Posts about Eleanor Holmes Norton
On Thursday, residents from all across the city asked the National Park Service to do better for DC, and praised the progress NPS has made this year, at a town hall meeting from Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.
If you didn't get to attend, you'll have another chance to talk to park superintendents about DC parks at another event NPS is organizing on November 13.
At the town hall, Norton noted that the Park Service has very little money and the climate in Congress isn't likely to fund them any better anytime soon; if anything, there might be more cuts. That will exacerbate the huge maintenance backlog at the National Mall and many problems at smaller parks, like at Fort Dupont, where a reasident of Ward 7 said NPS hasn't fixed a deteriorating roadway for years.
But many other people brought up issues that won't require more federal money.
Danielle Pierce of Downtown DC Kids said that 6 months after NPS officials promised to help give the District jurisdiction over a small parcel so it could build a playground, and after Tommy Wells put money into the budget for such a playground, nothing has happened on the Park Service side.
The organizer of a youth sports league said that playing fields in Anacostia Park are in terrible shape. They'd be happy to fix the field themselves if they can become a partner for that park. Joe Sternlieb, the new head of the Georgetown BID, said they'd be happy to do more to remove graffiti at the C&O Canal but need NPS permission.
Rick Reinhard, Deputy Executive Director of the Downtown Business Improvement District, had a very cogent statement about the need for funding, its progress and challenges on partnerships, and its frustrations with rules that make it very difficult to program downtown parks.
In 1997, our buildings, our streets and sidewalks and our parks all were unexceptional-- a 3 to 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. Today, our buildings are an 8 or 9, our streets and sidewalks are a 6 or 7. Our parks are still a 3. Why? Mainly lack of investment. The NPS budget does not allow the [34 National Park Service parks and reservations in the one-square-mile Downtown BID] to be designed, built, maintained or programmed any of us would choose.You can read the complete statement.
NPS is handcuffed to run its urban parks using the same rules they use to run Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Everglades. The same regulations that work so well to protect moose, redwoods and crocodiles work much less effectively to promote playgrounds, concerts and family picnics.
Permits are required for small, what should be spontaneous events. Sponsorship banners are so limited as to be practically prohibited. Food service is limited to the National Mall concessionaire, who finds it not profitable enough to operate a small food cart in, say, McPherson Square, when it is selling thousands of hot dogs on the Mall.
When the Downtown BID worked with the Willard Intercontinental Hotel to promote a simple art fair in Pershing Park, NPS red tape strangled it. One example: artists could sell only art that was materially connected to the theme of the park, like portraits of General Pershing.
Sidewalk cafes are next to impossible to site legally on NPS-controlled Pennsylvania Avenue. So while the number of sidewalk cafes within the BID area has grown over the past 15 years from zero to 147
— with 4,400 seats — the number of sidewalk cafes on Pennsylvania Avenue — which should be one of America's greatest, liveliest streets — is only four.
Local NPS officials understand these problems and do not want to manage this way, but rules are rules.
If NPS is not appropriated enough money, and if NPS has inflexible rules, then the only way our parks ever will be what we deserve is through forging serious, meaningful partnerships.
We offer sincere compliments to Regional Director Steve Whitesell, Mall Superintendent Bob Vogel, Deputy Superintendents Steve Lorenzetti and Karen Cucurullo and their staffs. We have moved ahead on these important issues more in the past couple of years than we have in the decade before, because these men and women understand that these parks not only must respect history and serve our nation but also must be enjoyed day-to-day and serve our residents, workers and visitors.
The Downtown BID wholeheartedly endorses Secretary Salazar's call for a new way of managing NPS' urban space inventory, which includes all of Downtown DC's green spaces. Our hope is that our most recent experiences constitute a new way for DC to work with NPS going forward, and are not exceptions to the rule.
At the meeting, NPS regional head Steve Whitesell announced that the agency was planning its own town hall as well to hear from even more residents. That event will be Tuesday, November 13, 6:30-8:30 pm at the African-American Civil War Museum, 1925 Vermont Avenue NW, right by the east entrance to the U Street Metro.
5 area park superintendents will be there to talk with residents: Bob Vogel of National Mall and Memorial Parks (the Mall plus most nearby small parks), Alex Romero of National Capital Parks-East (generally everything east of the Capitol and also east of the Anacostia), Tara Morrison from Rock Creek (which includes small parks outside the L'Enfant city in Northwest), the C&O Canal's Kevin Brandt, and Ann Bowman Smith who works with the White House to manage "President's Park," the White House itself and surrounding grounds.
