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Urban National Parks: The 21st Century Face of the National Park System

The following is the first in a series of blog posts highlighting urban units of the National Park System.

By Beth Porter, National Park Service and Molly Anderson, Conservation Legacy Fellow

Urban national parks are often the unsung heroes of America’s national park system. As Americans continue their migration to cities in pursuit of economic opportunity, our national parks are rising to meet their needs. These ever-increasing urban populations are composed of longtime city residents, rural transplants, and newly arrived immigrant populations who cluster together in the urban core to cope with a country unfamiliar to them. Now, more than ever, America’s urban national parks are striving to serve these new, dense and diverse populations, while staying true to the National Park Service mission of preserving America’s special places for present and future generations.

The Urban Agenda is part of the National Park Service Centennial goal to connect with and create the next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates. Today’s urban national parks are engaging with their surrounding communities in new and innovative ways and actively identifying opportunities to contribute positively to their quality of life.

RRII2

Rosie the Riveter/WWII Homefront National Historical Site
Richmond, CA

The National Park Service is not only in the business of caring for America’s special places, it is in the business of telling our special stories. The combination of these two roles can make a powerful difference to a community that is still working to become its best self.  An example of this power can be seen with Rosie the Riveter WWII Homefront National Historical Site in Richmond, California. In World War II, Richmond, California was a factory town. The factories employed African-Americans and women, most of whom were entering the workforce for the first time. This role is what defined the city and drew people to settle there. After the war, the factories were no longer necessary and Richmond slid into a long term economic slump that spawned high unemployment, high crime, and a general lack of community pride for many years. 

RRNPS1Rosie the Riveter/WWII Homefront National Historical Site, established in 2000 on the Richmond, CA waterfront, focuses its programming on sharing the stories of those who lived and worked in Richmond during WWII. Park sites include the Oil House Visitor Center, the Rosie the Riveter Memorial, the historic Ford Assembly plant, and the Maritime Childcare Center. Through interpretation at these sites and through interactive programming with the Richmond communities, this park is striving to enrich the lives of visitors and neighbors alike.

One of the park’s key collaborative projects is the Richmond Wellness Trail. The trail runs through the city and features 3-dimensional sculptures and murals designed to motivate residents to feel invested in their health and the health of the community. In addition, the park aims to connect younger residents of Richmond with their grandparents by sharing their WWII experiences via storytelling and remembering what made Richmond the town it is today. Rosie the Riveter/ WWII Homefront National Historic Site is bringing hometown pride back to Richmond.

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