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urban (23)

  • Welcoming Our 2017 Fellows

    The Institute at the Golden Gate is excited to introduce you to the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders Class of 2017! Gabriela and Maria joined our team last week and are already working hard on their respective projects. We've asked both of them to share a little bit about themselves and discuss why they wanted to participate in our Fellowship for Emerging Leaders. Keep an eye on our blog for updates from them about their projects.


    Gabriela Estrada, Urban Fellow

    My interest in the kind of work that this fellowship offers originally arose from many instances where I did not see inclusivity being the norm. It grew from my observations of different spaces not allowing for everyone’s needs to be met. This lack of inclusivity, I noticed, was especially present in the environmental realm and underprivileged communities. However, I was never quite sure how to go about approaching these situations and spaces. It took different mindful spaces, different mentors and their guidance to make me realize that I could become a positive change maker. It was through my development in this area that I was determined to take the knowledge I gained in order to create positive inclusive change in the community. As a result, I knew that after graduating college, I wanted a career where people’s needs were being met regardless of their socio-economic condition.

    Due to this, applying to the urban fellowship was in many ways an interesting mental process. I could not believe that a lot of the pivotal points that I hoped my new career interests would include, could be so present. This fellowship offered the opportunity to actively take an inclusive approach to very human needs with the aim of creating solutions for the homeless population who are down on their luck. Through the application and interview process I found myself more and more invested and eager to see what direction this project would take.

    During my time here, I hope to be able to complete the project successfully and make a positive impact in the community through the work that I do. I hope that my blind idealism will carry me through this project and that by the end I will have something tangible that will go beyond a simple idea of equity in the parks system. Additionally, through the length of the fellowship, I look forward to the wonderful professional development opportunities and people that I will meet and learn from.

    Maria Eller, Climate Education Fellow

    When I visited San Francisco for the first time, I was dumbstruck by the fog. “Look at those low, fast-moving clouds,” I exclaimed before someone explained to me what it was. The fog was as awe-inspiring to me as the Golden Gate Bridge is for others. You see, I lived in Arizona for most of my life- a native of the Sonoran Desert. I am familiar with cacti, monsoon storms, and summer days where the temperature reaches 110+ degrees. The Grand Canyon was the beloved national park of the area and my favorite place to hike with my family. Perhaps from such time outdoors and my family’s value of nature, I developed a growing passion for conservation and education. This led me to study sustainability and work in environmental education at Arizona State University. Yet, as I was approaching graduation, I was overwhelmed by the possible careers that my sustainability degree opened to me. What I was certain of was my desire to be positioned around a diversity of work while making a tangible difference.

    Now a few years later, I am back in San Francisco becoming reacquainted with Karl the Fog because I found such an opportunity with the Institute at the Golden Gate. The Climate Education program has been doing important work on using the park to communicate climate change and to overcome barriers that limit climate education in the informal setting. As the climate education fellow, I am excited to contribute to this work with the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (BayCLIC). My project is to collaborate with BayCLIC partners in the planning and facilitation of science and education seminars. The seminars will bring together local researchers and informal educators to highlight local climate science. I feel so empowered and motivated to share my previous learning experiences with BayCLIC and to expand our awareness of climate change in the Bay Area together.

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  • Being Seen - Homelessness in Parks

    In January, I went to a workshop on homelessness in parks hosted by the National Recreation and Park Association. After a rich panel discussion, one homeless advocate shared a bit of wisdom that is still sticking with me. He remarked that our communities have a lot more compassion for the homeless, and thankfully, it’s no longer socially acceptable to treat homeless folks with disdain. Yet many of us still haven’t developed a healthy approach or view of the homeless. Instead of disdain we disassociate, becoming quite skilled at distancing ourselves from our homeless neighbors. Now we avoid eye contact, ignore their greetings, and refuse to acknowledge their presence. Sitting in a conference room of 60 people, I felt a wave of heat go up my spine. He was talking about me. I ignore the homeless.

