I’m excited to be joining the Institute at the Golden Gate as the new Health Program Manager. I come to the Institute with a public health perspective, having worked with California’s SNAP-Ed nutrition education and obesity prevention program since 2005. Through SNAP-Ed, I learned how local health departments work with state agencies on federal funding while staying attuned and responsive to community needs – a complicated dance of staying nimble and staying focused.
I also come to the Institute as an avid park enthusiast! On the weekends, you’ll find me hiking, biking, and snowshoeing in search of wildflowers, waterfalls, expansive views, fresh air, and those perfectly placed park benches. For several years, I was an outdoor trip leader with Sacramento State’s Peak Adventures. I relished seeing strangers become friends by the time we arrived at camp, the cooperative attitudes along the journey, the feeling of accomplishment doing something that seemed beyond reach, and the appreciation of nature, ourselves, and each other at the end of the day. This is why I love parks and being outdoors—this feeling of connectedness is something I want every person, particularly those with the highest health need, to experience. Parks are a place to be healthy, from the inside out.
How can we connect more people to parks? I am impressed by the Institute’s commitment to bringing parks, health care, public health, and community partners together in the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative. This type of multi-sector collaborative approach is a meaningful way to create change and build healthier communities, literally, one step at a time (preferably in nature!).
I am inspired by the Institute’s vision to imagine parks as key players in solving complex human challenges, like stress reduction and obesity prevention. As I explore opportunities at the intersection of parks and health, I hope to continue the good work of the Health program to position parks as a catalyst for social change so that everybody sees parks as preventative health care and a place for them.
For the many partners out there working on nature & health and getting people outdoors, I look forward to working with you. May we rally together: Parks for All! Health for All!
By now you’ve probably heard us mention the Crissy Field Park Prescription Day event that we are so excited for on Sunday, April 23, 2017. But did you know that the Crissy Field celebration is just one of 14 events taking place across the Bay Area? Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area member organizations are pulling out all the stops to celebrate the second annual Park Prescription Day the only way they know how – by having free, fun, and family-friendly activities in parks and open spaces!
There are events in several different counties and all of them offer guided programs that encourage being healthy outdoors, such as hiking, nature walks, yoga, and more! Here’s a list of all the fun and FREE activities happening in the Bay Area on Sunday, April 23:
For more information about the Bay Area events, visit hphpbayarea.org. See you in the parks on Sunday, April 23!
Our Health program’s newest report is now complete!
Since its creation in 2012 we have seen many successes with the HPHP: Bay Area collaborative, and wanted to capture our challenges, successes, and lessons learned to not only share with those who work at the intersection of parks and health, but also with those interested in creating their own regional cross-sector collaboratives.
As a collaborative, HPHP: Bay Area seeks to be a space for park and health agencies to share best practices, workshop programmatic challenges, and accomplishes this through the initiatives of First Saturday programs and Park Prescription programs.
We decided to frame this report as a roadmap and case study for regional collaboration because the story, successes, and challenges of HPHP: Bay Area provide a unique case study and potential roadmap for other collaboratives across the county who are looking to connect health and parks within their agencies and communities.
We also wanted to frame this report within the context of a roadmap because the evolution and growth of the HPHP: Bay Area collaborative has been –and continues to be— a wonderful journey of innovation, exploration, partnership, and iteration.
This report pulls from 30 interviews of collaborative members and comprehensively describes the history of the HPHP: Bay Area collaborative. The roadmap is broken down into six steps, allowing readers the ability to take a deep dive into how to create a vibrant cross-sector collaborative such as Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area. The steps are as follows:
This report also provides successful program models of current Bay Area Park Prescription programs.
2016 was a year of both introspection and action here at the Institute. As an organization, we have continued to grow and evolve. The ongoing change allows us to be flexible and dynamic. It has also meant that we need to constantly assess our organizational identity and brand in the context of this evolution.
Last year, we began a strategic communications process that has allowed us to take time out to evaluate our growth, what we’ve accomplished, and who we are as an organization. We have thought deeply about the language we use, pushing ourselves to match our message to the passion and potential of our work.
We see a critical opportunity for parks to be catalysts for social change, reaching outside of their traditional boundaries to embrace a role that moves beyond conservation and recreation. By reframing parks in this way, they become more vibrant, relevant, and valuable to everyone.
Over the past year, we have reaffirmed this mission and will continue to refine both our language and our program approach in 2017. At the program level, we reached a number of milestones in working towards this vision in 2016:
As we look forward to 2017, it is hard to know what the new year will hold. But I feel confident that, with our amazing team and the inspiring work we have ahead of us, we can take on any of the challenges that we face.
Photo credit: Scott Sawyer
Photo credit: Kirke Wrench, National Park Service
Call me sentimental, but I love the holiday season. I love the lights, the flavors, and the smells. I love that we make time in our busy schedules for friends, for family, for loved ones, and for our community. I also love the sense of perspective it gives me – the opportunity to reflect on what is important in my life and how my decisions reflect those values, both personally and professionally.
