The New Urban Park
Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Civic Environmentalism
Hal K. Rothman
From Yellowstone to the Great Smoky Mountains, America's national parks are sprawling tracts of serenity, most of them carved out of public land for recreation and preservation around the turn of the last century. America has changed dramatically since then, and so has its conceptions of what parkland ought to be.
In this book, one of our premier environmental historians looks at the new phenomenon of urban parks, focusing on San Francisco's Golden Gate National Recreation Area as a prototype for the twenty-first century. Cobbled together from public and private lands in a politically charged arena, the GGNRA represents a new direction for parks as it highlights the long-standing tension within the National Park Service between preservation and recreation.
“Rothman successfully delineates the democratization of our national parks despite the controversies and difficulties forced on the Park Service as a result. He pays tribute to the dynamism of the agency’s administrators and gives historians of parklands an excellent model for future studies of the public domain.”
—Western Historical Quarterly
“Rothman is quite right that GGNRA is a hint of what is to come, and park managers would do well to closely examine this valuable, detailed book. . . . [It] contributes to our understanding of San Francisco’s past and the history of urbanization in the Far West. Even more, t[it] illuminates the place of nature in urban life while simultaneously offering us an intriguing window on the history of the American public sphere.”
—H-Environment, published by H-Net ReviewsSee all reviews...
“This book will be of great interest to those enthusiasts and scholars of the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as those who study the national parks. The value of Rothman’s work is to expand our appreciation for the significance of urban parks—not only for how they have impacted the lives of urban residents,but also for how they have expanded the purpose and meaning of the national park system. It is an important contribution to an overlooked area of environmental history.”
—American Historical Review
“Urban and environmental historians will find much to appreciate in this useful book.”
—Journal of American History
“A highly readable account of the establishment and evolution of this contemporary urban national park. . . . Rothman is both clear and engaging; he imparts detailed knowledge about the various facets of park history through rigorous scholarship while simultaneously bringing the stories of people and places to life. As an environmental history of the recent past, the book fills a unique niche in the literature on park studies, and I suspect it will be of interest not only to other environmental historians but also social scientists, park and natural resource planners, and local stakeholders seeking perspective as they continue to debate the park’s future.”
“A fine addition to Rothman’s already considerable contributions to environmental history. Rothman [makes a ] compelling case that the GGNRA is an archetype for national parks for the 21st century.”
“An important contribution to our understanding of the development of the national park system in the postwar and environmental eras. Necessary reading for anyone who wants to understand this era of national and municipal park history. It will interest those concerned with the present and future of the national park system just as much.”
—Montana The Magazine of Western History
“A significant contribution to the field and a model for all future studies of the so-called urban park phenomenon. Rothman’s ability to place local park developments into a broader regional and national perspective gives the book exceptional strength.”
—Arthur R. Gómez, National Park Service historian and author of Quest for the Golden Circle: The Four Corners and the Metropolitan West, 1945–1970
“With wit, intelligence, and a lively writing style, Rothman provides an impressive, well researched, and important contribution to environmental and western history.”
—Albert S. Broussard, author of Black San Francisco: The Struggle for Racial Equality in the West, 1900–1954See fewer reviews...
Long a center of conservation, the Bay Area was well positioned for such an innovative concept. Writing with insight and wit, Rothman reveals the many complex challenges that local leaders, politicians, and the NPS faced as they attempted to administer sites in this area. He tells how Representative Phillip Burton guided a comprehensive bill through Congress to establish the park and how he and others expanded the acreage of the GGNRA, redefined its mission to the public, forged an identity for interconnected parks, and struggled against formidable odds to obtain the San Francisco Presidio and convert it into a national park.
Engagingly written, The New Urban Park offers a balanced examination of grassroots politics and its effect on municipal, state, and federal policy. While most national parks dominate the economies of their regions, GGNRA was from the start tied to the multifaceted needs of its public and political constituents-including neighborhood, ethnic, and labor interests as well as the usual supporters from the conservation movement.
As a national recreation area, GGNRA helped redefine that category in the public mind. By the dawn of the new century, it had already become one of the premier national park areas in terms of visitation. Now as public lands become increasingly scarce, GGNRA may well represent the future of national parks in America. Rothman shows that this model works, and his book will be an invaluable resource for planning tomorrow's parks.