Heath Riddles-Sanchez

Urban Park Leadership Program

Heath Riddles-Sanchez
"To me, there is no more valuable learning experience than to be around others who are facing the same daily challenges as we are...and solving them!"

CEO, Pease Park Conservancy, Austin, TX

What drew you to the field of urban park management? What is the most gratifying aspect of your job?  

For me, this work is all about impact. One of the things that makes Austin so special and unique is its public green spaces. I love the fact that our team can sit around a table and brainstorm on a Monday or Tuesday, and by Friday we can see concrete results, significant and meaningful improvements to one of our city's most beloved spaces, its first and oldest public park.   

Why did you choose the Urban Park Leadership Program, offered by the Central Park Conservancy and the CUNY School of Professional Studies?

I chose the Urban Park Leadership Program because I was familiar with the Central Park Conservancy Institute for Urban Parks, as well as the CUNY School of Professional Studies. I knew that a program developed by these two entities would be of the highest quality and that it would be a huge opportunity for me to learn from other park leaders around the country, even the world. To me, there is no more valuable learning experience than to be around others who are facing the same daily challenges as we are...and solving them! Whenever I have reached out to the Central Park Conservancy team for advice, I have always been connected with someone who has been through exactly what I'm dealing with and has found a way to navigate the issue successfully. I suspected that was the type of environment I would find in this program, and I was right! 

What is the most significant impact you will have on your park as a result of applying what you have gained from this program? 

I think the most significant benefit of my experience in the program is the network of friends and colleagues I have developed from around the world. Now I have a list of at least 10 people whom I can pick up the phone and call any time. I know I'll find an empathetic ear on the other end...someone with actual experience dealing with the problem I'm having.  

Tell us about your experience with completing the Leadership Program as a fully online experience.

Although not ideal, the virtual experience was still filled with a lot of useful information and the opportunity to form bonds and friendships with other leaders in the field.

How did you balance participating in the Leadership Program with the priorities of your career and personal life?

I was happy that the program leaders gave us plenty of time and notice about all of the upcoming sessions. Having a long lead time made it a lot easier to plan my schedule around the sessions, and if I missed one there was always a way to make up the work or review and learn from the materials. 

What was your favorite unit in the program? Why? 

My favorite part by far was the session on equity, led by Fatima Dankeh of She Geeks Out. It was incredibly informative; probably the session that included the newest material for me. I learned so much, and Fatima's presentation style was so engaging and encouraging. I think anyone, anywhere could benefit from that session, regardless of their industry or existing level of knowledge/comfort around these issues. We not only learned a lot from Fatima, but the way she led the session guaranteed that we would learn from one another, as well.

What advice would you offer someone who is considering applying for the Urban Park Leadership Program?

I would encourage anyone in the field of urban parks management to apply for this program. The content is educational and very valuable, plus you will meet many talented and experienced people. The opportunity to develop such a high-quality professional network is worth the price of the program alone.

Read more about Urban Park Leadership Program