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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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  •  

    Two weeks ago, the National Park Service celebrated its 100 years in action. Here at the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy we commemorated the occasion with a picnic with our partners and park allies, the National Park Service and the Presidio Trust. In between burgers, cake, and friendly chatter, we had a number of presentations by park leadership representing these three organizations. One of the pervasive themes running through many of their speeches was the topic of climate change. At one point, the audience was asked to think about the founders of the Park Service and what they might have predicted their idea of the parks would look like in a hundred years. 

    We hear so much about tipping points in the climate conversation and it got me thinking that this centennial is a symbolic tipping point and an opportunity to re-envision many of the roles of parks and public lands on the issue of climate change. In a recent interview Director of the National Park Service, Jonathan Jarvis, stated that “fundamentally, [climate change is] the biggest challenge the National Park Service has ever faced.” Undoubtedly, it is a threat to the cultural natural resources that make American parks special; however, parks have a unique opportunity to serve as living laboratories for addressing this problem.  Parks also benefit from dedicated staff who are trained communicators, many of whom are becoming educated on this issue and are using their parks as a venue through which to talk about climate change in a way that provides this issue with a physical, personal context that visitors are interested in. In the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, for example, park staff no doubt emphasize that sea level rise could harm many of our coastal resources from Lands End to Crissy Field. 

    It’s no secret that acceptance and action on climate change has lagged in the United States. It’s amazing to think that prior to 2009, the National Park Service’s parent agency, the Department of Interior, did not have a formal policy on climate change. However, given this bumpy start, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come. The National Park Service now has a number of strategic plans to address climate change, offers trainings on climate science and communications, and provides overall support across the service through its Climate Change Response Program. While this commitment to addressing climate change is laudable, many park interpreters face challenges in discussing this issue at their park sites. The reasons range from worry over visitor reaction (particularly negative reaction) to a lack of information on local, place-based climate impacts.   

    The good news is that many of these challenges are remediable. Communications specialists and social scientists are churning out new research regularly on tips and tricks for communicating on climate change which park staff can take back home to their sites. This includes focusing on clear, concise messages, giving visitors actions that they can take to address this issue, and infusing the conversation with personal stories as opposed to just statistics. Perhaps most importantly, a recent survey showed that most park visitors would like to receive information on climate change at the parks they visit; 91% even stated that they would change their behaviors in the park or refuge they visited to mitigate climate change.

    We’ve come such a long way since President Woodrow signed a bill in 1916 mandating that the National Park Service conserve the cultural and natural resources within the parks and ensure that they are both enjoyed by the public and preserved for future generations.  Now we are grappling with new, 21st century challenges such as how to make sure park provide welcome environments for the changing racial makeup of the United States as well as how to tackle human-caused climate disruption, which still has many unknown impacts. Luckily, our national parks are making brave efforts to discuss and address these issues head on. 

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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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  • For nearly two years, the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (Bay-CLIC) has been galvanizing some of the most well-known and well-regarded environmental education institutions in the Bay Area behind the common agenda of improving climate literacy and action in the region. During this time, the group determined its strategic plan, created a sustainable governance structure, and identified priority initiatives that will direct our next one-three years of work, all while establishing consensus across more than 30 organizations! Last Wednesday, we were pleased to be able to launch Bay-CLIC publicly and share out not only what resources and services Bay-CLIC hopes to soon offer—with opportunities for new partners to get engaged—but also put a necessary spotlight on the importance of climate change education.

    President & CEO of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Greg Moore, opened up the meeting by getting right to the core of why everyone was in the room: to elevate climate education. Greg highlighted how the San Francisco Bay Area is particularly vulnerable to climate change and warmed up the crowd by sharing his personal experiences talking to family members about climate change.


    Following Greg, Ann Reid, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, articulated the need for more professional development opportunities for educators on climate science, detailing their recent report, “Mixed Messages.” The report found that: there is dearth of climate science knowledge among America’s public school teachers, over 30% of educators are giving mixed messages on the causes of climate change, and educators desire to know more.

