Notes from the Field: The Living New Deal at the NPS Centennial

The Old Santa Fe Trail BuildingFrom June 21-23, landscape architects, historians, program designers, and other park professionals converged on Santa Fe for A Century of Design in the Parks, a symposium marking the centennial of the National Park Service. 150 people attended this sold out conference.


The Living New Deal was well represented. Our project’s Founder, Gray Brechin, delivered “A New Deal for the Arts and Crafts,” a biography of architect Herbert Maier, whose Rustic Style buildings are themselves landmarks in America’s national parks. Our Communications Director, Susan Ives, provided historical context for the Civilian Conservation Corps in “Cultural Landscapes of the New Deal.” Susan also moderated a panel on the New Deal in the Southwest. Project Advisor  Harvey Smith presented a poster, “Remembering the New Deal in the Parks,” arguing for the necessity of a CCC-style program today.


As the Associated Press notes in “In New Mexico, New Deal legacy gets a second look,” the choice of Santa Fe as a conference location was apt: The city is dotted with public works and art that owe their existence to various New Deal programs. Beloved buildings and parks showcase the craftsmanship that marks so many New Deal sites, with their twin emphases on durability and a beauty reflecting the surrounding landscape. (Exhibit A: The Old Santa Fe Trail Building.) The article also provides some much-welcomed publicity for The Living New Deal, emphasizing our site’s importance in chronicling a moment in history that, in the words of Nina Roosevelt Gibson (Franklin and Eleanor’s granddaughter), “would be difficult or impossible to replicate today—but still serve as call to collective action.” Susan Ives is also featured in this article, where she explains the disavowal of the New Deal’s legacy, and the importance in crowd-sourcing our map to people who can share family stories or bring the expertise of personal archives and experience: Many of the plaques that used to mark public works as New Deal sites “were taken down when the pendulum swung to the right.”


The legacy of public investment and public service exemplified by the New Deal in the parks has been typically overlooked. Furthermore, Congress has starved the parks to the point that the NPS is essentially selling the parks off to corporations that use the parks for branding purposes. (Current visions for a new Civilian Conservation Corps have even proposed a similar kind of corporate branding.) The New Deal offers a different model.


Susan Ives contributed to this post.

Gabriel Milner is Project Manager for The Living New Deal. He is a trained cultural historian who teaches courses in U.S. History at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.

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