National Parks, A Uniquely American Innovation

National Parks are a uniquely American concept. Sparked during the American civil war, the idea has often been in tension with that other American ideal, free markets and private ownership. Nonetheless, we did have the vision and insight that our great American landscapes are a treasure and should be protected by the people for the people. National parks are where democracy meets nature, an area that is protected from the Tragedy of the Commons.

One of the interesting questions is how do the Parks play in the imagination and hearts of Americans today, and how did it get to be this way? In our workaholic, always on, techno-gizmo world, what is our relationship to nature? What can it be? Are we alienated from nature, or just redefining our relationship to it and its place in our lives?

Moreover, how can this amazing and awesome resource be reincorporated with our modern lives and priorities to provide us with ongoing protection, rejuvenation, connection and inspiration? Not something we go to occasionally, but something incorporated into our lives. For many nature already holds a special, spiritual place in their hearts, but this is only one level at which our relationship to place can effect our lives. It can also effect our emotional, intellectual and social lives. For example, green spaces in urban centers become not just a refuge from concrete, but public spaces where ideas are exchanged. In the tranquilly and beauty of a greenspace, engineers contemplate the design of nature and how it can be adopted through biomimicry to create better products.

Many National Parks are “away” from our everyday experience. Where and how do we bridge the gap so, like anything we hold dear, being away is not alienation? Psychological and emotional distance does not follow the same rules as physical distance. Places we left long ago in childhood can be more immediate to our sense of self and daily life than the spaces we inhabit. Is there a place in our hearts, minds and lives for these crown jewels of America, the spaces that represent our national heritage, beauty, and ideals of democracy?

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