    He went on to say that homeless folks often internalize being ignored. He argued that ignoring our homeless neighbors robs them of their dignity; of their humanity. Later on in the workshop, his point was validated by two women who were once homeless living in parks. They shared their story, and both of them told of being ignored and avoided, and then later becoming experts of hiding, of being unseen.  For both women it took someone seeing them to jump start their journey out of homelessness. One woman, who struggled to manage her schizophrenia while homeless, remarked that it was the first person who talked to her that convinced her to seek support and services. It was a beautiful moment, witnessing two women who spent years being invisible in parks, now speaking in front of a room of park professionals from across the country – advocating so that other folks might be seen. 

    Now that I’ve had a little time to process all the information from the workshop, I’m wondering what cost parks pay for disassociating from the homeless. It might be robbing us of our agency. How can we attempt to solve, or at least improve, what we refuse to see? What if parks are more powerful, more skilled, and better advocates than we imagine? Considering that only a minority of homeless individuals are chronically homeless (15% by the latest estimates), what if the problem isn’t as scary and unsolvable as we dismiss it to be? To put it another way: if you knew there was an 85% chance that any homeless person would find housing within a year, would it change how you saw them? 

    I, too, was resigned that the homelessness crisis was hopeless, but now I feel empowered. What an exciting time to work with parks! I’m anxious for all the new solutions and partnerships that might come from really seeing our homeless neighbors. It feels much more honest and brave to tackle this head on. Who knows? Parks might really be powerful.  

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  • Parks For All

    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!

    From Donna:

    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.

    East Bay Regional Park District Multicultural Wellness Walk at Coyote Hills

    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. 

    From Oksana:

    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.

    From Elyse:

    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.

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  • Resistance and Resilience

    Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, National Historic Landmarks Program

    Sometimes, visiting National Parks and National Monuments can be a triggering experience. Sometimes, it’s a reminder of a painful past. Sometimes it’s a reminder that our national heroes subscribed to hurtful prejudices. But what can be most painful is not seeing your story anywhere, where your voice, your history, and your ancestors seem invisible. 

    In these spaces, I’ve learned to look deeper; I’ve learned to look for the resistance and resilience. I remind myself of the community organizing that happened at Manzanar National Historic Site, a former Japanese internment camp. I look for the handiwork of the indigenous folks that built San Francisco’s Presidio – creating a unique architectural aesthetic that Californians sometimes take for granted. Looking for the resistance and resilience reminds me that my voice matters and that my work matters. I am reassured that my contributions are of value, no matter the circumstances. 

    This is a timely reminder for this election season. With all the apocalyptic rhetoric swimming around, it’s easy to think that our challenges are insurmountable. It’s also easy to think that our voice only matters when our candidate is in office, or when our ballot measure has passed. But that’s not what our National Parks, our living history books, teach us. 

    Our National Parks teach us that it’s often the work happening in adversity, when things don’t go our way, that are the game-changers for our country. 

    So I hope you have a joyful election day; but, if that doesn’t happen, I hope your vote may be a voice for change.  

    This blog post was written by Urban Program Manager Elyse Rainey.

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  • Home Land Security: Art in the Parks

    Photo/design courtesy of Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

    I’ve been a little weary about listening to the upcoming political debates.  The ability to talk about complicated issues in a compassionate, nuanced way is a skill that seems to be atrophying within a political climate of catch-phrases and name-calling.  I sometimes avoid tough conversations, not because these issues aren’t important to me, but because I don’t know how to argue against a sound-bite.  And it’s not just me avoiding conflicting perspectives.  As more and more Americans rely on the internet for news, we’re becoming overly reliant on algorithms that feed us information and viewpoints similar to our own.  We’re trapped in our own social-media fueled echo chambers

    That’s why I’m excited about the new Home Land Security exhibit happening in a number of former military structures at the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. This free art exhibit explores complicated issues about home, national security, and borders.  As a black woman, I have a lot of privilege around these issues – one particular privilege being that I frequently don’t have to think about them.  I can go anywhere in the U.S., and no one questions my immigration status, or whether it’s safe to fly on a plane with me.  Up until now, I haven’t spent much time reflecting on issues like immigration, but it’s time for that to change.   I need to break free from my own echo-chamber.  This exhibit is a timely opportunity to reflect on pressing national concerns like Syrian refugees and immigration reform.  It’s a safe place for me to consider other perspectives while challenging my own beliefs. 

    Art is a powerful medium to explore place and the current issues of today.  The art in Home Land Security seems particularly poignant, in that it’s housed within former military barracks on National Park land.  What better place to talk about home, than in our National Parks – democratic spaces owned by all Americans?

