(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
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.
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!
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:
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.
Catalyzing Change by Rhianna Mendez
It has been a little over two months since I began my fellowship and was tasked with detailing the story of the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative. As I continue to interview stakeholders and partners from the world of parks, public health, and community based organizations, I am amazed by the many leaders in the bay area who catalyze change. Healthy Parks Healthy People lives within the individuals who work around hectic schedules to impact the lives of others. Healthy Parks Healthy People lives within the communities it reaches. I have been seeking out promising practices and potential lessons learned and along the way I have uncovered refreshing narratives filled with enthusiasm. The collaborative continues to grow and evolve after three years and I know all involved are excited to see what the next three years have to bring.
As First Saturdays continue to thrive with consistency and Park Prescriptions begin to take root, many are looking forward to larger systematic changes. Of particular interest is a change in the way we structure medical care. This concept, of course, is nothing new but there has never been a time where so many sectors are chipping away at an over-haul. There has been recent success in changing the way we bill a doctor’s time that allows for a conversation instead of just a diagnosis or prescription. One example revolves around palliative care and end-of-life discussions between doctors and patients. A very contentious topic in 2009 has now seen wider appeal as society begins to rethink the time doctors spend with us. The time is ripe for change and the collaborative will use this momentum to continue to impact lives locally and forge change nationally.
Visualizing The History of Fort Baker by Sophia Choi
It has been a little over two months since I took on the role as the Urban Fellow at the Institute. An important part of my project on post-to-park conversions has been looking back at the history of how Fort Baker and Crissy Field in the Bay Area, and Governors Island in New York, have developed into such wonderful public parks in urban areas.
One of the first steps in my search for lessons learned from the transformations of these urban parks was visiting Golden Gate’s park archive, located in the Presidio of San Francisco. The military building turned gold mine of photos, plans, and letters, was overwhelmingly abundant – in the best way. My first visit to the archives was a bit daunting, but the archival curator, Amanda, was extremely helpful in guiding me through millions of archived material on the Golden Gate National Parks.
Not knowing what exactly I was looking for, Amanda suggested I start from a large binder of photos and plates of Fort Baker. As I flipped through, page-by-page, I was amazed to find that the black and white images of military infrastructure looked exactly the same as how the buildings look now; the look of the building that used to be the home of military officers but now houses the Institute had not changed since its history.
Officer housing during military occupation at Fort Baker - Golden Gate NRA Park Archives & Record Center
Literature and document research has been crucial to gaining insight and learning from the transformation at Fort Baker. These photos showed a critical transition from a dilapidated military post to a thriving public place of nature and respite, all the while preserving the sites specific cultural landscape.
I felt a sense of nostalgia, tracing the steps of the park history vicariously through these photos. Being able to visualize and see Fort Baker’s history was impactful in my research both emotionally and intellectually. I was reminded of the importance of telling a unique story of a place, and how that story can create a more profound connection between people and their parks.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Volunteer and Event Coordinator
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...
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!
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.
Program Manager, Internships and Service Initiatives
Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy
Photo Credit: James E. Mills at The Joy Trip Project
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
This year, May 10-16 is National Women's Health Week, as designated by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Park use is not gender-neutral. Slide from Deborah Cohen et al. (Rand Corporation) presentation at Greater and Greener.
In honor of National Women's Health Week, we're shedding light on a structural issue that comes at the intersection of women's health and park use. Namely, we're wondering where are all the women in parks.
Park use equity is disparate among many different facets, especially for ethnicity and socio-economic status. However, new research is revealing just how disparate park use is between male and female constituents. Deborah Cohen and her team at the RAND Corporation is a year into their study of measuring park use through the SOPARC method. At last month's Greater and Greener Conference in San Francisco, Deborah shared preliminary results from the study and the results show a large rift in park use between these two genders.
Of course, the health benefits of being in nature have been stated many times on this blog, but the ramifications of having park use disparities is that parks' health benefits are disproportionately widening the gap of health equity. Collectively, women are already facing more adverse social determinants of health than their male counterparts. For women of color and lower socio-economic status, their gender is further compounded with other factors that limit their utilization of parks.
What does park use disparity have to do with women's health? Besides the fact that women are not getting as many of the health benefits of nature, the differences in use signal an underlying question of park design and programming. Why are women not in parks as much as men? Responses that suggest time constraints with motherhood and family obligations fail to address the larger role that parks and policies have to do with encouraging women--especially those with familial obligations--to go to their parks.
As we celebrate National Women's Health Week, we as park advocates must look at ways that we can reach out to women and especially women of color to bring them into parks in more substantive ways. Letting parks continue along the path of the status quo can lead to a further rift in women's health.
