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Going viral in The Intertwine

How to make multimedia storytelling your secret weapon

October 23 2013

Once upon a time, in a special place in northwest Oregon, a group of passionate dreamers armed with conservation strategies, biodiversity guides, and GIS mapping tools set out to make the world a better place. By accepting a challenge -- to unite hippy tree-huggers in Portland with farmers in rural Clackamas County and soccer moms in Forest Grove -- the Intertwine Alliance set out to enhance OUR COMMON GROUND.

And they all lived happily ever after. Well, not quite. Actually this is just the beginning of the Intertwine story. Because unfortunately, when disparate groups disagree on priorities and perspectives, sometimes all the scientific facts and reason in the world result in little to no impact or lasting influence.

Peoples’ beliefs and behaviors can, however, be swayed through effective storytelling. Stories make an emotional connection, whereas facts and figures can be easily forgotten. Great stories can change people and the world. And today’s multimedia technology is creating new possibilities for how they're told.

"Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever." – Proverb

So you’ve got a great story to tell? Should you create a video? Write about it on a blog? Post links on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram? Yes, yes, yes and yes!!

The average Internet user watches 186 videos each month on mobile devices and computers. And 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. To capture the average internet user’s incredibly short attention span -- and make a lasting impression -- the goal should be not just be to make an entertaining and interesting video, but to have that video go viral. You want as many people as possible to see it, love it, and share it with their friends.

Golden Rules for creating a viral video

Rule 1: Make it simple and great.

To create a viral video, simpler is better. Overproduction distances us from the action and makes it less involving and consequently less contagious. In 2012, nine out of the top ten viral videos on YouTube were professionally created. Check out the Adopt a Gorilla video that Earth Protect Productions created to drive viewers to click on our website www.earthprotect.com.

Rule 2: Be short and sweet.

Minimum set up, maximum payoff. It introduces the concept and gets right down to business. One to three minutes in length will cater to the short attention span of the average Internet user. California Wildlife Center is an animated commercial that we created to be shown on public television and online. This video that helped increase awareness, funding and donations for this non-profit. Talking animals are always great. We love them.

Rule 3: Go for authentic and unforgettable.

This is where the video falls short in an interesting way. Candid Camera-style videos are at their best when showing us joyful human reactions. It’s active, positive emotions, after all, that are most contagious. Touch the Wall is a documentary on Missy Franklin, the teenage swimming sensation, that Grant Barbeito is just wrapping up. It’s a great story, inspirational, authentic and super entertaining.

Rule 4: Promote it like crazy.

The key to going viral is to get a bunch of people to see it. Be proactive, and start emailing journalists and bloggers personally at least one week before release. Then upload it to YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and anywhere else you can. And if all else fails, make a video with adorable animals or kittens! Everyone loves kittens.




Morgan Rider, the Director of Sustainability and Sales for Earth Protect Productions, is an environmental engineer with 20+ years experience in sustainable business strategies and programs. In March 2012, Oregon Governor Kitzhaber appointed her to serve a four-year term on the Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) and represent the EQC on the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. Morgan is also the National Sustainability Chair for the Cleantech Open.  She likes sustainability, storytelling and cats. 

Right to fish

Voices from Portland Harbor environmental justice communities

October 16 2013

According to a recent article in The Portland Tribune, something fishy is in the Willamette -- specifically the 11-mile stretch that comprises the Portland Harbor Superfund Site.

These are fish women of childbearing age are advised not to eat, based on findings from feasibility studies and reports. Yet the communities most at risk, as well as the general public, remain largely unaware of the Superfund site’s existence and danger, with many residents continuing to fish in some of the Harbor’s most contaminated areas.

Recent press coverage in the Tribune, Oregonian, Willamette Week, and Indian Country has attempted to raise awareness of both the health risks of the Superfund site and opportunities for public involvement in the cleanup process. But, up until now, the Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) for the pollution have been some of the loudest voices.

With the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently reviewing a draft feasibility study for the Portland Harbor Superfund site, now is the time to reach those most impacted by the Superfund and its cleanup with the message that their participation in the cleanup planning process is both welcomed and needed.

