All Posts (121)

  • Giving Thanks This Holiday Season

    Thanksgiving is only a few days away and while we are all looking forward to a day full of food, family, and friends, we wanted to take a minute to reflect on what each of us is thankful for and share our thoughts with all of you. We would also like to express our thanks for all of our wonderful friends, partners, and supporters who believe in the work we do at the Institute and help us advance our mission of parks as problem solvers.


    This Thanksgiving I am thankful for my wonderful family, friends, and their unending love and support. I am thankful for my sister who recently taught me how to be on top of my emoji game and my brother for keeping me in the loop with all of the happenings back east. I am thankful for my mom for being a wealth of knowledge and for always being available to answer my many life questions. I am thankful for my dad for always keeping me grounded and for reminding me of all the things that I can achieve. I am thankful for my grandmother for being the coolest lady I know, for sending the best care packages, for baking the best sweet potato pies in the world, and for always showing me life’s silver linings. Finally, I am thankful for my roommates who have been monumental in making San Francisco feel like home, and for always cooking, laughing, dancing, and drinking the tastiest wine with me.


    I’m thankful for Thanksgiving. Ok, I realize that may sound a little strange, but hear me out and I’ll explain. Growing up in England—where they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving—it wasn’t until I moved to the United States as an adult that I discovered this special day each year where we get to stop and take the time to appreciate everything we have. For me, I love spending time with my family and friends over a good dinner. This year, I’m feeling deeply grateful to live here in the San Francisco Bay Area—a truly special part of the world—and to work for the Institute in support of a mission I believe in so passionately.

    United They Stand…

    But Only One of Them Enjoys Thanksgiving!


    I’m thankful for the recent rains and hopeful of more in the coming months. While I am always thankful for the amazing outdoor adventures in our own backyard (my hat’s off to all park and public land agencies!) and the beautiful weather that allows us to explore them year-round, I also appreciate a good excuse to curl up on the couch with a warm beverage, a good book or movie, and loved ones by my side. I also can’t help but think about California’s extreme drought and keep my fingers crossed that we get some measure of relief this winter!


    I’m most thankful for the health of my family. It wasn’t always the case that my family was in good health; there have been many scares along this journey. Over ten years ago, my mom started to change the food that was coming into our home and started encouraging family members to walk and run outside. It sounds un-radical, but when I think back to what my brother and I did before the change, I remember a lot of hot pockets, pizza rolls, and endless television watching. The switch from pizza rolls to fruits was certainly not immediate, but having options was a start. This is all to say that I’m thankful for my family’s health, but even more so for the foresight that my mom had to change our behaviors.


    I’m thankful for national parks and for family. This may seem like a weird pairing, but for me they are intertwined. Since I was little, my family has planned most of our vacations around national parks. This year was no different, and on two separate family trips I was able to visit Crater Lake National Park and Grand Canyon National Park. Both resulted in moments of awe at the beauty of these places, and a few hilarious memories involving elk, but those are stories for another time. These experiences made me appreciate even more the public lands and open spaces our country has to offer, and the opportunities that my parents continue to provide for their children. 


    This year I’m most thankful for good health. A common mantra in my family is that happiness and health are the most valuable things you can have; everything else can be bought. This saying took on special meaning for me this past year when I experienced a setback in my health. Luckily, everything is fine now, but the news really put into perspective what is most important. While Thanksgiving isn’t often correlated to good health—what with the gluttonous feasts and infamous turkey-induced comas—this year I’m grateful that I can enjoy some stuffing and pumpkin pie with family and friends. Maybe the next day I will even opt for a run.


    This Thanksgiving I am thankful to be working in a field with such strong, benevolent values. Public health has given me a purpose for life and continually pushes me to be of open heart and mind. Every day I am a witness to the many ways in which public health impacts our lives and I have been so happy to see it receive more and more recognition worldwide. With or without story headlines, public health professionals will continue to work to keep us all healthy and able to enjoy this holiday with our families and friends. 


