Tag Archives: National Parks

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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National Parks

So one of the pieces I am working on right now is some writing and research related to what people think and do in national parks.

We are quite blessed in the US to have an organiation (the National Park Service) that identifies great places for us to learn and play. While most of us probably think of the more nature-related parks like Yellowstone or Yosemite, there are also a lot of places that reflect our culture and history. Some examples of these include:

  • The Andersonville National Historic Site – is a civil war prison site commemorating American POWs
  • Fort Smith – a center of frontier law and order in Arkansas
  • Pecos National Historic Park – a triple site that includes an ancient pueblo community site, a civil war place where the Union forces were able to stop the Confederate march west, and a classic turn of the century cowboy Ranch.
  • So what is at the top of my mind is a) what Park Managers and personnel are concerned about that I might shed light on in my research, and b) what the public thinks about National Parks, and why people either visit or choose not to visit.

    My areas of research expertise includes developing models of complex behaviors (like altruism), analyzing trends over time and space, and doing deep in-depth case studies and ethnography interviews to shed light on how people perceive and make sense of the world. Any ideas about things that I might be able to investigate that you would be interested in?