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Public Spaces

Parks, including downtown, get attention and funding

DC's budget for next year has some great news for fans of parks, including people clamoring for better parks and playgrounds in the growing, and increasingly residential, downtown area.

Photo by dctim1 on Flickr.

The DC Council Committee on Libraries, Parks, Recreation and Planning, which Tommy Wells chairs, unanimously passed its budget this morning and gave funding to several key priorities, inclu­ding a downtown playground, planning for Franklin Square, and relief for residents of Kenilworth-Parkside who recently lost their rec center.

DPR has come under some criticism in the past for focusing on recreation centers at the expense of its parks. Both are very important, and in this budget, DPR gets funding for 4 full-time employees and $750,000 in capital to work on park policy and programs.

In addition, parents pushing for a children's playground downtown are a lot closer to getting their wish. The new budget allocates $500,000 to plan and build a playground, which should be enough to get it built. The National Park Service still has to select a site and give DC jurisdiction to build the playground.

For many years, few to no people lived downtown, so DC's many downtown parks only served office workers eating lunch, the homeless, and otherwise little more than decorative backgrounds to drivers on major thoroughfares. Now, more people want to use the parks at all times of the day.

NCPC just released a a video about an effort by federal and DC agencies to renovate Edmund Burke Park, where 10th and L Streets NW meet Massachusetts Avenue.

Franklin Square represents the largest opportunity for downtown parks. It covers an entire city block, yet doesn't see the kind of use and programming as similar spaces in other cities, like New York's Bryant Park. DPR will get $300,000 to work with the Office of Planning to plan a renovation for Frankline. Since NPS controls this park as well, they will need to give DC jurisdiction here as well before any actual changes can come.

Most of the money for these priorities comes out of a $16 million project ($8 million in the next fiscal year) to create a new DPR and DYRS headquarters at Gibbs School. The committee doesn't think that's such an urgent need, as DPR just moved into offices on U Street. The budget retains $550,000 for them to continue planning for their office needs. The 4 staff working on parks will come out of 60 existing vacant positions at DPR.

The committee also assigned $500,000 out of $5 million which Mayor Gray had set aside to implement the sustainability plan. Parks and recreation are a key part of the sustainability plan, so this money will still contribute to fulfilling the plan, only in a specific way the Council chose.

Kenilworth-Parkside residents are hanging in limbo after DC tore down their old recreation center only to find out that contamination on the site prevents building a new one. It'll likely take 7-10 years, say committee staff, for NPS to finish its environmental study, for DC and NPS to negotiate over who has to pay for remediation, and then design and build a facility. The Council instructed DPR to use some of the money it already has budgeted for Kenilworth-Parkside to find a short-term option for residents.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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I am jumping for joy in my living room. Hooray!!!!

by Caroline Armijo on May 2, 2012 3:13 pm • linkreport

David, it will likely take 7-10 years/months/days for NPS to finish its environmental study regarding the Kenilworth rec center?

by Eric on May 2, 2012 3:29 pm • linkreport

Great news!!!

by Danielle Pierce on May 2, 2012 3:50 pm • linkreport

This is great news!

I'm especially excited to see what happens with Franklin Square. It's a great space that has amazing potential as an urban park. I just hope that the National Park Service's exclusive concession contracts don't apply to Franklin Square; that could severely hinder meaningful revitalization of the space.

by Eric Fidler on May 2, 2012 3:51 pm • linkreport

Congratulations, Caroline and Downtown DC Kids!

by Jessica on May 2, 2012 4:09 pm • linkreport

im not trying to be snarky, but how does a playground cost half a million bucks?

by mch on May 2, 2012 6:41 pm • linkreport

Great idea!!!! D.C. desperately needs a place for the kids of the young urban dwellers- both the new yuppies, as well as the long-time!!!!!

by Gabriel Pierce on May 3, 2012 7:28 am • linkreport

The focus on parks is a good shift in DPR priorities. For too many years the infrastructure of many of our parks has deteriorated terribly as new YMCA-quality recreation centers were built and playing fields manicured, often within the same block as an overgrown park with splintered benches, broken fountains, and crumbling hardscaping.

by Bob Craycraft, ANC6D01 Commissioner on May 3, 2012 10:27 am • linkreport

I think the focus on the newly-built rec center palaces is a mistake. The new Wilson natatorium, while stunningly beautiful, is actually an outlier. There are other rec centers that are really run down, such as Ferebee-Hope in W8. Takoma is also showing its age, which is unfortunate, because this is where most of the wswimming meets are held, and provides impressions of DC to many thousands of visitors.

by goldfish on May 3, 2012 10:36 am • linkreport

A lot of DPR see those 'palaces' as keys to their employment future. It's a very misguided way to look at it, very not holistic, but that has been the reality of parks in DC all these years. It's kind of sweet in a naive sort of way to see any park in Washington being compared to Bryant Park.

by Jazzy on May 3, 2012 11:05 pm • linkreport

I agree on the outrageous costs. That is enough money to entirely rebuild the park, not just add a playground. Too bad the money can't be spread out more onto another parcel.

by Cassie on May 9, 2012 12:58 pm • linkreport

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