This is an important opportunity to bring important issues directly to the people in charge. NPS isn't going to make parks safer to walk and bike, or enjoyable for sitting and eating, or more active for daytime and evening activities, unless people personally ask them to. The more residents ask for these things, the more we will get them. Mark your calendars!
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is organizing a town hall to talk about National Park Service-controlled parkland in the District of Columbia on October 25. I'll be participating on a panel. What issues or requests should I bring up?
Norton convened a town hall last year after a coalition of parks advocates and other activists, including myself, called attention to inflexible policies at the National Park Service interfering with Capital Bikeshare, the Circulator, farmers' markets, missing playgrounds downtown, and more.
The Park Service had recently gotten a new head of the National Capital region and new superintendents for several of the local park "units." These managers started working better with residents than their predecessors. They made considerable progress on Bikeshare, concession rules, and the Circulator.
That doesn't mean there isn't a lot more to do, and Norton is having another town hall hall on October 25. I'll be speaking on a panel, along with NPS Regional Director Steve Whitesell, Rich Bradley of the Downtown BID, Danielle Pierce of Downtown DC Kids (the group pushing for that playground), and Catherine Nagel of the City Parks Alliance, a national group that supports urban parks.
What should I talk about? Since there is no other person specifically devoted to pedestrian and bicycle issues, I'd like to raise the many ways that despite being parkland, rules make walkers and bikers feel less welcome than drivers.
On the Rock Creek and George Washington parkways, signs at off-ramps tell runners and bike riders they have to yield to cars. This is bizarre, since turning cars yield to pedestrians even on major city and suburban arterial roads; the only place with this kind of rule is a freeway, and that shouldn't be the standard for our roadways in parks, even ones that carry a lot of traffic.
The approaches to the 14th Street Bridge give bike riders really no safe or comfortable route to and from downtown, for instance. There is also no good way to cross the GW Parkway on foot or on a bike around the Memorial Bridge. (This area is actually inside the District's borders, even though it is across the Potomac.)
I hope Rich Bradley will talk about the ways public-private partnerships can better activate our downtown parks. Franklin Square should be a more inviting place to eat lunch, and Farragut host evening concerts. Strict concession contracts limit things like sponsorship of an event, and the food trucks can only operate next to the park because they are on the public street which NPS doesn't control. Yet these types of activities are good for urban parks, not bad.
How about retail on Pennsylvania Avenue? Vendors? Bike parking? Capital Bikeshare stations? The grand avenue of our capital city doesn't have to be barren and boring. Food options on the Mall don't need to be awful, either.
Then there are the memorials. DC's many small triangles and other shapes are reserved for future memorials, and it's appropriate to have sites of national or world importance in the American capital, but that doesn't mean the memorials can't also be successful public spaces, as the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue is.
I'm also concerned about a trend toward more fences in triangle parks, like at 21st and I, to "remedy social paths," or in other words, stop people from walking through the park the way they want to. Better to rearrange the walkways to be in the right places.
The Park Service is doing just that on Washington Circle, showing that they are now open to making parks work better for residents and visitors, people on foot and bicycles as well as in cars. We should hope that Steve Whitesell and his superintendents stick around for a while instead of moving to other parks elsewhere in the nation, so that we can all continue to make progress.
The town hall is Thursday, October 25, 6:30-8:30 pm at the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Room 412.
What would you like me to talk about at the panel?
Scandal rocks Draft Wells campaign: The nascent campaign to draft Tommy Wells for mayor in 2014 has been suspended amid new allegations that under Wells' oversight, DC Public Libraries has been blatantly allowing people to use its books for free. The US Attorney is probing similar conduct at the Department of Parks and Recreation. (City Paper, Todd)
Evans eyes Georgetown for Redskins: A new plan from Councilmembers Jack Evans and Michael Brown would demolish Georgetown's campus and move it to Hill East. The current campus would become a practice facility for the Redskins. Some Georgetown neighbors immediately endorsed the plan, because the new facility will create almost no noise and attract very few people to the area. (Post)
Pedestrian safety solved: A new policy from the Montgomery County DOT will make it illegal to cross any arterial streets in the county, eliminating dangerous crossings. People without cars needing to traverse a roadway can get on a bus and ride it to the end of the line and back again. (Gazette, Ben Ross)
Escalator reliability reaches 100%: Metro has achieved a new milestone for escalator maintenance. They have now reached a reliability rate of 100%; all escalators are currently broken at the same time. (Examiner, Matt Johnson)
Hop on I-395 PE: With Virginia's new program to sell naming rights to roads, Sudafed has proposed sponsoring all of Northern Virginia's congestion. (WBJ, Steve Offutt)
LOV-0 coming to a road near you: Google is reportedly working on a new program to design "passengerless cars," which will transport no people at all. In anticipation of this breakthrough, VDOT announced a plan to implement "Low-Occupancy Vehicle" lanes for their exclusive use. (Wired, Neil Flanagan)
DC4D4Thomas: DC for Democracy has endorsed Harry Thomas, Jr. as a write-in candidate for the Ward 5 special election. Members cited Thomas' consistency in talking about revitalizing the ward's main streets without making anything happen, creatively moving around money dedicated to serve youth, and his plan to solve transportation problems by setting up a series of Audi dealerships. (Geoff Hatchard)
Norton targets Wyoming: After several unsuccessful efforts to lobby state legislatures to support DC statehood, Eleanor Holmes Norton announced a new strategy to try to remove statehood from Wyoming, as it is smaller than DC. (DCist, Nick Clark)
Do you have thoughts about how your local federally-controlled park could be better? Have you tried to organize any activities and run into a bureaucratic brick wall? Or does your park just not serve the needs of your community?