    I am so thankful for this fellowship position that gave me the opportunity to move across the country to work with some amazing people and see beautiful places. The nature in the Bay Area, especially living so close to the Pacific Ocean, reminds me of how vast this world is and makes me very happy! 

    Read more…
    • Comments: 0
    • Tags:
  • COP21 and Global Implications on Climate Change

    Paris, like Beirut and Baghdad, has been rocked by a terrorist attack in the past few weeks, resulting in many casualties and a nation in panic. Despite a backdrop of grief and introspection, world leaders have decided to move forward with the 21st session of the Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to take action on global climate change. While dissimilar in its level of devastation, global climate change poses many global risks to environmental and human health. The urgency of this conference is bolstered by a number of harrowing facts. Concentrations of carbon dioxide have reached a record high, new research links climate change to the severity and likelihood of the extreme weather events that occurred in 2014, each coming month breaks the record for hottest month ever recorded, and one of the major contributors to climate change, China, was recently outed for underestimating how much coal it burned in the past decade—hence under-reporting its contribution to CO2 emissions.

    However, not all the facts leading to the Paris talks are negative—far from it. Slated to have attendees from 190 nations, COP21 in and of itself is a testament to the global commitment to hold every nation accountable for its contribution to climate change. Additionally, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline, indicating his commitment to elevating the United States as a key player in addressing rising CO2 rates.

    This year’s COP21 will run from November 29th to December 11th, continuing an effort that began in 2011 in Durban, South Africa. The ultimate outcome of this conference will be to create a legally binding, multi-national agreement to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius—considered by scientists to be the tipping point towards catastrophic climate change. Provisions in this treaty will likely include strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to climate change impacts, and help countries that need assistance.

    Two years ago at COP 19 in Warsaw—well in advance of the Paris conference—countries were asked to provide their “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs), illustrating each country’s self-determined mitigation goals starting in 2020. While 156 countries submitted their INDCs, a UNFCC analysis shows that the INDCs submitted fall short of the 2 degrees Celsius benchmark. In order to get back on track with the intended goal, this Paris agreement will aim to create a flexible but sustainable global framework, building in provisions that require countries to return to the table periodically, potentially working to revise their INDCs or encouraging them to draft new ones.

    COP21 is significant not only in its commitment to creating a system of accountability for global climate change but also in highlighting the potential of the world to come together on an issue of grave importance regardless of religion, ethnicity, culture, or national border. This week the world is still healing from immense tragedy; however, our collective hope and the power of human progress keep us going—in Paris and beyond.

    Read more…
  • Convene - Our Longest Standing Program

    Most of you are probably familiar with the Institute at the Golden Gate’s programmatic work, including our Health, Climate Education, and Urban Programs, but you may not be as aware of our Convene Program, our longest standing program.

    When the Institute first began in 2008, the mission was to welcome environmental organizations and government groups to host environmentally-focused gatherings at Cavallo Point – the Lodge at the Golden Gate at a discounted rate. We ensured that groups working to protect beautiful lands like Fort Baker had the opportunity to utilize this inspiring park setting. The Institute also played a convening role and hosted several large-scale conferences at Cavallo Point Lodge that focused on collaboration and finding innovative solutions to environmental challenges. These Turning the Tide Conferences inspired some of our programs, such as our Food and Health Programs.

    In recent years, our Convene Program has focused on the Institute’s role as a connector for other organizations to host their own meetings, conferences, and retreats at Cavallo Point Lodge. There’s a wide spectrum of groups that host their events at Cavallo, ranging from board meetings to internationally recognized conferences of more than 200 attendees. We welcome nonprofits and government groups to host overnight environment and/or sustainability focused meetings from November through April of each year. To learn more about how to qualify for the discounted rate, visit our website.

    If you’re not too familiar with Cavallo Point Lodge, let me paint a picture for you. Imagine sitting in a conference room, and feeling the warmth of natural sunlight shining through the window. Imagine being able to sit outside on a porch during a break in the schedule, enjoying the fresh air, and gazing out at the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay. Imagine stepping out of your room or meeting onto an expansive Parade Ground, fit for walking, picnicking, playing a game, or just relaxing. Imagine wanting to stretch your legs, and being able to take a stroll on the hill behind the hotel to seeing views of Angel Island, Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the skyline of San Francisco.

