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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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  • In 2014, the Institute at the Golden Gate published a Bay Area Climate Change Education Needs Assessment to capture the state of climate communication in the region. This report demonstrated that there are many challenges to developing climate change programming—such as a lack of time, staff capacity, locally relevant data, and engaging curriculum—but that there is an immense interest from educators to persevere through these obstacles together. The Needs Assessment, discussed in greater detail in this blog post, further illustrated that 84% of survey respondents are interested in collaborating with their peers to address these challenges.

    Hoping to address this need, the Institute at the Golden Gate convened the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative in August 2014. Since its inception, the Climate Literacy Collaborative has brought together over 25 organizations, ranging from federal agencies to local science museums, serving constituencies from all around the Bay Area, all with the commitment to create high-quality, impactful climate programming. While still in its early stages, the Climate Literacy Collaborative has managed to gain steam quickly. Thus far, we have drafted the following vision, mission, and priority project areas:

    Vision: Climate literacy and action are universal throughout the Bay Area. Climate science is an integral component of learning in the region. A culture of sustainability has become the social norm and communities are taking an active role in building their own climate resilience.

    Mission: To increase climate literacy and action throughout the Bay Area by sharing successes and by building capacity of climate educators and messengers.

    Priority Areas:

    • Offer climate communication trainings to environmental educators. Future topics may include introduction to climate literacy, annual gatherings to discuss application of best practices, trainings for environmental educators on age appropriate climate programming incorporating Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and more.
    • Create new joint sustainability projects and innovative programs. Projects under this priority area would harness the collective power of the collaborative as a catalyst for behavior change and give the group an opportunity to pilot new, innovative programming.
    • Connect to local impacts and science. This priority area will help foster collaboration between local scientists and climate communicators. It will connect educators with up-to-date information on local climate change impacts and provide data that is relevant and accessible to wider audiences.

    We greatly look forward to working with these dedicated educators to advance climate literacy and action in the Bay Area. As we move out of our strategic planning phase, stay tuned for updates on the unique work of the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative.

    Sign up for the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative monthly newsletter here!

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

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

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

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

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

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  •  

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

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

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

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

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

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  • This year, May 10-16 is National Women's Health Week, as designated by the US Department of Health and Human Services. 

    Park use is not gender-neutral. Slide from Deborah Cohen et al. (Rand Corporation) presentation at Greater and Greener. 

    In honor of National Women's Health Week, we're shedding light on a structural issue that comes at the intersection of women's health and park use. Namely, we're wondering where are all the women in parks. 

    Park use equity is disparate among many different facets, especially for ethnicity and socio-economic status. However, new research is revealing just how disparate park use is between male and female constituents. Deborah Cohen and her team at the RAND Corporation is a year into their study of measuring park use through the SOPARC method. At last month's Greater and Greener Conference in San Francisco, Deborah shared preliminary results from the study and the results show a large rift in park use between these two genders. 

    Of course, the health benefits of being in nature have been stated many times on this blog, but the ramifications of having park use disparities is that parks' health benefits are disproportionately widening the gap of health equity. Collectively, women are already facing more adverse social determinants of health than their male counterparts. For women of color and lower socio-economic status, their gender is further compounded with other factors that limit their utilization of parks. 

    What does park use disparity have to do with women's health? Besides the fact that women are not getting as many of the health benefits of nature, the differences in use signal an underlying question of park design and programming. Why are women not in parks as much as men? Responses that suggest time constraints with motherhood and family obligations fail to address the larger role that parks and policies have to do with encouraging women--especially those with familial obligations--to go to their parks. 

    As we celebrate National Women's Health Week, we as park advocates must look at ways that we can reach out to women and especially women of color to bring them into parks in more substantive ways. Letting parks continue along the path of the status quo can lead to a further rift in women's health. 

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  • Last week, during the opening plenary of the City Parks Alliance Greater and Greener Conference in San Francisco, National Park Service (NPS) Director Jon Jarvis announced the launch of NPS’s Urban Agenda. The Urban Agenda lays out the Park Service’s strategy for increasing their presence and impact in urban areas. Three principles form the heart of the agenda and lay out a new, more sustainable and intentional approach to working in urban areas.

