leaked (I know because it rained one year I went and we were laid in puddles each night) and cooked our meals by campfire. Each day our teacher and the other chaperones would split us up into groups and we would go off to learn about the mineral deposits at Artist’s Palette, the geographical history of Golden Canyon, plant ecology at varying altitudes, desert oases such as Darwin Falls, and more. My first year, I remember staying up late chatting with friends in sleeping bags on a tarp (it did not rain that year) and staring up at the stars; the following year, as a returner, I was allowed to search out native American cliff paintings with some interested chaperones. While I was fortunate to go on camping trips with my family from an early age, this was the first time I stopped to really think “This is amazing. Death Valley is beautiful and mysterious, and needs to be shared and explored.”
In 2009, I had just finished serving two years in the Peace Corps. Coming home to Marin and trying to find a job in the depths of the recession, I was going through a large life transition. I had many questions about my future and few answers. I suspected that I wanted to work in the environmental movement, but I had experience working in public health as well – maybe I would have more success finding a job in that field?
One day, during this time period, my dad and I were hiking around Bon Tempe Lake in the Marin Municipal Water District lands. I remember pausing as we came around a bend in the lake, the hills were golden with the fall grass, water birds were skimming along the lake, Mount Tam rose up behind the small valley. I was so awe struck with the beauty and so moved by the majesty of the nature that was in our backyard. It was in that moment that I realized that working to conserve and improve our relationship with the environment was the only field for me.
The issue of climate change presents unique and oftentimes difficult challenges to those of us working to combat it. Given the controversy and scale of climate change, it’s easy to see that effectively teaching about the topic would present its own set of barriers and challenges. But what exactly are those challenges and barriers in our region? And what are the greatest needs facing environmental educators grappling with climate change in the Bay Area?
Over the past six months, the Institute has conducted over 75 interviews with environmental educators representing 44 different organizations within the Bay Area to try and answer these questions. The purpose of these interviews was to paint a picture of the current landscape of climate change education in the region, identify common needs and challenges, and explore opportunities to support informal educators in tackling this topic.
In this effort, we are excited to announce the release of our newest report: Bay Area Climate Change Education Needs Assessment Report.
This report shows that environmental educators in the region are deeply committed to climate education. Seventy-eight percent of assessment participants reported that they are either currently implementing or are in the process of developing some form of climate programming. However it is interesting to note that these programs ranged from entire outreach initiatives based on climate change to one docent-led hike per year or lecture on the topic.
At the same time, environmental educators are facing a number of similar challenges to implementing effective, high-impact climate literacy programs. This assessment found that the primary needs and challenges could be broken into the following categories:
While these challenges may seem daunting, Bay Area educators are also committed to working as a group to address and overcome these barriers. We plan for this report to spark conversation, analysis, and action around how we can work as a community to support each other in addressing this crucial topic. We ask that you read this report with an eye to identifying opportunities and solution, and that you share it with your network of educators, engaging your colleagues in the discussion.
In this, the Institute is helping to lead this charge and playing a support and coordinator role in the formation of a Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative. To join or learn more about this collaborative, please contact us or sign up for our mailing list.
The Institute’s first session of fellowships is coming to an end. Hector and I can’t believe how fast time has flown since we started in May. In our time with the team, we:
Hector’s work directly supported our Health program by designing curriculum and administering evaluations for the Crissy Field Center as it began integrating health and wellness into its middle school program, and interviewing members of our health collaborative across the Bay Area. His efforts helped apply our park knowledge to improving health outcomes in specific, local communities.
My work focused on research that honed in on a couple of specific topics relevant to urban parks, helping the Urban program develop expertise on how the most successful parks are engaging a more diverse audience as well as creating an army of stewards through life-changing internships. The road maps and guidelines I developed as a result of this research will help park leaders countrywide tackle these growing challenges.
Hector and I have both been amazed at the talent and generosity of our colleagues at the Institute and throughout the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. We’ve also been inspired and encouraged by staff at so many of our partner parks and non-profits. Here’s to joining with you in our future careers using public lands for the greater good! We’ll see you in the parks.
Less than two weeks ago, close to 5,000 leaders from around the world came together in Sydney, Australia, for the IUCN World Parks Congress – the once-in-a-decade global forum on protected areas. Together, we tackled challenges such as climate change and illegal poaching, shared successes of healthcare partnerships to improve wellbeing, and heard from the next generation for stories of inspiration and hope. It was an honor to not only attend, but to share the stage with remarkable leaders from Finland, Australia, Singapore, and beyond to discuss how parks around the world are seeking solutions for a better world.
During the opening ceremony, leaders from across the globe took the stage to share what they bring to the table and express their hopes for a healthier, more sustainable future. We reflected on the last Congress that took place in Durban, South Africa a little over ten years ago, where keynote speaker Nelson Mandela pointed out that our youth may be the key to a better future, but that it will take each and every one of us to teach and empower current and future generations to steward the magnificent places that we are privileged to call home. Mandela’s words rang true at this year’s Congress, but I found examples of leadership and empowerment in unlikely places. The inspiration and examples of action that struck me most came not from the keynote speakers or high up government officials, but from community organizers, Indigenous leaders, and youth. Perhaps this is what Mandela wished for all along.
Given the state of our planet I see no reason why we shouldn't be filling every international stage with stories from the “doers" – those that choose to take the information we already know and turn it into action. I found the most inspiration and hope from the one on one conversations struck up while sharing a bench in the shade between sessions. It was in these deeper more personal moments that I felt the most connected to the global community. Sharing the challenges of partnerships with a community leader from Gabon and swapping ideas on how to engage low-mobility park users with friends in Australia – these are the stories I wish to hear, these are the actions that deserve the attention of our leaders, and these are the people that know enough to act and are bold enough to act now.
To read more about the actions and achievements coming out of all corners of the globe, I encourage you to read the Promise of Sydney. This document includes commitments, goals, and achievements that leaders and organizations from around the world will strive to make before we get back together in the next decade. While the details and testimonials are still coming together, what we do know is that our global community promises to INVIGORATE, INSPIRE, and INVEST in every way that we can to create a healthier and more sustainable future for all.
I personally promise to look for inspiration at all levels and more importantly continue to act so that future generations inherit a better planet than the one we have now. In ten years’ time when park and protected area professionals come together again I have hope that those on stage will be Indigenous leaders, youth, community organizers, and the “doers” of the world. If this comes to fruition I believe we will have made Mandela and our global community proud.