Both the EPA and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality have environmental justice policies, so public input from communities affected by the contamination in the Portland Harbor superfund site should be able to influence the outcome.

Portland Harbor Community Coalition partners recognize the right to fish, especially for those who rely on the protein source for their subsistence. Through interviews and videosPHCC has begun to raise the profile of those affected -- communities including North Portlanders, Native Americans, Latinos, Eastern Europeans, African Americans, and people experiencing homelessness. But ensuring that these voices have weight equal to the PRPs will require support from across The Intertwine.

We hope you’ll share some of the stories gathered by river users -- stories like that of Groundwork Portland Green Team member Logan, who wants to have children someday that he can safely bring to the river, and Art, a member of the Portland American Indian Movement, and Jill who would like to bring her kids to the river, but currently does not feel safe.

Click here to see more videos, email us or sign up via our website to support this Coalition effort.

Cassie Cohen is the executive director of Groundwork Portland, and was integral to forming the Portland Harbor Community Coalition.  She grew up in the Portland metro area, and also serves on the board of the Center for Intercultural Organizing


Choose your EcoChallenge

Moving America beyond "Middle Green"

October 9 2013

“The difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.” – John Maynard Keynes

Mark reduced his contribution to the landfill by ending his use of disposable coffee cups. Carrie saved money, saved water and eliminated environmental toxins by cutting her meat consumption in half. When Liz ditched her car for commuting and errands, she also saved money, while getting fit, reducing her carbon footprint, and enjoying more sunrises.

These are the stories of simple changes that collectively add up to big changes; of citizens aligning their behaviors with the values they hold. To a growing degree, citizens recognize the need to change, but what we call the “Say-Do Gap” (the gap between what we say and do) continues to be too large to drive change on the scale that our current predicament requires. A 2011 Ogilvy Earth study found that “82% of Americans have good green intentions but only 16% are dedicated to fulfilling these intentions, putting 66% firmly in what we’re calling the Middle Green.”

Humans, just like our non-human brethren, are creatures of habit. So, along with new policies, new technologies and appropriately-aimed market forces, how do we help this 66% align their intentions and actions? Not with more information! The “Middle Green” have already experienced that; hence their positive intentions.

“The volume of education continues to increase, yet so do pollution, exhaustion of resources, and the dangers of ecological catastrophe. If still more education is to save us, it would have to be education of a different kind: an education that takes us into the depth of things.” – E. F. Schumacher

At the Northwest Earth Institute, we use a change process we refer to as Connect, Reflect, Act. Here are few thoughts on the context and application of our process:

  • Help people connect to others. We are social creatures. The data shows what we think and do is largely influenced by our social connections – even more so than what experts tell us. New behavioral norms emerge from what we see others do and say whom we perceive to be “like us.” Therefore, we provide opportunities for shared learning and storytelling, in person or through other forms of media.
  • Make change fun. We try to tie change to values of both altruism and self-interest. As noted in the Ogilvy study, most people want to do the right thing. When we connect doing the right thing to competition (our social nature) or incentives (self-interest), we move past the “Say-Do Gap” into action.
  • Help the participant get focused. We’ve noticed that a barrage of messages over a short period of time will, like those inspirational quotes that hang in the hallway, become just that: wallpaper. With busy schedules, Americans are more likely to commit to changes for a defined and relatively short period of time. So while we offer participants many options to find a change linked to what they most value, we also encourage them to keep it simple (one behavior at a time).

Are you and your team ready to move past the “Say-Do Gap” and transform your values into action? Check out the 2013 NW Earth Institute EcoChallenge: a two-week campaign for change launching in less than a week!

Thousands of your peers from across The Intertwine have already chosen a change to implement from Oct. 15-30 – from taking 5-minute showers, to buying drygoods from the bulk bins, to powering off electronics at night. As EcoChallengers, collectively we’ll prove that small actions can create real change

Mike Mercer is the Executive Director of the Northwest Earth Institute.  When not working with his co-workers and others to create a vibrant future, he and his partner Laura kayak, cycle, backpack and enjoy the Portland scene with friends.


