Late last year, four multidisciplinary teams were invited to propose pilot projects for four national parks in the American Northeast, as part of the National Parks Nowdesign competition. Organized by the National Park Service (NPS) and the Van Alen Institute, the competition sought solutions that would reinvent the national-park visiting experience.
The competition concluded with one overall winner and three finalists, but all the proposals are valuable for future use. The NPS summed up key findings from the entries and compiled them into the “Six Great Ideas for Connecting Parks to New Audiences” (listed at the bottom), which can become a handy guide for the NPS and other groups to apply to similar sites and initiatives.
Check out the projects in more detail below.
“Great Falls, Great Food, Great Stories” – Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, Paterson, NJ
“One of the greatest challenges for Paterson Great Falls has been attracting local Paterson residents to the park and, similarly, connecting out-of-town park visitors to the city of Paterson. The city itself has a rich cultural history as a major center of manufacturing and innovation in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The park emerged during this industrial period and is deeply rooted in cultural narratives of that time. Today, the city remains one of the most densely populated in the country, with large immigrant communities that have rich cultural traditions of their own. Team Paterson’s project addresses the park’s challenges of audience and engagement with a pilot project that imagines the park and city as extensions of each other, creating programs that connect the park’s cultural past with the lives and diverse cultural traditions of contemporary Paterson residents.
More specifically, Team Paterson’s project proposes ongoing food-related programming that establishes long-term partnerships between the park and community restaurants. For example, the team will brand common restaurant items – such as take-out bags and placemats – with the slogan “Great Falls, Great Food, Great Stories,” creating relevant associations between the park and the diverse cultural traditions and histories existing nearby. The team also developed eye-catching wayfinding and social media campaigns that highlight the proximity of the park to popular restaurants on Paterson’s Market Street, encouraging partnerships between restaurant owners and NPS staff. The relationships built through this pilot will carry over to Taste of Paterson, a food festival in partnership with area restaurants, to be held at Paterson Great Falls in summer 2016.”
Steamtown National Historic Site, Scranton, PA
“Led by Abigail Smith-Hanby of FORGE with Ashley Ludwig, Andrew Dawson, Max Lozach, and CJ Gardella, Team FORGE proposed incorporating the S.T.E.A.M. curriculum into the park’s programming, tying the legacy of train making at Steamtown to today’s Maker Movement in efforts to connect the park’s history to more diverse, younger audiences, and as well as to educational curricula. The pilot took place on September 26, 2015 as a one-day workshop with local students who learned welding and other manufacturing techniques, and explored 21st-century transportation through a DIY electronics workshop.”
Weir Farm National Historic Site, Wilton, CT
“Led by Aaron Forrest of the Rhode Island School of Design and Principal of Ultramoderne with Yasmin Vobis, Suzanne Mathew, Noah Klersfeld, Dungjai Pungauthaikan, and Jessica Forrest, the team devised wayfinding techniques that encourage visitors to guide themselves around the park and to focus their attention on light, color, and other natural phenomena. For their pilot, the team constructed a set of viewpoles to be distributed throughout the site on October 10, 2015, encouraging visitors to look closer at the landscape. The park plans to redistribute the viewpoles at different points throughout the course of the year with the help of their resident curator, highlighting elements of the landscape each season.”
Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, Oyster Bay, NY (the estate of former president Theodore Roosevelt)
“Team Wayward / Projects is a collaboration between the landscape, architecture and art practice Wayward (London) and graphic design studio, Project Projects (New York). Led by Prem Krishnamurthy, Amy Seek, Putri Trisulo, Heather Ring, and Shannon Harvey, the team developed and implemented a ‘matchmaking’ methodology (complete with a dating profile for the park) that helped to set up the park on a first date with unexpected potential partners in order to develop entirely new programming opportunities. The pilot is a one-day summit, to take place in spring 2016. Building on Roosevelt’s legacy of engaging with national dialogues from his estate, the summit will address a topic of national and global importance.”
SIX GREAT IDEAS FOR CONNECTING PARKS TO NEW AUDIENCES
- “Blur the boundaries of the park. To foster a sense of community ownership for any given park, we can use programming to blur the boundaries between what is and isn’t the park. Let our experiences and routines and emotional attachments for the surrounding streets, hangouts, and neighborhoods spill into the park, and vice versa. Both the park and its surrounding areas then become more accessible to people who might have ignored one or the other.”
- Let national parks lead national dialogues. “The National Park Service has a tremendous opportunity to reframe the narratives of its parks in order to lead conversations about highly relevant cultural, ecological, and social issues such as climate change and water conservation. Through its sites across the country, and its outreach in diverse communities throughout American society, the National Park Service could be seen as a leader in addressing complex issues that will shape the nation’s future.”
- Help visitors look closer. “Park wayfinding systems are designed to guide and inform people, but sometimes these systems demand too much of our attention. Visitors spend their time in a park staring at apps and maps instead of the world around them. Tools that subtly direct visitors to discover and pay attention to the landscape, while keeping a low-profile, can offer visitors a rare escape from our usual state of infinite distractions.”
- Be a matchmaker. “Parks need good partners, especially in an era of budget and staffing constraints. Partners bring users, advocates, and stewards; they generate ideas about new programs and experiences, and can open doors to new funding and resources.”
- Remix history. “How do you capture historical narrative in a way that’s engaging to people, and that draws on lessons from the past to help point the way in the future? Find a hook that’s relevant for today. Add visuals. Tell it in many languages.”
- Embrace education. “Parks make great classrooms – they offer opportunities for hands-on, immersive learning that cuts across conventional boundaries of a Math, History, or Science class. Educational programs in parks don’t need to be expensive affairs – they can draw on the expertise of park employees, volunteers, or a network of professionals whose work intersects key themes that the park enables visitors to explore.”