Last week, during the opening plenary of the City Parks Alliance Greater and Greener Conference in San Francisco, National Park Service (NPS) Director Jon Jarvis announced the launch of NPS’s Urban Agenda. The Urban Agenda lays out the Park Service’s strategy for increasing their presence and impact in urban areas. Three principles form the heart of the agenda and lay out a new, more sustainable and intentional approach to working in urban areas.
These three principles are:
Truly embracing these principles will fundamentally shift the way that NPS approaches and functions in new communities. It will force NPS to break down internal silos and to shift the paradigm from “How can communities serve our parks?” to “How can parks serve our communities?”
The announcement of the Urban Agenda spurred intense and thoughtful dialogue on the role of NPS in urban areas. It also began the critical discussion on how we activate and implement these principles.
One key component of this will be the roll out of NPS’s Urban Fellows program. The Fellows are ten mid-career professionals that will be placed into ten model cities across the country. Their mandate will be to demonstrate the principles of the Urban Agenda, capturing best practices and lessons learned and acting as a model and inspiration for NPS parks and programs in other urban centers.
We at the Institute find this announcement particularly exciting as we have been collaborating closely with NPS’s Stewardship Institute, the Center for Park Management, and the Quebec-Labrador Foundation to help roll out this initiative. After months of behind-the-scenes work, the launch of the Agenda and the announcement of the Fellows represent a key milestone in our work to promote parks and public lands as a key player in building sustainable, healthy, equitable urban communities.
We look forward to continuing to model the “Culture of Collaboration” with our partners within and outside the NPS as we continue to build and support this critical movement!
The social determinants of health, which coincidentally are the social determinants of park use (credit)
At this point, is it safe to assume that the term “social determinants of health” is readily understood? What about “social determinants of park use?” Can we also work towards consensus that these two terms describe the same barriers, for both health and parks?
Social determinants of health (SDH) are factors outside of an individual’s genetic makeup that influence a person’s entire health. SDH focus less on DNA factors, but more on the societal, community factors that determine access, amount, and quality of prevention and treatment a person receives. Not having health insurance covering the cost of treating an overactive thyroid problem is an SDH. Not being able to find a therapist who speaks the same language as you is an SDH.
As parks inventory their programs and activities to figure out how to bring more residents to the great outdoors, they are finding more and more that there are a set of barriers that create social determinants of park use (SDPH). Uncoincidentally, these barriers look very much like SDH. Here are a few examples that illustrate the convergence of SDH and social determinants of park use:
Capital: Families that are middle class or above are more likely to be healthier and live longer lives. Additionally, most park users (especially for national parks) are middle class and can afford the time and travel costs associated.
It is not a coincidence that SDH and SDPU are aligned in these substantial ways. Most parks were built around the idea of improving community health; Central Park in NYC was intended to be a natural refuge from the mechanical toils of factory work.
As National Public Health Week focuses on positioning the country to be the healthiest nation by 2030, we should pay special attention to nontraditional community health stewards that are already part of the community infrastructure. Mitigating social determinants of park use will be much like mitigating social determinants of health; we will have to be diligent about using resources to uplift the communities especially suffering from these social determinants.
Taking care of a community's health starts at making sure everyone has health coverage, but it doesn't end there. Giving all fourth graders a pass to visit America's national parks is a great first step, but it doesn't end there. To ensure that communities especially feeling the compounded effects of social determinants use their parks and live their healthiest lives, we have a special obligation to dedicate more resources to these specific communities. For a healthier nation in 2030, the onus cannot be on a single mother of two to wait 2 hours in a waiting room to be seen by a physician. As well, the onus cannot be on families living in neighborhoods plagued by gang violence to seek out safer parks.
To create a healthier nation by 2030, systems of care need to be changed and improved so that everyone gets timely care from health care providers, and cities need to work together to reduce gang activity and ensure that every park, no matter their location, is a safe park.
Bonus activity: Can you think of anything that could not be considered a social determinant of health or park use? It's harder than you'd think.
Co-authored by Oksana Shcherba
Recently, the Institute attended a few events centered on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. One event was presented by Green 2.0, the other was hosted by 4S.
On March 4th, Green 2.0, in partnership with New America Media, hosted an event called “Breaking the Green Ceiling.” This conference, based off their report, was designed to raise awareness and find solutions to a major issue facing environmental organizations – the lack of diversity. To give some context, the report found that “people of color do not exceed 16% of the staff in any of the organizations surveyed.” In the report, the reason for this “green ceiling” is attributed to unconscious bias and alienation when hiring and retaining qualified people of color. As an organization in the environmental field, this is something of which we are already very aware, but we are glad to see that the conversation is gaining momentum amongst the masses.
