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.
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.
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.
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. , we’re becoming overly reliant on algorithms that feed us information and viewpoints similar to our own. We’re trapped in our own .
That’s why I’m excited about the new 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.
Richmond Rosies, photo courtesy of Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park
It’s no secret that I enjoy a good head wrap. They’re colorful accessories that protect my powerful ‘fro from the massive fog clouds rolling around Fort Mason. I first learned the utility of head wraps while working on a farm. After finding too much debris tangled into my hair, I started wrapping my hair up in a scarf. With my hair wrapped I could clean out the chicken coop, and no one would know because of my perfectly preserved hair-do. I have since associated headscarves as a symbol of women at work.
This Saturday the Rosie the Riveter WWII Homefront National Historic Park will celebrate another iconic scarf-wearing, workingwoman. The 2016 Rosie Rally, in honor of Rosie the Riveter, will be held August 13 starting at 10 AM. This national park will be vying to reclaim the Guinness World Record for most folks dressed as Rosie the Riveter, and everyone’s invited! Since 2014, Richmond, California has been in a friendly competition with another wartime boom town, Ypsilanti, Michigan. Ypsilanti currently has the record for most Rosies (with over 2,000 officially counted), but Richmond Rosies won’t take this sitting down.
If you want to help Richmond, CA regain bragging rights, please join us this Saturday. Rosies of all genders and ages are welcome and counted. Please be mindful that in order to be claimed towards the official Rosie count you must:
Limited amounts of red polka dot bandannas and red socks are for sale at the National Park Visitor Education Center should you need them. Click here for more details on this awesome celebration.
See you there!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This photo was taken the day I learned if you let one first grader drink from the hose, you have to let all the first graders drink from the hose.
I used to be naive enough to think my work was something new. As an urban farmer, then a green jobs advocate, and now the newest Program Manager at the Institute – I thought it was cutting edge to use public and communal land to cultivate health, wealth, and connectedness. I thought it was original to use parks to grow produce at City Slicker Farms, and innovative to teach youth about green jobs at Ecology Center. Thankfully, I got some needed and righteous humbling when I learned about George Washington Carver. I mean, once I really learned about George Washington Carver.
I got the same “peanut man” story that most folks get as a 3rd grader. My ignorance was exposed when, while at Allen Temple Baptist Church, a Reverend casually gave thanks to George Washington Carver. That simple act of gratitude was a catalyst for me to become re-acquainted with the man who laid the ground work for my personal and professional purpose. Carver had a deep love for the earth, he espoused sustainable agriculture practices (despite the mocking of his peers), and saw the land as a resource for self-sustainability, food security, handicrafts, and a means for poor sharecroppers to escape indebtedness. I now see George as a mentor and guide for turning to the land for community health, for financial and physical sustenance, and for community. I can completely nerd-out about George Washington Carver’s innovative work in sustainable agriculture and community education/outreach, but I’ll let you learn more about him on your own terms. Should you need some good starting points, I’ve got links below to my favorite books about Mr. Carver. One of the links is to a children’s book, because, (1) I’m the kind of adult who enjoys good children’s literature and (2) I will utilize any opportunity to teach or learn from kids about nature.
I’m grateful that writing this blog, one of my first tasks in my new position, allows me to acknowledge the ancestors and communities that have paved the way for the Urban Program at the Institute. I hope to bring forth many more stories and heroes from marginalized communities through my work here. Within the Institute’s Urban Program, I’m excited to support parks that cultivate healthy, connected communities and communities that cultivate relevant, diverse green spaces. I am honored to be a part of your community and privileged to carry on the work of heroes like George Washington Carver, Dolores Huerta, and my grandmother, Gertrude.
I hope to meet more of our community soon, but until then – tell me who your heroes are. Who inspires you in this work of creating restorative, inclusive and dynamic green spaces?
Your hippie home-girl,
Elyse’s favorite George Washington Carver books:
For Kids: George Washington Carver
In this last week as an urban fellow at the Institute, I am spending most of my time finishing up my case studies report on post-to-park transformations, while relishing every spare minute to think about next steps. In thinking about the future I find myself reflecting on my own transformation in these last six months.
