Urban Agenda Brief - A Look Back & the Path Forward

Gasworks Seattle

The Urban Agenda in Action

When the Urban Agenda launched in 2015, it laid out three core principles of relevancy, collaboration, and One NPS. These principles were designed to help the NPS reach new audiences and build stronger connections to the 80% of Americans living in urban areas.

The Urban Agenda centers around three main principles:
  1. Be Relevant to All Americans: Creating meaningful connections with the American public propels the work of the Urban Agenda. Relevancy is critical Service-wide but especially in urban areas. The Urban Lights publication, Model City vignettes, and Community Liaison Position Description offer tools for increasing NPS relevancy to all Americans.
  2. Activating One NPS: The NPS consists of 417 diverse park units and 54 programs serving communities across the country. The Urban Agenda calls for the unprecedented alignment of the entire agency by linking the work of national parks and programs to advance conservation, education, recreation, and economic development in urban areas. The Directory of NPS Community Assistance Programs is a resource for identifying programs to advance community needs.
  3. Nurture a Culture of Collaboration: The successful deployment of these principles requires a culture of collaboration, as the NPS cannot go it alone, especially in urban areas. The Culture of Collaboration Handbook offer several practical tips for bolstering collaborative efforts.

From Piloting to Broad Application

The Urban Agenda included a two-year pilot period to intentionally model the principles of relevancy, collaboration, and One NPS in ten model cities across the country. Urban Fellows were placed in each model city, serving as liaisons between the NPS and the community.

The collection of lessons learned and resources listed below came from the pilot phase tested out in model cities and other urban centers. The resulting resources - case studies, best practices, an NPS program directory, and a collaboration handbook - are relevant to anyone interested in activating new approaches to engagement, programming, and partnerships in communities. Going forward, the lessons and recommendations that came from this pilot can be applied in a variety of densities, parks, and communities in both urban and rural settings.

Key Takeaways

Significant impacts and lessons have surfaced as parks and programs in and beyond the model cities have activated the Urban Agenda. There are a number of takeaways and lessons learned, including:
  • Relevancy requires relationships. Engaging local community partners to learn more about what they value shifts the focus of “relevancy” from being solely NPS-based to community-oriented, which is welcomed, integrated, and sustainable.
  • Engage programs to activate One NPS. Relationships between parks and programs have great potential for growth and support. Recognizing present collaborative opportunities and building these relationships helps the NPS better align internal resources and skillsets to meet community needs.
  • Collaboration thrives on diversity. Urban Fellows have built robust networks. Connections among these contacts suggest that routinely engaging dissimilar organizations helps to embed the NPS in the local context.
These takeaways have been collected and developed into helpful tools below for NPS staff and partners as they activate and embed the three principles into their work. Each Urban Agenda product reflects at least one of the principles in action, and many speak to what it looks like to activate all three concurrently.

Relevancy & Collaboration

  • Urban Lights: This publication highlights success stories from the Bay Area to Boston. It demonstrates the greater relevancy NPS staff and partner organizations achieved by activating the Urban Agenda principles.
  • Community Liaison Position Description: The role of the Urban Fellow as a convenor and community liaison was instrumental for success. This position description was developed based on the need for a more permanent position to bring groups together and serve as an Urban Agenda activist.
  • Culture of Collaboration Handbook: (Coming soon) The Urban Fellows developed a number of recommendations for parks and NPS programs looking to increase relevancy and collaboration.This handbook captures 10 best practices for collaborative efforts between NPS staff and communities.


  • Directory of National Park Service Community Assistance Programs: During the past two years, significant time went into aligning parks and programs to increase relevancy in communities and ensure that NPS staff understood the suite of NPS programs available to communities. This directory was created for NPS staff and community partners in order to more easily access NPS assistance programs and other resources.
  • One NPS Workshops Summary & Toolkits: Workshops were held for NPS park and program staff nationwide. Staff identified ways to more strategically align NPS resources. These One NPS tools detail workshop findings and offer activities to host a One NPS workshop in your park or program area.
  • NPS Connections (City Sheets): Brief summaries mapping out the NPS footprint in major urban centers.

Lessons from the Model Cities

  • Evaluation of the Three Principles in Action: This formal evaluation looks at the Urban Agenda’s impact in three model cities: Detroit, Tucson, and Boston.
  • Model City Vignettes: The Urban Fellows and Hosts spent two years intentionally testing out new ways the NPS could work with communities. These vignettes encompass their stories, successes, and challenges.
  • NPS Partnership Guide to City Government: Developed by the Urban Fellows, this guide was developed out of a need to create stronger relationships across government agencies for greater community impact.

What's Next

As the National Park Service enters its 101st year, it is time to take a collective deep breath to reflect on the full spectrum of learning and impact that came from the Urban Agenda. Since its inception, the Park Service has taken periodic pauses to step back and reflect on what we've learned in order to continue to serve Americans and remain an integral part of their lives. The information gathered from these last two years will be used to determine how to best serve communities and park visitors moving forward.

The Urban Agenda isn't simply another initiative or a one-off that sunsets after the two-year pilot phase. Rather, a seed has been planted that is spreading throughout the agency, one that champions community-based collaboration and understands the critical need to relate to all who live in this country.

The Urban Agenda has opened doors to new ways of thinking in the Park Service, ensuring that the NPS is committed to serving and protecting a greater diversity of voices, people, stories, thoughts, and special places. Moving forward, the Park Service will institute the findings and recommendations from the Urban Agenda to ensure we spend our next 100 years as an agency that is relevant and in touch with Americans, wherever they may live.

Activate the Urban Agenda in Your Park, Program, or Organization

The Urban Agenda helped the NPS engage in efforts to strengthen relevancy, collaboration, and park-program alignment. The future of the NPS hinges on embedding these principles across the Service. As we move forward, think about where you fit in. As you read through the tools and documents above, consider the following questions:

  • If you work for the NPS or an NPS partner, how do these principles apply to your work?

  • If you do not work for the NPS or an affiliated partner, how are these principles relevant or applicable to your organization’s work?

  • Are there any NPS staff, partners, or community members that would benefit from these resources? What are some ways you could share these Urban Agenda products with them?

Last updated: September 20, 2017