    These three principles are:

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

    Truly embracing these principles will fundamentally shift the way that NPS approaches and functions in new communities. It will force NPS to break down internal silos and to shift the paradigm from “How can communities serve our parks?” to “How can parks serve our communities?”

    The announcement of the Urban Agenda spurred intense and thoughtful dialogue on the role of NPS in urban areas. It also began the critical discussion on how we activate and implement these principles.

    One key component of this will be the roll out of NPS’s Urban Fellows program. The Fellows are ten mid-career professionals that will be placed into ten model cities across the country. Their mandate will be to demonstrate the principles of the Urban Agenda, capturing best practices and lessons learned and acting as a model and inspiration for NPS parks and programs in other urban centers.

    We at the Institute find this announcement particularly exciting as we have been collaborating closely with NPS’s Stewardship Institute, the Center for Park Management, and the Quebec-Labrador Foundation to help roll out this initiative. After months of behind-the-scenes work, the launch of the Agenda and the announcement of the Fellows represent a key milestone in our work to promote parks and public lands as a key player in building sustainable, healthy, equitable urban communities.

    We look forward to continuing to model the “Culture of Collaboration” with our partners within and outside the NPS as we continue to build and support this critical movement!

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  • At this point, is it safe to assume that the term “social determinants of health” is readily understood? What about “social determinants of park use?” Can we also work towards consensus that these two terms describe the same barriers, for both health and parks?

    Social determinants of health (SDH)  are factors outside of an individual’s genetic makeup that influence a person’s entire health. SDH focus less on DNA factors, but more on the societal, community factors that determine access, amount, and quality of prevention and treatment a person receives. Not having health insurance covering the cost of treating an overactive thyroid problem is an SDH. Not being able to find a therapist who speaks the same language as you is an SDH.

    As parks inventory their programs and activities to figure out how to bring more residents to the great outdoors, they are finding more and more that there are a set of barriers that create social determinants of park use (SDPH). Uncoincidentally, these barriers look very much like SDH. Here are a few examples that illustrate the convergence of SDH and social determinants of park use:

    • Capital: Families that are middle class or above are more likely to be healthier and live longer lives. Additionally, most park users (especially for national parks) are middle class and can afford the time and travel costs associated.

    • Natural environment: Children who grow up in neighborhoods with lots of gang violence are more likely to be affected by a confluence of many social determinants of health, but they also experience much higher probabilities of fatality due to gun violence. Not surprisingly, neighborhoods with gang violence often see their parks be commandeered to be convening grounds for gang activity; parks are therefore systematically avoided by the community.

    It is not a coincidence that SDH and SDPU are aligned in these substantial ways. Most parks were built around the idea of improving community health; Central Park in NYC was intended to be a natural refuge from the mechanical toils of factory work.

    As National Public Health Week focuses on positioning the country to be the healthiest nation by 2030, we should pay special attention to nontraditional community health stewards that are already part of the community infrastructure. Mitigating social determinants of park use will be much like mitigating social determinants of health; we will have to be diligent about using resources to uplift the communities especially suffering from these social determinants. 

    Taking care of a community's health starts at making sure everyone has health coverage, but it doesn't end there. Giving all fourth graders a pass to visit America's national parks is a great first step, but it doesn't end there. To ensure that communities especially feeling the compounded effects of social determinants use their parks and live their healthiest lives, we have a special obligation to dedicate more resources to these specific communities. For a healthier nation in 2030, the onus cannot be on a single mother of two to wait 2 hours in a waiting room to be seen by a physician. As well, the onus cannot be on families living in neighborhoods plagued by gang violence to seek out safer parks.

    To create a healthier nation by 2030, systems of care need to be changed and improved so that everyone gets timely care from health care providers, and cities need to work together to reduce gang activity and ensure that every park, no matter their location, is a safe park. 

    Bonus activity: Can you think of anything that could not be considered a social determinant of health or park use? It's harder than you'd think. 

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  • Co-authored by Oksana Shcherba

    Recently, the Institute attended a few events centered on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. One event was presented by Green 2.0, the other was hosted by 4S.