    Milton Chen, Senior Fellow at the George Lucas Educational Foundation, followed Ann’s comments by presenting on the opportunity within environmental education to address these challenges. He enlivened the room with success stories in place-based experimental learning models, touching on the unique niche that non-formal education inhabits by providing complementary learning opportunities outside of the classroom. After their presentations, Milton and Ann took part in a panel discussion that delved deeper into the most pressing issues in climate education, such as how educators might inspire behavior change through their climate education programs, which can oftentimes be new or uncomfortable, and very difficult.


    Finally, we dove into presentations from Bay-CLIC members themselves, representing the steering committee and working groups. They provided an overview of Bay-CLIC, our formation, our mission and vision, and went into more detail on the three initiatives that we will be working on in the coming months.

    With a turnout of almost 70 individuals—comprised of educators, scientists, government representatives, and other climate communicators—the collective knowledge and dedication in the room was incredibly impressive and heartening. Being fortunate enough to work with a number of inspiring partners, the Institute is keenly aware of the fact that the Bay Area has a strong community of folks dedicated to improving climate education and the sheer turnout for last week’s launch affirmed this. Bay-CLIC’s launch signaled a new and exciting chapter in our work and we’re honored and eager to continue to support it into its next phase.

    To learn more about Bay-CLIC, please visit our web page. If you're an informal educator in the Bay Area and would like to get involved in the group, please sign up for our newsletter for updates on the collaborative, including meeting dates.

     

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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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  • April 24th is National Park Rx Day and it is a day celebrated across the United States to promote the growing movement of prescribing parks and nature to patients to improve human health. Additionally, National Park Rx Day encourages everyone to start seeing visits to parks and public lands as very important parts of their health. Last fall, the U.S. Surgeon General released a call to action to promote walking and walkable communities. National Park Rx Day builds on this call to action and provides citizens with parks and green spaces to promote public health.

    THE FOUR MAIN GOALS OF NATIONAL PARK RX DAY ARE:

    • To amplify the visibility and viability of the nation-wide Park Rx movement in parks and communities across the nation.
    • To celebrate existing Park Rx programs and practitioners across the country.
    • To serve as a catalyst to bring together local health providers, park agencies, community leaders, and nonprofits to begin dialogue and momentum to develop their own Park Rx programs for improvement of their communities.
    • To increase the relevance of parks for all people; how people can connect with parks daily for their improved physical, mental, and spiritual health and create a new generation of park stewards.

    WHY A DAY TO CELEBRATE PARK RX?

    One of the signature events will take place in Meridian Hill Park in Washington, DC. While the park has weekly drum circles and many different users, it is also a site that has seen it share of violence. When we talk about the health of a community, the violence within a community is just as important to curb as alcohol abuse or obesity rates. Although there is a lot of buzz and interest in Park Rx programs, it is a tactic to bring forth larger changes in a place. It is also a tactic to bring in new sectors to look at the role that the built environment plays and our relationship to it. 

    I encourage us lovers of nature and Park Rx managers to think about the role that Park Rx has in combatting community violence so that others can have the chance to love nature and feel attached to their neighbors and neighborhoods. Park Rx programs and certainly National Park Rx Day cannot solve all of this in one fell swoop, but having a concerted effort to start and sustain these dialogues is a first step. 

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  • This week we have a guest blog post from Adam Ratner, Guest Experience Manager at The Marine Mammal Center and member of Bay-CLIC. In honor of Earth Day (April 22) and Environmental Education Week (April 17-23), we asked Adam to speak on the importance of place-based climate education.

    The idea behind the Climate Change Education Initiative at The Marine Mammal Center is to bring climate change into the conversation.   We utilize the sick and injured marine mammal patients at the hospital as a vehicle to communicate the science of climate change, the effects it is having on animals, ecosystems and people, and what people can do in their own lives and communities to help curb carbon pollution. So often with climate change, the effects communicated today are very abstract and foreign to the everyday member of the public.  By highlighting marine mammals suffering direct consequences of changes in their ocean environment (and California's “backyard”), we can bring climate change to the forefront of the conversation and connect the community to the ocean ecosystem.  With the ultimate goal of releasing our patients back to the wild, we are able to inspire our guests to take action to help give marine mammals and ourselves a healthy environment to live in.

