Speaking Sustainably: NRPA's National Summit on Environmental Stewardship Provides a Perfect Convergence of Public Parks, Environmental Sustainability, and Community Advocacy

Parks & Recreation, July 2008 | Go to article overview

Speaking Sustainably: NRPA's National Summit on Environmental Stewardship Provides a Perfect Convergence of Public Parks, Environmental Sustainability, and Community Advocacy


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For three days in May, nearly 400 participants--leaders in public parks and recreation, conservationists, land stewards, citizen advocates, and others--gathered in Portland, Ore., for NRPA's multi-day National Summit on Environmental Stewardship. More than an event, it was an effort aimed at staking a claim for public parks and recreation in building environmental stewardship and advancing community leadership in sustainable practices.

Set against the perfect backdrop--Portland is a city that essentially caters to walkers and bicyclists--participants learned about stewardship opportunities from experts across the country, witnessed keynote addresses from some of the brightest minds in environmental sustainability, and toured a city renowned for its livability.

From Sustainable South Bronx's Miquela Craytor, who spoke about revitalizing neighborhoods through "green" job growth and citizen empowerment, to Jim Desmond, director of Portland's Metro Parks and Greenspaces Department, who addressed the importance of partnerships and relationships in creating sustainable regional landscapes, session presenters focused on the three pillars of stewardship as defined by the summit: people, parks, and public land.

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"People need to feel empowered to be a part of environmental change and restoration," said Craytor. "They need to understand what they can do to be a part of change--how to restore landscapes, how to remove invasive species, how to do water testing."

Bigger than sprawl, bigger than climate change, crowd favorite Gina McCarthy, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, told summit participants that the biggest problem we face today is the disconnect between children and nature.

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"Parks are critical to the well-being of society today," said McCarthy, "and kids aren't getting there anymore. What have we done? Half of the kids today between the ages of 9 and 12 never hike, fish, or play at the beach. Never."

But less an indictment than a spotlight on how communities are enhancing livability, the summit celebrated the achievements that public park and recreation agencies are making in leading local environmental and sustainability efforts.

Consider the following:

* The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by participating in the Cool Counties Initiative, a voluntary program aimed at shrinking the causes of global warming. The authority's efforts at one of its golf courses, for example, saved enough energy to heat and cool 103 homes for a year.

* The Chicago Park District's arsenal of nature-based programs include Helping Us Grow, or HUG, community gardening, which provides garden space in local parks where residents can test their green thumbs and learn about planting and reaping, and the Junior Earth Team, a career-development program for teens that fosters a connection with the natural environment and encourages young people to consider environmental careers.

"This summit" said NRPA interim CEO Katie Grove, "is a beginning, an introduction to how intimately involved public parks and recreation is to contributing to reconnecting people with nature and solving problems around conservation, sustainability, and the environment. …

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