All Posts (114)

  • 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:


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  • Stroll Call: Surgeon General Issues Our Walking Orders

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

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

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

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

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

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  • (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. 

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  • 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! 

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  • 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. 


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

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

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

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

    (image source: Wikipedia)

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

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

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  • 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!

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  • Institute Fellows Updates

    Catalyzing Change by Rhianna Mendez

    It has been a little over two months since I began my fellowship and was tasked with detailing the story of the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative. As I continue to interview stakeholders and partners from the world of parks, public health, and community based organizations, I am amazed by the many leaders in the bay area who catalyze change. Healthy Parks Healthy People lives within the individuals who work around hectic schedules to impact the lives of others. Healthy Parks Healthy People lives within the communities it reaches. I have been seeking out promising practices and potential lessons learned and along the way I have uncovered refreshing narratives filled with enthusiasm. The collaborative continues to grow and evolve after three years and I know all involved are excited to see what the next three years have to bring.

    As First Saturdays continue to thrive with consistency and Park Prescriptions begin to take root, many are looking forward to larger systematic changes. Of particular interest is a change in the way we structure medical care. This concept, of course, is nothing new but there has never been a time where so many sectors are chipping away at an over-haul. There has been recent success in changing the way we bill a doctor’s time that allows for a conversation instead of just a diagnosis or prescription. One example revolves around palliative care and end-of-life discussions between doctors and patients. A very contentious topic in 2009 has now seen wider appeal as society begins to rethink the time doctors spend with us. The time is ripe for change and the collaborative will use this momentum to continue to impact lives locally and forge change nationally.

    Visualizing The History of Fort Baker by Sophia Choi

    It has been a little over two months since I took on the role as the Urban Fellow at the Institute. An important part of my project on post-to-park conversions has been looking back at the history of how Fort Baker and Crissy Field in the Bay Area, and Governors Island in New York, have developed into such wonderful public parks in urban areas.

    One of the first steps in my search for lessons learned from the transformations of these urban parks was visiting Golden Gate’s park archive, located in the Presidio of San Francisco. The military building turned gold mine of photos, plans, and letters, was overwhelmingly abundant – in the best way. My first visit to the archives was a bit daunting, but the archival curator, Amanda, was extremely helpful in guiding me through millions of archived material on the Golden Gate National Parks.

    Not knowing what exactly I was looking for, Amanda suggested I start from a large binder of photos and plates of Fort Baker. As I flipped through, page-by-page, I was amazed to find that the black and white images of military infrastructure looked exactly the same as how the buildings look now; the look of the building that used to be the home of military officers but now houses the Institute had not changed since its history. 

    Officer housing during military occupation at Fort Baker - Golden Gate NRA Park Archives & Record Center

    Institute at the Golden Gate today at Fort Baker

    Literature and document research has been crucial to gaining insight and learning from the transformation at Fort Baker. These photos showed a critical transition from a dilapidated military post to a thriving public place of nature and respite, all the while preserving the sites specific cultural landscape.

    I felt a sense of nostalgia, tracing the steps of the park history vicariously through these photos. Being able to visualize and see Fort Baker’s history was impactful in my research both emotionally and intellectually. I was reminded of the importance of telling a unique story of a place, and how that story can create a more profound connection between people and their parks.

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  • 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

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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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  • 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

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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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  • 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.

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  • Where Are They Now?


    Photo credit: Canal Alliance

    Last week we introduced the new members of our Fellowship for Emerging Leaders program, and this week we wanted to share a firsthand account of life after the Institute fellowship. This guest blog post is by our very first Health Fellow – Hector Zaragoza. Hector shares with us his experience while working with the Institute at the Golden Gate and how it has helped him in his current position with the Canal Alliance.

    The Institute at the Golden Gate was an incredibly vibrant hub of busy bees navigating the uncertain roads of innovation. I was the Health and Wellness Fellow during the 2014-15 year and let me say that it proved essential to my success afterwards. As a convener and facilitator, it taught me the importance of listening to your stakeholders and providing a space for a wide range of voices to be heard and subsequently formulating a plan of action that reflects that.

    The workplace encourages creativity and trailblazing yet provides the comfort of a collaborative team willing to pitch in whenever and wherever duty calls. If anything, it harnesses your individual spark and refines it through teamwork. No idea is ever shot down, quite the contrary; the iterative nature of the work requires constantly finding new ways to do things along with an attitude that is never quite satisfied. You learn to deal with uncertainty and the ambiguity of first-of-their-kind projects. You will be challenged to step out of your comfort zone, but that’s ok, the team has your back.

    Flash forward a few months and I am now the Volunteer and Event Coordinator for Canal Alliance, a community resource agency dedicated to helping low-income, Spanish-speaking immigrants acquire the tools they need to thrive. Good thing for me is that I now have a toolkit from my work at the Institute that enables me to push boundaries at work. I am responsible for managing our volunteer base across our program areas that include: food distribution, immigration and legal services, English as a Second Language classes, and more. I also get the opportunity to organize events. The Institute is a hub of innovation and this instilled a sense of urgency in me to innovate through brainstorming sessions with colleagues or conversations by the “water cooler.” These informal sessions led me to redesign our intake process for volunteers to increase efficiency. I developed these interpersonal and teamwork skills at the Institute that continually lead us as a team to think “outside the box.” The Institute is also always on the lookout for new tools that can help improve their work. Here at Canal Alliance, I am now responsible for implementing the use of Smartsheets, a project management tool, within our department to increase productivity.

