Together the Balboa Park Conservancy’s team of leaders, staff, trustees, and volunteers bring a tremendous amount of expertise and passion to their work for the benefit of the park and its stakeholders. Their combined skills, experience, knowledge, and leadership build community consensus and deepen impact. Jackie Higgins, PLA, ASLA, our Director of Planning, Design and Programs, exemplifies the Conservancy’s commitment to expertise and leadership. With a professional background in landscape architecture and information systems, Higgins plans and executes park improvement projects with unmatched skill and grace, coordinating with a variety of parties to create sustainable improvements that make San Diego’s crown jewel shine.

How long have you been working in Balboa Park? In a nutshell, what does your current role entail?

I’ve been in Balboa Park three years this month. As Director of Planning, Design and Programs for the Balboa Park Conservancy, I work on myriad projects and programs throughout the park’s 1,200-acre campus. A lot of the work I do focuses on improving the park’s landscape and gardens, as well as the hardscape of those public spaces.

Tell us a bit about your background? Is there anything about you that would surprise most people?

My background is in landscape architecture. Prior to that, my undergraduate degree was in Information Systems. I approach projects in the park and elsewhere with the mindfulness of looking at the inventory and analysis of assets that we have and then leveraging those resources to most efficiently address the problems and the challenges that we see. 

My most recent training was in native landscape restoration. I spent almost a decade doing that. And that really helps me to focus in on using resources wisely, not only from the ecological perspective but from the fiscal perspective as well. 

One thing that may surprise people, I grew up on a farm in western Massachusetts. My favorite tree is the sugar maple because my family used to make maple syrup when I was a kid. That sparked my interest in trees and nature and really pushed me in the direction I went, eventually toward my master’s degree.

What are some of your favorite memories of Balboa Park?

When I was in graduate school, I worked on the conceptual plans for the expansion of the Japanese Friendship Garden with Takeo and Keiji Uesegi. Seeing the expansion implemented is something I’ll never forget: working with Keiji and helping him lay out the stream bed in the bottom of the canyon and seeing that whole process play out is one of my favorite memories.

What has been the most fulfilling part of your role thus far? What has been the most challenging?

The most fulfilling part of my role is to interact with all the different people who love the park so much. It’s an amazing place, and it’s such a diverse audience of people who find peace and tranquility and renewal within the various parts of the park. The most challenging aspect is seeing the many needs the park has and the lack of resources to address those needs. That’s incredibly challenging.

What are some of your favorite places to go in the park?

I really enjoy the Japanese Friendship Garden and Palm Canyon, and the Botanical Building is wonderful too. Those are the top three.

What are your hopes for the Conservancy and for Balboa Park in the future?

I’m looking forward to participating further in the visioning and strategizing processes for the park. It’s an incredible opportunity to work with key park stakeholders and the city to find common priorities and strategies to rejuvenate and restore the various elements of the park.