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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.

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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.  Continue reading

Speaking for the Trees: The New Urban and Community Forestry Action Plan

“I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”

― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

Tree1To be a tree in the city is very hard.  A tree that would live 80 years in the forest has a life expectancy of 20 years in the suburbs, and less than that in an urban setting where trees are often planted in sidewalk cutouts. Let’s face it; even if a tree gets planted correctly and watered, it faces a host of other environmental and human challenges ranging from storms, insects, air pollution, and low-quality soil to road salt and reckless drivers.

Thanks to the National Urban and Community Advisory Council (NUCFAC) and their newly released 10-year Urban and Community Forestry Action Plan, there is a clear outline of all the reasons we should nurture our urban trees. I recently spoke with Liam Kavanagh, NUCFAC’s Plan Chair and New York City’s First Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Parks and Recreation, about the plan’s goals.  Continue reading

Stormwater in Parks: Is There Reason to Worry?

The following is an excerpt from City Parks, Clean Water, a report by the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence that examines the role of urban parks in managing stormwater. This is the fourteenth installment in a series of 19 posts.

When a park is doing double duty as both a recreation space and water management area, certain citizen concerns may come to light. Worries regarding standing water, salt or chemical residues in runoff, and previous site contamination are all valid, and certain precautions must be taken to prevent any health impacts. Continue reading

Islands in the Street: Turning Gray Space Green

Each month, City Parks Alliance names one “Frontline Park” as a standout example of urban park excellence, innovation and stewardship from across the country. In recognition of its partnership and community engagement efforts, Avalon & Gage Park has been named a Frontline Park.

AG1IntAvalon & Gage is a vibrant, eco-friendly oasis and public green space situated on a traffic island at a busy intersection in South Los Angeles. Built in partnership between the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust (LANLT), and nearly a dozen local organizations and businesses, this 1/3-acre lot has been transformed from a barren plaza into a welcoming neighborhood park with amenities for all ages.  Continue reading

Pennsylvania Steps Up for Urban Parks

While Pennsylvania’s hills and valleys are renowned for its forests and farms, its natural assets and beauties, and its rural character and charms, 84 percent of its citizens live in urban areas: the Commonwealth has 53 cities and 30 boroughs with populations greater than 10,000.

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Emerald View Park (Photo credit: Brian Cohen)

Today’s workers have many choices about where they live, and they are actively choosing to settle in vibrant urban centers that support their needs. Many in the creative industries, knowledge workers, young people, families and retirees are all choosing urban areas that offer a strong economic base and amenities that add to their quality of life. It is increasingly clear that livable communities that can attract and retain highly skilled workers will be winners in the global economy.

One of the most important features of an attractive, vibrant urban area is an engaging park system. Supporting the economy, public health, environment, workforce development, and education, park and recreation services are also one of the most important factors contributing to the satisfaction and happiness of citizens in their communities—second only to faith-based institutions.  Continue reading