    I have been fortunate over the last 5 years to be heavily involved in many climate change focused projects, and have gained the skills, experience, and confidence to engage people around such a complex topic.  Beginning as part of a study circle with the National Network of Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI), and then being chosen as a Community Climate Change Fellow by the North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE), has provided me with a network to learn from and collaborate with. I am thrilled to continue to utilize those networks and contribute as a regional leader for the Central California NNOCCI alumni and a member of the Steering Committee for the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (Bay-CLIC) as I build our climate change programs at The Marine Mammal Center.

    (Adam Ratner in Center making the “Home Alone face” along with the other North American Association of Environmental Education Community Climate Change Fellows)

    Through a system of training classes focusing on climate change, we introduce hundreds of adult and youth education volunteers and staff at the Center to the science of climate change; providing them with tools for interpreting the science to audiences of all ages, and techniques to guide guests to identify solution-based actions to reduce their carbon footprint and become better environmental stewards. The “train the trainers” program allows us to capitalize on the great experiences that some of our education staff have had the opportunity to be a part of, and share it with hundreds of passionate volunteers that not only engage our visitors, but our community leaders of their own.  We have utilized the knowledge gained from the NNOCCI system where they provided staff and volunteers at zoos and aquariums around the country with climate change science direct from the climate scientists and scientifically-tested communication strategies from social psychologists to guide visitors toward strategies to reduce their fossil fuel use. Bringing together experts from different fields of science, communication, and social psychology allows us to build messages that are powerful and relatable, leading to stewardship in our communities.

    Through the project, in addition to the conversations had at the Center, we wanted to have a digital presence and create tools that can be used by the community.  One of the most exciting elements of the initiative is the development of a climate change animated short, in collaboration with the California College of the Arts and Bret Parker of Pixar Animation Studios.  Utilizing animation, under the direction of Bret Parker, highlights the science of climate change and effects on marine mammals in a way that can be engaging for both kids and adults.  The video will be launched in May 2016, along with web content on various aspects of climate change, to help us reach new audiences online and communicate our work at the Center for our guests.  Be sure to check out our website in May 2016 to see some of the great work that has come out of the first year of our Climate Change Education Initiative at www.MarineMammalCenter.org.

     

    Dr. Whizzlepuff and her assistant from the new climate change animated short by The Marine Mammal Center and the California College of the Arts

    © California College of the Arts

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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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  • Meeting Betty

    This week's blog post comes from Jennifer Greene, Associate Director, Community Engagement Program with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

    On March 2, the National Park’s Community Shuttle brought the Bayview Network for Elders to Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park. The group of 35 African American women had long wanted to visit the Park and meet Ranger Betty Soskin, the woman whose life story reflected their own. Just like her, they were the daughters and wives whose lives revolved around a shipyard just across the Bay. As it turned out, the visit was as meaningful for Betty as it was for them.

    The ladies filed into the visitor center, quietly, smiling, orienting themselves, and there was Betty behind the desk and in uniform. I could feel the mutual familiarity and comfort, the warmth of the connection between the group and Betty, who shared, “It’s so nice to see people who look like me in my park.”

    She also shared with us her history, her story, and communicated in prose how her story was emblematic of so many other lives. One Bayview woman shared how she too had moved from Louisiana with her husband and two-year old daughter to work in the shipyards, the same daughter who sat a few rows in front of her. She provided the truth behind the “Greatest Generation,” how it’s more layered and complex, and fraught - how the truth of integration had been whitewashed. As some women noted on the shuttle ride over, “Rosie was a white woman.” Black women had always worked - families had always needed two incomes. She shared how, between her, her mother, and her grandmother, all of whom were alive at one time together, spanned generations that lived through slavery to the challenges we still face today. It’s a story she graciously describes as belonging to us all – nobody more than the women in that room.

    It didn’t cross my mind that Betty might need a reminder of her importance, her connection to history, and women of her generation. She wrote in her blog (cbreauxspeaks) of our visit that day,

    “The 35 lovely and lively African American women took photos to share with their families, and I felt affirmed and appreciated in my work by their enthusiasm. It was clear that the history being shared belonged to us all, and that we were united -- not only as American citizens whose life experiences varied greatly -- that we were all survivors of a badly broken social system, but that we were still one people willing to share love beyond any previously limiting boundaries…….. But maybe it's work that I, as a primary source of that important Era, am best suited to do.... and how brilliant of Life to have set me down in this space and time with a whole busload of loving Sistahs!”

