Speaker Series

Check out the previous presentations:

Heidi Vonblum and Jonathan Avila  | Building a Framework for the Future: San Diego’s Parks Master Plan
October 26, 2020  | View the presentation online

  • The City of San Diego is in the process of completing a new comprehensive Parks Master Plan. Like many cities throughout the country, San Diego has experienced a population surge, and is increasingly becoming more diverse and urban.  Heidi Vonblum, Environmental Policy & Public Spaces Program Manager, and Jonathan Avila, RLA, Park Designer,  led a team tasked with developing a new master plan to meet the City’s changing recreational needs.  Their goal was to address access to and enjoyment of parks for all genders, abilities, and ages.  Vonblum and Avila will share insight into their planning process and discuss the plan’s innovative strategies; including the reimagination of park standards that prioritize recreational value over acreage, and a new citywide Park Development Impact Fee allowing the City to invest in parks strategically to deliver more parks faster to the areas that need them the most.

Linda Hwang | The Heat Is On: How Disparities in Park Access are Creating a Public Health Crisis
September 29, 2020  | View the presentation online

  • As the country grapples with both a pandemic, and record-setting temperatures, the physical and mental benefits that parks provide are evident.   However not everyone has equal access to green spaces, and not all parks are created equal.  A new report from The Trust for Public Land (TPL), reveals that across the nation, parks serving primarily communities of color are half the size, and nearly five times as crowded, as parks that serve majority white populations.  This disparity is creating a public health emergency.  Linda Hwang, Director, Strategy & Innovation, TPL, will present key findings from the groundbreaking report and share how this information is being used by park systems to address equity.

Liz Thorstensen and Richard Edwards | Creating Connectivity:  The Power of Trails
May 18, 2020  | View the presentation online

  • Trails link communities, serve as transportation corridors, provide accessible recreation opportunities, and generate health and economic benefits.  During the current COVID-19 crisis, trail usage has soared, amplifying the need for this critical amenity. Liz Thorstensen, Vice President of Trail Development at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), and Richard Edwards, Trail Solutions Director of Construction & Operations at the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), will discuss how trail systems have adapted to serve as safe spaces in response to COVID-19, and provide insight into what the future holds for trail usage.  They will share best practices in trail planning and development for both hard surface and natural surface trails, and detail the elements that create a successful, world-class trail network, including tools for equitable trail planning and the importance of community activation and programming.

Kate Tooke | Risk It! Balancing Adventure and “Safety” in the Modern Outdoor Playscape
January 17, 2020 | View the presentation online

  • A good park invites children to explore, discover, adventure and play. These are critical components of youth development. Unfortunately decades of American risk aversion has led to the proliferation of cookie-cutter “safe” playgrounds that fail to inspire even the most basic of play activities. Kate Tooke, a landscape architect and associate principal at Sasaki will share the latest research and case studies on the importance of designing play spaces that nurture healthy risk. Drawing from Sasaki’s research lab on urban playscapes, as well as several case studies of the firm’s recent work around the country, her presentation will explore how innovative design techniques can work within current safety guidelines to provide exciting playscapes that nurture the physical, social and emotional development of the 21st Century child.

Adam Ortiz | Aiming for Zero Waste: The Future of Recycling and Sustainability in Montgomery County
December 2, 2019 | View the presentation online

  • At a time when jurisdictions across the nation are reconsidering aspects of their recycling programs, Montgomery County is continuing its commitment to increase recycling and reduce trash.  Adam Ortiz, Director of Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection, will share insight into the current state of the county’s waste management and sustainability initiatives and how those compare to other jurisdictions in the nation.  Ortiz will detail the challenges, trends and innovations happening in this area and provide an update on the county’s “Aiming for Zero Waste Plan.”

Tim Marshall |  Operational Sustainability: Best Practices in Public Space Management
November 6, 2019 View the presentation online

  • Vibrant parks and public spaces that offer more and more amenities are on the rise, but traditionally operations funding has not kept up.   Accommodating visitors, their needs and special events while balancing the needs of landscapes can be challenging.  Tim Marshall, principal and owner of ETM Associates, LLC and former Deputy Administrator and Vice President for New York City’s Central Park Conservancy, explains the variables in design quality, programming, facilities and maintenance that can achieve “operational sustainability” and lead a public space to flourish and rise above the rest.

Neelay Bhatt | Building a Culture of Guest Service Excellence
April 30, 2019 View the presentation online

  • In today’s socially wired and hypercompetitive market, customer experience is paramount to an agency’s success.  Neelay Bhatt, Vice President and Principal of PROS Consulting  Inc., discusses ways to build a customer service culture and differentiate your agency from the competition.  Neelay’s career on five continents includes Disney, The Super Bowl, The Olympics, besides several years of consulting, public speakers and training. TEDx, the global platform for ideas, describes him as a business and communications visionary, and his service on the National Recreational and Park Association’s Board of Directors is committed to ensuring that ‘no child is left indoors.”

Ed McMahon | The Case for Open Space
March 15, 2019 View the presentation online

  • Ed McMahon, Senior Resident Fellow at the Urban Land Institute shares insights into the economic, social and environmental impacts of parks and open space.  Learn how parks increase long-term real estate value, but also how some of this value can be captured to mitigate the impacts of commercial and residential gentrification.  The session will also examine “trail-oriented development” and the impacts of active transportation and micro mobility.

