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Meet AP Diaz, Seattle Parks & Recreation’s new Superintendent!

AP Diaz taking a selfie at Kerry Park with the Seattle skyline in the background. He wears a t-shirt and sunglasses.
Superintendent AP Diaz at Kerry Park

AP Diaz was named Seattle Parks and Recreation’s next Superintendent on September 29, 2022. Since then, AP has been busy exploring our beautiful park system and meeting staff and community. Read the interview below to learn more about AP’s background, leadership values, and commitment for Seattle Parks and Recreation to be a shining parks and recreational system for all residents and visitors. #SeattleShines

What are your priorities and what is your vision for Seattle’s Parks and Recreation system?

My priorities are to be an advocate and champion for our staff and to ensure we have the necessary tools needed to be mentally sharp, grounded, physically well, and in an environment that looks forward to change, values placemaking, and makes positive impacts and delivers great services. My vision is that every resident and visitor to Seattle will continue to have a deep and rich love of our parks and public spaces. Together, we will work hard to ensure our parks are safe, welcoming, accessible, and the signature marks in our city. I want to also amplify our outreach, through improved marketing and communications, to reach people where they are and enhance their unique love of parks – whether that’s climate action, forestry, recreation, art in the park, activations, nature systems, coastal restoration, or more.

What are you most excited about in taking on this new role?

AP Diaz at the New Cheasty Mountain Bike Trails Celebration

I’m excited to be a storyteller and to make an impact! I love being the person who gets to brag about the amazing employees this department has, and to highlight the impactful work we are delivering, including through the next round of the Seattle Park District. I’m grateful to be in a city where being a change agent is celebrated, where nontraditional ideas are applauded, and where thinking and stepping outside the box is encouraged. I’m looking forward to growing our Park Ranger Program and other community outreach programs, particularly for youth mentorship and development. I’m inspired to work with our planning and design teams to ensure every project is led through a lens of innovation, and I’m excited to grow more low-cost recreation programs and to introduce new models of public-private partnership.

I’m excited to be an ambassador with the privilege to keep advancing our work, highlighting our successes, and encouraging others to believe in us. We will continue to create one of the country’s (and world’s!) preeminent parks systems, grounded in innovation, equity, and health. Especially as we welcome the world to the 2023 Greater & Greener Conference!

How would you describe your leadership style and the values you bring to this role?  

I like to think in collaboration with people. I value team buy-in and do my best to foster attributes of transformational leadership, where the goal is to bring people along on the journey from the earliest

AP Diaz with the Office of Arts and Culture's Acting Director, royal alley-barnes
AP Diaz with royal alley-barnes

inception so that you arrive to the destination together and the team has been part of the process all along. I try to be a clear and focused communicator who leads in love and takes time to discern before making important decisions (while also recognizing decisions need to be made and direction provided). I’m not afraid to fail forward and will encourage our staff to take informed risks and to try new things as long as they are grounded in well-defined outcomes or goals. I understand the magnitude of my role and that people will look to me to make decisions that affect us all, our place in the city, and our overall sense of well-being. It’s a role and responsibility I take seriously.

You’ve mentioned a new phrase, “Seattle Shines”. What does this mean and why is it important to you?

In my short time here, I’ve already seen the impact that parks make in Seattle and the surrounding region. This area’s natural landscape and environment led to our moniker as “The Evergreen State” and Seattle’s nickname as the “Emerald City”. Both designations speak to nature and about parks! That’s how impactful parks and recreation are in our self-identification as Washingtonians and Seattleites. Parks are a reminder that we are the shinning sources of strength, sustainability, and wellness for our community. That even in our dark and rainy days, our parks and recreation system continuously shines through to deliver places and spaces to get us into nature, to recreate, and to rejuvenate. Parks serve as public forums and as places of community, where we come together and where we thrive. To me, #SeattleShines means we are park proud and a source of light in our increasingly dense and complex city.

Where did your love of parks and recreation come from? What role have parks, community spaces, and recreation activities have played in your life growing up? 

My love of our park system has evolved over time. As a kid who rode bikes through alleys (growing up in an apartment heavy area) I didn’t realize how important access to trails and parks were. However, I lived

AP Diaz at Magnolia Boulevard

near the ocean and spent time enjoying our coast and bike baths (yet not fully aware those were part of the park system). Since I wasn’t always involved in sports as a kid, my enthusiasm for sports evolved as an adult. Two significant memories shaped my adult love of parks: studying for the bar exam and then preparing for work as a lawyer. Both required me to take advantage of the benefits parks provide to support mental and physical well-being. Studying for the bar was intense and I needed a place to go to de-stress and reinvigorate for the next day. I found that in a beautiful park trail I could drive to in 10 minutes and immediately get lost in nature. The second involved swimming at a city public pool at 5:30 am every morning for 5 years in a master swim program which set the stage for my day and got me energized to then deal with the stresses of life and work. None of that would have been possible without a public park system. Today, I use parks regularly to run, play tennis, swim, hike, and to enjoy nature!

My love of parks and recreation further set in during my time serving as General Counsel to the LA City Department of Recreation and Parks. The more I delved into the amazing work and community impacts parks and recreation make every day, the more I fell in love with the profession. I continued to immerse myself in the subject matter, eventually becoming a “parkie.” When I was asked to lead that City’s Department, and now Seattle’s, I saw it as a privilege to lead and manage people and places that have a daily impact on the lives of our community and improve their mental and physical health. With that as the frame, the answer was “I’m all in!”.

SPR manages nearly 500 parks, extensive natural areas, 120 miles of trails, 25 community centers, two small craft centers, 8 indoor pools, and much more! What are you most excited about exploring and enjoying in our parks and rec system?

All of it and more! I’m excited to see the small parks and the large parks; the special and beloved community spots and pocket parks (the hidden gems), as well as our more prominent ones. I’m excited to see the interplay of our water systems and coast into or park system, which will be new to me. I’m enthusiastic to try, at least once, every unique sport or activity taking place in our parks and community centers, whether that’s throwing clay, taking a nighttime owl walk, playing pickleball with the community, swimming, or dancing with seniors at a community center – I’m all in.

Tell us about your favorite recreation activity or sport. 

Just one? I do love to run, swim, and play tennis, and I do love to dance (did I mention that?).