    Whatever the challenge may be, the Institute provides the knowledge, resourcefulness, and confidence to go into uncharted territory and make your mark.

    Hector Zaragoza
    Volunteer and Event Coordinator
    Canal Alliance

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  • Introducing our New Fellows

    The Institute is happy to announce the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders Class of 2015! Rhianna and Sophia have traveled across the United States to be a part of our team here at the Institute at the Golden Gate and we are delighted to have them. We'll turn this post over to them to tell you a bit about themselves, their motivation, and their fellowship projects...

    Introducing Rhianna Mendez

    Hi, my name is Rhianna and I have traveled across the country to be a part of the Institute at the Golden Gate team. I recently graduated from American University with a degree in Public Health. Serving as the Health Fellow, I will be detailing the story of Healthy Parks, Healthy People: Bay Area. Over the next 6 months I will be developing a report that documents where the collaborative started, what it has accomplished so far, and where it is going in the future. I am excited to sit down with change makers in the Bay Area and begin to better understand the impact that parks have on our community.

    The recent buzz surrounding public health has started to show people that health exists far beyond exposure to a bacterial or chemical agent. This emerging holistic view of health, encompassing both social and environmental factors, requires holistic solutions. I hope that my work will further highlight parks as a holistic and upstream solution to many of the problems our society faces today. Personally, parks have provided me with both a place to exercise and the space to ease my mind. Parks bring balance to my ever-changing life. I look forward to being able to give back to both parks and people through my work here at the Institute.

    Introducing Sophia Choi

    Hello, my name is Sophia Choi and I am the new Urban Fellow at the Institute. Just about two weeks ago I drove across the country from New York City in only six days! I am very new to the West Coast and am so lucky to have this opportunity to work for the Institute, so I can learn more about and explore the beautiful parks of the Bay Area.

    I just recently graduated from New York University with a degree in Architecture & Urban Planning. Through my academics, I grew passionate about rising urban challenges in major cities of the world as well as environmentalism and sustainability. I am beginning to discover that metropolitan cities and their public spaces and parks play a greater role than just improving lives of its residents – they are models for a sustainable future for both people and the environment.

    Here at the Institute, I will be working on a few projects. The first is a case study of post-to-park transformations, where I will be researching former military sites that have turned into successful parks. I will be assessing park planning, development, and engagement and identifying best practices to create a “how-to” guide for future park visionaries. The second part of my fellowship is storytelling research. Community engagement is extremely important for any urban discipline and effective storytelling will have an impact on education, awareness, and growth in any city. With my editorial experience and creativity, I will be researching methods in storytelling and using those methods to create a multimedia project on the story of Fort Baker.

    I am extremely excited to be in San Francisco, a beautiful city full of culture but also surrounded by the most wonderful parks and open spaces. And I am doubly excited for my upcoming projects at the Institute!

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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.


    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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  • Amplifying Our Outdoor Voice

    I joined the Institute at the Golden Gate three years ago and in that time I've watched the conversation around the connection between parks and health shift and grow. In my first year conversations around the benefits and importance of spending time in natural settings were met with skepticism and a lot of blank stares. Often it took multiple, high touch conversations to convince and empower new partners to join us at the table. 

    Today, the table is large and still growing. The conversation is fueled by passion and carried by forward thinking champions from all sectors of society. Our biggest problem is literally finding a table large enough to hold these conversations around. Not a bad problem to have.

    The first official meeting of the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative was centered around creating a unified vision. One that we could all see ourselves in - from health providers to community leaders to park agencies. What does a future where parks and health work alongside of each other look like? It was clear that everyone in the room could envision a world in which parks and health worked more closely together. Our individual visions, written on brightly colored sticky notes, filled a twelve foot wall in no time. Many months and hundreds of sticky notes later we came to our guiding mission: to improve the health and well-being of all Bay Area residents, especially those with the highest health needs, through regular use and enjoyment of parks and public lands. 

    Since launching in 2012, the coalition has grown to over 40 park, health, and community agencies representing all nine counties. This regional initiative has become a catalyst for broad policy change that advances the adoption of measurable recreational models that improve the physical and mental health of the highly diverse Bay Area population. The coordinated regional effort is setting its sights on creating the structural changes needed to resolve challenges such as transportation and access, which are critical to the people/parks/health connection.

    We won't be able to tackle these hurdles alone. It's critical that every voice is heard, loud and clear. Our parks and public lands are imperative to the health of our population and it will take all of us to ensure that these spaces remain protected and supported for generations to come. That's why HPHP: Bay Area is proud to partner with Outdoor Voice, a regional initiative from the Bay Area Open Space Council. 

    With Outdoor Voice, you can discover opportunities to support the scenic treasures that best fit your interests, from quick actions you can take at home to outdoor experiences you can share with your whole family. Together, we can ensure that current and future generations will experience the awe and amazement of being outdoors. 

    HPHP: Bay Area is committed to amplifying all outdoor voices. Sign up today to help preserve outdoor spaces that help our communities thrive.

    See you in the parks!

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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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