    We all need to feel connected, to be reminded of our place in the world. In this case, all one group of women needed was a ride to meet the woman and Ranger who communicates the power and significance of their story to the world.

    To follow Betty’s blog go to cbreauxspeaks.
    Go to YouTube to see Betty’s 4-minute video on the truth of the “Great Generation” Of Lost Conversations.
    To learn more about the Community Shuttle Program, contact Jennifer Greene, jgreene@parksconservancy.org or visit the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy website.  

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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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  • The following is a Q & A interview with National Park Service Urban Fellow, Kieron Slaughter who is working in Richmond, CA at Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front.

    What was your motivation in becoming an Urban Fellow for the National Park Service?

    I was interested in a new career challenge and this position would allow me the opportunity to work with a national network and be more proactive rather than reactive. In my previous position as a city planner, one of my roles was to respond and react to development project submittals as opposed to proposing new initiatives and being proactive.

    Another big motivation for me was the opportunity to address social justice issues in the community while addressing the diversity challenge facing the National Park Service (NPS). I see my role as an Urban Fellow as an opportunity to serve as an example and potentially inspire people of color who may have never thought that working for the Park Service was an option for them. By seeing me, they will recognize someone that looks like them, comes from the same place, and has had similar experiences as them. They will also see that they could work for the NPS and have a positive impact on the community.

    The Fellowship also allows me to connect with local youth, primarily from Richmond, and explain to them that my road wasn’t always an easy one, and that I’ve experienced setbacks and stumbles along the way. This is what creates relevancy and these personal connections strengthen our relationship as an agency with the community. The NPS has an immense opportunity to facilitate 2nd and 3rd chances for underrepresented youth, especially those residing in urban environments like Richmond, CA.

    Now that you’ve been in this position for seven months, what impression have you had of the fellowship?

    So far it’s going great, although there’s been a steep learning curve because I came from outside of the NPS. Luckily, everyone I’ve worked with has been really helpful in bringing me up to speed with the Park Service culture, acronyms, and organization. Through trainings and traveling for the job, I’ve been able to accelerate my learning more quickly than I would have if I were just sending cold e-mails to new colleagues and partners and reading through publications. This really speaks to the power of in-person collaboration and the value of creating personal relationships. 

    On the whole, I think the Urban Fellows program has been well-received and I’ve witnessed a significant amount of local enthusiasm about it—among the community, public officials, as well as NPS staff. In April 2015, we had the opportunity to meet with the NPS Director Jon Jarvis and he formally announced the launch of the Urban Agenda during his keynote speech at the Greater and Greener Conference in San Francisco. This demonstrates that the Urban Agenda and Urban Fellows are supported from the highest level of organizational leadership. That type of support is paramount to the success of the program and the buy-in of NPS staff.

    It’s been both humbling and encouraging to witness how community members value the parks, programs, and the NPS arrowhead—the symbol of the Park Service. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity of meeting community members and community groups in their comfort zones—their neighborhoods and local events—as opposed to inviting them to meetings in city hall. Being visible and representing the arrowhead to the public also let me hit the ground running a lot quicker.

    What really makes the Urban Fellowship distinctive from other positions I’ve held is the way in which our cohort was on-boarded and our ongoing support structure.  We attended an intensive 3-day, retreat-styled orientation that not only focused on the principles of the Urban Agenda, but also emphasized our individual experiences, backgrounds, and journey to that moment.  This was instrumental in creating a trustworthy environment that each of the 10 Urban Fellows can rely on while we navigate this fellowship in 10 different cities around the country. I really feel connected to my cohort of Urban Fellows and our support team.

    What have been some of your biggest challenges in your fellowship? Conversely, have you had any moments of inspiration?

    One of the biggest challenges I’ve had is wrapping my head around some of the intricacies of the NPS, such as the organizational hierarchy, job titles, and deciphering all of the acronyms. Another challenge I’ve had is figuring out how all of the relationships with our partner and friends groups function and mapping out what their roles are.