    On March 4th, Green 2.0, in partnership with New America Media, hosted an event called “Breaking the Green Ceiling.” This conference, based off their report, was designed to raise awareness and find solutions to a major issue facing environmental organizations – the lack of diversity. To give some context, the report found that “people of color do not exceed 16% of the staff in any of the organizations surveyed.” In the report, the reason for this “green ceiling” is attributed to unconscious bias and alienation when hiring and retaining qualified people of color. As an organization in the environmental field, this is something of which we are already very aware, but we are glad to see that the conversation is gaining momentum amongst the masses. 

    There were several solutions presented on how organizations are tackling the diversity challenge, but first, this question was posed – why is it important to share diversity data in the first place? The most common answer was transparency and accountability. Hank Williams, Technologist and Entrepreneur of Platform said, “We all know the data is bad, just come clean.” Once organizations offer their data, it gives them something to measure their success against in the future, and allows them to be held accountable, both internally and externally.

    A few highlights from the presentations included:

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

    However, none of these solutions will be successful unless the change comes from above.

    Similarly to the “green ceiling” effect, which may help explain the dearth of people of color in environmental organizations, unconscious bias is also prevalent in education. This was the topic covered in 4S’s March 18th meeting on “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy / Communicating with Diverse Populations.”

    The audience was comprised of dedicated professionals involved with youth programming, with a genuine interest in learning how best to bridge the gaps created by implicit biases. From the start, the facilitators from the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) fostered an environment that made us feel comfortable with feeling uneasy, as conversations about race tend to do. We jumped right into probing questions such as “when you tell your friends and families that you work with urban kids, what do they think that means? What places are urban?” For many of the educators present, the word “urban” actually denoted other things—pollution, poverty, communities of color—and was used euphemistically, perhaps to avoid any uncomfortable follow-up questions or negative connotations. This sentiment reflects the point made by the SFUSD facilitators that in wanting to be allies to underserved communities, people sometimes avoid discussing things like race and poverty altogether, which can detract from this important discourse.

    In avoiding difficult discussions, educators may also avoid delving deeper and addressing personal unconscious biases, which are attitudes or stereotypes that may affect our understanding, actions, and decisions. Additionally, we listened to an illuminating TedTalk by UCLA law professor Jerry Kang on how people assume they have “immaculate perception,” judgment without stereotypes, but that in reality, the way we perceive others is highly dependent on prior mental constructs. Characteristics of these implicit biases is that they are pervasive, do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs, tend to favor our own in-group (people like us), and—perhaps most importantly— they can be changed!

    After going over the realities of implicit biases and how they can be addressed, we discussed the systems or structures present within our organizations that may lead to inequitable outcomes and how we are disrupting these systematic inequalities. During this exercise, I thought of the Urban Program I work on here at the Institute. In the Urban Program, we act as strategic partners to the National Park Service (NPS) on a number of issues, including increasing the relevancy of the NPS in urban communities. One inequitable outcome we’re facing is that non-Hispanic white people are more likely to visit national parks and reflect the makeup of the NPS staff. The U.S. Census estimates that by 2050, the population of children of color will be 62%, making them the majority. This implies that the NPS, in addition to other organizations grappling with a lack of diversity, must create enduring relationships with new audiences in order to adequately adapt to the changes occurring throughout the country. The NPS has already made great strides in disrupting these inequalities through initiatives aimed at improving diversification among its staff and visitor population. However, there is always more work to be done. Understanding how implicit biases work and how we can address them, both individually and in our organizations, is a critical first step to making sure all communities feel empowered to be a part of and help advance the environmental movement.

    Photo credit: Green 2.0

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  • Doctors treat. Nature heals.

    Do you ever listen to The Moth Radio Hour? If you don't then I suggest binge listening immediately. The concept is simple - in dozens of cities across the country, people, just like you and I, stand on stage and tell a story. It must be true and there are no cue cards or scripts allowed. It makes for some powerful and entertaining radio. For the last three years I've listened to about 1-2 hours a week (yes I know I have a problem) of personal stories, from people I've never and will likely never meet.

