As the son of a diplomat growing up in a theatrical family in Baghdad, Iraq, it’s no surprise that Idris Al-Oboudi developed a totally individual view of the world. Fortunately for the residents of Manhattan Beach, California, where he serves as recreation services manager for the city’s department of parks and recreation, he has used his eclectic experiences to develop a unique philosophy on the role parks and recreation plays in the development of communities. In a more tangible sense, he routinely draws on his artistic, cultural, and historical backgrounds to develop unusual and exciting programs for his adopted city.
At a young age, Al-Oboudi’s parents instilled in him a love of the arts that remains a passion to this day, and by enrolling him in internationally renowned ballet schools and exposing him to theater, they nurtured his creativity and encouraged freedom of expression. Curiosity was also encouraged, and with a bookshelf full of National Geographics and an offshoot of the Orient Express running through his backyard, he naturally developed an interest in and appreciation for the global community.
Studying the works of ancient Islamic scholars and modern theorists alike, Al-Oboudi developed a comprehensive personal ideology on the importance of recreation to society. He received a master’s degree in recreation from Western Michigan University and has since spent his career working to provide outlets for leisure for the communities he has served.
“Article 24 of the [United Nations’] Human Declaration of Human Rights states ‘Everyone has the right to rest and leisure,’” Al-Oboudi quotes. “It is self-evident that parks make life better. Play, as is learned in parks, is a rehearsal of life to come.
“This trivial description we have of parks and recreation trivializes ourselves,” he opines. “We’re the reason why people travel. We’re the inspiration for destination. Our existence matters. We are the echo of civilization.”
Al-Oboudi goes on to explain that the Arabic word for “sport” and “math” is the same—a word that indicates an exercise of either the body or the mind. According to his philosophy, both are of critical importance to human development. “Recreation uses a different kind of mind muscle: imagination,” he says. “It opens up windows to the soul.”
Interview by Danielle Taylor, Associate Editor, Parks & Recreation (firstname.lastname@example.org).