    This isn’t exactly a moment of inspiration, but I’m generally inspired by the encouragement that the Urban Fellows receive from leadership to think outside of the box and think more deeply on how the NPS can be community partners. We’re encouraged to experiment and take more risks than most NPS employees, and we have more flexibility to work across established silos since we’re not in a specific division or branch. This fellowship provides a chance to challenge the status quo without fear of negative repercussions. In fact, I’d say my Park Service naivete has been a benefit in helping me think of how to make substantive changes within the system.

    What does OneNPS—one of the principles of the Urban Agenda—mean to you?

    OneNPS means re-thinking the hierarchical, military-inspired structure of the National Park Service and allowing for deeper lateral conversations. This includes potentially looking at startups and tech companies that have thrown out that model for inspiration. This principle also highlights that there has to be incentive to work with others outside of your department or division. It’s noble that the National Park Service is addressing this long-standing internal challenge through the Urban Agenda. 

    How do you see OneNPS playing out in the Pacific West Region and across the entire Park Service?

    The Pacific West Region is interesting in that we’re located near all of these major tech players that can provide us with unique models of collaboration. We’re uniquely positioned to be inspired by their way of doing things. In addition, the City of Richmond truly has innovative and inspiring non-profits and community groups that are doing awesome work. I’m inspired by groups such as Urban Tilth, Rich City Rides, POGO Park, Groundwork Richmond, Friends of the Richmond Greenway, and Trails for Richmond Action Committee—to name just a few. These groups and others have demonstrated how positive improvements to the built environment can occur on a grassroots level with limited resources.

    Thinking about how One NPS might function within the entire Park Service raises the question of how tenable it is to have communications all the way from an intern to the Secretary of the Interior. I think focusing on implementing One NPS on the regional level is the most feasible option and it’s fairly reasonable that units within a region could come together in person or when need be and share relevant information efficiently. We all complain about our overloaded email inboxes but we all continue to rely on email as our first mode of communication.  When you think about breaking down the silos of the entire Park Service system, it gets much more challenging; however, I think it can be done.

    What are some of the quick take-aways you want the public to know about the National Park Service?

    The Park Service does valuable work with partner organizations outside of the boundaries of the National Parks and not every NPS employee is a Park Ranger. We can play an important role in many relevant initiatives such as: health and wellness, local park planning, complete streets, urban agriculture, bicycle and pedestrian improvements, trail planning, and economic development.

    In addition, the Park Service has unique employment opportunities and workforce training for young people that can result in a job in any state or territory in the country; that’s an awesome opportunity that I wasn’t aware of when I was in high school, working part time at a fast food restaurant. Why work a summer job at the local mall when you could be working at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.? The more that the Park Service communicates that we are willing community partners that care about the well-being of the communities that we serve, the more people will see the National Park Service as a resource and reach out to us for support on community-inspired projects.  

     

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  • Stroll Call: Surgeon General Issues Our Walking Orders

    On September 9, the U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, launched a nationwide Call to Action on Walking. As chronic disease, depression, and obesity rates in the country soar, “America’s Doctor” is extolling the health benefits of walking. 

    The “Step It Up!” campaign challenges the nation to make walking a national priority in all facets of American life. Dr. Murthy’s Call to Action seeks to promote development of communities where it is safe and easy to walk, launch walking programs, and conduct research on walking. 

    As lovers of parks and open space, we at the Institute at the Golden Gate (a Parks Conservancy program in partnership with the National Park Service) are doing our part to answer the Surgeon General’s call. In fact, our belief in the health benefits of parks is so great that we’re taking many approaches to promote parks as places to walk and recreate.

    • Individually, we use park trails and paths to experience first-hand the physical, mental, and social benefits of walking.
    • Locally, we have dozens of programs (such as Healthy Parks Healthy People, the Crissy Field Center, LINC) that bring communities into the park to walk and enjoy the parks.
    • Regionally, we work with thousands of park stewards to maintain safe and accessible walking paths in parks.
    • Nationally, we convene the top researchers, practitioners, and advocates of the parks/health nexus to develop policies that amplify the role of parks in healthy, walkable communities. We’re excited about our growing role in fulfilling the Surgeon General’s Call to Action on Walking—and we invite you to join us.