The forgotten child in the hood

September 18 2013

“If getting our kids out into nature is a search for perfection, or is one more chore, then the belief in perfection and the chore defeats the joy. It's a good thing to learn more about nature in order to share this knowledge with children; it's even better if the adult and child learn about nature together. And it's a lot more fun.” ― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods

Richard Louv’s bestselling book Last Child in the Woods describes the growing divide between today’s children and the outdoors. But what Louv calls “nature-deficit disorder” is an issue that has plagued the less fortunate for far longer. As a veteran and fly-fisherman, when I look back on how the outdoors has positively influenced my life, it is impossible not to try to share this gift with those I feel would benefit from it the most: inner-city children of color.

Louv writes that the solution to nature-deficit disorder lies in introducing youth to the outdoors through a family member or older mentor, who then shares in these experiences. But the assumptions here, presented from the perspective of a privileged Caucasian American adult male, are that an older generation is available to a child, and that their experience of the outdoors has been positive.

Older African American generations have passed down intense accounts of slaves on the run, and terrifying stories of lynching, adding a dimension of dread and fear to the solitude of the woods, rather than wonder, excitement, and exploration. And for inner-city children, the privilege of experiencing nature is further impeded by inaccessibility, surviving the hustle of the streets, and parents working harder than ever with multiple shifts for dwindling paychecks. When time and cost become impediments, the outdoors unfortunately becomes a luxury.

So how can we reach the Last Child in the Hood? And can the outdoors help them overcome their situation, whether it be a broken home, drug abuse among their peers, financial insecurity, and the accompanying allure of crime as a way out?


Through a pilot expedition on the Deschutes River, I recently had the honor and opportunity of aligning a program of mine, called New Currents, Outdoors, with the Sierra Club. Our unique mentoring program intentionally connects two worlds: veterans and inner-city youth. Youth benefit from spending time with role models who are clearly taking time to teach them and reach out, while veterans benefit from the healing of the outdoors and the fulfilling work of a mentor.  


With the expedition motto “Iron Sharpening Iron,” our group of 15, including eight Portland-based youth and veterans, spent four days on the river teaching each other about themselves and the natural environment. The expedition was both powerful and fun. Although young, the youth involved have had life experiences and struggles that many adults have not faced. And while many were a bit timid at first and didn’t open up right away, Mother Nature worked to tear down the barriers, allowing us to share our lives and connect. “Iron Sharpening Iron” was an incredible experience for everyone involved, with the friendships started on the river following us back to the city.

I believe the magical, life-altering experiences offered by the outdoors can be a game-changer for inner-city children of color. Through the New Currents, Outdoors program, my goal is not just to establish a series adventurous expeditions that offer escape from the pressures of the city. I hope to make a lasting difference in the life of youth by connecting them with talented mentors and volunteers – an older generation who can teach life skills and inspire as role models for years to come.



Chad Brown is the CEO/Creative Director of Soul River Runs Deep, LLC and founder and executive director of Soul River, Inc. Chad, a United States Navy veteran with firsthand experience of the therapeutic healing powers of fly fishing to cope with PTSD, has over 16 years of experience in creative advertising & design.

A quiet revolution under our feet

September 11 2013

It’s happening in our urban and rural forests, in and around our buildings and streets, on our farmland, and in the seagrass meadows, salt marshes and mangroves along our coasts. It’s fostering new connections between public, private and academic institutions. Done right, it just might stem the tide of runaway climate change.

What is it? Biocarbon! And the communities of the Intertwine are at the forefront of this quiet revolution.

With each passing year, scientists such as David Montgomery are learning and communicating the true power of plant life and healthy soils to contain and absorb atmospheric carbon, helping to reduce climate-destabilizing pollution. Where are we in this new campaign against climate change? Well, there’s bad news, good news, and great news.

The bad news: As a direct result of humanity burning fossil fuels and transforming landscapes, atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) is higher now than at any time in at least 800,000 years and probably longer. Increasingly, scientists are pointing to 350 parts per million as the target to restore a “safe operating space for humanity.” If we fail to make the shift from fossil fuels to clean energy, CO2 levels in the atmosphere will continue to climb further into the extreme danger zone.

