This is a competition of imagination and application that is intentionally open-ended to ensure the creation of unique ideas. The overarching goal of the competition is to generate new and innovative ideas for the design and planning for a twenty-first century conception of national parks, the experiences of their visitors, the sustainability of their infrastructure, and their relationship to the public.

The Competition

Parks for the People is a design competition that reimagines America's most spectacular public places — its national parks — by using design as a catalyst to creatively rethink their connections to people and their role as revered natural, social, and cultural destinations. As the U.S. National Park Service embarks upon a new century of park design, Parks for the People has called on faculty and student teams across the nation to reimagine seven park sites in each geographic region of the U.S. In the spring of 2012, the nine Stage 1-winning teams are working to envision innovative ideas for the design and planning of the 21st-century national park. This summer and fall, we'll select the winners and celebrate their visions for welcoming, meaningful, healthy, and enduring public places — parks that are truly for the people.

The Questions

Today, as the Park Service prepares to celebrate its centennial in 2016, we face new opportunities to design a greater, richer national park experience. Seeking to inspire the next century of park stewardship, Parks for the People reimagines what national parks can be, asking bold questions that look afresh at park design:

The Principles

To advance design excellence across the National Park System, Parks for the People will serve as a testing ground for ideas that grew out of Designing the Parks,†a partnership to promote well-designed public parks in America through a broad consideration of the past, present, and future of park planning and design. Parks for the People will field-test six draft design principles on real NPS sites:

  1. Reverence for place
  2. Engagement of all people
  3. Expansion beyond traditional boundaries
  4. Advancement of sustainability
  5. Informed decision-making
  6. An integrated research, planning, design, and review process

The Schedule

August Competition Brief Distributed to Schools
November 1 Stage 1 Proposals Due
November Jury/Advisory Committee Evaluation of Submissions
December Nine Studios Selected for Stage 2
June Studios Submit Final Projects
Summer Student Internships with NPS Announced
Fall Competition Results Published


For almost 100 years, national parks have provided the public with opportunities to witness the wonder and value of nature, to reflect and explore, to learn about a common history and heritage, and to be immersed in the uniqueness of a landscape. As stewards of these natural and cultural treasures, the National Park Service oversees parks that are constantly changing. The last great wave of national park design occurred in the 1950s, largely focused on automobile infrastructure. In this new century, America's national parks are facing unprecedented challenges: shifting demographics, climate change, rapidly changing communications technologies, new transportation prototypes, and economic constraints are but a few of the urgent issues confronting today's national park designers, planners, and managers.

This is also a time when popular interest in the design of public spaces has never been higher. This renaissance of interest has been stimulated in part by an intense focus on energy conservation, sustainability, and climate change. It is equally responsive to a growing commitment to broader inclusion and engagement of diverse communities and demographic groups who have not been traditional park users. How we plan and design our national parks in response to these changing imperatives will have an enormous impact on how successful we are at creating welcoming, meaningful, healthy, and enduring places that last well into the future.

The Process

The competition is organized into two distinct stages. During the first competition stage, teams responded to a competition brief calling for a spring 2012 studio class based around one of these seven national parks. Download a PDF version of the competition brief. The proposals were created from faculty and student research that focused on their chosen park site, and were reflective of the Park Service design principles. Research addressed specific park projects, but also investigated design and planning solutions that consider the way a modern visitor of any age, ethnicity, and ability relates to a national park and its story. In addition, the research explored National Park Service policy and how park design, planning, and management ideas are shaped by such policy. Applicants participated in an online Q&A forum and conference calls that offered information about each park's specific needs and priorities.

Aiming to introduce new regional, public, private, and university partners to the Park Service and infuse the national parks' design process with contemporary ideas and practices, the competition has given schools an opportunity to rethink research agendas to be more multidisciplinary. We have encouraged interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration between designers and the environmental and social sciences, landscape ecology, communications, and other fields, along with new partnerships with local agencies, community groups, and nonprofits that may support each school's studio work and further enrich the national park experience.

From this pool of proposals, nine student and faculty teams were selected to proceed to the second competition stage, participating in a spring 2012 semester design studio: City College of New York, Cornell University, Florida International University, Kansas State University, Pratt Institute, Rice University, Rutgers the State University of New Jersey, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Washington. Eight student participants from the teams were selected for paid summer internships with the National Park Service at sites around the country. After jury reviews, Stage 2 competition winners were announced at an award ceremony on September 19, 2012 in Washington, D.C. at the AIA Legacy Foundationís Octagon Museum.

Advisory Committee

Ethan Carr Associate Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Nette Compton Senior Project Manager for Sustainability, NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation
Susannah Drake Principal, dlandstudio
Jeanne Gang Principal, Studio Gang
Steven Handel Professor, Dept. of Ecology, Evolution & Natural Resources, Rutgers University
Setha Low Professor, Ph.D. Programs in Anthropology, Geography and Environmental Psychology, The Graduate Center, CUNY
William Morrish Dean, Parsons School of Constructed Environments
Aekta Shah Director of Youth and Community Engagement
Wangari Maathai Center for Sustainable Cities and Schools
Gullivar Shepard Senior Associate, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

Brian Aviles Landscape Architect/Planner for National Park Service
Cathie Barner Vice President, Park Projects and Stewardship
John Skibbe Associate Director of Planning and Design

National Parks Conservation Association

Alexander Brash Northeast Regional Director
Kahlil Kettering Biscayne Restoration Program Analyst
April Mims Northeast Program Manager
Karen Nozik Director of Ally Development and Partnerships
Joy Oakes Senior Regional Director

National Park Service

Randy Biallas Chief, Park Historic Architecture and Landscapes
Rodger Evans Chief, Design and Construction, Western Division, Denver Service Center
Shaun Eyring Chief, Resource Planning and Compliance, Northeast Region
Randy Fong Historical Architect and Project Manager, Yosemite National Park
Perry Wheelock Associate Regional Director, Cultural Resources, National Capital Region


Parks for the People is a collaborative initiative of the U.S. National Park Service, Van Alen Institute, and the National Parks Conservation Association, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. It is a project of Designing the Parks.

Parks for the People

Parks for the People refines and tests draft design principles developed through the Designing the Parks collaboration. This design competition is led by Van Alen Institute, a nonprofit architectural organization with a century-long commitment to the public realm. Manuel Miranda Practice designed the graphic identity and website.

Designing the Parks

Designing the Parks is a partnership among eight diverse organizations committed to sustaining healthy, vibrant public parks as a core of civic life: The Cultural Landscape Foundation, George Wright Society, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Institute at the Golden Gate, National Parks Conservation Association, National Park Service, University of Virginia, and Van Alen Institute. Embodied in this vision is a framework for planning and designing public parks that are innovative, responsive, respectful, sustainable, and inclusive.