Greater Greater Washington

DC DPR wants feedback on parks. Give them yours

Do you use your local park, rec center or pool? Have you encountered any problems? If you don't use them, why not? The Department of Parks and Recreation needs to hear from you to make its facilities better.


Rosedale Pool. Photo from DCDPR.

Most complaints I hear about DPR facilities concern upkeep or the attitude of park employees. But there are a lot of parks and a lot of staff, many short-term, running many programs across the city.

Without our eyes and ears, the central park staff can't respond to issues quickly. I had a frustrating experience at a local park one recent Saturday, but when I sent DPR a comment they responded very quickly.

I took my 3-year-old to Rosedale Pool, a brand new pool that opened in May, ideal for kids. My son and I arrived to find all three water slides closed. While playing in the pool for 2 hours, my little guy kept asking why the fun water-slides were closed, when they would re-open, and if we could come back when they did. Other toddlers were trying to climb onto the water slides only to have their parents pull them off.

When I asked the lifeguards why the water slides were closed, they said there weren't enough lifeguards to watch the pool and the slides. But I saw 5 lifeguards either working or sitting in their break room, rotating every hour so that only 2 were on-guard at a time. When I asked the park staff at the entrance, they said it was because the slides were broken. Something didn't seem right.

Perhaps more frustrating, though, was the apathy of the other families at the pool whose kids were just as disappointed as mine, yet who did nothing. I asked some other parents in the pool about the slides, and got one of two answers.

Some parents said the slides must be broken. When I asked if it seemed likely that all 3 slides were broken, a mere 2 months after the pool was built, they agreed but didn't know what to do. The other parents actually said outright, in a shrugging way, "what are you gonna do"?

Such apathy and defeatism doesn't do anyone any good. Sure, government can seem callous or unresponsive at times, but most often it's just that, a perception.

DPR Director Jesus Aguirre, for one, wants to change the entrenched system at DPR, but needs our eyes and ears. So I emailed dpraquatics@dc.gov, and received an apologetic reply within 15 minutes on a Saturday night. The slides were reopened, except for 1 of the 3 that was actually broken.

How can you quickly let the city know about issues at your local park and get a reply?

  • Email them directly at dpr@dc.gov or, if it is aquatics-related, dpraquatics@dc.gov.
  • Call them at 202-673-7647.
  • Tweet them at @DCDPR.
  • Create a 311 request on the 311 web site or using the 311 mobile app. From the list of Service Types, select "Parks and Recreation."
If the city is responsive to your request, compliment them at the new Grade.DC website. If they are not responsive, make sure to explain how they fell short.

Director Aguirre has demonstrated his commitment to creating a responsive, service-oriented culture at DPR. And now they've put the tools in place to submit questions and issues. The ball is now in our court, to quickly let DPR staff know of all issues in local parks.

It actually takes more time to complain to your neighbors about your local park than to fill out the online 311 form. We have to get into the habit of channeling our frustration about issues with local parks into the feedback system DPR has provided. Only then can DPR staff to respond to issues, and only then will Director Aguirre be able to hold his staff accountable for responsiveness.

So the next time you have an issue with the District's parks and recreational facilities, don't let it fester. Tell DPR, and give them a chance to rectify the situation.

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son. Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. 

Comments

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I have never once seen all three section of the adult pool open at Banneker. There are always extra "employees" milling about. It's almost like these kids are operating knowing no one is watching their customer or quality service.

by Ward 1 on Aug 30, 2012 3:07 pm • linkreport

That issue was not fixed. I had the same experience with the closed slides at Rosedale on Saturday, August 11 - the last Saturday they were opened. I asked a lifeguard why they were closed and he said they were generally open only from 1 pm to 3 pm. He didn't know why hours were limited and suggested I ask the pool manager. On my way out, I asked at the entry desk, and the woman at the reception looked at a man standing next to her, who said, "All you had to do was ask." I told him I had asked a lifeguard, who didn't know that it was possible to open them, and he repeated, "All you had to do was ask." He didn't seem to want to speak with me - he spoke very quietly and did not look at me - so I didn't bother continuing the discussion. (I sent an email at the time to a different DCRA aquatics address, but did not get a response. Thanks for the updated email - I will resend.) I hope they can improve their management next year.

by npm on Aug 30, 2012 3:29 pm • linkreport

A few times I've considered going to the pool but didn't because I assumed it would be full. Is there any way to check before leaving the house?

My college gym had a webcam you could check to see if machines were available; could DPR do the same for pools that often fill up? Or maybe just tweet when something is full or closed?

by Gavin on Aug 30, 2012 4:37 pm • linkreport

One idea I've had for improving government service is to give each customer a receipt that goes to a survey. This would be along the same lines as restaurants that ask you to take a survey afterwards to provide feedback on how things went. This provide a lot more information to staff on how things are going, so they'd find out about problems sooner. It might also remove the sense of no-consequences from some employees who seem to think that nobody will complain or that it won't make any difference.

by Gavin on Aug 30, 2012 4:41 pm • linkreport

@Gavin -call the pool and ask! The lifeguards/pool managers will know if there is a class, when the pool lap lanes are most crowded,etc.

I too had a great response from Aguirre once when I had an issue at a pool and called his office.