I won’t sugar coat it, the past month or two has been a challenging time for many of us. Whatever your political stripes, most people can agree that the rhetoric in 2016 was more divisive than ever, and that we are entering a time of uncertainty and transition. How the things we value may be impacted in the years to come is not yet clear. Now, more than ever, I seek solace and inspiration from those around me, the values that we all share, and the work we are doing to amplify those values.
Over the past year, the Institute team has dug deep into who we are as an organization, the key beliefs and values that motivate our work, and how those show up in what we do every day. One core value that has come through loud and clear is our belief in the role of parks as safe and healing spaces. We believe that parks must be welcoming and be available to all, no matter their background, ethnicity, religion, orientation, age, ability… the list goes on and on.
Parks have so much to give to society – they are places to build community, to engage in open and respectful dialogue, to deeply connect with people who are different from us, and to explore and overcome our common challenges. This belief is core to who we are as an organization.
In this time of change and season of giving, we’d like to share just a few examples of park-based programs that are building community and offering healing, growing spaces. We hope that you find them as inspiring as we do.
Please use the comment box to add your favorite to this short list, we know there are so many inspiring programs out there!
As the Institute continuously champions our beliefs that parks are for everyone, we know that our park partners are working tirelessly to make this belief a reality in the different communities around the Bay and country. Through our work in Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area, we know that parks have been providing warm welcomes to new users for years through multicultural programming and First Saturday programming.
East Bay Regional Park District creates large, intentional walks that bring together many different ethnicities to share wellness, culture, and enjoyment through its Healthy Parks Healthy People Multicultural Wellness Walks. San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department offers gorgeous scenery while leading participants through Tai Chi and Qigong exercises.
With park leaders playing a crucial role in carving out space for meditation, interaction, and reflection, we hope that you follow their lead to ensure that parks continue to be a democratic space for health, both physically and mentally. If you see prejudice or hate happening in parks, or your neighborhood, speak up and protect your neighbors. Parks are for all, forever.
This past year has brought to the fore a number of challenges this country still faces around racial, economic, and social justice. Tied in with all of these is climate justice. Parks provide invaluable ecosystem services like carbon sequestration and are also uniquely threatened by climate change. Through the Institute’s Climate Education program we work with park interpreters and other informal educators to provide them with the necessary tools for them to be the best climate communicators they can be. This includes not only telling the story of how our parklands are threatened by climate change but also how it will affect neighboring communities, particularly groups that are most vulnerable.
There are a number of organizations working at the intersection of environmental challenges, public lands, and social justice, with one of the most prominent being Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ). LEJ is based out of Southeast San Francisco and provides local residents opportunities in urban greening, eco-literacy, community stewardship, and workforce development. The Institute looks forward to continuing to celebrate how parks and their partners can not only help heal the environment but also how maintaining these democratic spaces is central to building an inclusive community.
Lake Merritt, at the heart of Oakland, CA, is an obvious setting for a picnic, or a walk. As a proud resident of Oakland, Lake Merritt holds a special place in my heart. This park holds many fun memories for me.
This year, Lake Merritt has also been a site for healing. When Oaklanders were reeling from the loss of friends and artists from the devastating Ghost Ship fire, it was Lake Merritt where we grieved together. After an election filled with dangerous rhetoric, Oaklanders stood up against hatred at #handsaroundlakemerritt, a show of solidarity and appreciation for the diversity of Oakland. These beautiful moments of Oaklanders coming together proved that Lake Merritt is where the best of Oakland can be seen.
Park Prescriptions Program Panel at American Public Health Association Conference. Photo courtesy of Donna Leong.
The American Public Health Association Annual Meeting took place in Denver earlier this month and I had the privilege of attending on behalf of the Institute at the Golden Gate. For the Institute’s work at the intersection of parks and public health, it was important for us to understand how parks fit into the priority areas of this large field of public health. Joining 12,000 other colleagues, I saw firsthand the enthusiasm that these public health professionals had for community health promotion.
For community health promotion, APHA looks at the local services that can be accessed for healthier communities; parks, unsurprisingly, were important parts of the social fabric of community engagement. It is always heartening to hear the importance placed on parks from other sectors and the public health professionals at APHA acknowledged the potential that parks had not only to increase public health, but to also create connected communities and mitigate climate change. The emphasis on creating upstream solutions framed the role of parks on creating vibrant communities.
Additionally, I went to show support for the National ParkRx Initiative, which had a panel presentation. As a testament to how parks are received in the public health community, the room was filled and became standing-room only. Drs. Jean Coffey, Nooshin Razani, Robert Zarr, and Daniel Porter discussed their Park Prescriptions programs, which dot the nation, from DC to Vermont, and Texas to California. As equally engaged as the doctors were in their work, it was also exciting to hear the level of enthusiasm that the audience had for the topic. Psychiatric nurses, community liaisons, and students wanted to understand how they could incorporate park and nature-based prescriptions into their own line of work.
