In the era of ubiquitous technology and low attention spans, how can we reshape the national parks experience? This is what the Van Alen Institute and the National Park Service (NPS) want to figure out through their new competition, National Parks Now, which aims to bring “multidisciplinary teams of young professionals” together to develop new ways to attract diverse audiences, tell new stories, and engage the “next generation of visitors.” This competition is happening just as the National Park Service celebrates its centennial.
The four historic sites that are the focus of the competition are in the Northeast:
- Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (Oyster Bay, NY), the estate of President Theodore Roosevelt.
- Steamtown National Historic Site (Scranton, PA), one of the world’s most important monuments to the steam locomotive.
- Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park (Paterson, NJ), a historic birthplace of American textile manufacturing.
- Weir Farm National Historic Site (Ridgefield, CT), the summer estate of the artist Julian Alden Weir.
According to the Van Alen Institute and the NPS, these sites are in the some of the country’s “densest and most diverse urban sites,” and offer “countless layers of the nation’s economic, ecological, and cultural history.” To unearth all of this history and make it more accessible to younger, smart-phone enabled visitors, the NPS seeks new forms of “learning tools, hands-on workshops, customizable self-led tours, site-specific leisure and exploration opportunities, digital narratives, short or long-term interactive installations, performance events, and outreach and engagement campaigns.”
Interestingly, the competition is part of a broader initiative at the Val Alen Institute to explore how “the form and organization of the built environment influences our need for escape.” The goal is to more deeply understand cities’ effect on us.
Each team will need to be multidisciplinary and feature young professionals. Team leaders must have obtained their professional degrees within the last ten years. Additional experts should also be among the recently graduated. The organizers encourage design professionals to also bring a young academic on board. Here are some ideal teams for the organizers:
- Filmmaker, landscape architect, historian, ecologist, and artist working with a film class.
- Web developer, art historian, architect, public relations, and arts management professional working with a new media interactive design development class and local preservation organization.
- Sociologist, marketing/advertising professional, civil engineer, graphic designer, urban planner, and artist working with marketing students and a local community development group.
The organizers write that four winning teams (one for each park) will receive $15,000 to participate in a six-month, collaborative research and design process. At the end of that stage, each team will get another $10,000 to prototype their strategies, which will be implemented in the summer of 2015.