Announcing Winner of National Parks Now Competition Teams Launch Pilot Projects Van Alen Institute Releases “Six Great Ideas” for Connecting Parks to New Audiences

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News Release Date: September 30, 2015

Contact: Darren Boch, 973-523-2630

Contact: Steven Thomson, 212 924 7000 x 12

PATERSON, NJ– The National Park Service (NPS) and Van Alen Institute, a non-profit organization in New York operating on the belief that design can transform cities, landscapes, and regions to improve people’s lives, today announced the results of National Parks Now, a design competition that aims to transform the national park visitor experience as well as encourage new and diverse audiences to engage with America’s natural resources. The results announced include the competition winner, the launch of pilot projects, and findings distilled from the competition projects: “Six Great Ideas for Connecting National Parks to New Audiences.”

As NPS prepares to celebrate its centennial in 2016,National Parks Nowoffers dozens of strategies for making parks a vital part of people’s lives: developing unconventional partnerships, making historic narratives resonate with new generations, and creating tools that make it easier for people to wander, learn from, or immerse themselves in a landscape.

The competition took place over the past ten months, during which four multidisciplinary teams proposed pilot projects for four national parks in the Northeast, including Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park (Paterson, NJ); Sagamore Hill (Oyster Bay, NY); Steamtown National Historic Site (Scranton, PA); and Weir Farm (Wilton, CT). Working with a broad network of local and regional stakeholders, each pilot project aims to attract new audiences, develop unconventional partnerships, make historic narratives relevant to new generations, and encourage immersion into natural landscapes. Each of the teams received funding from the NPS to implement pilot projects that bring their ideas to life for the general public.

The winning team, Team Paterson, which worked on Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park (NHP), imagines the park and the city as extensions of each other, connecting Great Falls to immigrant communities and their restaurants in the surrounding neighborhoods. Their project "Great Falls, Great Food, Great Stories" is a platform that connects the history and environment of the Great Falls to contemporary life in Paterson, NJ, through the lens of food. The multidisciplinary team is led by graphic designer Manuel Miranda of MMP and the Yale School of Art, and includes communications consultant Frances Medina, social and cultural researcher Mariana Mogilevich, social impact design consultant Valeria Mogilevich, City College of New York/CUNY Spitzer School of Architecture Associate Professor June Williamson, and designer and creative director Willy Wong. The team’s pilot culminates in a tour led by park staff that extends beyond the park to include local restaurants catering a communal meal.

Strategies, methodologies, and other ideas that emerged from each project in the competition have been distilled by Van Alen into “Six Great Ideas for Connecting Parks to New Audiences.” These ideas (enumerated below) can be used by NPS for similar sites across the country as well as municipalities, advocates, and others who are invested in the future of parks, historic sites, managed landscapes, and many other types of landscapes.

“We’re thrilled with the wide range of proposals for visitor experience strategies that the four teams developed,” said Shaun Eyring, Northeast Region Chief of Cultural Resources, National Park Service. “This competition has helped the National Park Service assemble a toolkit of design and programming solutions that can highlight the rich resources all of our parks have to offer in a way that attracts a much broader, more varied audience.”

“Van Alen Institute competitions explore unconventional ways that people can engage with their environments,” said David van der Leer, executive director of Van Alen Institute. “National Parks Nowpushed both designers and park staff to break from their traditional understanding of parks and reimagine what types of experiences a park could provide for the visitor of the future.”

Following the presentation of park proposals and pilots, Van Alen Institute distilled “Six Great Ideas” from the research and findings that can guide NPS as well as municipalities, advocates, and others who are invested in engaging new audiences for historic sites, parks, and many other types of landscapes: 

1.    Blur the boundaries of the park.
To foster a sense of community ownership for any given park, we can use programming to blur the boundaries between what is and isn’t the park. Let our experiences and routines and emotional attachments for the surrounding streets, hangouts, and neighborhoods spill into the park, and vice versa. Both the park and its surrounding areas then become more accessible to people who might have ignored one or the other.

2.   Let national parks lead national dialogues.
The National Park Service has a tremendous opportunity to reframe the narratives of its parks in order to lead conversations about highly relevant cultural, ecological, and social issues such as climate change and water conservation. Through its sites across the country, and its outreach in diverse communities throughout American society, the National Park Service could be seen as a leader in addressing complex issues that will shape the nation’s future.

3.   Help visitors look closer.
Park wayfinding systems are designed to guide and inform people, but sometimes these systems demand too much of our attention. Visitors spend their time in a park staring at apps and maps instead of the world around them. Tools that subtly direct visitors to discover and pay attention to the landscape, while keeping a low-profile, can offer visitors a rare escape from our usual state of infinite distractions.