As with many conversations around Park Prescriptions, the important question is not just why incorporate the program, but how to incorporate the program? A sentiment that I took away from the conversation was that the first step to incorporating it into any public health field was to try. The entire APHA conference was a crash course in understanding how creativity and a can-do attitude can create a multitude of effective public health solutions. How did communities help to regulate the consumption of tobacco products? They tried programs that would reduce the number of storefront advertisements for them. Now, most counties in the nation are adopting this practice of working with local stores to reduce environmental advertisements of tobacco. How can communities start using parks to create community cohesion, mitigate climate change impacts, and improve human health? The Institute at the Golden Gate is trying out its programs that address these issues and so are our partners.
Our first Health Fellow, Hector Zaragoza, shares with us what he has been up to over the past year since he wrote a guest blog post for us. He has gained valuable experience in the public sector since working at the Institute at the Golden Gate and we are excited to learn more about his work.
It has been two years since I was the Health and Wellness Fellow at the Institute at the Golden Gate. Since then, I have been a Volunteer Coordinator for Canal Alliance, a local non-profit that provides services to recent immigrant arrivals, and more recently, a Public Benefits Specialist enrolling individuals in public assistance programs like CalFresh, CalWORKs, and Medi-Cal for the County of Marin. I’m also in the middle of applying to graduate school for a Master’s in Public Policy. At this point, I have worked for the private sector, the nonprofit sector, and now the public sector and one thing rings true: collaboration, data analysis and evaluation, ideation and iteration are all critical skills for tackling any issue. The Institute does an amazing job in cultivating these traits.
My primary duty at the Department of Health and Human Services is to interpret the state and county regulations as they pertain to public assistance programs and determine a client's eligibility for them. Marin is traditionally associated with opulence but the lower-income community often goes unnoticed and to some extent, marginalized. The services we offer provide a lifeline to those in need. Many have been laid off, others are recent arrivals settling in to their new country, and many are simply trying to increase their competitiveness in the job market by going back to school and gaining new skills. The services are a stop-gap measure for them to find some stability on their way to self-reliance.
In addition to this, I am actively participating in the evaluation process of redesigning the on-boarding process for new employees by providing direct feedback. Essentially, we are developing a blueprint and its complementary toolkit to make on-boarding of new staff a more seamless transition that enables them to become more effective in their work and develop a sense of solidarity with the organization's mission and each other. My experience going through the pilot-stage of its implementation has been critical in informing leadership of areas for improvement. I have also carried over the enthusiasm around the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative to my new office. Although we are fitted with ergonomic workstations (automated desks are the best!) we still suffer the consequences of office life. Therefore, I established the Mile Challenge. Each member of my immediate team is encouraged to track their distance covered in a day whether it be biking, walking, running, or even dancing. This information is gathered and displayed on a whiteboard in the office where we see our progress as we attempt to log all 3,252 miles between our office and the statue of liberty in New York. We’re almost there!
My third special project is creating tools to facilitate casework processing in a thorough and timely manner. This includes: advanced excel case management sheets, flow charts, timelines, and as part of my most innovative set, a “how-to” checklist infographic. I will also be taking part in the development and implementation of our outreach strategy by conducting community focus groups.
All of these special projects are inspired by traits espoused and practiced at the Institute - go beyond your stipulated duties of the job description and have a deeper impact. Let the spirit of challenging convention guide you into unexplored territory that ultimately contributes to a more fulfilling professional life. So, how are you stepping outside your comfort zone?
Are you wondering how you can strengthen your agency’s park prescription program? Want to start a park prescription program, but don’t know how? Unsure of what park prescriptions are, but eager to learn more?
Join us for the National ParkRx Initiative’s three-part webinar series this fall, Creating and Strengthening Park Prescription Programs. The webinars are free, open to the public, and will explore some of the most important elements for successful park prescription programs. Experts will provide case studies and best practices from their own successful park prescription programs.
For some background on the organizer of these webinars, the National ParkRx Initiative aims to strengthen the connection between health, parks, and public lands to improve physical and mental health of individuals and communities. By collaborating with national partners and subject-matter experts, the Initiative helps improve the quality of new and existing park prescription. The Initiative is currently led by the Institute at the Golden Gate, the National Recreation and Park Association, and the National Park Service.
Why webinars, you might ask? In the process of developing a park prescription toolkit, there were several key themes that emerged as essential to the successful creation and execution of park prescription programs. These topics have been formatted into three different webinars:
In Part I, participants will get a general overview of the park prescriptions movement while learning about the specific needs, roles, and responsibilities of both park and health professionals. Speakers will focus on how to build partnerships. In Part II, participants will learn about why needs assessments are essential to successful park prescription programs. Speakers will focus on how to conduct and use space and community assessments to establish program modules. In Part III, participants will learn about park prescription program implementation, evaluation, marketing, and outreach. Speakers will focus on program sustainability.