    Take the first step, and reconnect with the physical, mental, and social benefits of visiting a park. Attend a Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area program this Saturday, October 3rd. There are over 10 family-friendly, easy, and fun walks all over the Bay Area to get you started.

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  • This upcoming Monday is Labor Day, or as many may know it, the holiday that allows them to have an extended long-weekend. Something people may not be as aware of is that the national parks and the American labor movement share deep-rooted ties. Both are vital to the American social landscape and yet both have fought hard political battles. The Cesar E. Chavez National Monument stands as the physical embodiment of these connected histories, as it commemorates the famed Latino leader who founded the country’s first permanent agricultural union. The progress made by both movements extended protection—legal, social, and otherwise—to entities and people that had previously been excluded from certain rights and protections.

    The National Park Service (NPS) was founded in 1916 upon the notion that parks should be accessible to all and indefinitely preserved for future generations. The creation of the NPS was a response to immediate threats facing national lands. Though President Roosevelt led early 20th century conservationists in establishing a number of new national parks, the absence of a centralized organization to manage the parks meant a lack of protection and funding. Additionally, with the onset of rapid industrialization, private commercial interests began to take an interest in the natural resources protected by this loose network of parks.

    Now that the NPS is nearing its 100th birthday, it can look back on its legacy and the significant conservation efforts that have been made.  Looking at just the past few years, President Obama has designated more than 260 million acres of public lands and waters for federal protection – more than any other president. But our work is far from over. The national parks are still vulnerable in terms of funding, most immediately from the re-authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and in terms of its relevance, particularly those who have felt historically unwelcome in our public open spaces.

    The labor movement has a similar story of triumph as well as a call for further progress. While the Industrial Revolution was catapulting the nation into economic success, the laborers on which the Revolution was built shouldered many burdens of the growing economy. Facing 12-hour work days and dangerous conditions, 19th century American workers dreamed of an eight-hour work week  as well as restrictions on child labor and improvements to the poor working conditions, the latter felt especially by the poor and recent immigrant Americans. 

    (image source: Wikipedia)

    We have come a long way since then, with unions playing an integral role in the labor force, from school teachers to nurses, and labor laws that protect against child labor and improve workplace health and safety. However, as is the case with the national parks, there is still much improvement to be made. Some of the defining issues of the next few years will be directly tied to bettering the plight of our country’s workforce—such as potential minimum wage increases across cities and states. 

    Both movements to conserve our national lands and protect workers have proved to be a difficult, challenging process but both have made great strides. This upcoming Labor Day, we can think back on these lasting legacies and look forward towards further progress.  

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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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  • Here at the Institute, we are BIG believers in collaboration. As a small but mighty team, we realize that to have the biggest possible impact and to create the change we want to see, we need to seek out, engage, and support other organizations to achieve our collective goals.

    As such, a number of our programs focus on supporting collaborative efforts. Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area and the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative are two such projects. In both, the Institute plays the “backbone” role; supporting the collaborative through coordination, holding the vision, and ensuring that the group is functioning effectively in the pursuit of its goals.

    Through both of these initiatives, we at the Institute have learned a lot about supporting multi-group collaborations (HPHP: Bay Area has over 40 members while our younger Climate Collaborative has over 20). By keeping an open mind and constantly striving to learn from those around us and our mistakes, we’ve picked up a number of tips and tricks along the way. This week, we thought we’d combine our collective knowledge and share our top pieces of advice for building effective collaboratives.

    Kristin: The first step is always the hardest. Stop thinking about it and just do it.

