Urban Park Roundtable

The Urban Park Roundtable, held every spring, fall, and winter, convenes park professionals from around the country to collectively develop “next practices” in urban park management.

Interview with Grand Park Executive Director Julia Diamond

When people think of open space in Los Angeles, the beaches in Venice or the hills around the Hollywood sign might immediately come to mind. But the West Coast city is a leader in new urban parks thinking, whether it’s Grand Park’s innovative partnership with The Music Center in downtown or the ambitious renewal of the Los Angeles River. That’s why it’s an ideal backdrop for the Fall Urban Park Roundtable, held by the Central Park Conservancy’s Institute for Urban Parks on October 13-14.

Together, participants will consider: As cities build up both existing and new parkland, how can a space be co-created with the community it serves? Julia Diamond, the director of Grand Park, the event’s co-host, tells us more on what the two-day conversation will explore:

The theme of the Fall Urban Park Roundtable is ‘Convening Community in Urban Parks.’ What does that theme mean to you?

I've realized that that really can mean a lot of different things to different people. And in some ways, it depends on just the role that you play in being part of the community of practice in urban parks. As we've gone through the planning process with the Central Park team, I've started to see it manifest around how you source what, what the genesis of a park is, or what the process that is undergone to create a park and decide its design and approach.

For me, in the hat that I wear and the time that I stepped into the life cycle of Grand Park, it's really been about audiences, programmatic partnerships and day-to-day stewardship—after the park's been built. How do you think about public space being relevant and meaningful in people's lives? We definitely think of it in the sense of us being an active convener.

A focus of the conversation for the Roundtable is thinking about how the intentions and the values that are present in our programming aim to serve this idea of convening community. There's also a whole other aspect of how you steward public space in its day to day, not necessarily in its programmatic activation… But I think a huge way in which we convene community is also simply in how we talk about the languages we use, the way we train our security officers, the way we light a park, the hours of operation, the way we work with law enforcement and groups that want to use the park as a space for protest and civic engagement. So it's really multifaceted.

What lessons or experiences do you hope people leave with after the two days?

Los Angeles is so demographically rich and complex. In some ways, demographically, we're the future of the country. A lot of the conversation that we're going to have is about how to serve such a diverse community. I hope that's helpful for organizations who are leaders in different communities around the country.

I also hope people come away with a richer understanding of L.A. I also really hope people are inspired by this model of The Music Center operating a public space and thinking broadly about what kind of community partners can be leaders in public space. It's an alternative that can be considered in different contexts around the world—when you have anchor nonprofit partners or cultural partners that can step into this kind of work and really bring a very specific lens.

And I hope that it's a space for reflection… It doesn't mean that in two days, people are going to get all the answers, but it might at least bring up some new questions or awareness to how many aspects of their work can be supported, impacted and shaped by the community, if they stop to think about it, or are able to make the space for it. And then I just hope people have fun, too!

On that note, what are you most excited to show folks in Los Angeles?

We have three site visits at the Roundtable, and their origin stories, how they serve the community, and landscapes are all very different. So I hope that it's thought-provoking for people in terms of the diversity of public space. I'm excited for people to see Grand Park and the Music Center. I'm also excited for them to hear from the amazing people that we have in L.A. who are doing great work and thinking. We're going to get to hear from the city and the county departments, who are both doing amazing work—really with equity at the forefront and thinking about park development and park stewardship.

I'm excited for people to get a glimpse into some of the future thinking around the reinvention of the Los Angeles River. Our visit to the Los Angeles State Historic Park is connected to the larger rethinking around the river, which is really at the forefront of such a seismic shift from how people related to land in Los Angeles for so many years.

This Q&A was edited and condensed for clarity.

Questions? Please contact Sarah Tracy, Director of National Programs ([email protected]) or Sophie Neuhaus, National Programs Coordinator ([email protected]).

About the Urban Park Roundtables

Since 2017, the Institute has hosted the Urban Park Roundtable, in partnership with urban park organizations in cities around the United States. In 2020, the series expanded to include virtual events. Past partners include Los Angeles, CA (Grand Park); St. Louis, MO (Gateway Arch Park Foundation, Forest Park Forever, Tower Grove Park, and Great Rivers Greenway); Bronx, NY (Van Cortlandt Park Alliance); Chicago, IL (NeighborSpace); Detroit, MI (City of Detroit Parks & Recreation, Public Space Planning Unit); Austin, TX (The Trail Foundation); San Francisco, CA (Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and The Presidio Trust); Buffalo, NY (Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy), and Pittsburgh, PA (Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy). Topics have focused on the role of park partnerships in the care and management of urban parks, such as corporate philanthropy; establishing successful partnerships; strategic adaptations in response to COVID-19; and key performance indicators for urban parks.

Learn more about the Urban Park Roundtable, featured in the March 2020 National Recreation and Park Association’s Parks & Recreation magazine, and download the Institute’s Urban Park Roundtable Reports here: