Ryan Woods, an employee of the Boston Parks and Recreation department since 2007, was recently appointed parks commissioner by Mayor Martin J. Walsh. In his new position, he oversees more than 2,600 acres of park land as well as public street trees, burial grounds, and golf courses. Woods spoke to the Metro Minute about managing the sprawling system.
What are the greatest strengths of the Parks and Recreation Department?
I think our new model that we took on — access, equity, and excellence — that we’re really being a park for all and including all and making sure that people of all abilities are able to come and enjoy our parks. All of our programs are free, so we’re inviting people to “park it with us” this summer. That’s our motto.
What are the greatest weakness of the department?
One of the things that we continue to improve upon is marketing our programs, events, and offerings. We offer over 800 programs a year so we’re always trying to get that information into the hands of residents. If they don’t get their local weekly newspaper or it’s not in a daily newspaper and they don’t use social media, what’s the correct tool to get all of this information into people’s hand?
What do you believe will be the biggest challenge you’ll face in your new role?
Every day is something different. When you come to work, you might have a plan of what you’re going to be working on, but you never know. A few of the exciting things that are coming are the Boston Common master plan and the Franklin Park master plan, where we have over $28 million for each of those parks to come up with this master plan process. We’re trying to engage all of the community members to make sure that we get it right, to make sure that the residents’ concerns are heard and that we use this plan to make something that all residents want, make a park that all people want to use and visit.
What service provided by Parks and Recreation do you think is most underutilized?
I’d have to say some of our programming. Even though we serve 20,000 people a year, we offer free programs. Also, our permitting system — all of our permits are free — to use baseball fields and all that so it’s more trying to get more people in the parks, to get more positive activity in the parks, pushing away any negative activity or behavior. We’re trying to get people to take part in these free offerings, whether it be a concert, a movie, or a Christmas tree lighting.
What is your favorite park in Boston?
You’re putting me on the spot here — I’m going to make a lot of people here not happy! [laughs]. I have to say that my favorite park right now is Martin’s Park, named after Martin Richard, that was just opened a month ago in the Seaport along the Boston waterfront. It’s a brand-new, state-of-the-art playground that contains many resiliency measures to absorb water, to stop flooding into residencies on neighboring streets from sea level rise, storm surges, things like that. As Mayor Walsh released last year in Climate Resilient Boston, part of the way to save Boston from the rising tide and storm surges is by creating a series of waterfront parks that can help absorb infiltrating water.