Mikah Meyer and Sangita Chari | Championing Inclusion in the Outdoors
February 26, 2019 

  • Adventurer Mikah Meyer is closing in on the end of a three-year journey to experience all 418 National Park Service sites. He is set to become the first person to do so in a continuous journey.  His odyssey began as a way to mark his father’s passing from cancer and honor his dad’s love of road trips.  Meyer began blogging his journey, taking audiences along with him on his trek across America’s public lands.   His journey quickly became a source of inspiration, encouraging people to live their dreams and shed an important light into the LGBT experience in the outdoors.   Similarly, the National Park Service (NPS) is on its own mission to promote inclusion in the outdoors. Sangita Chari, oversees the NPS’s Office of Relevancy, Diversity and Inclusion.  The office was formed in 2013 to address the underrepresentation of diverse racial and ethnic groups among National Park staff and visitors. Chari will share insight into the steps NPS has implemented and the agency’s future plans to ensure that the national parks remain relevant and open to all Americans.

Sheema Hai and Albert Arevalo | Engaging Diverse Audiences in Parks and Outdoor Recreation
January 25, 2019 | View the presentation online

  • According to a recent National Park report, Non-Hispanic white visitors make up the largest demographic of visitors to national parks.  This trend is mirrored for parks and recreation agencies around the country as many struggle to attract a more diverse audience. The issues are deep rooted and proving difficult to crack.  This session will explore how agencies might  address this challenge.  Sheema Hai, Cultural Competence and Inclusion Advocate, and Albert Arevalo, Program Coordinator for Latino Outdoors, will examine misconceptions and stereotypes, current trends, and insights into the work being done to make outdoor recreation more inclusive.

Jason Roberts  Building A Better Block
November 16, 2018 | View the presentation online

  • Jason Roberts’ session entitled “Building A Better Block” will share insights on how to revitalize neighborhoods as walkable, vibrant community centers.  He and his team travel to cities  around the country and abroad and work with citizens, area artists and businesses to reimagine where they live, work and play.  The session will also examine the recent work that the Better Block Foundation did right here in our area.   In October, members of the Randolph Hills Civic Association worked with the Montgomery County Parks & Planning Departments and The Better Block Foundation team to turn the Randolph Hills Shopping Center Parking lot into a community gathering place for two days.   You can learn more about the project and see the incredible transformation in this video.
    • Jason Roberts is an artist, civic activist and urban designer whose life’s work has been dedicated to the creation of healthy, vibrant and sustainable neighborhoods.  Jason has received a Champions of Change award from the US White House,  showcased in the 2012 Venice Biennale, and was listed in Planetizen’s Top 100 Most Influential Urbanists. 

David Barth The Benefits of High-Performance Public Spaces
October 3, 2018 | View the presentation online

  • Learn about creating High-Performance Public Spaces (HPPSs) which help to generate economic, environmental, and social sustainability benefits for the local community.
    • Dr. David Barth is the Principal of Barth Associates. He is a registered Landscape Architect, Certified Planner, and Certified Parks and Recreation Professional who specializes in the planning, design, and implementation of the public realm.

Scott Kratz and Jim FosterDesign: 11th St. Bridge Park and Anacostia Watershed Society
July 18, 2018 | View the presentation online

  • Could an old bridge be turned into a park? That’s what community activist Scott Kratz wants to achieve. He’s been working with Washington DC government and Building Bridges Across the River, a Ward 8-based non-profit, to transform an old freeway bridge into a park above the Anacostia River.  Jim Foster is the president of the Anacostia Watershed Society.  The Anacostia Watershed Society is committed to cleaning the water, restoring the short and honoring the heritage of the Anacostia River. The society’s goal is to help make the river fishable and swimmable by 2025.

Lieutenant Nicole Adams and Sergeant Sabrina Pirtle, Maryland-National Capital Park Police |  Safety in the Parks
June 6, 2018 | View the presentation online

  • Lt. Adams and Sgt. Pirtle will provide insight into the Maryland-National Capital Park Police operations. The park police patrol and protect more than 36,000 acres of land and 14 million visitors each year. The session will also include park safety tips and information about Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) strategies. CPTED is an approach that examines ways environmental design can deter criminal behavior.

Beth Shogren and Stacie West Parks, Placemaking and Economic Development: Using Public-Private Partnerships to Create Signature Park Experiences
April 17, 2018 | View the presentation online.

  • The panel will examine the critical role of memorable, activated parks in placemaking and economic development. How do well-located and well-designed parks and open spaces brand cities and neighborhoods? How do they contribute to the overall economic sustainability and livability of our urban areas, and make our county a desirable and enjoyable place to live and work? We will discuss successful examples of public-private partnerships in achieving these goals.

Gil Penalosa | Urban Trail and Park Systems
February 21, 2018 View the presentation online

  • Deeply passionate about cities being for all people, Gil Penalosa has guided decision makers from around the world on how to create healthy, vibrant and sustainable communities that can be enjoyed by all. Penalosa believes in parks and streets as great public spaces, and puts emphasis on sustainable mobility like walking, cycling and public transit.
    • Gil Penaosa is the founder and chair of the internationally-recognized Canadian non-profit organization 8 80 cities. He is also chair of World Urban Parks.

Peter Harnik The Need for Great Urban Parks
January 17, 2018 View the presentation online 

  • Peter Harnik is the founder of the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land (TPL), which he directed until his retirement in 2016. He is the author of Urban Green, Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities and Inside City Parks, a book about the park and recreation systems of the 25 largest U.S. cities. He was co-creator of the ParkScore methodology of rating urban park systems across the nation and co-founder of City Parks Alliance. Previous to TPL, he was co-founder of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and coordinator of Environmental Action, Inc. He is currently writing a history of the rails-to-trails movement in the United States.


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Last Updated: October 27, 2020