The good news: The concept and practice of biocarbon is gaining ground. As a key Climate Solutions program, the Northwest Biocarbon Initiative (NBI) is galvanizing the region’s top biocarbon innovators – farmers, foresters, community leaders, and thinkers – to demonstrate the essential role that natural systems can play in reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Check out our Innovation Partners from across the Northwest.

The great news: Intertwine communities are ahead of the curve, implementing new, cost-effective innovations to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, remove existing carbon pollution and build resilience to withstand climate impacts. Here are just two examples:

  • In Portland, Linda Dobson and others at the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services are leading the way on natural infrastructure to save City money, capture carbon, and enhance neighborhood vitality. Mike Houck and the Urban Greenspaces Institute work diligently with BES to promote the integration of urban green infrastructure with the built environment.

  • In Tualatin, Clean Water Services (CWS) restored streamside habitat along 35 miles of the Tualatin River watershed calculated that over 100 years the program will remove about 135,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In addition, by investing in natural infrastructure, CWS avoided the need to build a cooling facility for the water it discharges into the river, saving the community about $100 million while also avoiding the energy consumption and carbon emissions.

You can read more about the climate, economic, and environmental benefits of natural infrastructure approaches in The Intertwine and beyond through a new NBI report released in August. In Natural Infrastructure: A Climate Smart Solution, we describe how different natural infrastructure solutions for forests, farms, cities, watersheds, and the coast can:

  • dramatically cut back on the need for carbon-intensive energy generated by fossil fuels; 
  • capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; and 
  • help build resilience in the face of our changing climate.

The challenge we face is bringing biocarbon to scale in the Northwest. If we are to counter runaway climate change, we’ll need to see these principles, practices, and positive solutions instilled in natural resources agencies, design-build and architecture firms, and planning offices at various level of government. Maybe you’re the next step? Please get in touch and help us make the biocarbon revolution quiet no more.





Eileen V. Quigley is the Director for Strategic Innovation at Climate Solutions, overseeing the Northwest Biocarbon Initiative, New Energy Cities, and Sustainable Advanced Fuels programs. Eileen is an expert in city-led clean energy innovation and co-author of Powering the New Energy Future from the Ground Up, a study on how 34 American communities with fewer than 250,000 residents are reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Email | 206-443-9570 x 34.

When worlds collide

We're not the only animals using local greenspaces and yards

September 4 2013

Last spring, I walked into the exam room of the Audubon Society of Portland’s Wildlife Care Center to photograph a loud-mouthed young barn owl – its banshee-like screeches were a sign the bird was feeling better – that was being treated for a dog-inflicted wound. This was my first up-close look at a case that demonstrated we could do a better job of sharing the Intertwine with others.

As Audubon’s communications staffer, I have the enjoyable task of blogging about the organization’s wildlife rehabilitation work, and get to tag along with the care center’s eagle-wrangling, bullet-extracting, wound-stitching, butt-kicking staff and volunteers as they treat more than 3,000 wild animals a year.

This is a large enough caseload that Audubon can identify problems affecting urban wildlife populations in addition to treating individual animals. My main takeaway from watching these trends unfold in the care center? You need more than good intentions and gut-level reactions to successfully coexist with wildlife in urban settings.

A baby bird found alone on the ground may look like an orphan to human eyes, but it is completely normal for young birds to spend time on the ground after fledging (leaving the nest), and their parents continue to care for them during this stage. Hundreds of healthy fledglings are brought to the care center each summer by people who incorrectly assume the youngsters are in trouble. Unless a fledgling is visibly injured, it should be left alone. It’s also important to protect young birds from human hazards when possible: the barn owl I photographed had been cornered by an off-leash dog.

To help local residents navigate the nuances of human-wildlife interactions, Portland Audubon provides an “ask the expert” form and guides to living with urban wildlife on its website. Many of the topics we deal with are seasonal, and as fall rolls around, there is one problem that almost anyone can help address: migrating birds colliding with windows.