Chances are, if you live in DC, your local park is run by the National Park Service. It's an agency that makes few efforts to reach out to local communities, but there's a great opportunity this Saturday October 22, 1:30-3:00 pm at One Judiciary Square (441 4th Street, NW).
Eleanor Holmes Norton's office is organizing the event. Unfortunately, it's happening on a weekend when I'm out of town, and scheduled without much lead time for people to plan to attend. But it would be terrific to have many people from across DC share their experiences from working with NPS and their desires for how to better use DC parks to create a livable city, from the large ones like Rock Creek, the Mall, and Anacostia to the small neighborhood circles and squares.
If few people attend, NPS or Norton's staff might erroneously conclude that there aren't many resident issues or requests about parks. That's not the case, but we can best demonstrate that fact by having a lot of folks attend.
If your suggestions or frustrations are with the DC Department of Parks and Recreation instead of NPS, you have an upcoming chance to voice them as well. Tommy Wells is holding an oversight roundtable on DPR, specifically its summer programs, but it's a good opportunity to bring up your concerns to Wells and DPR officials.
That event is Tuesday, October 25, 11 am to 3 pm in Room 412 of the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave, NW. To sign up to testify, email Tawanna Shuford at email@example.com or 202-727-8204.
Are you planning to go to either? Post about what you plan to discuss in the comments.
Last night, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) brought up the pervasive problems with the National Park Service through an Interior Appropriations amendment. It was withdrawn as an unpermitted earmark, but Reps. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Mike Simpson (R-ID) both expressed support for ending the Park Service's "one size fits all" approach to urban parks.
You can watch the exchange here:
The National Park Service should develop flexible standards that take into account the unique circumstances and population of individual parks and changing conditions throughout the country, in keeping with Congressional recognition of both conservation and recreation as primary reasons for our parks. The neighborhood parks in the District of Columbia serve a very different function from Yellowstone. Dont Circle park is a central urban community meeting place in the District ...Moran, whose district includes Arlington, Alexandria, Reston, and southern Fairfax, endorsed the principles behind the amendment, and referred to my Post op-ed:
I have come to the floor because I have tried unsuccessfully to get the Park Service to make small adaptations. perfectly compatible with their mission, to allow for the people in the parks in my own district, and I am certain that other members have found similar roadblocks. For example, the Park Service won't allow bikeshare stations on or near federal parks, and they are not permitting the 3 golf courses in the District of Columbia to be run as a public-private partnership.
Both of these examples have run into the same one-size-fits-all concession concerns. Yet the National Park Service could negotiate concession agreements that accommodate bikeshare in the future. And inflexibility in Park Service insistence on concession contracts that do not allow capital investment, resulting in an astonishing deterioration of invaluable, capital-intensive golf courses in the District, could give way to other approaches, such as public-private partnerships operating under long-term leases that would allow private funding to assist the Park Service with upgrading and maintain these public assets which taxpayers can't possibly by themselves maintain.
Inflexible, one-size-fits-all policies keep Americans from using our parks for compatible purposes such as bike stations or worse, condemn unique iconic resources to inevitable decline.
I think we ought to have a consideration by the Park Service of whether they are sufficiently flexible in dealing with local communities. There was a recent article written in the Washington Post talking about some of the opportunities that exist to bring the community in to local parks, urban parks, where far more people could be involved, people could participate, people could enhance the enjoyment of things that take place. ...However, Moran also noted that the amendment could be considered an earmark, which Congress is now not permitting. Simpson, too, said he felt this was an earmark, but that he agreed with Norton's objective and pledged to work with her "in conference" to accomplish this end.