    Home Land Security features 18 artists from 11 different countries, and is open until December 18th.  This exhibit is a collaboration between the FOR-SITE Foundation, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the National Park Service, and the Presidio Trust. 

    This exhibit is also a part of the National Parks Service’s Art in the Parks programming.  If you would like to learn how to utilize the power of art in green spaces, the Institute at Golden Gate will be co-hosting an upcoming Art in the Parks webinar on September 29, 2016 from 10:00 – 11:00 AM PDT.   Click here to register. 

    Join me in learning more about national security, borders, and how these issues shape our identities and perceptions of home.  Challenge yourself to have a more complicated (and courageous) conversation.  

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  • #FindYourPark at the Library!

    This summer, the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy have teamed up with San Francisco Public Libraries.  It’s been a summer of reading, learning, and lots of park fun.   Park rangers are visiting San Francisco libraries throughout the summer, and folks can become a “Reading Ranger” after reaching age-appropriate reading goals. Free community shuttles are taking nine communities from their local library to their national park, with many riders being introduced to national parks for the very first time. This summer has already been such a success with packed shuttles leaving libraries every Saturday; we’re all starting to wonder why we haven’t always done this.  Libraries and parks are natural partners. 

    This past Saturday I saw this partnership in action as I joined San Francisco’s Mission District community on an adventure to Crissy Field.  I was greeted at the Mission Library by Conservancy folks, librarians, and some of my favorite park rangers.  There was a large group of families milling outside, and everyone was a little giddy – even the regular park goers.  After a brief introduction in Spanish, English and Chinese, we all boarded the bus, and headed to Crissy Field.  While there, we had story-time, a nice visit with a trusted steed from the park police, and, of course, a nature hike.  All in all, I had a lot of fun, and I know the families enjoyed themselves too.

    Afterwards, I kept thinking how genius this program is.  The merits of libraries and parks co-crafting reading and outdoor experiences are undeniable, and I think everyone recognized that this was a good idea. What has been a surprise is how hungry our community was for this.  Librarians are signing up families’ weeks in advance, and eagerly sourcing complementary reading materials for the school-age children. There is a set of seniors who, after attending the first community shuttle from the Chinatown library, have showed up for the 5 subsequent shuttles.  We have kids reading, avoiding the dreaded summer slide, and spending time outdoors with their families.  This program is a slam dunk in terms of positive community impact.  No one could have asked for better outcomes, or better partners. And that might be the secret sauce to this genius idea: great partnership. 

    One of the important lessons that I keep re-learning in my professional life is that you don’t have to do it alone: working with friends can improve the quality of the work and the enjoyment of doing said work.  This partnership with the National Park Service, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and San Francisco Public Libraries showcases how collaboration makes bigger outcomes, and can create more dynamic programming. 

    So this summer, I hope to not only up my reading (I really want a “Reading Ranger” badge), but also build some new partnerships.  

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  • Pride and Grit

    Like many park professionals, I’ve been having the diversity conversation for a while now.  We’ve been striving towards more inclusive green spaces my entire professional career, and, despite making great strides, we’ve still got a long way to go.  This work is tireless, and I’m acutely aware of how frequently the finish-line keeps moving.  I love this work, but sometimes even the strong have doubts.

    I fantasize about no longer needing to have the diversity conversation.  I fantasize about diversity being solved like I fantasize about winning the lottery; one fortuitous event, eliminating all my problems with no effort on my part.  I know these fantasies are silly, but I also know I’m not the only one buying Powerball tickets. 

    So I was tired last week when I headed to Washington, DC to meet about the National Park Service Urban Agenda.  I was not excited about yet another diversity conversation with my heart rubbed raw by the recent Orlando shooting.  Doing equity work while also working through grief is an unfortunate, yet common, occurrence.  But I was comforted to see all the altars, hand-made signs, and pride flags sprinkled across DC’s national parks.  It was a powerful lesson of how parks can be places for healing.   It was a needed reminder of the importance of telling a national history that’s as diverse as our country. 