    The stunning vistas and outdoor opportunities are just some of the benefits of staying at Cavallo Point Lodge. The one of a kind venue also has outstanding customer service, eco-friendly indoor facilities, and delectable food options from an award-winning restaurant.

    The priority period for 2015 – 2016 has already begun, but there’s still time! Apply here to qualify for the discounted rate, which extends through April 2016.

    Read more…
  • Zarnaaz Bashir and Robert Zarr presenting at the APHA session "Prescribing the outdoors to improve overall health and well-being."
    Photo courtesy of Robert Zarr, Clinician at Unity Health Care, Founder of DC ParkRx, and ParkRx Advisor for the National Park Service.

    This week, thousands of public health aficionados descended upon Chicago for the annual American Public Health Association conference to discuss the latest and greatest preventative health measures for communities. Just as we have seen Park Prescriptions take hold in parks conferences, there's an influx of Park Prescriptions presentations in health conferences. This year at APHA, there were many different sessions focused on how the health community views and uses natural areas for community health. 

    In particular, Zarnaaz Bashir, Leyla McCurdy, Dr. Nooshin Razani, and Dr. Robert Zarr each had sessions on how the health community can understand, articulate, and implement their crucial roles in the Park Prescriptions movement, which comes at the intersection of community health and environmental health. Click on each of the names to see a summary of their sessions. 

    We are excited that these Park Prescriptions practitioners and champions are presenting this concept to the larger public health community. Now it's time to get the stewards of the land and stewards of health to come together to turn these ideas, programs, and ideals into large-scale reality!

    Read more…
  • Finding Urban Inspiration in the Rockies

    Last Thursday, I hopped on an early morning flight and made my way to Estes Park, Colorado. You may not think of the little mountain town that serves as an entry to the Rocky Mountains as a hub of urban thought and innovation, but last week that is exactly what it was.

    Over 100 Groundwork USA youth leaders, staff, and federal land management partners descended upon the YMCA of the Rockies to share their initiatives and efforts to better connect with and serve urban areas as a part of the Groundwork USA National Conference and Youth Summit.

    Throughout the day, partners from the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Groundwork Trusts from across the country shared their stories of urban connection and the multiple benefits of building stronger relationships between communities and natural areas. Along with our NPS partners, Urban Fellows, and their Groundwork counterparts, we held a panel discussion exploring the NPS Urban Agenda and how it seeks to align and partner with communities in new and innovative ways.

    The importance of collaboration was a main theme throughout the conference. Many speakers touched on the challenges and resources necessary for authentic, successful collaboration. However, all highlighted it as critical to the future sustainability and health of national parks, open spaces, wildlife refuges, and the communities themselves.

    While it was a great opportunity to learn about complimentary efforts across federal agencies, the highlight of the day was hearing the youth leaders of Groundwork talk about their work and the profound impact that it is having on their communities and their lives. Groundwork’s youth development programs provide extensive training in community and conservation skills and hands-on experiences on public lands through paid, neighborhood-based opportunities. The work of the Groundwork youth leaders connected the discussion around reaching new audiences and collaborating with new communities with on-the-ground examples of how these principles can be applied in practice with profound impact.

    Seeing these youth leaders in action and hearing their personal stories reminded me of why I was in the room, grappling with this challenging but impactful work.

    Read more…
  • Making Parks and Green Space Home

    As I packed my belongings to leave my childhood home in New Jersey for my new position here in San Francisco, I found myself once again thinking about what it means to have a home, and what it means to make a place your home. Sitting on the floor surrounded by a circle of suitcases and folded clothes I was overcome with a sense of nostalgia; five years ago I sat in the same position— both literally and figuratively—preparing for my journey to Los Angeles for my first year of college.