    It's not uncommon for me to walk into the office still wiping tears from my eyes after listening to a story during my commute. Some stories hit me hard and fast and others linger in my thoughts for days. One of the common threads in the hundreds of stories I've now consumed is the power of place. Many of the stories told are deeply personal and shed light on moments of stress, hardship, and loss. More often than not the most vividly described character is not a person but a place - a park bench, a lake front, or simply a backyard. Nature is often the backdrop or even the main character in our stories of healing and there's a good reason for that.

    The research and evidence of why we turn to nature in times of stress is abundant. The healing powers of being in wild, green spaces are endless. From lowered stress levels to safe spaces for healing from trauma, time and time again nature has come to the rescue. 

    Around the world, people head out their doors and into nature to help mark milestones in their lives. We turn to nature to help us gain clarity on a tough decision, to find solace in the loss of a loved one, or simply to feel a part of something greater than ourselves. Nature has been there for many of us in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, no paperwork required.

    The challenge for our rapidly urbanizing population is to increase these interactions and opportunities to heal in nature - to go from a society whose stories and memories of nature are marked by milestones to one in which nature is a daily part of our lives. To do this will require foresight from city planners and authentic engagement with more than just our park agencies. Spending time, safely, in nature should be easier than popping a pill. We can start by sharing these stories of healing and thriving around the bonfire and the water cooler.

    "I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more."

    - John Burroughs

    See you in the parks.

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  • Good News for Urban Parks

    With four out of five Americans living in urban areas, you’d be forgiven for thinking that our cities’ parks would be at the front of the line when it comes to resources and funding. After all, the evidence is pretty clear that parks bring enormous benefits to local economies, as well as to people’s health, wellbeing, and quality of life. Plus, parks in urban areas provide opportunities to serve new, diverse audiences and communities.

    But in spite of all the evidence, our cities’ parks haven’t always been given the attention and resources they deserve.

    In a time of leaner budgets and belt-tightening, how can we make parks in urban areas serve our local communities in the best way possible?

    The Value of Collaboration

    The answer is partnerships and collaboration. By leveraging the strengths of many different stakeholders – from park agencies to non-profit or corporate partners to local community groups – we have the potential to make the sum of our efforts greater than the individual parts.

    The Urban Agenda

    Our friends at the National Park Service have embraced this idea. For the past three years, the Institute at the Golden Gate has been collaborating with the Park Service's Stewardship Institute and a number of other organizations to support an “Urban Agenda”. This initiative supports collaboration across the United States, especially in areas where the Park Service has a presence and can help make a positive difference in people's lives. While many people view our national parks as mostly rural or remote, in fact that national park system has parks in dozens of major cities around the country.

    The Next Stage – Hiring Urban Fellows

    The next stage of the urban agenda is to hire “Urban Fellows” in almost a dozen cities across the United States. These new program managers will support the Urban Agenda and focus on how parks can serve local communities and meet their needs in new and innovative ways. The vacancies were recently announced on the government’s job board.

    Here at the Institute at the Golden Gate, we’re proud to be working with the Stewardship Institute and our friends across the Park Service to assist this important initiative. This spring, we’ll be helping onboard the Urban Fellows and will continue to act as a partner as the Fellows start working in their new roles. 

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  • Engaging Diverse Youth in Park Programs

    Recent research shows that national park visitors do not accurately reflect the changing face of the American people. While the general population is growing ever more urban and diverse, the range of visitors to the national park has not kept pace. A 2008-2009 survey showed that 13% of the US population identify as Latino and 12% as African American. However those same groups made up only 9% and 7% (respectively) of park visitors.

    In looking to the next generation of park stewards and advocates, this represents a serious concern for the health and future of our national park system. The Institute’s newest report examines one potential solution to this challenge: targeting diverse, urban youth through programming designed by and for the youth themselves.

    Engaging Diverse Youth in Park Programs highlights two such programs that have successfully engaged new audiences in urban areas. In the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Crissy Field Center is an effective model for reaching more diverse audiences. A youth environmental education and leadership development center, it focuses on “engaging people who traditionally have had little—if any—access to national parks.”

    The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area near Los Angeles also has been implementing innovative programming to reach new audiences, including a downtown LA outreach office, targeted transportation support, and a suite of youth programs aimed at diverse students.