    Photo courtesy of Nancy Goerisch-Hassanein, NPS

    I got another powerful and timely lesson from our NPS Urban Fellows.  It was a lesson about grit: about persevering in the face of mighty obstacles.  As each Urban Fellow talked about their experience of building relationships with their communities and implementing the Urban Agenda, the challenges they mentioned were huge and complex.  They were drawing upon large stores of determination and resilience.  The Urban Fellows were carrying out the Urban Agenda one small success, one community partner, and one co-worker at a time.  I needed to be reminded that this diversity conversation is going to continue to be hard, but, with a little grit, great things can be accomplished.

    Now that I’m back in the Bay Area, I’m thankful for all the diversity conversations (both visual and verbal) that I had in DC.  It was the pep talk I didn’t know I needed. 

    Lastly, I’m most thankful for our newest National Monument at Stonewall Inn.  It’s what our nation needed and a shining example of what tireless work can accomplish.  I’m grateful to all the folks and the LGBTQ community that, through determination and grit, caused this breakthrough to happen. 

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  • The Richmond Wellness Trail community kick-off event. 

    Living on the “wrong side of the tracks” frequently means living on the wrong side of the freeway.  Minority communities are almost always on the wrong side of the freeway.  Give me a map and I’ll find black/brown communities just by looking for neighborhoods choked up, fenced in, and torn apart by highways.  This didn’t happen by coincidence; the American freeways were planned and largely built before our civil rights act.  Minority communities lacked the political capital to fight off encroaching highway development.   Anthony Foxx, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary, recently noted that minority neighborhoods were historically seen as “communities of least resistance”.  For low-income communities in cities like Atlanta, Oakland, and Baltimore, highways were a system of disconnection, severing communities from resources and opportunity. 

    In Richmond, Interstate 580 cuts the community off from the bay and recreational resources such as the Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park.  This is one of the many reasons why the City of Richmond and the National Park Service have joined forces to create the Richmond Wellness Trail.  When completed, the trail will be a safe and enjoyable greenway connecting the city’s best parks, trails, and historical sites.  This trail will link the BART station, downtown Richmond, Kaiser Hospital, schools, assisted-living facilities, and churches to a network of parks, Richmond’s National Park, bicycles routes, and natural beauty.  The Richmond Wellness Trail is bringing nature to the community and creating the connective tissue to bolster a healthy and active lifestyle.  By increasing assess to recreation, exercise, and jobs, this wellness trail is a true example of “Parks for all”. 

    Rosie the Riveter, like many of our national parks, inherited a road system largely outside of its control, but creating pathways into the health and economic benefits of our public lands is still our responsibility.  The Richmond Wellness trail is one method of building equitable access to our National Parks, but mobile classrooms like the Roving Ranger (pictured above) is another pathway.  Across the nation, parks are reaching beyond their borders to connect with communities across both physical and societal barriers.

    Realizing that the built environment was not immune to the prejudices of its time, parks are now building bridges across this history of inequity.  Except these bridges are built with native grasses and bike lanes and these pathways are internships traversing park boundaries.

    If you live, work, or worship in Richmond, the National Parks Service is eager for your wisdom and input.  Learn how to get involved with the Richmond Wellness Trail by visiting the City of Richmond’s website.

    The Institute’s Park-Nerd Book Club

    Lastly, the history of our freeway system and its impact on communities is fascinating.  It’s a worthwhile topic of discussion for any park professional.  The latest addition to our Book and Media Club is a recent 30-minute speech by Anthony Foxx, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary. 

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  • Post-to-Park Transformations

    Amidst a global rise in population, cities and urban areas are absorbing much of this growth, posing many challenges and questions. How do we conserve and rebuild the open spaces in our urban areas in ways that are sustainable and conducive to healthy lifestyles for diverse communities? This has become not only a topic of discussion for architects, urban designers, and planners but also a driving force in many new projects.

    It is especially an exciting time for these disciplines as well as its many cross-sector industries because the awareness of this societal challenge is no longer siloed to our cities’ builders; the awareness is resonating with the larger community as the diverse inhabitants of urban areas are experiencing the impact and consequences of rapid urban growth first hand.

    The challenges in creating spaces for diverse communities, paired with the challenges that come with working around the density of existing built structures have given way to some of the most creative and innovative urban park spaces today. Ranging from reclaimed industrial spaces, conservation of historic parks, to innovative infrastructure reuse projects, the new urban park is constantly being redefined as a result of the efforts of communities and industry leaders.

