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  • 09.18.09

The Power of a Park

Profile of a Change Leader: Barbara Tulipane

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Profile
of a Change Leader: Barbara Tulipane

In
August I attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony of Marvin Gaye Park in NorthEast
Washington, DC. Since I first moved to DC in the late 80s this park has been
known as “Needle Park,” a haven for drug dealers and users. It was
dangerous and so filthy with needles, trash, and junked cars that only hoodlums
would inhabit it.  But, all that appears to have changed, with dramatic
progress in 9 short months. Barbara Tulipane, CEO of the National Recreation
and Parks Association
 went looking
for a park to transform in DC so she could study its effects. Needle Park was
perfect and a kickstart transformation of Marvin Gaye Park was born.

“I
want to know the power of a park, ” says Barbara. “I am going to
find and fund the research necessary to understand how parks improve people’s
health, how they help communities and children, what their trees and green
space do for the environment, the correlation with decreases in crime, and how
they help with stress. If it means I have to single-handedly coordinate local
and federal agencies and work hand-in-hand with university research teams, so
be it.”

Pulling
together a coalition that included Washington Parks and People (WPP),
the Washington Area Metro Transit Authority, the DC
government
,
Surface America,
and Playworld Systems playground equipment provider, Barbara set her sites on full-scale
transformation. The ceremony I attended took place in a beautifully clean park
with a new playground populated with laughing kids, a fully functioning
community center, a produce market, and plenty of grass roots organizers along
with many of the women who are the elders of the community. 

“I
am not under the illusion that a park is created by cleaning it up and
installing playground equipment, ” Barbara says. “You can’t just create
an instant park without community support. The community needs to have input or
there is no ownership.  WPP is very close to the people. They met
regularly with the people. They have the trust factor, on-the-ground people
with community results.  As a result we have been able to generate a good
deal of ownership. But, now comes the hard part. We want to study what happens next.” Working together with
George Mason University and WPP, NRPA is
sponsoring a study to
document how this playground and park improve the lives and
health of children and adults in its surrounding communities. 

“Ultimately,
I want to make it easy for people to put their money where it can have the
greatest impact. That is why we are partnering with universities to
conduct five studies this year: We will be learning about the impact
parks have on:

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  • Stress and crime
  • Youth development
  • Climate change through urban forestry
  • Physical health, including the role of play
  • The economy, through the impact and value parks provide to communities and the nation

She
adds, “There is a lot of data out there. But, to date no one has brought
it together. Each of the universities we are working with will do a literature
review, locating everything that exists on these topics. Then they will
document it so we can say, “Here is what we know.” Based on these
five studies we will identify the gaps. These gaps will be where we focus our
efforts in the next stage – this will be the original research we will carry out.
It will make clear exactly what the impact of parks is on communities.

Barbara
is tough.  When she was giving us the tour of the Community Center a
fight almost broke out among five older teens. “Hey, boys. Not today…
not today!” she said, as she moved in close to look them in the eye and
put things right. Things calmed down in short order.  One gets the feeling
that she draws on this same toughness in the face of confusion and adversity
when it comes to working with bureaucrats, politicians, and thorny problems.
Her results have begun to speak for themselves. Visit Marvin Gaye Park and see.

 

About the author

I help leaders with change, innovation, and growth. My latest book is "Getting Innovation Right." My first book, "Getting Change Right," was a business bestseller.

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