Register for the webinars by clicking the links above, or click here for more information. We hope to see you there!
The Institute is excited to introduce you to the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders Class of 2016! Lea and Maria recently joined our team here at the Institute at the Golden Gate and we are very happy to have them. We've asked both of them to share a few things about themselves so that we can all get to know them better...
Growing up in Los Angeles, I was constantly reminded of how wonderful our environment is. Both of my parents were involved in the local park system, which led to my participation in tree-planting and beach-cleaning initiatives from a young age. Griffith Park, one of the largest municipal parks in the U.S., was a few minutes’ walk from my childhood home; the hilly terrain, winding trails, and untouched wilderness were my backyard and playground. This fostered a love of parks and the outdoors that I still have today. I was also fortunate to spend four years in Ithaca, known for its numerous gorges, waterfalls, and lush, green landscape (during the summer!).
During my final semester at Cornell University, I was still wondering what in the world I wanted to do with my life. Meanwhile, it seemed as though everyone else had finalized their post-college plans months, even years, before graduation. Unrealistic as that notion was, the pressure to know exactly what one would be doing after leaving Cornell was palpable and undeniable. In the midst of my job search, the Health Fellow position with the Institute immediately caught my eye. In its description, I found my academic passion, public health, intertwined with my personal interest and devotion to public parks, nature, and the environment. The six-month fellowship also seemed like the perfect segue into the job market, allowing me to grow professionally before pursuing long-term job opportunities. I was sold! During my fellowship I will be focusing on two projects: creating a webinar series for the National ParkRx Initiative and assisting with Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area. I am endlessly excited to be working at the intersection of public health and parks, and can’t wait to see where this fellowship will take me.
Hi, my name is Maria and I am the new Emerging Leaders, Climate Fellow for the Institute at the Golden Gate. I recently graduated from Simmons College in Boston where I majored in both environmental science and computer science. I was born and raised in San Francisco and I am so excited to be back at home! My past experience working at informal science institutions like the California Academy of Sciences and the Museum of Science in Boston has instilled in me a strong passion for science education. I became interested in this position because of its potential impact on the way educators teach climate change in the Bay Area.
In addition to working with the Institute team, I will be working closely with the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (Bay-CLIC) which is comprised of environmental educators focused on increasing climate literacy and action. Bay-CLIC has identified three initiatives which represent the needs of educators to better address climate change. From these initiatives, my project was created. Over the next few months, I will be creating a database for educators of scientific resources and data related to climate change. As an additional tool, I will be researching existing public engagement campaigns focused on behavior change. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Institute team and am looking forward to all of the learning I will do during this fellowship.
April 24th is National Park Rx Day and it is a day celebrated across the United States to promote the growing movement of prescribing parks and nature to patients to improve human health. Additionally, National Park Rx Day encourages everyone to start seeing visits to parks and public lands as very important parts of their health. Last fall, the U.S. Surgeon General released a call to action to promote walking and walkable communities. National Park Rx Day builds on this call to action and provides citizens with parks and green spaces to promote public health.
WHY A DAY TO CELEBRATE PARK RX?
One of the signature events will take place in Meridian Hill Park in Washington, DC. While the park has weekly drum circles and many different users, it is also a site that has seen it share of violence. When we talk about the health of a community, the violence within a community is just as important to curb as alcohol abuse or obesity rates. Although there is a lot of buzz and interest in Park Rx programs, it is a tactic to bringing forth larger changes in a place. It is also a tactic to bring in new sectors to look at the role that the built environment plays and our relationship to it.
I encourage us lovers of nature and Park Rx managers to think about the role that Park Rx has in combatting community violence so that others can have the chance to love nature and feel attached to their neighbors and neighborhoods. Park Rx programs and certainly National Park Rx Day cannot solve all of this in one fell swoop, but having a concerted effort to start and sustain these dialogues is a first step.
My office is just a short walk away from Fort Mason’s Great Meadow. This park has gentle, grassy hills and stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Every morning as I head into work, I’m greeted with the ocean, air, bees, and native plants. Luckily for me, I don’t have to sneak away to see this beautiful space. Here at the Institute, we have an organizational culture that values outdoor time; I am encouraged to spend time in nature.
View from where I meditate.
I take full advantage of this park perk. I enjoy walking meetings and impromptu botany lessons on the Great Meadow. But most of all, I cherish my daily mindfulness practice. It’s nothing fancy— lasting only 7 minutes— but it is the best perk my employer can ever give. Better than any sweet, salty or caffeinated snack, these 7 minutes help me refocus after a hectic morning, or calm my nerves before a big meeting. I’m more creative in my problem-solving, more patient with obstacles, and more present with my co-workers. In short, it makes me a better employee.