    The recent transitions of former military bases to public parklands provide critical examples of how local needs, community interests, and partnership opportunities ever present in cities can be leveraged to create engaging and sustainable urban parklands. Looking at Fort Baker and Crissy Field in the Bay Area, and Governors Island in New York, the Institute gained valuable insight on urban park planning and implementation. After conducting research and interviewing key stakeholders who helped create these parks, we collected our findings in our report, Post-to-Park Transformations: Case Studies and Best Practices for Urban Park Development.

    While many practical sustainable building practices are present in the parks of the case studies, we wanted to put our focus on the potential that diverse urban areas harbor to bring together people from different industries, experiences, and interests in order to implement great parks. We hope that this report and lessons learned could be used for innovation in the role of parks and public places in cities and encourage others to take advantage of the rich cultural fabric of urban centers to keep parks relevant, engaging, and beneficial to a changing and growing population.

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  • Mindfulness for Park Professionals

    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.  

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  • Parks Are for Everyone

    This is my park. This is my park. This is my park.

    The founder of Outdoor Afro, Rue Mapp, taught me this mantra. Outdoor Afro often has first-time hikers or nervous campers chant “this is my park” before new wilderness experiences. Claiming belonging is a powerful tool in their work of cultivating nature connection with African Americans. I’ve borrowed this phrase from Outdoor Afro, using it when I’m a lone brown face in a green space.

    This is my park. This is my park. This is my park.

    This year I’ve gotten to explore our local and national park system more than ever before. My increased connection to this land has increased my understanding of its African American heritage and history. I already knew about the Buffalo Soldiers who, 150 year ago, were some of the original caretakers of these shores, meadows, and forests. This history is a source of comfort and pride for me and has spurred my curiosity about the other black folk that have walked and served on this land. I recently gathered another lesser-told story I’d like to share with you: a story of the pivotal role the Sutro Baths played in California’s journey towards civil rights.

    Postcard of Sutro Baths interior, circa 1909, photo courtesy of sanfranciscodays.com

    On July 4th and July 11th of 1897, John Harris, an African American, was denied entry to the Sutro Baths, a bath house, swimming, and recreation area located by the Cliff House. Now a part of Golden Gate National Parks, the Cliff House and Sutro Baths were once privately owned by Adolph Sutro, former mayor of San Francisco. The Sutro family contested that their white customers would not “co-mingle” with other races in their pools and that discrimination was necessary to avoid financial ruin.

    John Harris and the Sutro Baths made headlines when Harris sued Adolph Sutro. His case is notable because Harris won and, most importantly, gave teeth to California’s first civil rights law, the Dibble Act of 1897. Passed only a year after Plessy v. Ferguson legalized “separate but equal,” the Dibble Civil Rights Act mandated that Californians “of every color or race whatsoever” are “entitled to the full and equal facilities of all places of public accommodation.” The Dibble Act was the precursor for the better known Unruh Civil Rights Act of 1959, which ultimately served as a model for the nation’s Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    Harris v. Sutro, was the first test of California’s commitment to civil rights and it was set right here in the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. The legacy of Henry Clay Dibble, author of the Dibble Act, is also tied to park land. Dibble, a champion for civil rights and women’s suffrage, is buried in the San Francisco National Cemetery.

    I want to thank author Elaine Elinson and my new office buddies from the National Park Service, Steve Haller and Abby Sue Fisher for sharing this piece of history with me. As we kick off Black History month our park professionals, historians, community partners, culture-keepers, and educators are working hard, as they always do, to remind us that parks are for everyone.

    Oh – and pools, the coast, and ski slopes are for everyone, too.

    This is my park. This is my park. This is my park.

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  • Cheers to 2015 – On to 2016!

    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.

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  • Institute Fellows Updates

    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

    Institute at the Golden Gate today at Fort Baker

    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.

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  • The Institute at the Golden Gate seeks to support park leaders in effectively stewarding the natural and cultural resources under their care, creating long-term methods for ensuring the sustainability of these important systems. With our increased dependence on technology and the growing distance between youth and our natural areas, parks must examine all of the tools at their disposal—both new and existing—to ensure that they are building authentic, valuable connections with the communities that they seek to serve.