    During my time as an undergraduate, I chose coursework that constantly challenged me to define and redefine concepts of space, identity, community, and how one can create a sense of home within each. Eventually the concept of home and the many forms it can take surfaced in my research as I investigated the intersections of racial, gender, sexual identities and how they interact with various forms of HIV education to shape the lives of young black adults in both Durban South Africa and Los Angeles California.

    But it was not until this summer when I was tasked with mapping, researching, and documenting historic LGBTQ spaces in Los Angeles, that the concept of home ceased to solely be a series of theoretical notions around systems of privilege, oppression, and obtaining a sense of belonging. Instead it became a paradigm that illustrated that ways in which a public space can not only serve as a space of refuge, solace, growth, and community, but also a space where entire minority histories are preserved and expressed.

     Ever since I was young, parks and green space have served as and continue to be a home for me. Some of my fondest memories come from picnicking, playing soccer, and training for track meets in municipal parks. This is in addition to backpacking, skiing, and camping over long weekends. Being active in parks and greenspace throughout my life has taught me to be invested in conservation of the natural world and how to lead a healthier, happier life. It is because of this that I joined the Institute at the Golden Gate, with a desire and passion to make greenspace and parks a home for communities and individuals to feel safe, welcome, supported, celebrated, respected and, most importantly empowered, to live healthier and happier lives.

    Read more…
    • Comments: 0
    • Tags:
  • Global Climate Change Week is just around the corner, starting October 19. This unique initiative encourages educators around the world to challenge students and their surrounding communities to take action on climate change. It recognizes that educators of all disciplines play a significant role in fostering civic engagement among students, not only teaching about climate change, but also empowering young people to take action. Action and climate solutions are spotlighted to illustrate that while climate change literacy is important, adapting to and deterring climate disruption will require action. The Institute at the Golden Gate supports related local efforts by playing a backbone, coordinating role for the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative. 

    Created in August of 2014, the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative is composed of a diverse group of informal environmental educators dedicated to making the Bay Area the leader in climate literacy and action. While the Bay Area is a hub of progressive values and policies, there is still work to do in moving the needle on climate change. In a 2013 study conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, researchers found that while most San Franciscans believe global warming is happening (87%) only 11% are convinced that people can take action to reduce global warming and that they will do so successfully. This sentiment presents a serious obstacle—if people are pessimistic about our ability to take action against climate change they might be likely not to make individual changes or support collective action.

    The Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative hopes to empower educators to communicate to their audiences that while climate change is real and dire, there is hope and people should feel encouraged to take action. For the next 1-3 years the group will dedicate itself to three priority initiatives, or focal areas, aimed at helping educators build their communication toolkits in order to better convey this message and develop strategies that spur behavior change. These initiatives are listed below.

    • The first initiative is providing climate trainings for environmental educators. This will involve organizing trainings or larger gatherings targeted towards environmental educators and communicators. The goal of these trainings would be to increase knowledge of climate change and increase comfort and ability to effectively discuss the topic.
    • The second initiative, connecting educators to local impacts and science, will initiate projects that being together local scientists and climate communicators. Fostering this relationship will enable educators to refine climate messaging so that it is up to date, accessible, and relevant to local audiences.
    • Our most innovative initiative, piloting joint sustainability projects, will leverage the collective power of the group and serve as a catalyst for behavior change.

    These initiatives will be developed and implemented by three working groups, with working group members representing prominent organizations ranging from the California Academy of Sciences to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The steering committee will be responsible for making sure the group sticks to its lofty, yet achievable mission of increasing climate literacy and action throughout the Bay Area by sharing successes and building capacity of climate educators and messengers. While our work is specifically focused on the Bay Area, the Collaborative is proud to join educators all around world in the call to action of Global Climate Change Week—to halt climate change through increased knowledge as well as personal and community level-responsibility to take action.

    If you are interested in getting updates on the Collaborative, please feel free to sign up for our monthly newsletter.