DC is rich in great pools and aside from that one time I've had only good experiences at DCs pools, which I use a lot.

by Tina on Aug 30, 2012 5:05 pm • linkreport

Wow, I'm amazed you got them to open the slides! Rosedale pool is probably the most poorly managed city facility out there. It is constantly being closed for unexplained reasons, and the slides have been closed since early July. And every time I ask I get a different answer--sometimes it's staff, sometimes it's that they need to be cleaned, sometimes no idea. And those answers are clearly lies. They need to fire everyone that works at Rosedale rec and start over, that place is severely broken. I've written to DPR and Tommy Wells about this, but have never seen any progress or improvements. I sincerely hope things will change.

by Joe on Aug 31, 2012 7:38 am • linkreport

Douglass Community Center
2100 Stanton Terrace, SE

- this address does not exist

http://app.dpr.dc.gov/dprmap/index.asp?group=5

by David on Aug 31, 2012 8:54 am • linkreport

The problem city-wide is that, while there are good eggs in every agency looking to make things better, there are many people who simply do not care working in every agency.

Until the city can find a way to make all employees actually believe that it's their job to exceed expectations (go ahead, accuse me of being high as a kite for suggesting this), we'll continue to see lackluster performance across the board.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Sep 2, 2012 9:07 am • linkreport

I've also experienced a lot of frustration with the Rosedale pool. It's an amazing facility, but so many of the features have been unavailable. Nobody has mentioned how the baby pool has been closed for almost the entire summer! My daughter absolutely loved playing in it, but after the first weekend, we were never allowed to go in. At first it was because there were not enough lifeguards, according to the lifeguards (this was when the whale was still working). Then it was because the whale feature was broken. I was also told by one of the managers that the slides were not in use because there wasn't any signage telling people how to use them...like if someone got hurt they would be liable because there wasn't a sign saying "don't use this slide if you're an idiot, ect." Honestly, this place was open before it was finished, and we were lucky to have the pool at all this summer with so much of the center being a work in progress. And this pool and facility is really a godsend for the community. But I do think that there was some level of mismanagement among the lifeguards, and not enough staffing. I wrote to the email listed and got a response that basically things would be fixed by next year. I hope they're right!

by Logan on Sep 4, 2012 9:20 am • linkreport

I went on Friday and the slides were closed. I asked the manager if he could open them and he opened the pair of straight slides. As soon as he began to take off the ropes, kids were standing in line, laughing and jumping. I have no idea why they weren't opened before.

Also, they completely close the pool for the last 15 minutes of each hour. Do any other pools do that? One staffer said it was to make sure the pool was clean, and the other said it was to make sure the kids rested. The first explanation seems implausible, and the second strange, given that even adults are not allowed in the pool.

by npm on Sep 4, 2012 9:36 am • linkreport

Until the city can find a way to make all employees actually believe that it's their job to exceed expectations (go ahead, accuse me of being high as a kite for suggesting this), we'll continue to see lackluster performance across the board.

Well, in most organizations, you'd do this by holding employees to some minimum standard of performance. And firing them if they consistently fail to meet those standards. Obviously this kind of approach won't work in the case of DPR, since the fundamental goal of the organization is to provide make-work jobs to people who are otherwise unemployable. This used to be the case with every DC government agency, and now it's only the case with the non-essential ones, so I guess that's something of an improvement.

by oboe on Sep 4, 2012 9:50 am • linkreport

oboe: Good point. Sad, but good point.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Sep 4, 2012 10:02 am • linkreport

I have to disagree that lifeguards are non-essential. It sounds like a pool management issue at Rosedale.

by Tina on Sep 4, 2012 11:20 am • linkreport

I read your piece – I often enjoy what you write and agree with your perspective.

DPR is a sad agency, made sadder or weaker by the splitting off into the general whatever that thing is called – people there don’t know which way the wind is blowing, now more than ever. Is Jesus Aguirre still acting? Or has he been confirmed as director? My experience with him leads me to believe that he is rather weak.

There are so many problems, multiplying problems, at the root of which is lack of competent leadership. Like so much else in our city, there is a lack of adult supervision, and what you have is, often, very qualified people running here and there on their own, without much coordination and certainly no vision – and a lot of fear. It’s the lack of knowledge and authority in one person. That more than anything is what the agency needs, a skillful and knowledgeable and authoritative political leader at the head of DPR. DPR directors have either been weak or pretty corrupt. I don’t see that much has changed, though every once in a while there will be these bursts when the easy fixes get responded to and mucha publicidad will be generated which you have shown here.

My assessment certainly pertains to the management of the grounds of the land that DC owns (which is bordering on criminal), and to an extent the staff at the rec centers, who vary between great and you-don’t-wanna-lose-them to God-awful. Those in the latter camp are just biding their time till retirement which those in the area can’t wait for either so that they will be outta here finally! (Then big breath in to see who we get next.)

As for why the community allows these things. It is reflective of the populace AND their confidence and expectations in the responsiveness of the agency they are dealing with. Do they have low expectations? Probably. That creates more apathy. Whose "fault" is that? Both. How much of a bond is there between the community and the employees of the agency who work in that community? That has a lot to do with it. Are the DPR employees from that community?

On the other hand, it's how the community members see themselves and how committed they see themselves being to their neighborhood. In my long experience here, most people are not that committed and civically invested. And it shows.

Big caveat - depends on the neighborhood.

by Jazzy on Sep 7, 2012 12:02 pm • linkreport

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