What’s Out There National Parks

Feature Stories

What’s Out There National Parks

What’s Out There National Parks


Almost 100 years ago, the National Park Service (NPS) was founded with the passage of the Organic Act of 1916.  Today, The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) is proud to announce a partnership with the NPS that will add more than 200 landscapes to the What’s Out There database.  The result will be interactive Guides for four cities in the northeastern United States showcasing a digital inventory of significant urban landscapes associated with the NPS. This collaboration will help increase the awareness of national parks and affiliated sites in metropolitan areas and will include National Historic Landmarks, National Natural Landmarks, National Heritage Areas, Land and Water Conservation Fund Sites, National Parks, and National Register of Historic Places landscapes.

Governors Island National Monument, New York, NY - Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

The NPS was established, in words attributed to Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., "....to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."  In the years since those words were written, the population of the U.S. has tripled, become much more diverse, and much more concentrated in urban areas.  As the NPS nears its centennial in 2016, several new initiatives are planned to expand the agency’s focus, and provide opportunities for new and broader partnerships.  One such initiative, the Urban Agenda, seeks to engage a diverse, 21st-century American public, and is guided by three principles: Be relevant to all Americans; bring the NPS parks, programs, and partnerships into alignment; and collaborate internally and externally to serve communities.  Recognizing that one-third of all NPS sites are located in metropolitan areas, the initiative has placed Urban Fellows in ten cities across the country, working to increase the visibility of national parks and to foster local collaborations.  TCLF and the NPS Northeast Regional Office are partnering to identify, research, and document a varied collection of landscapes in four of the ten cities: Philadelphia, PA, Boston, MA, New York, NY, and Richmond, VA.

Working with the NPS Northeast Region’s Chief of Cultural Resources, Shaun Eyring, TCLF will expand its series of interactive What’s Out There Guides to include at least 50 NPS-affiliated landscapes for each of the four cities.  TCLF has already developed digital Guides for Denver, Toronto, and Washington, D.C., (with another to be launched in November for Chicago) and is excited about the opportunity to work with the NPS to expand the database to draw attention to the wide range of national parks and affiliated sites that exist in cities.  The Guides will be customized to provide an accessible digital inventory of selected parks and landscapes, which will be searchable by geographic location, type, style, designer, and theme.  Through TCLF’s digital and mobile platforms, the Guides will connect new audiences to the nation’s landscape heritage, a goal shared by TCLF and the NPS.

Tredegar Iron Works, Richmond, VA - Photo by Katherine Cannella, 2013


The project will significantly expand the interactive, graphically rich, user-friendly database highlighting the diversity, interconnectedness, and significance of national parks and historic sites in urban areas.  Advised by NPS and TCLF staff, interns will conduct field work and research in order to develop original documentary essays about the history, design, and current condition of selected sites.  The essays will be accompanied by contemporary photographs that illustrate the design character of the landscapes, and will become part of TCLF’s What’s Out There database, which already includes more than 1,800 entries.  The Guides will link to the database, and will also include overarching thematic narratives about the history of the NPS in each of the selected cities.  Historic photographs and maps, discussions of the various themes highlighted by the research, and a GPS-enabled mobile interface will make this material relevant and accessible to a variety of users.  Additionally, as a digital medium, the Guides will be flexible in content and can be expanded as new landscapes are discovered and added to the database.

The collaboration between TCLF and the NPS is a natural one: TCLF’s Founder and CEO Charles Birnbaum spent fifteen years as the coordinator of the NPS Historic Landscape Initiative.  It was there that he met Eyring, and the two have since collaborated on a number of projects, including two conferences in 2008 as part of the Designing the Parks initiative.  Eyring is collaborating with the Urban Fellows and others to identify pertinent sites.  To assist with the research and landscape documentation, she is working with University of Pennsylvania graduate student Angelina Jones who is pursuing master’s degrees in landscape architecture and historic preservation.  Jones has already developed a list of sites that includes more than 400 properties in the four cities, which is now being prioritized to guide the research.  Although the project is in its infancy, TCLF and the NPS are excited by themes that are already emerging—concepts such as nature conservation, historic preservation, civil rights, transportation, industry, municipal amenities, and urban planning relating to neighborhood parks, public housing, and redevelopment.  The project will also reveal trends and make connections among designers, types, styles, and initiatives, extending from the origin of the NPS to the present day.


What's Out There Weekend Philadelphia, Independence National Historical Park (2013). Photo by Shaun Eyring

The first What’s Out There National Park Service Guide will be launched in March 2016 in Philadelphia, followed by one for New York City in the fall. In 2017, Guides for Boston and Richmond will be created. Please contact What’s Out There program manager Matthew Traucht to learn more about this exciting collaboration.