    Read more…
  • Getting (and Taking!) Good Advice

    How do you stay on top of your game? Here at the Institute, we’re always trying to make sure we’re doing our best work to advance our mission of “parks as problem solvers”. To help us stay on top of our game, we are immensely fortunate to have not only a dedicated and talented staff, but also to have access to some of the smartest people in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond on our Institute Advisory Council. With civic leaders and inspiring figures from the technology sector, new media, research and academia, and civil society, we are blessed in the quality of people willing to volunteer their time to guide and advise our work.

    Last week, the Council held a one-day retreat in San Francisco to review our work and help us plan for the future. It is now three years almost to the day since the Institute refined its mission to focus on the role parks can play in helping solve major societal challenges like our healthcare crisis and climate change, and so it felt timely to take a step back from our daily work and review progress with our Council. During an inspiring and productive day, the group:

    • provided welcome guidance on our overall strategic direction and sustainability, and endorsed the continuation of our current mission;
    • provided deep and helpful insights into our current programs focused on health, climate change, and urban development;
    • assessed the Institute’s “niche” and role as a catalyst in advancing innovative policy and practice; and,
    • suggested how to approach and assess new program ideas.

    I left the meeting inspired and eager to continue to advance our mission of “parks as problem solvers” in every way possible, and feeling armed with new tools and advice to help me stay on top of my game. To learn more about the people I find so inspiring, check out our talented team of staff and advisors here:


    Read more…
    • Comments: 0
    • Tags:
  • 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.

    Read more…
  • (co-written by Kristin Wheeler, Associate Director) 

    Parks need health partners and public health needs parks. That was the ever-emergent theme of this year’s National Recreation and Park Association Congress. At this congress—one of the biggest parks and recreation conferences in North America—the Surgeon General announced his call to action on walking and specifically highlighted the importance of how parks and recreation create healthy, active communities. At the Institute, we know that the intersection of human health and parks is prominent, but hearing our colleagues at the national level discuss their involvement with this intersection was educational and rewarding.

    What we learned

    • Health systems are taking a closer look at parks—The Surgeon General’s opening remarks hammered home the value of parks to health. His approach was significant because he talked about parks not just as part of the built environment, which has a big influence on public health, but he specifically talked about the inherent properties of a park, as opposed to other parts of the built environment. The fact that usually the only way to get to a park is to walk or roll (from your house or your parked car) is significant and can influence the policies and environments around the park as well.

    • Parks want to learn more—The Institute’s two sessions, in which we discussed our regional and national work regarding Park Prescriptions, were well attended and netted fruitful discussion on ways that other agencies can incorporate health into their current missions. All of the agency representatives we spoke with were eager to engage in active stewardship of community health, but wanted more tools to help them navigate the often complicated world of health systems. While we may not have all of the answers, our collective resolve to bridge the two systems of parks and public health are moving us in the right direction. 

    • Agencies are already trying things out—If there is one thing that conferences are great for, it’s chatting with like-minded folks. We met many different agencies that are already trying out different programs in their own jurisdictions to contribute to the health of their communities. It was inspiring to hear of the successes that these different agencies have had and how they have troubleshooted some of the questions that we've racked our brains around. Check out the Miami-Dade Park Prescriptions program or the New Orleans Veggie Prescription program.


    There are infinite ways in which parks can and do contribute to community health. Being able to share promising practices openly and willingly benefits the entire movement of making sure that parks and open space are seen as active and vocal advocates for the wellbeing of their communities. 

    With that, I hope to see you in the parks. The Surgeon General insists. 

    Read more…
  • The National Recreation and Park Association's Annual Conference kicked off yesterday with a keynote address fit to celebrate the organizations 50th anniversary. The opening general session included impassioned speeches from U.S. Surgeon General Murthy and Gil Penalosa of 8 80 Cities. Both speakers highlighted the importance of NRPA's pillars, which ring just as true today as they did fifty years ago.

    From social equity, to health and wellness, and conservation, the role of parks across the country is vital to building and retaining strong communities. The opening session was a great reminder that we, park professionals, are more than just recreation leaders - we are public health providers, educators, community organizers, and leaders in the fight for equity.