    Based on methods and approaches used in these two locations, the Institute at the Golden Gate has identified best practices, devised a roadmap, and created a “how-to” guide for engaging with new audiences and communities. While recognizing that there is no “one size fits all” model, we hope other parks will find these tools useful in their own diversity efforts.

    We would love to hear about your efforts to reach new communities through park programs. If you would like to connect with us about this report or our Urban Program generally, please leave a comment or contact us directly.

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  • The issue of climate change presents unique and oftentimes difficult challenges to those of us working to combat it. Given the controversy and scale of climate change, it’s easy to see that effectively teaching about the topic would present its own set of barriers and challenges. But what exactly are those challenges and barriers in our region? And what are the greatest needs facing environmental educators grappling with climate change in the Bay Area?

    Over the past six months, the Institute has conducted over 75 interviews with environmental educators representing 44 different organizations within the Bay Area to try and answer these questions. The purpose of these interviews was to paint a picture of the current landscape of climate change education in the region, identify common needs and challenges, and explore opportunities to support informal educators in tackling this topic.

    In this effort, we are excited to announce the release of our newest report: Bay Area Climate Change Education Needs Assessment Report.

    This report shows that environmental educators in the region are deeply committed to climate education. Seventy-eight percent of assessment participants reported that they are either currently implementing or are in the process of developing some form of climate programming. However it is interesting to note that these programs ranged from entire outreach initiatives based on climate change to one docent-led hike per year or lecture on the topic.

    At the same time, environmental educators are facing a number of similar challenges to implementing effective, high-impact climate literacy programs. This assessment found that the primary needs and challenges could be broken into the following categories:

    While these challenges may seem daunting, Bay Area educators are also committed to working as a group to address and overcome these barriers. We plan for this report to spark conversation, analysis, and action around how we can work as a community to support each other in addressing this crucial topic. We ask that you read this report with an eye to identifying opportunities and solution, and that you share it with your network of educators, engaging your colleagues in the discussion.

    In this, the Institute is helping to lead this charge and playing a support and coordinator role in the formation of a Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative. To join or learn more about this collaborative, please contact us or sign up for our mailing list.

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  • Less than two weeks ago, close to 5,000 leaders from around the world came together in Sydney, Australia, for the IUCN World Parks Congress – the once-in-a-decade global forum on protected areas. Together, we tackled challenges such as climate change and illegal poaching, shared successes of healthcare partnerships to improve wellbeing, and heard from the next generation for stories of inspiration and hope. It was an honor to not only attend, but to share the stage with remarkable leaders from Finland, Australia, Singapore, and beyond to discuss how parks around the world are seeking solutions for a better world.

    During the opening ceremony, leaders from across the globe took the stage to share what they bring to the table and express their hopes for a healthier, more sustainable future. We reflected on the last Congress that took place in Durban, South Africa a little over ten years ago, where keynote speaker Nelson Mandela pointed out that our youth may be the key to a better future, but that it will take each and every one of us to teach and empower current and future generations to steward the magnificent places that we are privileged to call home. Mandela’s words rang true at this year’s Congress, but I found examples of leadership and empowerment in unlikely places. The inspiration and examples of action that struck me most came not from the keynote speakers or high up government officials, but from community organizers, Indigenous leaders, and youth. Perhaps this is what Mandela wished for all along.

    Given the state of our planet I see no reason why we shouldn't be filling every international stage with stories from the “doers" – those that choose to take the information we already know and turn it into action. I found the most inspiration and hope from the one on one conversations struck up while sharing a bench in the shade between sessions. It was in these deeper more personal moments that I felt the most connected to the global community. Sharing the challenges of partnerships with a community leader from Gabon and swapping ideas on how to engage low-mobility park users with friends in Australia – these are the stories I wish to hear, these are the actions that deserve the attention of our leaders, and these are the people that know enough to act and are bold enough to act now.

    To read more about the actions and achievements coming out of all corners of the globe, I encourage you to read the Promise of Sydney. This document includes commitments, goals, and achievements that leaders and organizations from around the world will strive to make before we get back together in the next decade. While the details and testimonials are still coming together, what we do know is that our global community promises to INVIGORATE, INSPIRE, and INVEST in every way that we can to create a healthier and more sustainable future for all.