I don’t want to be one of those self-righteous hippies, pushing the latest crunchy granola health practices on my co-workers, but I can’t help it when it comes to mindfulness. I think mindfulness is a useful tool for all park professionals. I know from experience, but science supports it too. Mindfulness can bolster mental and physical health. It can even change our neural pathways –changing the physical structure of the brain. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it builds up inner resilience. Mindfulness and meditation practices are linked to increasing compassion, mental flexibility, and attention.
Inner resilience is a crucial asset for park professionals right now. Urban parks are entering frontiers that require us to tap into our best attributes. Climate change, health disparities, and homelessness are all daunting challenges that parks must bravely face. These challenges deserve our creativity, patience, focus, and best interpersonal skills. In order to be better stewards of our parks and our communities, we need to invest in our own inner stewardship.
So, at the risk of sounding preachy, take advantage of your park perks. Prepare for a challenging, and exciting future. I’ll meet you at the Great Meadow.
Written in collaboration with Lori Bruton
If you are a long-time fan of Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area, you’re in luck! The HPHP: Bay Area Collaborative has been working hard over the past year to create our own website!
For a group of practitioners dedicated to the integration of health and nature into real-life programs, this foray into web programming, site design, and beta-testing was—undoubtedly—a feat that was only achieved through team work. Like much of what Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area and the Institute at the Golden Gate do, this website only became reality when different groups came together to collectively solve a problem. Sometimes, the problem is making parks accessible to high health needs populations. Sometimes, the problem is a limited-functionality website that we had outgrown.
We built this website the same way we built our collaborative, through many people bringing their expertise to the table, constant partnership, and a desire to improve the health of all Bay Area residents.
One of the main reasons we created this website is to make it as easy as possible for new and existing park users to be able to find a HPHP: Bay Area program near them. HPHP: Bay Area aims to improve the health and well-being of all Bay Area residents, especially those with high health needs, through the regular use and enjoyment of parks and public lands, and in order to do so one must be able to first find a park and see what introductory programs are being offered there. You can learn about the HPHP: Bay Area programs being offered on the homepage of the website, and also on the programs page. You can sort by date, distance from your house, activity, program leader, and do so much more.
First and foremost, the Institute at the Golden Gate is honored that the HPHP: Bay Area Collaborative had trusted us to manage the process of website creation. Additionally, we would like to thank everyone who has contributed their ideas, content, photos, videos, and website development skills to this website. Red Wolf Technology has been a creative, technical, and patient consultant in helping us develop this website from idea to tangible product. The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy Web Team has been a guiding light and strong support system for helping us novice website creators at the Institute put our big ideas and dreams into an organized and realistic component list. And of course, the HPHP: Bay Area Collaborative partners have been our cheerleaders, content-creators, beta-testers, and program leaders from the very beginning. Without their hard work to put on these programs to welcome diverse groups into parks, none of this would be a reality. Lastly, the website would not exist without the new and current park users that attend these HPHP: Bay Area programs and believe in the health benefits of parks and nature.
We hope you enjoy the new website as much as we do! Please feel free to contact us if you have any feedback about the website.
As I am still struggling to remember to end all of my dates with a “6” rather than a “5”, it feels like it is not yet too late to reflect on the past year and ponder what the next year may bring.
2015 saw a lot of change at the Institute. We welcomed three new fulltime staff members and were excited by the opportunity to continue to support the growth and development of our existing staff members. We moved out of our Fort Baker offices and are grateful to our NPS partners who have offered us temporary office space at Fort Mason. Our climate, health, and urban programs continue to grow, evolve, and have a greater and greater impact. We welcomed our second class of Emerging Leaders Fellows and I am confident that we learned as much from their new perspectives as they learned from our team of mentors and friends.
Here is a brief synopsis of some of the Institute’s key programmatic milestones and our hopes for 2016:
Climate: In 2015, the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative, for which the Institute plays the backbone support role, saw its first full year of activity. Over the course of the year, the Collaborative grew to include over 30 different environmental education organizations and worked through a strategic planning process, articulating a clear vision, mission, and priority initiatives. In 2016, we are looking forward to getting our boots of the ground and beginning to develop and implement a range of activities based on identified priorities. We are also excited to partner with the NPS Pacific West Region and NASA to host an “Earth-to-Sky” climate communications training at Golden Gate this coming spring.
Health: The Institute continued to support the development of the HPHP: Bay Area regional collaborative and strengthened the network through a growing partnership with Kaiser Permanente. As the collaborative moves into its fourth year, the Institute is looking forward to building the capacity of the region by creating trainings, toolkits, and further resources for the collaborative members. On the national level, the Institute is working closely with the National Park Service, the National Recreation and Park Association, and Dr. Robert Zarr, the NPS Park Prescriptions Advisor, to strengthen the network of and resources available for Park Rx practitioners. Stay tuned in early 2016 when we will be launching a National Park Rx web portal and a HPHP: Bay Area website!
