One of my secret pleasures is Ken Burns documentaries. Ever since I saw his breakthrough work on the American Civil War about 20 years ago I have been mesmerized by his careful and beautiful use of images, narrative, music and cinematography (another innovation). It doesn’t really matter what the topic is… the Lewis and Clark expedition, Jazz or even something I don’t even care about that much like Baseball, if I get to watch 10 minutes of the first episode then I am hooked for the rest of the series.
The ABC are currently screening a Ken Burns documentary titled “National Parks: America’s Best Idea”. Once again, its a stunningly beautiful film that makes me consider upgrading to high definition TV. While the title says that national parks are an idea (invention), it becomes very clear through the stories of different parks that they are better described as innovations.
In most cases they begin as an idea in the head of an inspired individual but as we’ve said many times on this blog, ideas are not the problem. In almost every case the process of creating a national park involves building a coalition of supporters and users to redefine the value of wilderness. In some instances, such as Yosemite, the originator of the idea never lived to see the park’s creation. Even the awesome Grand Canyon national park was a struggle to overcome the plans by an Arizona senator to turn it into a hydro electric scheme.
Innovation is hard and ideas can be just the beginning of a long journey.