    I personally promise to look for inspiration at all levels and more importantly continue to act so that future generations inherit a better planet than the one we have now. In ten years’ time when park and protected area professionals come together again I have hope that those on stage will be Indigenous leaders, youth, community organizers, and the “doers” of the world. If this comes to fruition I believe we will have made Mandela and our global community proud.

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  • “Yo Cuento” I matter.

    Diversity, what is that? One of the main topics of conversation in the environmental movement is that of diversity. Here in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, we are home to an incredibly diverse population, both culturally and ethnically. Therefore the question remains how parks can actively engage all of these different communities.

    Last Thursday I had the chance to attend an event put on by Latino Outdoors called “Yo Cuento.” The title of the event can be interpreted in various ways – I count (as in numbers), I tell a story, or I matter. The founder of the organization, Jose Gonzalez, brought people together to explore the role of culture as it pertains to an individual’s interpretation of the outdoors.

    In essence, different cultures interpret nature in different ways. The park world should therefore step outside of its park mentality and be willing to go into unexplored and perhaps uncomfortable places to reach the non-traditional park user in an engaging and meaningful way. One of the main points of conversation revolved around viewing our ignorance, biases, and preconceived notions of others as a valuable trait rather than a hindrance. In other words, if we are open and honest about our ignorance then we set ourselves up for open dialogue and this honesty can be refreshing. We can do this by framing our data-driven messages with a dose of storytelling.

    Ask yourself this, what is the Latino Story? For some it means illegal immigration or Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Here is another question – have you heard of the Monarch Butterfly? If so, how are the two related if at all. Well, it represents both an endangered butterfly, and a symbol to migrant workers. Jose showed two maps – one represented the migration patterns of the butterfly and the other for migrant farm workers in the US. The two could almost be superimposed. This story gives personal meaning to both an environmental concern and a human concern with a much more powerful impact than a more traditional and scientific approach to the conservation of an endangered species.

    This led him to talk about the academic research that supports the notion of culturally-dependent interpretations of nature. He showed the following adaptation by Charles Thomas of the original Edwin Nichols model:

    He used this table to point out the subtleties of the different cultural interpretations of the outdoors. However, this is not a definitive tool but rather something to help us be open to differing perspectives.  According to the table, some groups may be more interested in the scientific approach to nature while others may be more interested in how we can relate to each other in the outdoors as a group. Essentially, we should be using storytelling as entry points to topics of diversity and inclusion. We have to step into the discomfort that may come with changing our programs or services into something that may not fit our vision of what they “should” be.  

    One of the major questions revolving this topic is that of safety. How do you make people feel safe? One of the best strategies is to be willing to be vulnerable yourself by making explicit the existence of preconceived notions that are created based on biases formed from lived experiences. Once people realize that you are being honest with yourself and others, then it can lead to shared growth. To test, he showed us a picture of a Latino family outdoors as an example. It was a family of 3. They were wearing normal clothes and not the typical outdoor gear that is promoted by places like REI or the traditional Sierra Club member. He then asked the group if they thought that the people in the picture fit into the perceived notion of what gear you need to enjoy the outdoors. When compared to an ad put out by the Sierra Club depicting a lone person fully geared to go backpacking there were even bigger distinctions noticed. The message is essentially the same but it probably appeals to different audiences.

    So, he then asked direct-service providers in the audience (mostly National Park Service rangers) to ask themselves, “What am I doing to create opportunities that people then choose to be a part of?”

    What can you do? You can spark growth by learning different ways in which you can frame your story. This can manifest itself in doing outreach in non-traditional outlets for job postings, framing the program language so that it appeals and engages non-traditional audiences and finally, exploring what levels of discomfort you are willing to put yourself in to grow as an organization, as a professional, and as a modern conservationist.

    “The Philosophical Aspects of Cultural Difference” Adapted by Charles Thomas from original work done by Edwin J. Nichols, Ph.D. 

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  • San Francisco is a city of innovation. With a world class public health system and an equally impressive park system, it’s fitting that the two would work together to improve the health and well-being of its residents. Since 2012 the Institute has partnered with the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and the San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks to bring the idea of Park Prescriptions to reality – and now to scale.