We could find ways to discourage automobiles and encourage bikes. Have bike sharing, for example, on the National Mall so that people could rent bikes and bike around the mall. It wouldn't cause any environmental damage; in fact, it would preserve some of the lawn on our National Mall and I think some people would enjoy it more. They'd get a little exercise.
On bike sharing, DDOT has wanted to have a station around Archives Metro for a long time, and in fact maps currently show a planned station there. It's a big hole in the downtown coverage. However, DDOT's Chris Holben said the area is controlled by the Park Service, preventing a station from going into this area.
More broadly, many communities would love to be more involved in local parks, perhaps through a public-private partnership involving local businesses and residents pitching in money and time to help maintain the parks, run events, and bring in concessions that enhance the park for residents and tourists alike.
Such steps would even save money, but require more flexibility by the Park Service on its policies and its concession contracts. So far, the Park Service has resisted efforts by residents and even, apparently, by Congresswoman Norton to make progress. Perhaps with more members of Congress joining in, they'll see the light.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has joined the chorus of voices calling for the National Park Service to be more flexible and work better with local communities to manage their many DC parks, large and small.
On Sunday, the Post published an op-ed I wrote summarizing the issues with the Park Service. Chief among them is the frequent refrain that they have to apply the exact same policies to all parks nationwide, regardless of size or context.
This excuse has come up repeatedly. It's a factor in blocking Capital Bikeshare on the Mall. It's an obstacle to Bryant Park-like sandwich kiosks in Mount Vernon Square. And it forces community groups wanting to put on events in neighborhood parks to jump through ridiculous hoops.
There's no reason the Park Service actually has to treat every park the same, from the tiny triangle across Q Street from Dupont Circle (where they've delayed for years efforts to fix deteriorating grass and benches) to the enormous Yellowstone. I also noted that the General Service Administration, a typically slower-moving organization that has recently exhibited refreshingly forward-thinking sustainability practices, created a separate office to handle urban facilities.
Congresswoman Norton and her staff have apparently seen the coverage of these problems. She put out a press release linking up the Capital Bikeshare with another issue, NPS's reluctance to enter into public-private partnerships for DC's golf courses. Her press release says:
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) will offer an amendment today to the Interior Department Appropriations bill that requires the National Park Service (NPS) to study ways to make NPS parks in the District and throughout the nation more responsive to the diverse park communities they serve. The study is the first step towards changing current NPS policy that inflexibly treats all parks the same from, Yosemite to Dupont Circle Park.Golf courses also aren't the only places NPS could benefit from public-private partnerships. Richard Layman wrote, "For 10 years the Downtown BID has been trying to get MOUs with the NPS to manage the downtown federal parks such as at McPherson Square or Franklin Square, to manage them more like how similar facilities (but not controlled by the federal government) are managed in New York City."
The Congresswoman has tried unsuccessfully to get important changes for parks in the District, including allowing Capital Bikeshare stations on or near parks and permitting the three golf courses in the District to be run as a public-private partnership. Both of these examples have run into existing concession concerns. However, Norton said, "NPS could negotiate concession agreements that accommodate Capital Bikeshare in the future.
Moreover, another particularly harmful example of inflexibility is NPS insistence on concession contracts that do not allow capital investment, resulting in astonishing deterioration of invaluable, capital-intensive golf courses in the District. Inflexible, one size fits all policies keep Americans from using our parks for compatible purposes, such as bike stations, or worse, condemning unique iconic resources to inevitable decline.
Some neighborhood organizations have also been looking into the potential to do the same with their local parks. Downtown BID officials wouldn't comment on the issue since they want to maintain a positive working relationship with NPS.
I've collected a lot of stories about NPS decisions that let bureaucratic process trump sensible and sustainable policies. If you have some such experiences, or would like to participate in meetings with other frustrated people, NPS officials, or members of Congress, please get in touch.
Yesterday, I joined Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Rich Parsons of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance on TBD NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt for a "spirited debate" about transportation priorities for the Washington region:
Parsons was a co-author of the transportation priority study I criticized and has started a new organization to lobby on transportation. He and Bob Chase touted the study on TBD last week, so Bruce DePuyt had Stewart and me on to discuss the issue further.
Which arguments did you find most persuasive, on either side of the issue?
Also, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton appeared in the second half of the hour to discuss the recent Walmart ruling, Congressional budget riders that affect DC, and rallies at the White House.
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