The Many Values of Public Parks

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					                             Once Again, Why Public Parks?


                                                                         Maurice H. Schwartz

    The Many Values of Public Parks


L
         ike most of us, I took the national and state parks and forests for grant-
         ed—until the shock struck. That they were “public” simply had not
         really entered my consciousness. High-level talk about privatizing the
         national parks in the early 1980s, however, sent an imperative signal.
Though early, the time had come to recognize the long-term threat of the parks’
being converted into yet another money-making machine. This issue of THE
GEORGE WRIGHT FORUM is intended to remind us, and to extend our under-
standing, of the foundations of America’s remarkable system of national, state,
county, and municipal public parks.
   Normally, I like to have my say. ly engaged in it, the action/transaction is
However, the authors of the papers essentially private. So, if two people have a
written for this issue of the FORUM discussion or make an exchange, their action
responded so powerfully to the chal- is private if nobody else is affected. However,
lenge “Once Again; Why Public most transactions have consequences that
                                           extend beyond the individual participants to
Parks?” that I have decided to use two affect others, often in non-obvious ways. For
sets of their words to introduce my example, we have a better breakfast because
editor’s summary.                          of the principally private transactions of farm-
   In “Recreational Values of Public ers, grocers, and butchers all acting in their
Parks,” Bob Manning and Tom More own interests than we would if we were
write: “The spectrum of values [of served in a philanthropic spirit. Such transac-
parks] reflects the various purposes or tions are social because they affect others
functions that parks can serve within beyond the immediate participants. But
our society. A further qualification Dewey is careful not to conflate the social
must be applied, however: What does with the public: ‘Many private acts are social,
                                                                  contribute to the welfare
it mean for something to be a ‘public’ their consequences or affect its status and
                                           of the community
park? There are, after all, private parks prospects.’ Rather, the dividing line between
and reserves that can provide many of public and private comes when the indirect
the same values. What differentiates consequences of actions are recognized as
public parks and makes them neces- being so important as to require systematic
sary? In a society that prides itself on regulation to either enhance positive conse-
market-based solutions to problems, quences or control negative ones. Thus, the
we need to be clear about which of public sector is justified in acting when the
these values are publicly important market fails to produce sufficient quantities
                                           of something positive or when the negative
and why.” They continue:
    John Dewey argued that the public inter-       effects of market transactions must be miti-
est arises from the consequenc es of actions.      gated. The public provision of parks is clearly
When the consequences of an action or trans-       an instance of the former.
action are confined to the individual(s) direct-       So the reason that the public sector inter-