4.   Be a matchmaker.
Parks need good partners, especially in an era of budget and staffing constraints. Partners bring users, advocates, and stewards; they generate ideas about new programs and experiences, and can open doors to new funding and resources.

5.   Remix history.
How do you capture historical narrative in a way that’s engaging to people, and that draws on lessons from the past to help point the way in the future? Find a hook that’s relevant for today. Add visuals. Tell it in many languages.

6.   Embrace education.
Parks make great classrooms - they offer opportunities for hands-on, immersive learning that cuts across conventional boundaries of a Math, History, or Science class. Educational programs in parks don’t need to be expensive affairs - they can draw on the expertise of park employees, volunteers, or a network of professionals whose work intersects key themes that the park enables visitors to explore.

Each of these ideas is illustrated through dynamic infographics and site photos on view on and available for download here:

WINNING PROJECT by Team Paterson

“Great Falls, Great Food, Great Stories”
Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, Paterson, NJ
One of the greatest challenges for Paterson Great Falls has been attracting local Paterson residents to the park and, similarly, connecting out-of-town park visitors to the city of Paterson. The city itself has a rich cultural history as a major center of manufacturing and innovation in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The park emerged during this industrial period and is deeply rooted in cultural narratives of that time. Today, the city remains one of the most densely populated in the country, with large immigrant communities that have rich cultural traditions of their own. Team Paterson’s project addresses the park’s challenges of audience and engagement with a pilot project that imagines the park and city as extensions of each other, creating programs that connect the park’s cultural past with the lives and diverse cultural traditions of contemporary Paterson residents.

More specifically, Team Paterson’s project proposes ongoing food-related programming that establishes long-term partnerships between the park and community restaurants. For example, the team will brand common restaurant items – such as take-out bags and placemats – with the slogan “Great Falls, Great Food, Great Stories,” creating relevant associations between the park and the diverse cultural traditions and histories existing nearby. The team also developed eye-catching wayfinding and social media campaigns that highlight the proximity of the park to popular restaurants on Paterson’s Market Street, encouraging partnerships between restaurant owners and NPS staff. The relationships built through this pilot will carry over to Taste of Paterson, a food festival in partnership with area restaurants, to be held at Paterson Great Falls in summer 2016.


Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, Oyster Bay, NY
(the estate of former president Theodore Roosevelt)
Team Wayward / Projects is a collaboration between the landscape, architecture and art practice Wayward (London) and graphic design studio, Project Projects (New York). Led by Prem Krishnamurthy, Amy Seek, Putri Trisulo, Heather Ring, and Shannon Harvey, the team developed and implemented a ‘matchmaking’ methodology (complete with a dating profile for the park) that helped to set up the park on a first date with unexpected potential partners in order to develop entirely new programming opportunities. The pilot is a one-day summit, to take place in spring 2016. Building on Roosevelt’s legacy of engaging with national dialogues from his estate, the summit will address a topic of national and global importance.

Steamtown National Historic Site, Scranton, PA
Led by Abigail Smith-Hanby of FORGE with Ashley Ludwig, Andrew Dawson, Max Lozach, and CJ Gardella, Team FORGE proposed incorporating the S.T.E.A.M. curriculum into the park’s programming, tying the legacy of train making at Steamtown to today’s Maker Movement in efforts to connect the park’s history to more diverse, younger audiences, and as well as to educational curricula. The pilot took place on September 26, 2015 as a one-day workshop with local students who learned welding and other manufacturing techniques, and explored 21st-century transportation through a DIY electronics workshop.

Weir Farm National Historic Site, Wilton, CT
Led by Aaron Forrest of the Rhode Island School of Design and Principal of Ultramoderne with Yasmin Vobis, Suzanne Mathew, Noah Klersfeld, Dungjai Pungauthaikan, and Jessica Forrest, the team devised wayfinding techniques that encourage visitors to guide themselves around the park and to focus their attention on light, color, and other natural phenomena. For their pilot, the team constructed a set of viewpoles to be distributed throughout the site on October 10, 2015, encouraging visitors to look closer at the landscape. The park plans to redistribute the viewpoles at different points throughout the course of the year with the help of their resident curator, highlighting elements of the landscape each season.

The project team for National Parks Now is led by Van Alen Institute's Director of Competitions Jerome Chou and Competitions Coordinator Liz DeWolf; and National Park Service's Northeast Region's Deputy Regional Director Gay Vietzke; Chief, Resource Planning and Compliance Shaun Eyring; and Chief, Interpretation, Education, and Partnerships Barbara Pollarine.