Coming to the Bay Area right after graduating from school in New York, my educational background has given me a passion in sustainable urban development and I’ve always felt very strongly about the need to create more open spaces to forge better lifestyles for city dwellers. That’s what led me here to research urban park development and create a best practice guide in the hopes of helping others with the same passion who are planning and implementing their own projects.
After six months of exploring new parks, meeting the people who created them, and researching every corner of Fort Baker, Crissy Field, and Governors Island, I’ve become emotionally invested. I feel a personal connection to these parks and their stories. And in these last days of my project, I’ve come to realize the reason why I now have a stronger relationship to parks, is the support I’ve had from the impassioned people who work hard to keep these open spaces engaging and relevant in our lives.
The Institute’s unique team of creative thinkers and do-ers was like a family that helped to make parks my home. And as the Institute leverages parks as platforms for innovative thinking and action, it has also taught me to think outside the box in my own life, and gave me a new perspective on the meaning of an urban park. Not to mention, the overwhelming amount of support from the park professionals from both the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy has given me a deeper insight on collaboration and partnerships across a variety of sectors as valuable resources for creativity. Coming in, I knew the importance of open spaces, but it wasn’t until my time here that I found so many diverse opportunities for forging other actions through these open spaces.
Of course the fellowship has taught me valuable professional skills, do’s and don’ts, tricks and trades, but ultimately, I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity that has added a new dimension to my passion for creatively building better environments.
Last Thursday, I hopped on an early morning flight and made my way to Estes Park, Colorado. You may not think of the little mountain town that serves as an entry to the Rocky Mountains as a hub of urban thought and innovation, but last week that is exactly what it was.
Over 100 Groundwork USA youth leaders, staff, and federal land management partners descended upon the YMCA of the Rockies to share their initiatives and efforts to better connect with and serve urban areas as a part of the Groundwork USA National Conference and Youth Summit.
Throughout the day, partners from the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Groundwork Trusts from across the country shared their stories of urban connection and the multiple benefits of building stronger relationships between communities and natural areas. Along with our NPS partners, Urban Fellows, and their Groundwork counterparts, we held a panel discussion exploring the NPS Urban Agenda and how it seeks to align and partner with communities in new and innovative ways.
The importance of collaboration was a main theme throughout the conference. Many speakers touched on the challenges and resources necessary for authentic, successful collaboration. However, all highlighted it as critical to the future sustainability and health of national parks, open spaces, wildlife refuges, and the communities themselves.
While it was a great opportunity to learn about complimentary efforts across federal agencies, the highlight of the day was hearing the youth leaders of Groundwork talk about their work and the profound impact that it is having on their communities and their lives. Groundwork’s youth development programs provide extensive training in community and conservation skills and hands-on experiences on public lands through paid, neighborhood-based opportunities. The work of the Groundwork youth leaders connected the discussion around reaching new audiences and collaborating with new communities with on-the-ground examples of how these principles can be applied in practice with profound impact.
Seeing these youth leaders in action and hearing their personal stories reminded me of why I was in the room, grappling with this challenging but impactful work.
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.
A typical conversation on a plane ride for me goes something like this:
Them: "Oh so you live in San Francisco, how nice. What do you do for work?"
Me: "I work for the parks."
Them: "Like Leslie Knope? I love that show!"
Me: "Sort of..."
I have a deep appreciation for the humor that the hit show Parks & Recreation has brought to its viewers and I can't help but love that Leslie Knope ended up with the National Park Service (and I'd like to think she became President...). While the show was fiction, it did paint a common view that many people have of our park systems across the country. A world full of red tape whose major win is filling in an abandoned pit. Luckily our park systems don't fall into this fictional world anymore and we don't have to rely on just Leslie Knope to fight the good fight.
This month we celebrate Parks & Recreation month and to mark the occasion the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) has put out a great video capturing the ways our parks have moved beyond recreation and into innovation.
Give it a watch. Share it with your networks. And be sure and thank the Leslie Knope's of the world who continue to champion and shape our park systems into places for health, sustainability, safety, and community resilience.
See you in the parks.
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!