    Look for more thoughts and lessons learned from the NRPA Annual Conference next week! 

    Read more…
  • A toast to health in Marin City

    Pass by corner of Drake Avenue near Phillips Drive in Marin City and take in the sights and sounds of George “Rocky” Graham Park. Initially built in the 1940s, the park had been dismantled in the 1990s due to maintenance issues. Rocky Graham Park had its official reopening on July 11th, 2015, and its vibrant green turf and nature-themed playgrounds have been in continuous use since.

    The story of Rocky Graham Park not only encompasses a community’s tireless advocacy for a public good, but also the bringing together of different partners, agencies, and stakeholders to make it happen. To sustain the use and enjoyment of this beautiful, community-built space, Rocky Graham Park will be a pilot site for park prescriptions programs.

     In partnership with the Marin Health and Wellness Center, the Marin City Community Services District will be offering a plethora of free programs in Rocky Graham that will help to promote the wellness of the community. For most fitness levels, the programs range from guided gentle walks around the park and neighborhood to martial arts on the turf. These programs not only encourage physical health, but also usher in the mental and social health benefits that being in nature and learning about one’s own community offers.

    Check out Marin City Community Services District’s website for more information on the programs being offered. If you are client of the Marin City Health and Wellness Center, be on the lookout; your health care providers will be prescribing park programs to you very soon!

    If you do find yourself wandering around the park before you receive a park prescription, fear not! Here's a prescription for activities that you can already do in the park without attending a program: 

    • Go down the treehouse slide 
    • Follow the walking path twice, taking in the beautiful views of Marin City, the headlands, and the fog
    • Walk to the bulletin board and download the oral history app. 


    Read more…
  • 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.  

    Read more…
    • Comments: 0
    • Tags:
  • A Birthday to Remember: 99 and counting...

    On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the "Organic Act" which stated that the purpose of the newly formed National Park Service was "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wild life therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

    The language put forth to protect and preserve over 84 million acres of diverse, majestic lands across our country still rings true today. With the Centennial on the horizon it's a time to reflect but more importantly a time to look ahead. It will take more than our leaders in Washington to ensure that these lands continue to be preserved and accessible to all.

    “The National Park Service’s 99th birthday is an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the role of national parks in the American story,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis. “And it’s also a time to look ahead to our centennial year, and the next 100 years. These national treasures belong to all of us, and we want everyone—especially the next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates to discover and connect with their national parks.”

    Get out there and wish a very happy birthday to your park!

    Read more…
  • 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.

    Read more…
  • Rosie the Riveter Rally - August 15th

    Come one, come all! Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park wants YOU to help break the Guiness World Record for largest crowd of people dressed up as Rosie the Riveter. History buffs, costume lovers, and coveralls aficionados are all encouraged to join us in Richmond, California for the exciting tribute to an American icon. 

    The event will take place on August 15th from 1-3 at the corner of Regatta Boulevard and Melville Square. For more information, including costume details, visit the official website here

    Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park is hosting this event and many others to encourage understanding of America's role in the second world war. As it is situated in Richmond, California, one of the many ship-building sites in the Bay Area during the war, it tells as much national history as stories of local pride. Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon that shows the significance of women's economic power, but the National Historical Park takes a deeper dive into the role that WWII had in shaping our nation's trajectory. 

    In particular, the nationalism that cropped up during WWII had many ramifications on the trajectory of American identity and culture. Most of which were not as widely embraced as Rosie the Riveter. In particular, the internment of Japanese Americans during the war upheld narrow interpretations of what the limits of citizenship meant for different groups of Americans. Learn more about Japanese American internment during WWII at Rosie the Riveter. 

    Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park is a particularly important steward of cultural and natural resources for the Bay Area and the US precisely because it tells stories of the breadth of US involvement in WWII. Not all aspects of US involvement in WWII are as iconic and lauded as Rosie the Riveter, but that's exactly the reason why learning about them at Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park is important.

