Our parks are always just there. State parks, local playgrounds, national parks. A good idea that gets bigger and better every year. Such a great idea that we forget how revolutionary they are. How much them improve our communities and our country, whether we use them or not. And how much fun they are to visit when we do. Parks are essential public goods and when we talk about them – and when we’re in them – we need to make sure we’re creating more support for them and for other common goods. Even when we’re complaining that we wish they were open more – or let us bring dogs. Or stopped letting in all the dogs.
So, of course, we’ve created a How To Talk tool to make it easy.
Parks are one of the things that nearly every American agrees is an extraordinary public system. They, like libraries and schools, are the “front porches” of our public spaces, where we interact the most freely with other members of our communities and with our government itself. Which makes conversations about them a great way to build support for other great public structures that people don’t use as much.
And this year is the 100th anniversary of our national parks system. So we’re going to be talking about them a lot. Because America changed the way we the world saw and created shared public spaces. Instead of creating private hunting reserves for the elite and the gentry, we made parks to share with every American and with visitors from around the world. So that everyone could share in the magnificent glory of America.
“National parks were a good idea that has gotten better, and a big idea that has gotten bigger. The system now includes not just parks proper and national monuments but also battlefields, forts, seashores, scenic rivers, grave sites, and other significant places (some still privately owned) that are recognized as national historic landmarks, as well as noteworthy paths through landscape and history, such as the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama. Jon Jarvis, the current director of the National Park Service, says that its purpose is to tell America’s story, not simply protect parcels of landscape. “If not us, who else? It’s our job.” As we celebrate the centennial, we also should remember that, although one act of Congress and a presidential signature can put a park on the map, the work of preserving these places and their stories falls to us too, as citizens, as owners, and it’s never done.”
Parks are tremendous resources for their communities, whether any individual person takes advantage of them personally. Communities with parks are healthier, neighborhoods with parks in them are more likely to house thriving families, and they have huge, positive economic impacts. We know that our national parks create thriving economies in the wilds, but our state parks have over 720 million visitors per year who walk their 38,000 miles of trails and camp in their 221,000 campsites – creating over $20 billion in revenue. Just in Maryland, state parks generate over $649 million in tourist expenditures every year.
So we have to protect them. And promote them. And make them even better public spaces by ensuring that they are accessible, comfortable, easy places to be active, and a sociable place where people can interact, if they want.
For the TL;DR crowd:
- Lead with values to talk about why people should care about parks, even if they don’t visit them.
- Deploy Ripple Effects to help people understand how the benefits of parks affect entire communities.
- Cue Civic Ownership by reminding people that what happens to our parks affects the entire community, so we can strengthen them.
- Get Tactile by talking about what we do in parks.
- Connect to the future and the past by noting how much our parents and grandparents invested in parks to create these beautiful public spaces for us – and how we can protect them for our kids and grandkids and beyond.
- Critique while building support by pairing your criticisms of how parks are being created or maintained in your community with statements of how parks are important, so those problems can be fixed.
But you really should read the whole tool. It has examples. And more explanations. You may find jokes. You never know.
So download the tool now. And let’s do what we can do to make conversations about our parks – the ones down the street where our kids played and the ones across the country that we dream about camping and exploring in – more productive.