4                                                                 The George Wright FORUM
                              Once Again, Why Public Parks?
venes is because private markets sometimes          market failure is with unique resources—there
fail to produce enough of something that we         is only one Yellowstone, only one Liberty Bell.
consider valuable. We have public schools,          If we concede that such resources are central
public libraries, and public health clinics         to our national heritage such that it is desir-
because we believe that all children should         able for all Americans to see them, then it
receive at least some education, that it is         would be inappropriate to have them in the
desirable to encourage the distribution of          private sector. If they were operated privately
books and other educational material, and           (or quasi-privately according to market princi-
that low-income people should have access to        ples), their rarity would drive up the price,
at least a minimal level of healthcare. Almost      excluding low-income people—as may be hap-
certainly these goals would not be accom-           pening with the current fee demonstration
plished if we relied solely on private markets.     program in the national parks. In standard
In the past, public parks and recreation have       economics, when the supply of something is
been cast in the same mold. For example, we         scarce and the demand is high, the market
have public playgrounds because the moth-           will signal producers to expand production,
ers of the playground movement wanted safe,         and demand and supply would eventually
stimulating, educational spaces that would          reach equilibrium. But Yellowstone and the
keep children off the streets and they recog-       Liberty Bell are not widgets—their supply is
nized that public action was required to            fixed at one, and it is impossible to expand
achieve these goals. Or we established public       production in any meaningful sense. Conse-
campgrounds because we believed it was              quently we ask the public sector to oversee
desirable to encourage citizens to explore          their allocation, not to allocate them efficient-
America and its natural and cultural history.       ly to the highest bidders (those most willing to
      This view of parks as public goods has        pay), but fairly, so that everyone has an oppor-
sometimes come under attack by those who            tunity to visit. Private markets are efficient,
challenge the idea that recreation is socially      but they may not treat people equally.
necessary and who argue that the private sec-
tor could do a better, more efficient job of ful-
                                                       The second set of words is from the
filling public recreation demand if it did not
                                                    closing paragraph of Tom Power’s
face public-sector ‘competition.’ This argu-
                                                    “The Economic Foundations of
ment is bolstered by the many changes that
                                                    Public Parks”:
have occurred since the great eras of park             From the very beginning of Western
construction in the United States in the late       European urban settlement, open spaces to
19th and early 20th centuries. For example,         which all citizens had a right of access were
cities now have many private play spaces,           central to urban political and social life. With
reducing the need for public playgrounds, and       industrialization and the growth of very
the private campground industry is now a very       densely settled urban areas, public health
effective supplier of camping experiences. It       considerations led to an expansion of that
becomes imperative, then, that we ask what          urban open space ideal: Citizens needed
today’s public parks do that is different from      access to some bit of the natural world or our
what the private sector does. In other words,       urban areas would become increasingly unliv-
why, and for whom, do markets fail so that the      able. Public parks could provide that. Public
public sector needs to step in to provide sys-      parks helped maintain crucial connections
tematic enhancement?                                between citizens and the natural world and
      Perhaps the most obvious example of           among fellow citizens by providing a shared

Volume 19 • Number 2                           2002                                                5
                             Once Again, Why Public Parks?

common area. Our state and national parks        open to the public. The first fully
simply extended those concepts as we             funded public park dedicated at the
became an increasingly mobile population.        outset as a commons financially sup-
Community and citizenship centers on the         ported by taxes was Birkenhead Park
sharing of a broad range of values and com-      on the outskirts of Liverpool,
mitments. Public parks have played an impor-     England, upon which work began in
tant role in that civic sharing. That role has   1841. “Public parks in early nine-
not diminished in this 21st century. The ‘new’   teenth-century England made the
urbanism that seeks to revitalize our cities     transition from those created under
has come full circle to see the importance of    royal and private initiative to those
shared, open, common spaces in making our        that were fully publicly funded,”
cities attractive, livable places where eco-     Henneberger notes. “The transition
nomic vitality can blossom.                      occurred within the context of a pub-
    Surely one of the distinguishing             lic park movement that sought to meet
values of modern democratic societies            recreational needs and deal with the
is their public parks. The roots of              social problems of poverty, disease,
those parks extend back to the earliest          and wretched living conditions of the
of ancient civilizations. In our opening         lower classes caught up in the excess-
essay, “Origins of Fully Funded Public           es of the Industrial Age.” At
Parks,” John Henneberger tells us that           Birkenhead, the establishment of a
“parks were part of the ambience and             fully funded public park was socially
public activity” of the ancient cities in        and physically based upon opposite
which civilizations were born.                   directions. Socially, it was a top-down
Henneberger, who was with the                    process, from royalty to commoner.
National Park Service (NPS) for thir-            Physically, it was a bottom-up process
ty-three years as a ranger, superintend-         of transforming an “unattractive,
ent, planner, and manager in a number            swampy, low-lying tract” to the excit-
of parks and central offices, is current-        ing landscape of the park built on its
ly writing a history of parks from               foundation.
Paleolithic times to the present. He                 The early royal and private parks of
points out that the early parks were             antiquity served primarily for recre-
not dedicated to “the specific purpose           ation, including sport hunting, which
of affording an amenity site for leisure         is no longer an acceptable form of
and recreational activity for use by all         recreation in many public parks. New
the people of the community.” That               forms of recreation became popular
purpose emerged only very recently.              from time to time, and most were
The early parks mainly served the                added to the growing repertoire of
royal and religious purposes of ruling           recreation in parks. Given the com-
elites.                                          mon origins and mutually supporting
    With the passage of time, the pri-           continuity and growth of parks and
vate parks increasingly admitted more            recreation, we have placed Manning
and more of the general population,              and More’s paper, “Recreational
initially only for festive occasions. We         Values Of Public Parks,” immediately
can think of them as private parks               following Henneberger’s “Origins.”