There were several solutions presented on how organizations are tackling the diversity challenge, but first, this question was posed – why is it important to share diversity data in the first place? The most common answer was transparency and accountability. Hank Williams, Technologist and Entrepreneur of Platform said, “We all know the data is bad, just come clean.” Once organizations offer their data, it gives them something to measure their success against in the future, and allows them to be held accountable, both internally and externally.
A few highlights from the presentations included:
However, none of these solutions will be successful unless the change comes from above.
Similarly to the “green ceiling” effect, which may help explain the dearth of people of color in environmental organizations, unconscious bias is also prevalent in education. This was the topic covered in 4S’s March 18th meeting on “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy / Communicating with Diverse Populations.”
The audience was comprised of dedicated professionals involved with youth programming, with a genuine interest in learning how best to bridge the gaps created by implicit biases. From the start, the facilitators from the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) fostered an environment that made us feel comfortable with feeling uneasy, as conversations about race tend to do. We jumped right into probing questions such as “when you tell your friends and families that you work with urban kids, what do they think that means? What places are urban?” For many of the educators present, the word “urban” actually denoted other things—pollution, poverty, communities of color—and was used euphemistically, perhaps to avoid any uncomfortable follow-up questions or negative connotations. This sentiment reflects the point made by the SFUSD facilitators that in wanting to be allies to underserved communities, people sometimes avoid discussing things like race and poverty altogether, which can detract from this important discourse.
In avoiding difficult discussions, educators may also avoid delving deeper and addressing personal unconscious biases, which are attitudes or stereotypes that may affect our understanding, actions, and decisions. Additionally, we listened to an illuminating TedTalk by UCLA law professor Jerry Kang on how people assume they have “immaculate perception,” judgment without stereotypes, but that in reality, the way we perceive others is highly dependent on prior mental constructs. Characteristics of these implicit biases is that they are pervasive, do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs, tend to favor our own in-group (people like us), and—perhaps most importantly— they can be changed!
After going over the realities of implicit biases and how they can be addressed, we discussed the systems or structures present within our organizations that may lead to inequitable outcomes and how we are disrupting these systematic inequalities. During this exercise, I thought of the Urban Program I work on here at the Institute. In the Urban Program, we act as strategic partners to the National Park Service (NPS) on a number of issues, including increasing the relevancy of the NPS in urban communities. One inequitable outcome we’re facing is that non-Hispanic white people are more likely to visit national parks and reflect the makeup of the NPS staff. The U.S. Census estimates that by 2050, the population of children of color will be 62%, making them the majority. This implies that the NPS, in addition to other organizations grappling with a lack of diversity, must create enduring relationships with new audiences in order to adequately adapt to the changes occurring throughout the country. The NPS has already made great strides in disrupting these inequalities through initiatives aimed at improving diversification among its staff and visitor population. However, there is always more work to be done. Understanding how implicit biases work and how we can address them, both individually and in our organizations, is a critical first step to making sure all communities feel empowered to be a part of and help advance the environmental movement.
Photo credit: Green 2.0
Do you ever listen to The Moth Radio Hour? If you don't then I suggest binge listening immediately. The concept is simple - in dozens of cities across the country, people, just like you and I, stand on stage and tell a story. It must be true and there are no cue cards or scripts allowed. It makes for some powerful and entertaining radio. For the last three years I've listened to about 1-2 hours a week (yes I know I have a problem) of personal stories, from people I've never and will likely never meet.
It's not uncommon for me to walk into the office still wiping tears from my eyes after listening to a story during my commute. Some stories hit me hard and fast and others linger in my thoughts for days. One of the common threads in the hundreds of stories I've now consumed is the power of place. Many of the stories told are deeply personal and shed light on moments of stress, hardship, and loss. More often than not the most vividly described character is not a person but a place - a park bench, a lake front, or simply a backyard. Nature is often the backdrop or even the main character in our stories of healing and there's a good reason for that.
The research and evidence of why we turn to nature in times of stress is abundant. The healing powers of being in wild, green spaces are endless. From lowered stress levels to safe spaces for healing from trauma, time and time again nature has come to the rescue.
Around the world, people head out their doors and into nature to help mark milestones in their lives. We turn to nature to help us gain clarity on a tough decision, to find solace in the loss of a loved one, or simply to feel a part of something greater than ourselves. Nature has been there for many of us in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, no paperwork required.
The challenge for our rapidly urbanizing population is to increase these interactions and opportunities to heal in nature - to go from a society whose stories and memories of nature are marked by milestones to one in which nature is a daily part of our lives. To do this will require foresight from city planners and authentic engagement with more than just our park agencies. Spending time, safely, in nature should be easier than popping a pill. We can start by sharing these stories of healing and thriving around the bonfire and the water cooler.
"I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more."
- John Burroughs
See you in the parks.