Get to know AP Diaz, Seattle Parks & Recreation’s new Superintendent
By Rebecca Bear
Photos courtesy of AP Diaz
Rebecca Bear: You’re a relatively new Seattleite. What makes you most excited about Seattle and the Pacific Northwest’s parks and public spaces? Is there anything special you’ve uncovered about our park system since you’ve moved from LA?
AP Diaz: I am most excited about our City’s tremendous natural beauty and the potential to use our parks and public spaces to further enhance the quality of life in the PNW. One of the most inspiring things I’ve encountered is how many involved and invested park partners exist in our communities – from corporations to individual residents. Everyone seems to have a real love of place which is a wonderful launching pad to begin my new role as Superintendent.
RB: Can you speak to Seattle Parks and Recreation’s partnership with Seattle Parks Foundation? What do you think makes our partnership unique?
APD: The partnership between Seattle Parks Foundation (SPF) and the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department (SPR) is a strong and collaborative one. When parks departments are supported by a foundation their reach and ability to do further good is enhanced exponentially. SPR is blessed to have such a committed group of staff members, community members, foundation partners and everyday citizens who are willing to step up for parks with their time, treasure and talent!
RB: SPR’s new tagline is Healthy people, Thriving Environment, and Vibrant Community, which ties well to SPF’s strategic priorities: activated parks and healthy people, neighborhood-based climate solutions, increased civic engagement and community building, and equity in public spaces.
I’d love to hear more about the work SPR is doing to improve equity in public spaces. How do you know you’re making a significant impact on equitable access to public space? Do you have any examples that you can share?
APD: Equity is an important and significant term which has become part of our park vernacular. But more than a talking point, true equity occurs when everyone has access to public space and the benefits parks and open space provide. We learned, through the pandemic, that parks are the one place in society that requires no special membership and are the focal point for wellness and health outcomes. But we also know, through historical practices, that we haven’t always created equal parks and open spaces in every community. I’m happy to report that is changing. With the passage of the historic MPD (Metropolitan Park District) Cycle 2, funding will focus on ensuring investments and improvements are being made regardless of if your neighborhood is in Queen Anne or in Rainier Beach. Every child, adult and senior has a right to access and enjoy our vibrant landscape and I’m committed to ensuring we implement an accessible park system for all.
RB: Can you share a bit about the way the City decides which parks to support beyond standard maintenance? We saw, for example, an incredible commitment to the Garfield Super Block project in this last budget cycle. What makes that project stand out?
APD: Like many high profile or impactful projects, strong advocacy is often a key component to ensuring a site’s success. I am a big proponent of special projects like the Garfield Super Block project but am more interested in long term outcomes and agreements or focus that ensure a project’s sustainability. If we are to continue to create and envision more Super Block projects, which I believe we should, then we need to ensure we have deep community support, buy-in and investments to make sure they survive and thrive well beyond the ribbon cutting and celebratory events. We should plan and implement projects and activations that have the right managers and users that will ensure they are being used and well-maintained. This can come from the dedication of resources internally or not being afraid to draw on the support of community members or foundation partners to help us propel projects forward.
RB: I’d love to hear your vision for how climate solutions need to be integrated into the parks and public spaces in Seattle. What investments are being made in the next six years through the MPD to ensure a more resilient Seattle?
APD: If we fail to take care of our land, there will be no land to take care of. One of my early actions as Superintendent was creating a land acknowledgment statement that honors and respects the many park stewards that have come before us. Climate action is another one of those modern-day vernacular statements that only have true impact and meaning when being committed to and implemented. Our parks and open spaces are among the most necessary areas to institute resilient and sustainable actions to preserve and protect our land. Some of the investments we are working towards during the next 6 years of the MPD cycle is the electrification of our fleet, products and maintenance practices. We are looking at decarbonizing our buildings and facilities and building things that match the highest standards for environmental mitigation and net zero initiatives. We will also look to augment the MPD funding by going after federal dollars, with partners like SPF to ensure we are maximizing our potential in this area. In short, I envision a park system that is leading this effort for Seattle and am excited to work towards meaningful and successful climate initiatives for our parks and open spaces.
RB: We’ve been delighted to see a commitment to increasing Seattle’s tree canopy, which is an effective neighborhood-based climate solution. How do you envision our green spaces will need to evolve to help deter increasing temperatures and their anticipated side effects?
APD: First and foremost, we must increase awareness and actions around increasing our tree canopy. Many people think Seattle is blessed with an abundance of trees when many of our urban trees are threatened by increasing heat patterns, pest and invasive infestations and do not support a “thriving environment” because they are non-native and have no chance of success. I’m excited to grow the Green Seattle Partnership Program and amplify our tree canopy not just in SPR parks and open spaces but in partnership with the Mayor’s Office for the entire City of Seattle.
RB: One of the comments we hear in the community when raising private funds for park projects is “isn’t that a city job”? Can you speak to some of the benefits of having community and private funding as part of a project’s overall funding mix?
APD: I’m a big proponent of public private partnership. I believe government fails its citizens when we think we can handle everything on our own. Managing and operating a large metropolis like Seattle can be daunting and challenging. But when we realize we are surrounded with a wealth of innovation, talent, funding opportunities and committed and invested citizens willing to help and demonstrate we are open and can deliver return on investments – this is when we truly thrive. For parks, that means we increase programming, opportunity, and dynamic impact with public private partnership. There is a tremendous difference in terms of impact and reach when you go from a $2M project to a $5M project. If we want to continue to amplify parks as essential infrastructure, just as important as bridges and highways, then we can always do more in partnership.
RB: In Seattle, we are pretty passionate about our parks and public spaces. In a poll we did in 2022, we found that 95% of residents believe parks are important to their quality of life. What are your suggestions for how residents can engage with SPR to ensure we have welcoming, well-maintained parks throughout the city?
APD: I love that poll number because it reflects what I know and love about parks – that parks make life better! I think residents can best use their voices for good when they help advocate for their individual passions and interests. Some of our Seattleites love owls and nature and others get excited about pickleball and art activation. None is more important than the other but what will help SPR prioritize and ensure we are meeting community needs is by having an active and informed community who are open to new ideas, can lean into working collaboratively and who will approach our community and leadership with kindness, respect and on common ground to advance our collective park goals. I also want to mention that it’s equally important for me and my staff to be engaged with residents and demonstrate that we too can be open, collaborative and willing to hear community concerns. It’s a mutual partnership, much like that between SPR and SPF. There’s too much good work to do it all alone and there is power and strength in numbers. Mostly, I want to inspire us all to not only think outside the box but to join me in stepping outside of it too! Good things ahead!
To learn more about Seattle Parks and Recreation, visit their website.