6                                                            The George Wright FORUM
                               Once Again, Why Public Parks?
Bob Manning, a professor of recre-                  now accommodates nearly 300 million visits
ation management at the University of               annually. While the popularity of parks is a
Vermont, and Tom More, a U.S.                       testament to their success and cause for cel-
Forest Service research scientist,                  ebration, it may lead to unacceptable impacts
report that their survey of visitors to             to parks and to the quality of recreation expe-
Vermont state parks reveals that visi-              riences. How much and what kinds of recre-
tors rate recreation as the most impor-             ation can ultimately be accommodated in
tant value of parks.                                public parks? A related issue concerns poten-
    Beyond their analysis of the con-               tial conflicts among the multiple values of
nections between parks and recre-                   public parks. When recreation affects signifi-
ation, Manning and More set forth a                 cant natural, cultural, historical, scientific,
number of arguments that support the                educational, and other values of public parks
view that much of the recreational                  as described in this special issue of THE
value of parks can be realized only                 GEORGE WRIGHT FORUM, informed management
when they are owned and maintained                  must balance all these increasingly important
by common action through govern-                    values.
ment. They write: “In sum, parks are                    Given that, “as a social science,
publicly important because they pro-                economics focuses on improving the
vide recreation (and other) services                ways we use scarce resources to satisfy
that the market either cannot create or             human needs and desires,” and given
cannot distribute equitably.” Nowhere               further that public parks serve a signif-
do they imply, however, that any and                icant array of those needs and desires,
all forms of recreation are acceptable              the linkage between public as well as
in public parks or that there are no                private parks and economics is very
limits to recreation. Indeed, they close            clear. In his article, Tom Power, pro-
with the following candid appraisal of              fessor of economics and chair of the
the downside potential that one way or              economics department at the
another is an inevitable partner of all             University of Montana, examines both
human affairs:                                      the direct and the indirect ways that
     The primacy of recreation in parks has led     the range of public parks serve a wide
to several paradoxes that challenge contem-         variety of human purposes of econom-
porary park management. For example, if             ic significance.
parks provide increasingly important recre-             The economic role of public parks
ational values to society, how can we ensure        includes the variety of ways they
these values accrue equitably to all members        “improve the ‘livability’ of neighbor-
of society? Minority populations are histori-       hoods, cities, and regions. They do
cally underrepresented in the national parks,       this by providing a flow of valuable
and this issue will become increasingly impor-      environmental services: open space,
tant as minority populations grow substantial-      reduced congestion, contact with
ly in the coming decades, and issues of social      nature and wildlife, recreational
and environmental justice demand greater            opportunities,        scenic    beauty,
attention in public policy. Ironically, the popu-   improved air and water quality, quiet,
larity of parks may lead to ‘capacity’ prob-        a slowed pace of human activity, a
lems, at least in some places at some times.        relaxed place to meet and interact with
For example, the U.S. National Park System

Volume 19 • Number 2                           2002                                              7
                                Once Again, Why Public Parks?

