Five Questions for… Philip Ginsburg

Phil Ginsburg is the general manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department. With more than 4,100 acres and over 220 parks under its jurisdiction, the Department stewards some of the most spectacular public spaces in the world, including Golden Gate Park, Coit Tower and the Palace of Fine Arts. During his tenure, Ginsburg has made increasing access to public recreation the department’s primary objective, ensuring that the city’s children and families have the opportunity to not only survive in the city, but thrive. 

Phil Ginsburg

1. You were passionate about San Francisco’s public parks long before you became general manager. What inspired you?

I love the outdoors and I love sports.  I have been running in Golden Gate Park with my wife, Emily, for over 20 years. As a Dad raising two young girls in a dense urban environment, San Francisco's parks have helped my family thrive.  My kids climbed their first monkey bars in them; learned to ride bikes in them; hit their first tennis balls in them; and scored their first soccer goals in them.  We are really blessed to have the park system we have in San Francisco and, certainly, for our family, our parks make living in the City work.

2. With all of the issues you face managing the Rec & Parks department – 220 parks, hundreds of recreation programs, summer camps, dog walkers – how do you prioritize your time and attention?

San Francisco is blessed with an amazing park system that provides a diverse array of recreational options for the public. There are literally hundreds of ways we serve our communities, and every park and every program requires our full attention. But having said that, I am guided by our organization's vision.  Three simple words:  Inspire, Connect, Play.  They guide almost every decision I make -- providing parks and programs that inspire the public, connecting people to parks and each other by making them more inviting and accessible, and increasing opportunities for youth, teens, adults and seniors to simply get out and play.

3. What would you say are the top priorities for the city in terms of tennis facilities and programs?

At a time when private tennis clubs have become prohibitively expensive and some facilities are closing because of development, our public courts and programs are as important as ever.  We have three priorities:

  • We need to make sure our 132 tennis courts at parks, playgrounds and recreation centers are well maintained and more accessible for neighborhood play.  Many of our recent capital projects have included renovated tennis courts, including those at Dolores Park, Joe DiMaggio Playground, Cayuga Playground and Palega Recreation Center.  We have a revenue measure on the ballot in June which will significantly increase our court resurfacing capacity and help ensure this work is done on a regular planned cycle.  I would also like to see us develop a customer-friendly reservation system to avoid user conflict and unexpected wait times.
  • We need to work more closely with our program partners to promote youth tennis.  We’re proud of our tennis programs—from tot classes to tennis day camps in the spring and summer, tennis remains one of our core sports and we'll continue to grow it.  From quick-start to competitive play, we are serving kids at all levels of tennis development.  In recent years our youth tennis program has become one of the top public programs in the state, often competing with, and beating some of the top private clubs in the Bay Area and beyond.  I am also particularly proud of our burgeoning Tennis Learning Center (TLC) program which is now located at three neighborhood sites. This program is modeled after the highly regarded East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring Program (EPATT) down at the Taube Tennis Center at Stanford and supports youth in underserved communities through a combination of tennis and academic support.  However, we need to continue to work more closely with our youth tennis program partners like YTA, USTA, USF, Coaching Corps and the Harper Foundation to make sure more kids have an opportunity to enjoy the sport of tennis at all levels and in all neighborhoods.
  • We need to renovate and build a world-class public tennis facility in Golden Gate Park. It fits perfectly with our vision for the best urban parks department in America:  Inspire. Connect. Play.

4.  What do you think a renovated, world-class public tennis facility in Golden Gate Park will do for San Francisco?

There is such a rich tennis history in San Francisco, and the Golden Gate Park Tennis Center has been a big part of that story. It’s a facility that has seen some of the city’s top players compete on its courts, and is also a place where athletes of all abilities and backgrounds come to play on a daily basis. The upcoming renovation of the tennis center will provide the city with a world-class facility in a world-class park, but more importantly, it will be the city’s flagship tennis destination and a beacon for public tennis players everywhere.  The Center will host instruction, casual play, competitive leagues, and tournaments.  And beyond tennis, the re-imagined Center will help build community through a compelling new place to connect.

5. What would be the perfect San Francisco day for you and your family?

My perfect San Francisco day never requires me to leave Golden Gate Park.  It starts with an early morning run through the park with my wife Emily followed by the chance to watch one or both of our girls play soccer at Beach Chalet.  After grabbing a bite to eat from a food truck in the Music Concourse, our family heads over to the beautiful newly renovated Golden Gate Park Tennis Center for an hour or so of family tennis.  After bumping into some friends in the clubhouse, we all decide to head over to Outside Lands to watch Bruce Springsteen perform at the Polo Fields, surround by nature and thousands of San Franciscans who love their parks.