Urban: Last April, the National Park Service launched its Urban Agenda. This report was the culmination of a long engagement process spearheaded by NPS’s Stewardship Institute, in close partnership with the Institute at the Golden Gate, the NPS Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, the Center for Park Management, and the Quebec Labrador Foundation. As a part of the initiative, the Institute has been actively supporting a team of Urban Fellows who have been charged with activating the Urban Agenda in 10 model cities. In the coming year, the Institute is looking forward to continuing to build on this partnership work. We are particularly excited to leverage our network to dive deeper into the issues of authentic community engagement and to look at how we can support parks in their efforts to increase their relevance for urban communities.
Thanks so much to all of our partners, supporters, and colleagues who made 2015 such a success – we’re looking forward to continuing this exciting work in 2016!
Our new view for 2016 - life on the other side of the bridge. Photos courtesy of Paul Meyers.
It is nearing my final weeks as a health fellow at the Institute. As I make preparations for my departure back to DC, I have found myself project managing my personal life and facilitating my friends and family.
That is what six months at the Institute feels like.
I know as I embrace loved ones over the impending holidays I will be bombarded with questions asking about my experience. As a recent graduate I experienced this phenomenon the same time last year. “What are your post-college plans?” said every one of my many family members. I would try to smile through the sigh I really wanted to give. This time around I have a wealth of things to discuss and a new passion I am bringing home. My family members will be the ones sighing as I incessantly talk about the power of parks.
Researching the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative for the creation of a report has exposed me to many things, but I’d like to focus on the learning that took place outside of my regular duties. Yes, I have greatly advanced my project management skills. And yes, I have absorbed as much of my co-workers efficient work ethic as I possibly can but, the Institute is a very unique environment with many unique lessons to be learned. The perfect example of this was our most recent trip to Pie Ranch. As we toured the ranch and learned about their programmatic arms I was forced to think about the work I do within a completely different context. These moments of overlap and collaboration are what the Institute is all about and where great ideas take place.
I thank the Institute and all of their many partners who I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I now have a new set of skills and a new outlook on the way we tackle some of society's largest problems. And of course… new friends.
Zarnaaz Bashir and Robert Zarr presenting at the APHA session "Prescribing the outdoors to improve overall health and well-being."
Photo courtesy of Robert Zarr, Clinician at Unity Health Care, Founder of DC ParkRx, and ParkRx Advisor for the National Park Service.
This week, thousands of public health aficionados descended upon Chicago for the annual American Public Health Association conference to discuss the latest and greatest preventative health measures for communities. Just as we have seen Park Prescriptions take hold in parks conferences, there's an influx of Park Prescriptions presentations in health conferences. This year at APHA, there were many different sessions focused on how the health community views and uses natural areas for community health.
In particular, Zarnaaz Bashir, Leyla McCurdy, Dr. Nooshin Razani, and Dr. Robert Zarr each had sessions on how the health community can understand, articulate, and implement their crucial roles in the Park Prescriptions movement, which comes at the intersection of community health and environmental health. Click on each of the names to see a summary of their sessions.
We are excited that these Park Prescriptions practitioners and champions are presenting this concept to the larger public health community. Now it's time to get the stewards of the land and stewards of health to come together to turn these ideas, programs, and ideals into large-scale reality!
On September 9, the U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, launched a nationwide Call to Action on Walking. As chronic disease, depression, and obesity rates in the country soar, “America’s Doctor” is extolling the health benefits of walking.
The “Step It Up!” campaign challenges the nation to make walking a national priority in all facets of American life. Dr. Murthy’s Call to Action seeks to promote development of communities where it is safe and easy to walk, launch walking programs, and conduct research on walking.
As lovers of parks and open space, we at the Institute at the Golden Gate (a Parks Conservancy program in partnership with the National Park Service) are doing our part to answer the Surgeon General’s call. In fact, our belief in the health benefits of parks is so great that we’re taking many approaches to promote parks as places to walk and recreate.
Take the first step, and reconnect with the physical, mental, and social benefits of visiting a park. Attend a Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area program this Saturday, October 3rd. There are over 10 family-friendly, easy, and fun walks all over the Bay Area to get you started.
The National Recreation and Park Association's Annual Conference kicked off yesterday with a keynote address fit to celebrate the organizations 50th anniversary. The opening general session included impassioned speeches from U.S. Surgeon General Murthy and Gil Penalosa of 8 80 Cities. Both speakers highlighted the importance of NRPA's pillars, which ring just as true today as they did fifty years ago.
From social equity, to health and wellness, and conservation, the role of parks across the country is vital to building and retaining strong communities. The opening session was a great reminder that we, park professionals, are more than just recreation leaders - we are public health providers, educators, community organizers, and leaders in the fight for equity.