Birds are drawn into Portland’s urban landscape during migration, where they run the risk of striking into windows around almost every corner. Many diurnal birds migrate at night in order to avoid predators, maximize daylight foraging hours, and make use of celestial navigation cues. Bright lights lure these nighttime migrants into cities and confuse them by obscuring their navigational aids, which makes it difficult for the birds to find their way back out of a developed area and its maze of glass.

To protect migratory birds this fall, turn off unnecessary lights at home from dusk till dawn through mid-November, and encourage employers to do the same at the office. There are also a variety of ways to reduce window strikes year-round (my favorite is to stop washing your windows).

Young Swainson’s thrushes have already started hitting windows in Portland – several have been brought to the care center recently – so it’s time to take action for our local wildlife. Turn off those lights!

Tinsley started at Portland Audubon in April 2012. A graduate of Grinnell College in Iowa, she worked at the Oregon Zoo for three years in media relations and web communications before transitioning to Audubon. Tinsley has both a degree in English literature and a love of science. In her free time, Tinsley digs into particle physics when not hiking, swimming, and spending time with her boyfriend and their two (indoor-only) cats.

Don't sign that petition!

August 21 2013

Twenty-five years ago, Jack Churchill, public administration prof at PSU, called to offer some advice. It wasn’t plastics, like Dustin Hoffman's mentor in The Graduate. No, it was CLEAN WATER ACT!  Park and wildlife biologists, he yelled, had neither the power nor funding to clean up the Willamette River and bring nature back into the city. I had just taken the position of Urban Naturalist at the Audubon Society of Portland and both of these were my primary goals.  “Thanks for sharing,” I said and hung up, wondering what the Clean Water Act had to do with my mission.

It took me a few years to get it. Sewer and stormwater agencies had immense potential to protect the region’s streams, rivers and watersheds.  They had a federal mandate -- the Clean Water Act. Despite the fact that in the early 1980s they focused virtually exclusively on piped, engineered gray infrastructure solutions to water quality problems I realized the potential they held for moving the dial on urban greenspaces by integrating their mandates and mission with those of park providers and fish and wildlife agencies.

Three decades on, and Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) is one of the most progressive, innovative stormwater agencies in the country. Thanks in part to the federal Clean Water Act, and to progressive leadership in the city, BES has broadened its mission. To be honest it took a lot of nudging and cajoling from local nonprofits like mine. But they have embraced green infrastructure and creative approaches to stormwater management.

So what?, you might say. You should care a lot about BES’s green approaches to stormwater management. Your sewer rates will decrease. For example, the Tabor to the River project will cost $63 million less by combining gray and green infrastructure. Care about fish and wildlife?  BES is restoring salmon and wildlife habitat, not in some distant river but right where you live. They are buying and protecting headwaters and replacing invasive species with native plants. These lighter, greener, smarter, cheaper approaches will result in healthier waterways and watersheds. Our streams will run with cleaner water at less cost to you.

Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished. Some of our worst polluters and opponents of the city’s environmental programs have launched an initiative that would gut these programs and wrest control of BES from the city. Who would control their special “water utility"? The very same people who have polluted our waterways. BES is where we need it now: an important part of Portland’s collective efforts to protect nature in the city. The agency is accountable to us, not an obscure board, outside city control.  Don’t Sign That Petition! It’s bad for the environment.  It’s bad for public involvement.  It’s bad for our water.

For more information, and to get involved in opposing this ill-conceived Water and Sewer District initiative, contact me or Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director, Audubon Society of Portland.





Mike Houck directs the Urban Greenspaces Institute and is a founding partner of The Intertwine Alliance.  He’s worked on parks, trails, and natural area issues for 43 years.  Mike co-edited Wild in the City: Exploring The Intertwine.

Tough love

Why do we underfund our nationally beloved park system?

August 7 2013

Of all the ways to measure “park love,” volunteering stats are among the most convincing. In the City of Portland, volunteers donate 500,000 hours each year — equal to 20 percent of Portland Parks & Recreation’s labor pool — to care for our park system. Here at the Portland Parks Foundation, we think this civic affection outweighs that of any other major city.