    Looking at this challenge, we have begun to ask: Which tools can parks best utilize in order to create future generations of stewards from an increasingly urban population? Might internships be one such useful tool in achieving this aim?

    Our Emerging Leaders Urban Fellow, Ruth Pimentel, saw that both the Golden Gate National Parks and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore had established internship programs that appeared to be successfully instilling a spirit of stewardship in many of their participants. Wanting to put these observations to the test, Ruth conducted research and collected data on the programs. She found that interns at these parks often go on to be engaged, informed, and active park users – showing that successful internship programs can cultivate future stewardship.

    Firmly supported by the Institute’s belief in the value of studying and promoting such programs, Ruth collected her findings into the Institute’s newest report.

    Building Stewardship through Internships uses these case studies to identify strategies for building a successful internship program and offers a roadmap for other park leaders seeking to strengthen their internships. We are excited to share these findings and encourage you to check out the report!

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  •  

    In our April 21st blog post, we discussed the exciting announcement by the National Park Service (NPS) that unveiled the Urban Agenda, including the launch of the Urban Fellows program. This innovative fellowship puts into action the Urban Agenda’s vision of how NPS can engage urban communities in new and enhanced ways. The Urban Fellows will be deployed in ten model cities, including one in our own backyard at Rosie the Riveter in Richmond, CA. They will have the exciting and challenging task of acting as liaisons between key park staff, park partners, and their surrounding communities. By evaluating and sharing their experiences with the broader community of urban park stakeholders, this program will yield invaluable best practices for the National Park Service and help shape future engagement strategies.

    The fellowship kicked-off last month with an immersive onboarding workshop in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area at Green Gulch Farm, hosted by the Institute at the Golden Gate. During the workshop, fellows met with their cohort, discussed their vision for their two-year assignment, explored the principles of the Urban Agenda, and discussed strategies for cross-sector collaboration. They also met with key leaders in the field, including the Director of the National Park Service, Jon Jarvis; outgoing Superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Frank Dean; and President of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Greg Moore.

    Fellows also had the opportunity to observe a local example of a successful park partnership. Jim Wheeler, Recreation Manager for San Francisco Recreation & Parks, Lisa McHenry, Recreation Leader III and our very own Kristin Wheeler of the Institute at the Golden Gate discussed the innovative partnership that formed the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative. The fellows were able to experience a typical First Saturday program, a free program for Bay Area residents that provides guided, light physical activity to improve mental and physical well-being, while also giving participants the chance to explore their local parks.

    After an intensive few days focused on developing internal relationships and strengthening their understanding of their role in the Urban Agenda, the Fellows traveled across to Bay to participate in the City Parks Alliance’s Greater and Greener Conference and to play a key role in the NPS Urban Caucus, which followed the Conference. Through those events, the Fellows were able to connect with the larger urban parks community, further defining their role as part of the larger movement. Soon after the action-packed week, the fellows were deployed to their ten model cities

    Here at the Institute we are particularly excited to follow and support the work of Kieron Slaughter, who will be stationed with the City of Richmond as the Rosie the Riveter Urban Fellow. Watch this space for more developments as we continue to support and report out on the work of the Urban Fellows!

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  • 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:

    • Be Relevant to All Americans: with the increasingly diverse, urban population of the US, NPS must ensure that it is serving the needs and interests of all communities, irrespective of age, culture, gender, or ethnicity, and with a particular eye to groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in park visitorship
    • Activate “ONE NPS”: NPS has over 400 park units and more than 40 programs; it should work to leverage this full suite of parks and programs to function as a complete, integrated system
    • Nurture a Culture of Collaboration: NPS needs to embrace authentic collaboration and foster strong, sustainable partnerships

    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!

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  • 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:

    • Make a plan and follow through with deliberate actions. For example, make accountability a part of every manager’s performance appraisal.
    • Don’t remain silent on core human issues – decide which side you stand for (hopefully it’s pro-diversity) and show your support for it.
    • Ask questions, diversify the conversation, and be open to new ideas.
    • Empower people on the ground.

    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

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  • Doctors treat. Nature heals.

    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.

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  • Engaging Diverse Youth in Park Programs

    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.

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  • 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.

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