Look for more thoughts and lessons learned from the NRPA Annual Conference next week!
Catalyzing Change by Rhianna Mendez
It has been a little over two months since I began my fellowship and was tasked with detailing the story of the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative. As I continue to interview stakeholders and partners from the world of parks, public health, and community based organizations, I am amazed by the many leaders in the bay area who catalyze change. Healthy Parks Healthy People lives within the individuals who work around hectic schedules to impact the lives of others. Healthy Parks Healthy People lives within the communities it reaches. I have been seeking out promising practices and potential lessons learned and along the way I have uncovered refreshing narratives filled with enthusiasm. The collaborative continues to grow and evolve after three years and I know all involved are excited to see what the next three years have to bring.
As First Saturdays continue to thrive with consistency and Park Prescriptions begin to take root, many are looking forward to larger systematic changes. Of particular interest is a change in the way we structure medical care. This concept, of course, is nothing new but there has never been a time where so many sectors are chipping away at an over-haul. There has been recent success in changing the way we bill a doctor’s time that allows for a conversation instead of just a diagnosis or prescription. One example revolves around palliative care and end-of-life discussions between doctors and patients. A very contentious topic in 2009 has now seen wider appeal as society begins to rethink the time doctors spend with us. The time is ripe for change and the collaborative will use this momentum to continue to impact lives locally and forge change nationally.
Visualizing The History of Fort Baker by Sophia Choi
It has been a little over two months since I took on the role as the Urban Fellow at the Institute. An important part of my project on post-to-park conversions has been looking back at the history of how Fort Baker and Crissy Field in the Bay Area, and Governors Island in New York, have developed into such wonderful public parks in urban areas.
One of the first steps in my search for lessons learned from the transformations of these urban parks was visiting Golden Gate’s park archive, located in the Presidio of San Francisco. The military building turned gold mine of photos, plans, and letters, was overwhelmingly abundant – in the best way. My first visit to the archives was a bit daunting, but the archival curator, Amanda, was extremely helpful in guiding me through millions of archived material on the Golden Gate National Parks.
Not knowing what exactly I was looking for, Amanda suggested I start from a large binder of photos and plates of Fort Baker. As I flipped through, page-by-page, I was amazed to find that the black and white images of military infrastructure looked exactly the same as how the buildings look now; the look of the building that used to be the home of military officers but now houses the Institute had not changed since its history.
Officer housing during military occupation at Fort Baker - Golden Gate NRA Park Archives & Record Center
Literature and document research has been crucial to gaining insight and learning from the transformation at Fort Baker. These photos showed a critical transition from a dilapidated military post to a thriving public place of nature and respite, all the while preserving the sites specific cultural landscape.
I felt a sense of nostalgia, tracing the steps of the park history vicariously through these photos. Being able to visualize and see Fort Baker’s history was impactful in my research both emotionally and intellectually. I was reminded of the importance of telling a unique story of a place, and how that story can create a more profound connection between people and their parks.
Here at the Institute, we are BIG believers in collaboration. As a small but mighty team, we realize that to have the biggest possible impact and to create the change we want to see, we need to seek out, engage, and support other organizations to achieve our collective goals.
As such, a number of our programs focus on supporting collaborative efforts. Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area and the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative are two such projects. In both, the Institute plays the “backbone” role; supporting the collaborative through coordination, holding the vision, and ensuring that the group is functioning effectively in the pursuit of its goals.
Through both of these initiatives, we at the Institute have learned a lot about supporting multi-group collaborations (HPHP: Bay Area has over 40 members while our younger Climate Collaborative has over 20). By keeping an open mind and constantly striving to learn from those around us and our mistakes, we’ve picked up a number of tips and tricks along the way. This week, we thought we’d combine our collective knowledge and share our top pieces of advice for building effective collaboratives.
Kristin: The first step is always the hardest. Stop thinking about it and just do it.
Easier said than done right? Bringing together a group of individuals or organizations for the first time can strike fear in even the most seasoned collaborator. After ten years of community organizing and coalition building I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, stumbled over a few hurdles, and certainly learned some valuable lessons. Some of the biggest, and translatable, lessons I’ve learned for getting an effective collaborative off the ground are:
If you go in knowing the collaborative is a process not a project you’re already ahead of the game. Just don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Have you had enough metaphors? Great. Get out there and do it and don’t forget to report back on your lessons learned.
Oksana: Manage structure without managing content.
Supporting collaborative initiatives is exciting work but requires unique skills, separate from those of collaborative members. One such skill that I have found to be incredibly helpful is the ability to manage structure without taking over managing the content coming out of the collaborative. For example, I may present on some best practices for drafting mission statements but will follow it with an opportunity for the collaborative members to use these tools to craft their own mission statement. Collaborative members must have the opportunity to share their thoughts, have their questions taken seriously, and make the ultimate decisions on the direction of the work, as they are the driving force behind the collaborative’s success. As the facilitator, I am best able to provide coordination and backbone support—setting the agenda, providing logistical support, keeping meetings on track, and jumping in if meetings are diverging dramatically from the agenda. However, the vision, goals, and activities of the group are decided by its members. Providing space for their input is crucial to creating a successful group where all members feel like they have buy-in.