    Easier said than done right? Bringing together a group of individuals or organizations for the first time can strike fear in even the most seasoned collaborator. After ten years of community organizing and coalition building I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, stumbled over a few hurdles, and certainly learned some valuable lessons. Some of the biggest, and translatable, lessons I’ve learned for getting an effective collaborative off the ground are:

    • Define a vision that all partners see themselves in. It’s essential that each partner recognizes the value of being part of the collaborative. To ensure this feeling sticks, take the time to establish a vision that sets out a clear path to a future that all partners wish to be a part of. Make it inspiring, big, hairy, and a little audacious and you’re on the right path. The vision sets the stage and provides an anchor point for the collaborative to grow from, swing from, and come back to.
    • Accomplish something tangible in the first six months. We all know how good it feels to check an item off your to do list. This is the same feeling you want the collaborative to have early on in its formation. Grab onto a piece of low hanging fruit that gets everyone to participate and results in something tangible. It could be as simple as writing external messaging about your collaborative or doing a stock taking of partner organizations capacity and resources. Pick something strategic and with a clear end date. And don’t forget to pause and celebrate your early successes along the way.

    If you go in knowing the collaborative is a process not a project you’re already ahead of the game. Just don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Have you had enough metaphors? Great. Get out there and do it and don’t forget to report back on your lessons learned.

    Oksana: Manage structure without managing content.

    Supporting collaborative initiatives is exciting work but requires unique skills, separate from those of collaborative members. One such skill that I have found to be incredibly helpful is the ability to manage structure without taking over managing the content coming out of the collaborative. For example, I may present on some best practices for drafting mission statements but will follow it with an opportunity for the collaborative members to use these tools to craft their own mission statement. Collaborative members must have the opportunity to share their thoughts, have their questions taken seriously, and make the ultimate decisions on the direction of the work, as they are the driving force behind the collaborative’s success. As the facilitator, I am best able to provide coordination and backbone support—setting the agenda, providing logistical support, keeping meetings on track, and jumping in if meetings are diverging dramatically from the agenda. However, the vision, goals, and activities of the group are decided by its members. Providing space for their input is crucial to creating a successful group where all members feel like they have buy-in.

    Donna: Humility is crucial.

    Humility is a crucial mindset to have when in a backbone position because it is the main bridge between a theory of change and its practice. As a backbone, it is often the case that you are not a practitioner in your topic of interest; for example, as a backbone to the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative, the Institute neither leads park programs nor prescribes time in parks. While being a backbone organization allows you to dive deep into the needs and future goals of your collaborative, this theory of change is colored by your role as a non-practitioner with a different set of agency constraints. When a collaborative’s practitioners implement these goals, they will necessarily adapt them to fit their own agency constraints. Humility and keeping an open mind is important when drafting these goals, but it is especially important considering that implementing these goals may look very different from the theory of change. Understanding the crucial role that humility plays in collaborative efforts ensures that there is flexibility and feedback when charting the course forward.

    Catherine: Have patience!

    Kristin’s sage advice that collaboration is a process, not a project, is something that has stuck with me since we first started thinking about forming a regional climate literacy collaborative. If I have learned one thing since then, it’s that processes take time! This is especially true when you want to ensure that all of your partners feel ownership of the process and are inspired by the results. In today’s grant-driven, output-oriented world, it can be scary and challenging to dedicate the time that it takes to make sure you have the right people at the table, that they’re all on the same page, and that they all feel connected to you, to each other, and to the work. While walking through the process can seem slow, creating a strong foundation is critical to the overall success and sustainability of the collaborative.

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  • Blog co-written with Donna Leong 

    At the Institute, we look at health inequity and climate change as imperative social issues, particularly now that mounding research is illustrating how the two are inextricably linked. Specifically, we create and join conversations where taking action includes viewing parks as part of the solution to these issues. Community health inequities and climate change are problems that affect societies on a collective scale. That is to say, the actions of a single individual are not necessarily the root of the cause, but the collective actions of many individuals can be. For example, one group may decide to close a grocery store in an underserved neighborhood or another group may open a coal mine, leading to food deserts and expanded fossil fuel emissions, respectively.

    The individual scale on which most people operate creates a powerful psychological barrier to acknowledging the realities of climate change and health inequities. Climate change in particular is still perceived by some as a distant threat that is not directly relevant to existing communities, even despite the fact that a majority of Americans believe global warming is happening. Spurred by the misinformation campaign against the realities of climate change, this mentality of “not here, not now, not me” is quite tempting to adopt. However, illustrating the connection between climate change and health inequities is one powerful tool to make this issue more tangible and resonate with more Americans, without the political polarization which often arises in discussions of climate change as such.