    To learn more, visit the National Historical Park in Richmond, or explore its online content here

    Read more…
  • 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.

    Read more…
  • Our Favorite Healthy Summer Recipes

    In the spirit of summer, the Institute has put together a list of some of our favorite foods to enjoy in the warm-weather. These recipes are good for a picnic, campout, bonfire, or really any activity that involves spending time outdoors and eating delicious food with friends and family. Whether you are planning the main event, offered to bring a side dish, or just want to surprise your friends with a yummy treat, we’ve got you covered. All of these recipes are vegetarian, because eating more plants and less meat can improve health and help combat climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

    Here is how we envision the perfect summer day. First, find a store or farmers' market near you to buy local and organic ingredients. Second, follow the directions in the recipes below. Lastly, invite your friends over for a backyard gathering or a picnic in a local park and enjoy!

    Appetizer: Cheese

    Ask anyone at the Institute, we love cheese. You can’t go wrong with Cowgirl Creamery, especially since they have a cheese named after Mt. Tam.

    Main: Tuscan Summer Vegetable Stew (Gurguglione di Elba)

    This stew is an easy way to celebrate the flavors of summer, and anything can be replaced with local farmers' market finds!

    Side: Charred Corn Salad with Quick Pickles and Lime Dressing

    This side dish is perfect for a warm summer BBQ.

    Photo credit: Food52

    Side: Watermelon Salad with Feta and Mint

    It’s the perfect light dish for a warm day.

    - 3 cups seedless watermelon, cubed (or balled if you’re feeling extra fancy)
    - 15-20 mint leaves, torn to confetti
    - ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
    - 4 tbsp (or more) Balsamic vinegar to taste

    1. In a big bowl, toss watermelon, ¼ cup feta, and mint leaves together. Make sure the mint is evenly distributed throughout the watermelon pieces.
    2. Pour balsamic vinegar over salad and toss again.
    3. Sprinkle remaining ¼ cup feta on top of salad.
    4. Refrigerate 2 hours before serving.

    Dessert: Banana S’mores

    A (mildly) healthy, and completely delicious dessert that’s perfect for a summer campout or enjoying in your own backyard.

    - Banana(s)
    - Chocolate chips
    - Mini marshmallows
    - Peanut butter

    1. Take 1 banana and make an incision down the middle the long-ways.
    2. Stuff the banana with one or more of the following: chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, and peanut butter.
    3. Wrap it in tin foil, put it on a grill above a campfire for about 5 minutes, remove carefully and EAT!

    Beverage: Fresh-squeezed Healthy Lemonade

    Who doesn’t love fresh lemonade? An easier, yet still tasty and refreshing alternative to lemonade is lemon or cucumber-infused water, or any fruit-infused water for that matter.

    Photo credit: Healthful Pursuit

    Read more…
    • Comments: 0
    • Tags:
  • 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.

    Read more…
  • Beyond Recreation: The Power of Parks

    A typical conversation on a plane ride for me goes something like this:

    Them: "Oh so you live in San Francisco, how nice. What do you do for work?"

    Me: "I work for the parks."

    Them: "Like Leslie Knope? I love that show!"

    Me: "Sort of..."


    I have a deep appreciation for the humor that the hit show Parks & Recreation has brought to its viewers and I can't help but love that Leslie Knope ended up with the National Park Service (and I'd like to think she became President...). While the show was fiction, it did paint a common view that many people have of our park systems across the country. A world full of red tape whose major win is filling in an abandoned pit. Luckily our park systems don't fall into this fictional world anymore and we don't have to rely on just Leslie Knope to fight the good fight.

    This month we celebrate Parks & Recreation month and to mark the occasion the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) has put out a great video capturing the ways our parks have moved beyond recreation and into innovation.

    Give it a watch. Share it with your networks. And be sure and thank the Leslie Knope's of the world who continue to champion and shape our park systems into places for health, sustainability, safety, and community resilience. 

    See you in the parks.

    Read more…
Email me when there are new items –