fellow citizens, and so on.” This flow           ical in Mexico, working on a book
of services constitutes economic activ-          about nineteenth-century public
ity. “The point is that local environ-           parks.
mental quality—natural, social, and                  Schenker reminds us that “it is
cultural—matters to people, and,                 important to remember that public
because of that, has significant eco-            parks are a potent symbol of certain
nomic importance. It is the contribu-            principles that should never really be
tion of public parks to those site-spe-          taken at face value. For one thing, they
cific local amenities that is the basis of       symbolize the principle of equity. The
their economic importance.”                      notion of equity has been intrinsic to
    A major, very positive economic              public parks since they first began to
influence of the national parks is strik-        proliferate around the world in the
ingly summarized as follows:                     nineteenth century.” As a milestone
    For the longer period of analysis (1969-     example, Schenker points out that
1998), almost all the areas surrounding the      equity — fairness — was critically
large national parks showed above-average        important to Frederick Law Olmsted
economic vitality. Ninety-one percent showed     in his pioneering designs of American
above-average population and job growth;         parks. As she also points out, even
86% saw aggregate real income rise at above-     tyrants have established public parks
average rates. A third had above-average         open to all. Reading her article has led
growth in average real income. Averaged          me to a new conscious realization that
across all 21 large national park areas, popu-   there are no places more equitable
lation growth was almost four times faster       than public parks.
than the national average. Job growth was            A second meaning of equity has to
almost three times faster. Aggregate real        do with financial considerations,
income grew twice as fast as the national        namely, “the money value of a proper-
average.                                         ty or of an interest in a property in
   Beyond their economic utility,                excess of claims or liens against it.”
parks are important symbols of social            Modern parks, both private and pub-
equity. “People of all ages and various          lic, early on had close financial con-
walks of life ... strolling, chatting, eat-      nections. “The idea of public parks
ing, playing games, boating, and gen-            took hold around the world not only
erally enjoying themselves” says it all          because they served certain political
for most public parks of the world.              agendas and represented certain ideals
Sure, our great national parks and oth-          of social justice, but also, in large part,
ers like them, such as Africa’s game             because of real estate speculators who
parks, conjure up a very different               began to view them as a marketable
vision. Parks in general, however, are           amenity.” Successful middle-class
wonderfully pictured in Heath                    businessmen “advocated public parks
Schenker’s article, “Why Public                  because they believed that they would
Parks: A Matter of Equity?” She is               improve the image of a city, and there-
associate professor of landscape archi-          fore make it more attractive to new
tecture at the University of                     business investors. What kind of busi-
California–Davis, currently on sabbat-           nessman would want to bring his fam-

8                                                             The George Wright FORUM
                            Once Again, Why Public Parks?

ily to live in a city with no public          Wilderness Act of 1964 that NPS
park?!”                                       overcame its historical reluctance to
    The case for the great natural pub-       feature wilderness and to “embrace
lic parks is clearly laid out in the histo-   the wilderness preservation move-
ry of wilderness, wildlife, and ecologi-      ment.” NPS leadership viewed
cal protection. One can imagine only          Yellowstone, Glacier, and Grand
very rare instances in which a private        Canyon “as entire units, possess[ing]
refuge was set aside for wilderness,          the essential qualities of wilderness.
wildlife, and ecological protection. If       Declaring any particular part of the
there is any preservation need as acute       park as wilderness was simply redun-
as “protecting scenic wonders and             dant, and so the NPS advanced con-
wilderness landscapes of unique beau-         servative proposals for park wilder-
ty against tawdry exploitation and            ness areas.” As the years went by
industrial incursion,” the root of the        wilderness, wildlife, and ecological
national parks, it is the need to protect     values gradually rose in importance in
wilderness, wildlife, and ecological          the management of the parks. Like so
values.                                       many significant developments, this
    True, “wildlife” was specified in         was necessarily a step-by-step process.
the National Park Service Organic             Pritchard, an environmental historian
Act. It was not until 1930, however, as       and teacher in the departments of
Jim Pritchard informs us in “The              landscape architecture and of animal
Meaning of Nature: Wilderness,                ecology at Iowa State University, vivid-
Wildlife, and Ecological Values in the        ly details the events and the people
National Parks,” that “ecological and         who made that development happen.
wildlife values became firmly inter-          It required “successive understand-
twined in the national parks.” As a           ings of nature” to redefine “the mean-
matter of very special interest to most       ings of wilderness, wildlife, and eco-
readers of this journal, that firm inter-     logical relationships.”
twining drew heavily on the pioneer-              Maryland’s state parks evolved
ing biological work of George                 from state forest reserves, and were
Melendez Wright, for whom the                 initially devoted to nature preservation
Society is named. The newly estab-            and shortly thereafter to public recre-
lished wildlife division of NPS, led by       ation. As Ross Kimmel, supervisor of
Wright, “instituted the Fauna series of       cultural resource management for the
publications on national park wildlife,       Maryland State Forest and Park
recommended extensive biological              Service, notes: “It wasn’t long, howev-
research in the national parks, and           er, before sites of historic significance
proposed guidelines for wildlife man-         were added to a growing universe of
agement that departed from single-            public parks.” This process of nature
species management to emphasize an            conservation first, followed by recre-
ecosystem-oriented approach and the           ation and then historic preservation,
restoration of wildlife to natural condi-     can be seen in the development of
tions.”                                       Maryland’s state forests and parks as
    It was only after passage of the          described in Kimmel’s article “The

