The Trust for Public Land
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The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a US nonprofit organization that facilitates and funds the creation of parks and protected lands. The organization originally differentiated itself from other environmental organizations and land trusts with a particular emphasis on human community benefits as opposed to wildlife, ecosystem, or agricultural landscape preservation. However, the scope of the organization's activities now commonly encompasses the latter values as well. The organization has been involved with more than 5,300 park and conservation projects in 47 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands since 1972. The trust’s projects bring land into public or protected ownership for parks, trails, natural areas, watersheds, river and waterfront access, and productive farms and forests. The trust also oversees the planning and construction of city parks and urban placemaking projects and raises local, state, and national funds for conservation. Headquartered in San Francisco, California, the trust maintains more than 30 offices and 300 staff nationwide.
The trust’s projects and programs fall into three broad initiative areas:
- Parks for People – creating parks, playgrounds, trails, gardens, and natural areas in cities and suburbs
- Land and Water – conserving wilderness, coasts, riverways, and watersheds
- Working Lands – protecting productive farms and forests, often through the use of conservation easements that restrict development while allowing farming or sustainable forestry to continue.
- Conservation Vision – guidance and tools to help plan park and conservation projects and programs, including Greenprinting – a GIS-based service to map conservation
- Conservation Finance – help raising private and public funds for conservation, including assistance with creating and passing legislative and ballot measures (see “Conservation Finance Service,” below)
- Conservation Transactions – negotiating and completing real estate transactions that create parks or conserve land
- Park Design & Development – overseeing community-based, participatory design for parks and playgrounds; managing construction and the creation of stewardship plans
- Research, Education, and Publishing – on urban parks, the health and economic benefits of parks, park finance, and other park and conservation topics.
Founding goals and programs
The Trust for Public Land was founded in San Francisco in 1972 by Huey Johnson, former western regional director of The Nature Conservancy, and other San Francisco Bay Area and national lawyers and conservationists. Johnson’s goal was to create an organization that would use emerging real estate, legal, and financial techniques to conserve land for human use and public benefit. An additional founding goal was to extend the conservation and environmental movements to cities, where an increasing segment of the population lived.
Early programs of the 1970s and ‘80s included:
- The Urban Land Program, which within a few years led to the creation of parks and gardens in Oakland, California, San Francisco, New York City, Newark, New Jersey, and other cities.
- The Public Land Program, including early land transactions to help build the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in Idaho, among other parks and preserves.
- The Land Trust Program, which helped found or train about a third of the nation’s local land trusts during this era. In the 1980’s, the Trust for Public Land joined other groups in founding the Land Trust Alliance to train and support local land trusts.
Comparison to similar organizations
The Nature Conservancy – Founder Huey Johnson saw the organization as both a “logical outgrowth of” and “complementary to” The Nature Conservancy. Both organizations conserve land and partner frequently with one another on projects and programs. Unlike The Nature Conservancy, however, The Trust for Public Land does not own nature refuges or conservation land, instead transferring it to public agencies or other nonprofits for protection.
In addition, whereas The Nature Conservancy works both nationally and internationally, The Trust for Public Land works exclusively within the United States and its territories. Finally, The Trust for Public Land’s historic inclusion of urban and suburban parks in its portfolio sets it apart from The Nature Conservancy and other national conservation groups.
Local land trusts – Although The Trust for Public Land’s name includes the word “trust,” the organization’s work differs significantly from the nation’s more than 1,700 regional, state, and local land trusts. These organizations own land—or easements that protect land—for conservation purposes. The Trust for Public Land frequently partners with local land trusts on conservation projects, helping to acquire land that the land trust then owns and/or protects.
The Conservation Finance Service
The Trust for Public Land’s Conservation Finance Service grew out of efforts to raise public funds to create parks and conserve land in cities in the 1990s. Those efforts proved so successful that the organization decided to create a program and dedicate staff directly to helping cities and communities plan and pass ballot and legislative measures to raise funds for parks and conservation. Since its establishment in 1996, the Conservation Finance service has helped pass more than 380 measures generating 34 billion in new conservation funding.
The service also publishes landvote.org, a searchable online database of all U.S. conservation finance measures since 1986, and Conservation Almanac (conservationalmanac.org), a website that displays conserved land nationwide, along with its managing agency and funding source.
The Conservation Campaign
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, The Trust for Public Land is legally limited in the amount it can spend in campaigning for legislative and ballot measures. In 2000, the organization launched a 501(c)(4) affiliate, The Conservation Campaign, which is not limited in such spending. The two organizations often work together to help pass conservation finance measures.
The Center for City Park Excellence
Founded in 2001, the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence gathers and maintains the nation’s largest collection of data on city parks and city park systems, publishing it each year in its City Park Facts reports. The center also researches and publishes journal and magazine articles on park trends; publishes reports on the economic benefits of individual city park systems; organizes meetings and symposiums about parks; and, with the City Parks Alliance, publishes the City Park Blog.
The ParkScore Website
Launched in 2012, the trust’s ParkScore website is based on data collected by the Center for City Park Excellence and the trust’s Conservation Vision service. The site displays data and maps for the nation’s forty largest urban park systems, assigning an overall ranking for each system based on amount of parkland, investment in parks, and ease of park access. The goal is to help park leaders understand the strengths of their park systems compared to other systems and how their park systems might be improved.
- “The Trust for Public Land: Celebrating 40 Years of Conserving Land for People,” Land&People 24, no. 2 (2012):14.
- The Trust for Public Land, “Initiatives,” http://www.tpl.org/what-we-do/initiatives/
- Dashiell Young-Saver (August 22, 2014). "Through 'lost lots,' an effort to make L.A. more of a park place". L.A. Times. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
- The Trust for Public Land, “Initiatives,” http://www.tpl.org/what-we-do/initiatives/
- "Trust for Public Land, Nature Conservancy announce protection of the Preserve". The Bulletin. May 1, 2015. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
- The Trust for Public Land, “Services,” http://www.tpl.org/what-we-do/services/
- Diana Landau, Land for People: The Trust for Public Land and the Future of Conservation, ed. William Poole (San Francisco: The Trust for Public Land, 2012), 23–25.
- Landau, Land for People, 32–36
- Landau, Land for People, 36–37
- Landau, Land for People, 38–40
- Landau, Land for People, 25
- Christine Woodside, “Partners in Trust,” Land&People16, no. 2 (2004): 30–42.
- Landau, Land for People, 54.
- The Trust for Public Land, “LandVote,” http://landvote.org.
- The Trust for Public Land, “Conservation Almanac,” http://conservationalmanac.org
- Landau, Land for People, 54
- “About TPL’s Center for City Park Excellence,” Land&People23, no. 1 (2011): 42; Landau, Land for People, 67
- “Scoring City Parks,” Land&People24, no. 2 (2012): 42; Landau, Land for People, 69
- Steve Hargreaves (May 20, 2015). "These cities have the best parks in America". CNN: Money. Retrieved 31 May 2015.