    Despite having close to 6,000 acres of parkland within the city limits current San Franciscans, like most Americans, are now far more sedentary and disconnected from the land than previous generations. We are feeling the burden not only in our bodies but in our pocket books and communities. There is a rigorous body of evidence to prove that access to and time spent in nature improves our physical and mental well-being. But don’t just take the leading scientists and researcher’s word for it – take a stroll through a forest, swap out your treadmill for a local park, or simply take a step outside and breathe in deeply.

    Last week San Francisco was once again put on the map for innovation. A joint training of 200 park and health professionals helped launch and cement Park Prescriptions as more than just a good idea. The groundbreaking training included welcome speeches from the leaders of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks, and the Department of Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health.

    The role of the Institute was to help support, convene, and facilitate the day. A job that is often filled with spreadsheets, late night copy runs, and making a lot of last minute changes seem effortless. We’ve taken on this role to make it easier for our partners and champions to do what it is they are great at – to educate, inspire, and empower park and health professionals to work together, learn together, and ultimately make San Francisco a better place to call home.

    It didn’t take long for me to forget about those late night copy runs and fifteen page spreadsheets when our leaders in parks and health took to the podium. I expected many words of congratulations and praise to be said throughout the day but what I didn’t expect was to hear such personal and authentic stories. Each speaker and trainer shared their connection to the outdoors; to the role nature had played in healing themselves and their loved ones and how those experiences have deepened their commitment to this movement.

    The passion running through that room of public health providers and park professionals last week made all of the hard work worth it. I’m more confident than ever that we not only know enough to act now but that we will act now. Improving the health of our most vulnerable populations, strengthening ties in the community, and lowering healthcare costs doesn’t require a medical breakthrough. It’s time we all tap into those positive outdoor memories, roll up our sleeves and get to work together. San Francisco may be the first city to take Park Prescriptions to scale but I guarantee it won’t be the last.

    Special thanks to Dr. Nooshin Razani, UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland; Dr. Curtis Chan, San Francisco Department of Public Health; Howard Levitt, Golden Gate National Recreation Area; and Jim Wheeler, San Francisco Recreation and Parks for their continued leadership and bringing this dream to reality.

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  • Building Climate Literacy in the Bay Area

    Nearly one year ago, the Institute hosted a multidisciplinary conference that explored cutting edge research and best practice around climate change education and communication. Parks: The New Climate Classroom provided a wide-ranging, high-level discussion on how practitioners can engage new audiences and move people to take action on climate change.

    Since then, the Institute has been exploring how we can take these lessons and use them to support and elevate place-based, informal climate change education in the Bay Area.

    Our first stop on this journey was assessing the current landscape of informal climate change education in the Bay Area. What climate education programs currently exist? What are the challenges? What are the needs? And is there a role for us to support environmental educators in developing and delivering these programs?

    To find the answer to these questions, we embarked on a formal needs assessment. From June to September, the Institute interviewed over 70 Bay Area environmental educators from over 40 different organizations. These included park and other government agencies, museums, aquariums, place-based and sustainability-focused education organizations, and more.

    While we are still analyzing the results, one outcome was clear: Bay Area environmental educators are passionate about increasing the quantity, quality, and impact of their climate change programs. There is a strong sense of urgency and broad agreement on the importance of addressing this issue. At the same time, many educators are struggling with challenges unique to climate change. How do we discuss climate change in a way that empowers rather than overwhelms our audience? How do we talk about climate change in a way that is age appropriate? How do we inspire our learners to take action and how do we measure those impacts?

    To help environmental educators tackle these and other challenges, the Institute is facilitating the formation of a Bay Area collaborative whose ultimate vision is to build climate literacy and action throughout the Bay Area.

    Bay Area environmental educators meeting at the EcoCenter at Heron's Head Park to discuss their work on climate change

    While we are in the very early stages of our collaborative formation, the Institute has found the level of interest and passion for this initiative to be inspiring. Over the coming months, we will be working with these environmental education organizations to develop a common agenda, collaborative structure, working groups, and shared outcomes.

    It is a very exciting time for this group and we can’t wait to see how it all develops. Watch this space for the results of our needs assessment, due to be completed next month, as well as regular updates on the progress of the Bay Area climate literacy collaborative!