Linda Cook, Superintendent, Weir Farm National Historic Site 
Glen Cummings, Partner, MTWTF
Shaun Eyring, Chief, Resource Planning and Compliance, Northeast 
Region, National Park Service
Jerome Goh, Senior Content Director, IDEO
Mark Hansen, Director, Brown Institute for Media Innovation, 
Columbia University School of Journalism
David van der Leer, Executive Director, Van Alen Institute
Setha Low, Professor, Ph.D. programs in Anthropology, Geography, 
and Environmental Psychology, The Graduate Center, City University 
of New York
Emile Molin, Creative Director, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
William Morrish, Dean, Parsons School of Constructed Environments
Kate Orff, Partner, SCAPE / Landscape Architecture
Barbara Pollarine, Chief, Interpretation, Education, and Partnership 
Development, Northeast Region, National Park Service

Community Advisory Committee

Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park:
Leslie Agard-Jones, Hamilton Partnership for Paterson
Gianfranco Archimede, Historic Preservation Commission
Robin Gold, Hamilton Partnership for Paterson
Eddie Gonzalez, New Jersey Community Development Corp
Sarai Perez, Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park
David Soo, Paterson Friends of the Great Falls, Inc.
Leonard Zax, Hamilton Partnership for Paterson

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site:
Phillip Blocklyn, Oyster Bay Historical Society
Jacqueline Blocklyn, School of Domestic Arts, Oyster Bay Historical 
Meredith Maus, Oyster Bay Main Street Association

Steamtown National Historic Site:
Susan Estler, Lackawanna County Convention and Visitors Bureau
Wayne Hiller, Lackawanna County Electric City Trolley Museum
Mary-Ann Savakinus, Lackawanna Historical Society

Weir Farm National Historic Site:
Anne Dawson, Eastern Connecticut State University
Hildi Grob, Keller Tavern Museum
Pamela Hovland, Yale University School of Art 
Joel Third, Keller Tavern Museum
Rich Vail, Faesy-Smith Architects
Xiomáro, Weir Farm Visiting Artist

Project Team
Jane Ahern, Chief of Communications and Legislative Affairs, NPS-
Northeast Region
Darren Boch, Superintendent, Paterson Great Falls National 
Historical Park
Jerome Chou, Director of Competitions, Van Alen Institute
Martin Christiansen, Chief of Interpretation and Natural Resources, 
Sagamore Hill National Historic Site
Deborah Conway, Superintendent, Steamtown National Historic Site
Cris Constantine, Education Program Manager, Interpretation, 
Education, & Partnerships, NPS-Northeast Region
Linda Cook, Superintendent, Weir Farm National Historic Site
Shaun Eyring, Chief, Resource Planning and Compliance, National 
Park Service, Northeast Region
Kelly Fuhrmann, Superintendent, Sagamore Hill National Historic Site
Ilyse Goldman, Supervisory Park Ranger, Division of Interpretation, 
Education and Volunteers, Paterson Great Falls National Historical 
Liz DeWolf, Competitions Coordinator, Van Alen Institute
Mary Kline, Chief Visitor Services and Resources, Steamtown 
National Historic Site
Michael Liang, Visual Information Specialist, Santa Monica Mountains 
National Recreation Area (formerly NPS-Northeast Region)
Dawn Mach, Financial Assistance Manager, NPS-Northeast Region
Barbara Pollarine, Chief, Interpretation, Education and Partnerships, 
NPS-Northeast Region
Cheryl Sams O'Neill, Resource Planning Specialist, Historical 
Landscape Architect, NPS-Northeast Region
Gay Vietzke, Deputy Regional Director, NPS-Northeast Region
Cassie Werne, Management Assistant, Chief of Interpretation & 
Education, Weir Farm National Historic Site 


About Van Alen Institute
For nearly 120 years, Van Alen has been organizing inventive design competitions that shape the built environment. In recent years, these have ranged from temporary installations that activate public spaces to large-scale, multi-year initiatives. In each case, we integrate research and public programs as a way to strengthen their outcomes and amplify their effects. We view the design competition as a vehicle to mobilize people across disciplines to develop innovative approaches to complex social, cultural, and ecological challenges around the world.

Our recent and ongoing competitions includeFuture Ground, in partnership with the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, which will develop design and policy strategies to reuse vacant land in New Orleans;Rebuild by Design, sponsored by President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Task Force and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which resulted in nearly a billion dollars of funding to support innovative design and planning strategies to better protect cities and towns across the Northeast from future storms; and Van Alen has recently completed a competition with Environmental Defense Fund and Happold Consulting to supportChanging Course, a design competition led by Louisiana and national leaders to reimagine a more sustainable Lower Mississippi River Delta.

About the National Park Service
More than 20,000 National Park Service (NPS) employees care for America's 401 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. With the help of volunteers and park partners, the NPS are proud to safeguard these more than 400 places and to share their stories with more than 275 million visitors every year. Visit us at:
Twitter: @natlparkservice

Last updated: October 1, 2015

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