11 Jul The Beginning of the Industrial Revolution… and a National Park!
Cotton Mill site
The Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park is an area that stretches between Rhode Island and Massachusetts that is dedicated to preserving the history of the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the United States. Until recently, the park was known as a national heritage area, which are “places where historic, cultural, and natural resources combine to form cohesive, nationally important landscapes.” The heritage area turned into a national park officially in 2014. The historical park sits on the land of the Nipmuc, Narragansett, and Wampanoag tribes. The park staff together with partners across the designated area work together to preserve the history, protect the natural resources, and make the history, recreation, and landscapes accessible to all people.
I had the opportunity recently to visit the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park for the first time. Park Planning and Special Studies Division Portfolio
Manager, Marthe Droge, invited me to observe a planning process for the park. This was a unique opportunity to gain insight into another park that was also historic, as well as meet planners from the regional office that range in specialties. The region hired the Denver Service Center, an internal planning office for the National Park Service, to help the park with its General Management Plan and led an in-person site visit of the park for creating zoning and desired conditions for each zone, plus an initial visitor capacity analysis. For planners with traditional planning backgrounds or training like myself, the General Management Plan is akin to a Master Plan and the zoning and desired conditions are like chapters two and three of the plan.
As I have mentioned before in my blog, historical parks are unfamiliar territory to me, and even less so a heritage area. I am not alone in this; the Park Service is charting new territory with partnership parks. Partnerships have been a growing form of governance and urban planning for a few decades. Partnership parks, from what I understand so far, can be likened to the emergence of the outsourcing and involvement of non-profit organizations in critical services. There are many ways in which the involvement of external entities in service provision across the United States is both beneficial and not. The Park Service is experiencing a similar phenomenon. With increased park designations, places recommended as parks, and decreased funding and budget allocations for the park service, the government has looked to a collaborative approach with local city governments and community organizations to create and plan parks, historical and not. This trajectory for the National Park Service is a point of reflection for us all as taxpayers and people living in the United States.
One of my favorite aspects, and perhaps the most important part in planning for a community or space, was my visit to and experience of Pawtucket and Providence, Rhode Island. These incredibly diverse, vibrant, and bustling cities were critical points for me to experience in envisioning what I may hope to see in a local national park in the area. For me, as the child of an immigrant from Mexico, the cotton mills are not merely a construct of the past, but a mechanism and economic engine of the present for many family members of mine in Mexico. My own mother fed her daughters on her own when first arriving in the United States by designing, sewing, manufacturing, and selling clothing. Sewing machines have been a familiar site to me since I was a child and clothing manufacturing and design has been a regular part of our extended family’s source of income, as well as passion. The industrial revolution did not end at the Blackstone River Valley or even at the borders of the United States. Industrialization continues to take place across the world. As an interconnected world, a park in the middle of an urban center, like Pawtucket, Providence metro, and Boston metro, is poised to connect with a diversity of communities, to launch a deindustrialized region into the future, and bridge divides that we experience domestically and internationally. These would be my hopes and dreams for BRVNHP.