Volume 19 • Number 2                     2002                                        9
                                 Once Again, Why Public Parks?

Value of Historic and Cultural                      resources, saves and protects them,
Resources in Public Parks.”                         and lets the people, whose heritage
    Although in Maryland many of the                those resources constitute, experience
acquisitions of historically or cultural-           and learn from the resources. Public
ly significant resources were made                  parks are among the largest reposito-
explicitly to acquire the resources,                ries of historical and cultural
many such resources in “nature” parks               resources. It is therefore morally and
were celebrated upon their discovery                profoundly incumbent upon public
later on. Fort Frederick, a large stone             parks to protect, enhance, and inter-
relic of the French and Indian War                  pret those resources for the benefit of
(1756-1763), pictured on our cover, is              humanity.”
an example of the first kind. A second,                 Science and public parks present a
very different example is Point                     remarkable mutuality. As David
Lookout State Park, the site of the                 Graber, the senior science advisor for
largest prison camp of the Civil War.               Sequoia and Kings Canyon National
Acquired for its historic significance,             Parks, sets forth in his article
it has become a major resource for a                “Scientific Values of Public Parks,” the
wide variety of water-based recreation.             parks are important objects of a great
    Kimmel also describes a paradoxi-               variety of scientific research purely for
cal management situation in which an                the purpose of expanding our under-
area “that is not natural at all” is being          standing of the universe. On the other
managed as if to keep it in a “pristine             hand, the results of such knowledge-
‘natural’ state”:                                   seeking research increasingly con-
    Soldier’s Delight Natural Environment           tribute to the day-to-day and long-
Area is a shale barren incapable of sustaining      term management of the parks. We
the typical deciduous forests of most of the        could call such a flow of information
rest of [Maryland]. Left to nature’s design,        and analysis a by-product of the
Soldier’s Delight would become a forest of          research. Scientific research conduct-
scrub pine and swamp oak, the soil is so poor.      ed explicitly on behalf of park manage-
However, the state, with volunteer help, rou-       ment in the first place, in order to
tinely burns off sprouting trees in order to        enrich the surety of a wide range of
maintain the area as prairie grassland host-        management decision-making, is
ing flora and fauna that are rare in the state.     becoming more frequent.
And in so doing, we today continue a practice           Of course, very good reasons
started in prehistoric times by Native              account for the scientific interest in the
Americans, who burned the poor forest cover         parks. Parks contain “natural or his-
in order to drive game and provide clear fields     toric objects of significant interest and
of fire for hunting. Is Soldier’s Delight truly a   value to society” that are attractive
“natural environment area?” One could argue         objects of research to the scientist.
that it is in fact a cultural environment area,     Secondly, as Graber points out, “parks
because human beings have for centuries             are relatively unperturbed by con-
artificially maintained it as grassland....         founding variables,” making for clean-
  He concludes: “A wise society hus-                er targets of research. In the third
bands its historic and cultural                     place, many parks provide “invaluable

10                                                               The George Wright FORUM
                             Once Again, Why Public Parks?