Donna: Humility is crucial.
Humility is a crucial mindset to have when in a backbone position because it is the main bridge between a theory of change and its practice. As a backbone, it is often the case that you are not a practitioner in your topic of interest; for example, as a backbone to the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative, the Institute neither leads park programs nor prescribes time in parks. While being a backbone organization allows you to dive deep into the needs and future goals of your collaborative, this theory of change is colored by your role as a non-practitioner with a different set of agency constraints. When a collaborative’s practitioners implement these goals, they will necessarily adapt them to fit their own agency constraints. Humility and keeping an open mind is important when drafting these goals, but it is especially important considering that implementing these goals may look very different from the theory of change. Understanding the crucial role that humility plays in collaborative efforts ensures that there is flexibility and feedback when charting the course forward.
Catherine: Have patience!
Kristin’s sage advice that collaboration is a process, not a project, is something that has stuck with me since we first started thinking about forming a regional climate literacy collaborative. If I have learned one thing since then, it’s that processes take time! This is especially true when you want to ensure that all of your partners feel ownership of the process and are inspired by the results. In today’s grant-driven, output-oriented world, it can be scary and challenging to dedicate the time that it takes to make sure you have the right people at the table, that they’re all on the same page, and that they all feel connected to you, to each other, and to the work. While walking through the process can seem slow, creating a strong foundation is critical to the overall success and sustainability of the collaborative.
Blog co-written with Donna Leong
At the Institute, we look at health inequity and climate change as imperative social issues, particularly now that mounding research is illustrating how the two are inextricably linked. Specifically, we create and join conversations where taking action includes viewing parks as part of the solution to these issues. Community health inequities and climate change are problems that affect societies on a collective scale. That is to say, the actions of a single individual are not necessarily the root of the cause, but the collective actions of many individuals can be. For example, one group may decide to close a grocery store in an underserved neighborhood or another group may open a coal mine, leading to food deserts and expanded fossil fuel emissions, respectively.
The individual scale on which most people operate creates a powerful psychological barrier to acknowledging the realities of climate change and health inequities. Climate change in particular is still perceived by some as a distant threat that is not directly relevant to existing communities, even despite the fact that a majority of Americans believe global warming is happening. Spurred by the misinformation campaign against the realities of climate change, this mentality of “not here, not now, not me” is quite tempting to adopt. However, illustrating the connection between climate change and health inequities is one powerful tool to make this issue more tangible and resonate with more Americans, without the political polarization which often arises in discussions of climate change as such.
There is robust research illustrating the connection between these two issues, ranging from the severe effects of extreme heat exposure, leading to preventable heat-related injuries and deaths, to increased levels of asthma and other respiratory illnesses as a result of air pollution made worse by climate change. These impacts are already being felt locally, nationally, and globally.
• Between 1999 and 2009, extreme heat exposure caused more than 7,800 deaths in the United States.
• In California, we are facing a first-ever statewide executive order for water reductions in order to combat the current drought likely resulting from climate change.
The infographic below illustrates the vast impacts that a warming climate can have on communities. The effects of climate change on health are far-reaching, effecting people living in rural, woodland areas, where they are more at-risk for wildfires, as well as urban populations that are disproportionately affected by heat-island effect. Particularly vulnerable groups include young children, the elderly, people with chronic medical conditions, and people of low-income.
(Infographic source: United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
While these impacts are pervasive, and perhaps daunting, people ranging from grassroots organizers to President Obama are discussing the connectivity of these issues with renewed vigor and taking action. At the Institute, we believe parks are problem solvers that provide unique solutions to the greatest issues, including the health impacts of climate change. Parks, especially urban parks, offer a number of ways to combat the effects of higher temperatures exacerbated by heat island effect. They temper high temperatures through shading and evapotranspiration, improve wind patterns in cities via park breezes, moderate precipitation events, and trap carbon in addition to other pollutants that adversely affect the ozone. Parks are also incredibly effective classrooms, acting as neutral venues to discuss—and witness—the effects of climate change. Additionally, parks are well-documented for having far-reaching physical, psychological, and mental health benefits.
When confronted daily by the immense challenges facing our environment and our public health, advocates for these issues are sometimes tempted to despair. At the same time, simple and tested policy solutions like parks tend to be overlooked in the political discourse surrounding climate change. As Occam’s razor would have it, though, the simplest answer can often be the right one. As part of a comprehensive program for addressing climate change, parks are the practical and scalable seed of environmental advocacy, ready to be nurtured in every community.