Yet despite this citizen commitment, our parks remain deeply vulnerable. Plagued by years of budget cuts, our park system’s growing needs — from aging playgrounds to parkless communities — are obscured by hype from national parks excellence awards. Enough hype that nearly half of the Portlanders we recently polled didn’t know that one of America’s most beloved park systems is underfunded and at risk.

It’s time to set the record straight: gold medals don’t mean gold-plated. Even three years ago, Portland spent far less on parks per capita than cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and Minneapolis. Here are a few other park points to ponder:

  • One in five Portland families cannot readily access a park or playground;
  • Half of Portland’s playgrounds will require removal or replacement in 10 years;
  • Park funding from Portland’s General Fund has been cut 20 percent in five years;
  • With annual park maintenance underfunded by $30 million, we’re generating an increasing backlog of inevitable safety issues; and
  • In the 19 years since Portland last passed a parks bond  the tool we’ve relied on since 1900 to create and sustain our parks —​ our population has grown 25 percent.

Here at PPF, its clear to us that while Portlanders love their parks, we’re also inviting heartbreak by taking them for granted. And that’s why we dreamed up Parke Diem.

Um, Parke what? Parke Diem — literally,“park day” — is our campaign to make history by launching Portland’s largest-ever park-supporting event. By asking a record number of volunteers and park-supporting groups to pitch in for a few hours on October 11th and 12th (mark your calendar!), we aim to create an eye-catching new stat — one that shows, by the numbers, that Portland’s park lovers won’t sit by and watch as a park system’s golden age quietly fades away.

Want to read more? Check out our Summer 2013 newsletter.

Nick Hardigg's 15 years of experience promoting parks and natural lands includes work for The Nature Conservancy in Oregon and the National Park Service at the Grand Canyon and Denali National Park. Prior to joining the Portland Parks Foundation as Executive Director in 2011, Nick led the Alaska Conservation Foundation. In his free time, Nick roams city parks with his son. Contact Nick.

Meet you at Outside Voice

Blogs, big tents, and cultural tribes

July 24 2013

Most Sunday mornings, I lace up my trail shoes, strap on my Nutcase, and pedal my rusty Peugeot across the Broadway Bridge towards Forest Park. Over coffee with my motley running crew -- scientists and beekeepers, grocery clerks and retirees -- we leisurely debate the day’s route: Wildwood or Maple? 53rd or Upper Saltzman? A few hours later, begrimed and wheezy, we again debate: Bridgeport Brewery or Deschutes? Pyramid or Rogue?

But more than earning my suds, and more, even, than enjoying the lush morning hush of these trillium-framed runs, I treasure this Sunday tradition for expanding -- to borrow Mickey Fearn’s phrase from last week’s Our Common Ground Dialogue on Race and the Environment -- my “cultural tribe.” From the shared love of an outdoor run, strong friendships have sprung, along with startling ideas, empathy, and new paths.

On June 12, here at Intertwine HQ, we launched a new tradition: the Wednesday publication of this blog, Outside Voice. With weekly guest writers like Mickey, above, as well as arborist Todd Prager, conservation educator Traci Price, extreme kayaker Sam Drevo, and so many others to come, the aim of Outside Voice, like The Intertwine Alliance itself, is to enhance the canopy under which we gather, celebrate shared loves, and debate our next steps.

We’re pleased to report, just six weeks in, that Outside Voice is taking root. Web traffic is growing, and we’ve fielded many comments, pro and con, responding to our writers’ stances. With organizing themes like Fit City and Trail Watch, Biofiles and Family Green, Outside Voice shows early signs of becoming the vital forum we envision. After all, with over 100 Alliance partners, our coalition clearly has much to discuss.

As The Intertwine’s cultural tribe grows, our big tent will accommodate your many voices. In the past year alone, we've added multiple new Intertwine community platforms, from 2013’s Our Common Ground Report and promotions campaign, to Outside Voice and dialogues, like last week’s, that bring the conversation face-to-face.