    There is robust research illustrating the connection between these two issues, ranging from the severe effects of extreme heat exposure, leading to preventable heat-related injuries and deaths, to increased levels of asthma and other respiratory illnesses as a result of air pollution made worse by climate change. These impacts are already being felt locally, nationally, and globally.

    • Between 1999 and 2009, extreme heat exposure caused more than 7,800 deaths in the United States.
    • In California, we are facing a first-ever statewide executive order for water reductions in order to combat the current drought likely resulting from climate change.

    The infographic below illustrates the vast impacts that a warming climate can have on communities. The effects of climate change on health are far-reaching, effecting people living in rural, woodland areas, where they are more at-risk for wildfires, as well as urban populations that are disproportionately affected by heat-island effect. Particularly vulnerable groups include young children, the elderly, people with chronic medical conditions, and people of low-income.

     (Infographic source: United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

    While these impacts are pervasive, and perhaps daunting, people ranging from grassroots organizers to President Obama are discussing the connectivity of these issues with renewed vigor and taking action. At the Institute, we believe parks are problem solvers that provide unique solutions to the greatest issues, including the health impacts of climate change. Parks, especially urban parks, offer a number of ways to combat the effects of higher temperatures exacerbated by heat island effect. They temper high temperatures through shading and evapotranspiration, improve wind patterns in cities via park breezes, moderate precipitation events, and trap carbon in addition to other pollutants that adversely affect the ozone. Parks are also incredibly effective classrooms, acting as neutral venues to discuss—and witness—the effects of climate change. Additionally, parks are well-documented for having far-reaching physical, psychological, and mental health benefits.

    When confronted daily by the immense challenges facing our environment and our public health, advocates for these issues are sometimes tempted to despair. At the same time, simple and tested policy solutions like parks tend to be overlooked in the political discourse surrounding climate change. As Occam’s razor would have it, though, the simplest answer can often be the right one. As part of a comprehensive program for addressing climate change, parks are the practical and scalable seed of environmental advocacy, ready to be nurtured in every community.

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  • This week’s blog post comes from Elizabeth Lindner, Program Manager, Internships and Service Initiatives, at the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. Elizabeth had the opportunity to attend a Diversity Conference in Yosemite National Park and shares her experiences and thoughts on the gathering and its implications for the National Park Service and the environmental movement at large.

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    In May, 30 professionals gathered in Yosemite National Park to pioneer a solution-based conversation about inclusion, relevancy, and diversity in outdoor spaces. I was very fortunate to be invited to this historic summit. We were led by Teresa Baker, an outspoken advocate for making environmental organizations and outdoor spaces more representative of the country’s demographics. Teresa joined forces with Robert Hanna, the great-great-grandson of John Muir, to bring us all together.

    I think that we all came there with some sense of trepidation, wondering exactly what the next three days would bring. Most discussions fail to get into the difficult realities about why diversity, inclusion, and relevancy have been discussed for 20 years without much actual change, but this summit was different. Teresa and Robert immediately encouraged us to be open, honest, and dive deep into the tough questions about diversity. Nothing was off the table – and it was completely refreshing.

    There was a lot of frustration that came out around our circle. And while none of us had any easy answers, the simple task of being heard and listening to people who experienced the same thing, provided a strong sense of support and motivation. Though we couldn’t solve the issue of diversity, relevancy, and inclusion in outdoor spaces, we made an impact on the discussion itself. We outlined strategies and ideas to promote inclusion, we reinvigorated each other to go back and continue to work towards diversity in spite of the obstacles, and we brought attention to the broader environmental community that this deliberate discussion was taking place (even making the Facebook page of the National Park Service!). And for ourselves, we created a tight network and community to help inspire us to keep moving forward.

    I feel incredibly lucky to have spent four days with a group of amazing, hilarious, and absolutely wonderful people. There are few words to describe how much each of them inspired me to be a better public servant. I am more confident than ever that we can create a more representative and inclusive environmental community.

    Elizabeth Lindner
    Program Manager, Internships and Service Initiatives
    Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

    Photo Credit: James E. Mills at The Joy Trip Project

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