reference points for comparison with             buy out local frivolities and special interests?
the ever more extensive altered land-
scapes that have been converted to                  He goes on to remind us: “It is the
human utility.” This is of particular            common knowledge of 130 years. At
value to long-term studies.                      their largest, America’s national parks
                                                 maintain the hope of preserving natu-
   It is in the relatively new arena of          ral systems; as historical parks, they
long-term ecological research and                remain the nation’s shrines. Parks of
monitoring that parks and scientific             the people should be owned by the
research really come together, accord-           people, managed by the people, and
ing to Graber. “Traditional research,            remain a statement of pride to the
in national parks and elsewhere, was             world. The national parks are indeed a
designed to fit well within a period of          national mission, the country acting in
a few years—the typical amount of                Congress assembled.”
time allotted to a graduate student’s               Whereas the principal “attackers”
research and (not coincidentally) the            of the past were motivated virtually
usual duration of a funding grant. The           exclusively by economic considera-
accelerating urgency of understanding            tions, Runte identifies more recent
the change taking place all over our             detractors as including persons of the
planet, and an increasing need to place          very same intellectual character as the
that change in the context of ecological         great early advocates and leaders for
time scales (decades to millennia) and           the parks. He vigorously denies the
evolutionary time scales (millennia to           charges that the parks fail in terms of
millions of years) has moved long-               satisfying diversity and multicultural-
term research and monitoring to the              ism concerns. He focuses so sharply
forefront of conservation biology as             on the intellectuals that he practically
well as to that of parks’ perceived              brushes the far right and its
needs for scientific information.                “Sagebrush Rebellion” off to the side.
   Alfred Runte, author of the modern            Altogether, he provides a powerful
classic National Parks: The American             answer to the question, “once again,
Experience, opens his article “Why               why public parks?”
National Parks?” with this observa-                 James Dunmyer, assistant secretary
tion:                                            of the Maryland Department of
    Detailing why there are national parks in    Natural Resources, identifies state
THE GEORGE WRIGHT FORUM would seem like          parks as the backbone of the system of
rehashing what is obvious for those already      public lands in the United States
convinced. Who better than park profession-      (“State Parks: The Backbone”). He
als know the evolution of the national parks,    recognizes that state parks “have been
from cultural pride to biological sanctuary to   created by all techniques imaginable,
historic preservation and urban redemption?      are managed in a variety of innovative
More, who believes in these mandates with-       ways” and provide a unique service to
out question? Who better understands—and         the public. Like a backbone, state
again accepts—why the size and diversity of      parks provide a connection, in the sys-
the system requires the federal government,      tem of public parks, between the local
including the power of the federal purse to      and federal parks. Recent events pro-
Volume 19 • Number 2                        2002                                              11
                           Once Again, Why Public Parks?

vide additional support for the value      argument for the existence of state
of these parks.                            parks as a distinct aspect of the public
    Having supervised Maryland’s           domain.
state public lands system during the           State park systems learned from the
1990s, Dunmyer concludes that the          experience and now operate with
period was “not kind to state parks.”      numerous partners. This approach
The responsibilities of state park sys-    forms an important part of their future
tems expanded while budgets and            as state parks face significant changes
staffing declined. Parks simply could      in user trends, such as those seeking
not compete for scarce public funds        more active “flow-through” experi-
against schools, hospitals, or prisons.    ences on bicycles and kayaks. State
As a result, the state parks became        parks must meet the challenge of these
innovators in the park profession,         recreation trends and also develop a
developing creative volunteer pro-         sense of stewardship ethic in each citi-
grams and other new ideas in funding,      zen. “What state parks need the most,”
revenue generation, and operating          says Dunmyer, “are advocates.” The
policies. As parks became more busi-       citizen–advocate can ensure that gov-
ness-like, problems arose because          ernment follows the directive of the
state parks are not a business. He         people. State parks—indeed all public
clearly relates the business dilemma       parks—are an irreplaceable element of
for parks: “it is impossible to delegate   society. That, perhaps, is the funda-
the public portion of the system’s         mental answer to the question posed
responsibility.” There rests a powerful    in this issue of the FORUM.

Maurice H. Schwartz, P.O. Box 12220, Silver Spring, Maryland 20908;
  parks@his.com



                                      ❖



12                                                     The George Wright FORUM