But whether these platforms work -- to both challenge and unite our diverse community, with partners spanning healthcare and sportswear, architecture and education, park groups and public utilities -- well, that depends on you. Are you ready to chime in, carry the conversation forward, celebrate both the shared loves and split hairs that characterize our cultural tribe?

If so, lace up. We’ll meet you here next Wednesday. And bring your nutcase...



Through new storytelling outlets like Outside Voice and the 2013 Our Common Ground Report, Writer & Editor Ramona DeNies aims to raise awareness of The Alliance’s 100+ partners and their work to build and enhance The Intertwine. A reporter, freelance journalist, and MFA candidate at Portland State University, Ramona has called Oregon home since 2001.

A Third Space

Why does the environmental movement lack diversity?

July 3 2013

Diversity does not just expand the common ground of consensus. It also increases the larger group’s ability to solve problems."  -- Steve Johnson, Future Perfect

In 1970, when I started my first job out of college at the State of California Department of Parks and Recreation, I was asked to investigate why communities of color, youth and the poor weren’t engaging with the Department, and why they didn’t seem to be interested in “wild spaces.”  Four decades later, little has changed -- we’re still asking the same question.

Maybe it’s time to create a deeper conversation. The Civil Rights movement gained strength when it became more than a Black American movement. Perhaps the conservation movement will likewise not realize its true power and potential until it become truly inclusive. Until we learn how to reach all Americans.

Parks for all

For decades the leadership of parks, recreation and conservation organizations has asserted that lack of money, transportation, equipment and awareness are to blame.

But ethnicity, culture, and socioeconomics must also be considered in getting to the complex causes of this challenge. Communities of color are often portrayed as fearful of, indifferent to or bored by nature -- I don’t care about it! I’m afraid of it! It doesn’t have meaning to me! And yet they historically outvote the general public, and even environmentalists, when it comes to conservation issues.

Beyond the Four Hit Theory

To address the lack of equity in our parks, many within the parks, recreation and conservation profession, including myself, have tried nature programs with youth and other communities. But the assumption that creating an environmental steward is as easy as getting someone to strap a 35-pound pack on their back, hike into the wilderness, and sleep on the ground is challenged by findings from the Trust for Public Land. Echoing Covello’s Four Hit Theory, the Trust has shown that it takes a minimum of four meaningful exposures to integrate options like camping, canoeing or other wilderness activities into a person’s recreation inventory.

Engaging long-disenfranchised communities in the conversation will likely take far more work than four iterations. This is where our movement has been stuck, all these decades. To reach these underserved communities -- and get them engaged the mainstream -- we must address racial equity, socioeconomics, and environmental injustices as much as we do salmon, global warming, rainforest, old growth, forest and trails.

A Third Space

How do we move the conservation movement beyond addressing the symptoms (via one-off canoe trips and marketing campaigns) to the deeper reasons behind the physical disruption between nature and people of color, youth and the poor? One option: create a “Third Space” conversation.

An emerging tool based on Ray Oldenburg's eight characteristics of third places and Marshall McLuhan’s belief that solutions to complex challenges emerge in the space between the disciplines, facilitated “Third Space” conversations are designed to draw together those who may be antagonistic, indifferent, or totally unaware of each other. Engaging diverse stakeholders in emotionally challenging conversation within a neutral setting, Third Space conversations focus on what’s possible -- not what’s wrong.

I admit that I don’t know the answer to the question of social and racial equity in our park systems and in the conservation movement. But I do think the time is right for conversations like these -- conversations that, rather than “rescuing” urban youth and communities of color, seek to use nature to help break the restrictive cycles of racism and poverty. I also think the Pacific Northwest is the right place to start.

I welcome your thoughts on how we might begin this important work, to make sure that the next generation of environmental stewards and parks, recreation and conservation leaders reflect our true strength -- our diversity.








Mickey Fearn has been in the parks, recreation and conservation profession for over 45 years. Prior to serving as the National Park Service’s Deputy Director for Communications and Community Assistance, Mickey Fearn managed the City of Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative and directed the City’s Innovation Project and Neighborhood Leadership Program. Mickey was a commissioner with Washington State Parks and Recreation for 12 years.


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