Sometimes, the only realists are the dreamers.
– Paul Wellstone

28 March 2020

Anthony-Paul (AP) Diaz is the Executive Officer and Chief of Staff for the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP).

He is responsible for helping to manage and oversee all day to day operations of the Department, while assisting in all governance and leadership matters related to the Park's Commission, City Council, City Attorney and Mayor's Offices.

AP has over 22 years of professional experience and service to the City of Los Angeles. Prior to assuming his duties at RAP, he served as a City Attorney in the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office where he handled and litigated hundreds of matters in the Criminal Branch and as a specially assigned prosecutor in the City's Neighborhood Prosecutor Program. Thereafter, he served in the Civil Division's Municipal Law Branch as legal counsel to the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, General Services Department and as lead contract counsel for the Los Angeles Police and Fire Departments. He also served as one of the principal City Attorneys assigned to advise and staff the Los Angeles City Council.

Prior to assuming the role of Executive Officer & Chief of Staff, AP served many years as General Counsel for Recreation and Parks, helping guide the Department on many high profile and important endeavors, most notably the transformation, restoration and management model for the historic and iconic Greek Theatre.

Reaching High to Amplify our Reach

In a world of bustling urban sprawl, the desire to preserve, maintain and find open park space has never been more challenging. In the City of Angels, the challenge heightens. LA is a vast basin of intersecting highways, streets, freeways, toll ways, high rises, low rises, apartments, condos, homes, people, tourists, residents, visitors, airplanes, metros, trains, ships…you get the gist – we’re an impacted metropolis! And while we have plenty of hard space, we have precious open space.

A few years ago I was travelling in Berlin, Germany to study alternative modes of urban transportation. I was invited to see a special exhibition of an imagined “LA Garden” at the famed, Gardens of the World. I enthusiastically accepted the invitation, excited to see what imagined LA parks spaces and places would look like through the eyes of a German landscape designer. As I meandered other world city gardens, my hosts enthusiastically told me the LA Garden was nearing... I tried to imagine what I would see – would it be a dozen palm trees interlaced with bougainvillea and eucalyptus trees (all non-natives by the way)? Much to surprise it was none of those things, rather a large parking lot, replete with asphalt, parking spaces, a white bronco, other SUVs with California license plates set among a small dog park area, surrounded by a chain link fence, a cell tower tree and styled LA Garden: a “concrete jungle…”

This may not be surprising to the non-LA resident. While us Angelinos would counter this depiction with our stunning hikes up Runyon Canyon, explorations in Griffith Park (America’s largest urban park) or our other beautiful regional and state parks, it is not all that surprising to the outside world. For example, on any flight into LAX a window passenger is met with a swath of urban sprawl where you can count more swimming pools than parks, more shopping centers than gardens and more traffic lights than trails. Our outside message to the world resonates in films such as the opening scene of La La Land showing nothing more than one thousand actors recreating through song & dance on top of the 105/110 interchange!

So, speaking of freeways let me talk about parks. Helping to manage and lead one of the largest park agencies in the world is both a daunting and humbling experience. Parks are the lifeblood of communities. They are gathering spaces, play grounds, our backyards, our common ground. Parks don’t require memberships or special access features. They serve to remind us and nod us towards leisure, recreation, active uses and passive ones. It said that parks make life better and I couldn’t agree more.

The history of Los Angeles, unlike other national or international cities, demonstrates that our early planners abandoned ideas and plans for creating an urban sprawl of green space to compliment growing neighborhoods and urban spaces. Instead, rising to meet the ever increasing population needs of our bustling city, connective city parks were intentionally overlooked to accommodate housing needs, to build freeways, businesses and in the process, placed structure above land.

Fast forward to today and we are actively working to right those wrongs, change the trajectory of our City and create iconic and everlasting places to move freely, feel grass on your feet, watch your children play, take walks, connect with your inner self, jog, run, socialize and take moments to pause and enjoy our beautiful Los Angeles. The respite of parks is the place we want and need to be to sustain our health and to cultivate wellness. In fact, we have plans to make access to parks be no more than a ¼ mile in years ahead.

One such area Hollywood, where park access is limited and where there is a demand and need to green its eclectic and compacted networks of homes, apartment buildings, business, tourist areas and iconic spaces and places. There are few open spaces to call parks and access to parks for local residents is limited or non-existent. But how we overcome this deficiency, requires out of the box thinking and collaboration. In fact, more than thinking, it requires us to step out of the box and onto the 101 freeway – literally!

Challenges are what make life interesting and which make Angelinos come alive. We are a city of talented individuals, imagining, envisioning and producing some of the most creative endeavors known to man. And that is why partnership is the most important element that will make the Hollywood Central Park a reality.

Government and civic endeavors often get delayed or dismissed due to inadequate partnership. Constrained by budgets and staffing demands, the freedom to unleash its talented staff and innovative teams is constantly pulled and adjusted to meet immediate and pressing problems.

Since we’ve already established the need for open space, in and around Hollywood, is a pressing problem, we’re proud to partner with the Friends of the Hollywood Park and a host of impressive designers, architects, engineers, state, local and federal partners to begin planning, imagining and developing a capped park above the iconic 101 Freeway.

When others say we cannot do it, we say we can. When those say we will fail, we work harder. We reject the notion that united we will dare to build the unimaginable. But partnership demonstrates that where two or more are gathered great things are accomplished. In fact, capped parks are being built all around the world and throughout the nation through public private partnerships – defying conventional modes of thinking and imaging areas for open space.

We will never get back enough land to make our city a connective common garden area as found in New York or in Boston, but we can leverage our vast network of sprawled highways to serve as the foundation for their spaces above.

If we can’t go low let’s go high. Let’s amplify our reach to extend above our cars, our lanes and our traffic to provide much needed safe spaces for parks to come alive in newly imagined ways. In Mexico City, I’ve seen first-hand how highway pillars are being reimagined and repurposed as green walls to combat pollution and to provide beauty and health.

In LA we have the spaces, so let’s grow the places. Let’s continue to imagine and deliver new types of parks and spaces to grow our children, cultivate adults and serve our seniors.

In LA we have 450 parks and I look forward to one day welcoming the Hollywood Central Park into our amazing portfolio of “Park Proud LA” locations ,a term we’ve coined to reflect Angelino’s love of park spaces (from the hills of Griffith Park, to the coast line of Venice, down to South Pedro’s waterfront, up to the far reaches of the Valley park ranches and over to the Eastside communities – LA cherish its outside spaces and places – our parkland!).

Together we are stronger. Let’s unleash our vast talents here in LA to dream big, reach high and amplify our reach. A wise person once said, never be afraid to reach for the moon, even if you fall short you still land among the stars.

As we say at the Greek Theatre, LA is the place to play, see and be among the stars and soon we’ll all be dancing and singing on top of a freeway, just like in that opening scene of La La Land. But this time, instead of shutting down the freeway to dance on asphalt, the freeways won’t stop, the cars will still travel - among the sweet revelation that above those treasured spaces and iconic numbers (101, 405, 210) may sit (will sit) a sprawling park or parks filled with happy, healthy people dancing, playing, laughing, recreating and enjoying this amazing city where parks make life better!

The best is yet to come and good things are coming!

Anthony-Paul (AP) Diaz
Executive Officer & Chief of Staff
LA City Department of Recreation and Parks