While recently en route to NRPA’s headquarters, I found myself listening to the radio and rolling the words for this column around my head. The DJ’s voice informed me that, 50 years ago that day, July 25, 1965, Bob Dylan shook America out of its acoustic revelry during his electric set at the hallowed Newport Music Festival. His actions — slinking across the stage, defiant with his Fender Stratocaster, to blast onlookers with thunderous versions of “Maggie’s Farm,” “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Phantom Engineer” (later dubbed, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”) — blew the collective minds of the folk/protest song movement and started a new chapter in American musical history.
The change Dylan brought was rough, unexpected and unappreciated by his then-audience, but, looking back over the ensuing 50 years, it seems appropriate and, even righteous. Change can be difficult, as Gil Penalosa, our keynote speaker at the 2015 NRPA Annual Conference, points out in his interview with Parks & Recreation magazine Executive Editor Samantha Bartram. But, he says, as we grapple with physical changes to our environment and evolving social norms, it is imperative to embrace change. Staying the course is no longer an option — we must disrupt the norm, much like Dylan did when he plugged in his amp and cranked the volume.
Dylan was and is a visionary, and the same could be said of the four longstanding NRPA supporters interviewed as part of our commemorative retrospective. None of these men pine for the days of old — instead, they remember the impactful changes their decisions and initiatives had on the field of parks and recreation. With the help of very influential partners, they were able to shepherd a whole industry through massive changes that questioned the very purpose of parks and recreation.
Throughout this issue, more than a dozen contributors discuss change, both past and present, and some offer their hopes and visions for the future. Like the protagonist in “Maggie’s Farm,” they’ve “got a head full of ideas” that may or may not be “driving them insane,” but that are certainly motivating them to be architects of positive change in the field of parks and recreation.
As we continue our work, let’s not find ourselves joining the chorus of jeers and boos that pelted Dylan as his angry and recalcitrant fans struggled to reconcile the electric anarchist who stood before them with their beloved folk idol. Let us instead tune our instruments in anticipation of a lifetime’s worth of advocating for NRPA’s Three Pillars — Conservation, Health and Wellness, and Social Equity — whatever iteration they assume. And let us play, as Dylan instructed his bandmates on that storied day, “[expletive] loud.”