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Pennsylvania Heritage Parks: A Concept with Applications

Beginning in the mid-1970’s, a new type of “park” designation began to garner attention in communities experiencing de-indutrialization and capital flight. Sometimes called “cultural parks,” “heritage parks,” “urban cultural parks,” or “heritage corridors,” these protected areas usually had neither discernable boundaries nor a large degree of public ownership of land or resources. Though located in urban areas, they did not resemble the iconic 19th century city parks championed by Frederick Law Olmsted and other Progressive-era reformers. Instead, one might think of these cultural / heritage parks as loose zones of concern or emphases, places where the human, environmental and economic stories of industry and mass production – steel, textiles, mining, automobiles, electronics, and more – were still visible and potentially visit-able by both residents and tourists.

Emerging at a moment of profound and rapid economic change, the parks’ supporters often emphasized the potential financial benefits of designation. A new state or federal park could bring investment, recognition and jobs to areas suffering from high unemployment and out-migration. In addition, the parks were also intended to support historic preservation, cultural conservation and recreation. Indeed, some of the earliest efforts received funding for planning precisely for their potential to bring outdoor recreation opportunities in closer proximity to city residents.

One significant example took shape in Pennsylvania in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. As a component of its 1980 State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP), Pennsylvania committed to producing a report identifying opportunities for urban recreation.  After several years of study, the state released a survey document, Pennsylvania Heritage Parks: A Concept with Applications, which used a detailed matrix to analyze more than forty urban sites for possible inclusion in a potential heritage park system.

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