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  • Urban

    Park Programs Designed for Community Needs

    The Institute has been analyzing fabulous, unexpected outreach strategies at work in national parks near big cities. In particular, we have been trying to identify just what makes youth programs at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and the Golden Gate National Parks so ridiculously effective at engaging young people from a wide range of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Both parks are employing small but mighty program strategies to go after audiences that aren’t traditionally major park users, and we’ll share those key tools in our diversity report by the end of the year.

    In the meantime, however, we’re also finding an underlying philosophical approach that is not intuitive: quit focusing on the park. When park program managers let go of their own program ideas and begin with the goal of serving a specific community, everything shifts—especially outreach strategy. This shift feels risky because it asks park staff to look away from the task of protecting natural and cultural resources, and to focus instead on helping people. Though preservation is important, it can easily become an all-consuming task that fails to take potential park users’ needs into account. Positioning the park as a dynamic solution to social ills, on the other hand, transforms it from delicately preserved museum piece to beloved tool. Parks with program managers who think this way are likely to be used more, with all the attendant risks, but they are also much more likely to be cherished and safeguarded by the growing number of people who use them.

    At Crissy Field Center (CFC), this philosophy is hard at work in decisions about how to allocate staff time. With their people-first perspective, staff members regularly work outside the park, attending community convener meetings in under-resourced neighborhoods around San Francisco. This investment in understanding potential park audience experiences and challenges shapes CFC programs, instead of vice versa. And since the park has its finger on the pulse of what young, under-resourced San Franciscans actually want and need, its programs have a place in the social justice world of this city. It’s a different kind of outreach, but it seems to be working.

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  • Reconnecting Youth to Health and Wellness

    Eating wholesome food and engaging in regular physical activity are not things that you start or finish, they are a state of being—a lifestyle. Due to the rising concern over our youth obesity rates we decided to take an in-depth look at how our communities and our lifestyles in the San Francisco Bay Area are affected. But, what does it mean to be in a state of wellbeing? What does it mean to be healthy?

    These are the questions that I set out to explore in partnership with the Crissy Field Center. This summer marked the 10th anniversary of the Urban Trailblazers (UTB) program, so there was an extra rush of energy to make this one special. We decided to shed the spotlight on this paid, 7-week summer program, which exposed local middle school youth to a variety of fun and health-related activities.

    In collaboration with the Crissy Field Center, we incorporated themes of Health and Wellness into the summer experience to cover topics like healthy, sustainable food and physical and mental health. Some of the highlights included: overnight trips to Yosemite, Alcatraz, and the Presidio, as well as trips to Slide Ranch, a sustainable farm in Marin, and the EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park. These experiences were meant to kindle an inward look into how each of us relate to our food, our environment, and each other.

    In order to find out what our youth already knew about health and wellness we conducted a pre-program survey. This helped us learn how to approach these topics so that students would feel engaged and empowered. I also spent a lot of time with the youth, directly observing their activities throughout the summer and conducting one-on-one interviews with a randomly-selected group of students.

    In order to measure the impact of the program, we are currently conducting a post-program survey that will showcase what the students learned and the tools they gained that will help them explore these topics on their own.

    Much of the thought behind our work was exemplified in an article published in last month’s issue of Parks and Recreation, Park Prescriptions in Practice, which stated that increased physical activity and time spent in nature has a variety of health benefits ranging from an improved sense of social cohesion, reduced stress, to an improved quality of sleep. This, combined with a healthy and wholesome diet, paves the way to ensure we are at our best.

    This summer experience taught me a few things about our youth: they are concerned about our environment, including the drought that is currently hitting California; they want to make friends and work together to address topics that are relevant to their communities, like litter and homelessness; they want to initiate new programs that increase the bonds of neighbors in their communities; and they are concerned about what they are putting into their bodies and how things are grown. Therefore, we have the opportunity to unleash this potential and interest from the next generation of environmentalists and let it flourish. We owe it to our youth to seize the moment and empower them. This could be as simple as inviting a friend for a walk, preparing a meal for a sibling or friend with produce from the local farmer’s market, or helping out at your local gardens, homeless shelter or food banks. Action, no matter how small, is taking this positive movement forward.

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