Posts about Parks
Arlington will create a pop-up park in Clarendon on land donated by the Korean Embassy, one of several being built in the neighborhood. Now, they want your help deciding what goes in it.
In May, the embassy offered two parcels of vacant land on Clarendon Boulevard between North Adams and North Barton streets to Arlington County rent-free for an initial term of 2 years. The 1/3-acre property is around the corner from the embassy's annex. Arlington can use the property until whenever the embassy or the county decides to cancel the agreement.
The park is just one of many being built during a boom time for park redevelopment and reconstruction in Clarendon. Arlington County's Department of Parks and Department of Environmental Services recently refurbished the plaza at the entrance to the Clarendon Metro station, making it more open and providing moveable seating and covered bike parking. Meanwhile, James Hunter Park, also known as the Clarendon Dog Park, is also being redeveloped.
The park will include a network of paths through the site, different kinds of seating options, like movable tables, chairs, umbrellas and benches, a small lawn area, and a landscape buffer along the north side of the park, where a public alley runs. The county will preserve several shade trees as well and provide site drainage improvements. Since any permanent structure would require further approval from the embassy, the county plans on using recycled materials and landscaping to reduce costs and emphasize the park's temporary nature.
Arlington County also wants your input on what should go in the pop-up park and has set up a website to collect comments. One option is more bocce ball courts, similar to the ones that were installed next to the Ballston Common Mall parking garage. This area is similar to the embassy's parcel because it is oddly shaped and is along a major commercial street.
These pocket parks can have a big impact in dense areas by providing immediate relief to nearby residents and other individuals when larger, open parks aren't as accessible. They are also a great way to use small, awkward spaces. Because of their size, they can look busier than a bigger park, making it easier to activate street life.
Tom at Ghosts of DC posted an 1892 map of the L'Enfant City. Union Station did not yet exist, and instead, railroads from the south carried trains right to a terminal where the National Gallery is today. Streetcars plied most major thoroughfares.
Ed Summers pointed out on Twitter how the paths on the Mall are much windier and loopier than the straight, formal paths today. The same is true of Dupont Circle and Iowa Circle (now Logan Circle, but at the time, Logan Circle was the name for what's now Sheridan Circle), and other parks.
Many DC parks changed from a more natural, Victorian-era layout to a more formal one around the time of the 1902 McMillan Plan, which also created the Federal Triangle, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorial sites, and other elements that shape the monumental core today.
Maybe the 20th century patterns are better, or maybe not. But it does further make a mockery of the National Park Service's claims that parks forever must match the layouts they had around, say, 1929. Our parks have changed and should continue to change to accommodate the recreational and relaxational needs of residents and visitors.
What else do you notice on the map?
At a recent public hearing, neighbors of McMillan Sand Filtration Site renewed calls to make it a park. But the only way that can happen is by developing part of it as a neighborhood, and it's up to the DC Council to make it happen.
Residents filled a June 6 public hearing held by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development to oppose plans to sell the derelict 25-acre site to Vision McMillan Partners, who will build homes, shops, offices and a park there. But others, including Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie and groups like the Coalition for Smarter Growth say it's the best way to bring McMillan back to life.
It would be prohibitively expensive just to make McMillan a park. Since the underground cells are made of unreinforced concrete, they would have to be demolished and rebuilt just to make them safe to enter. Allowing some private development will give the neighborhood new amenities while paying to keep the best of what's already there.
Plan preserves historic structures while creating new park
VMP's plan preserves all 24 of the plant's above-ground structures, including the vine-covered sand silos visible from North Capitol Street, along with 2 of the below-ground filtration cells. 2/3 of the site will remain open space, while the southern third will become an 8-acre public park with a pool, recreation center, and a community center with meeting rooms and an art gallery. VMP promises that this will be "one of the largest and best-designed public park spaces in the District."
The historic buildings will become part of a new neighborhood with
about 800 585 apartments and townhouses, half 10% of which will be set aside for families making between 50 and 80% of the area's median income. There will also be street-level, neighborhood-serving retail anchored by a 50,000-square-foot, full-service grocery store. Along Michigan Avenue, there will be taller office buildings with a medical focus, taking advantage of proximity to Washington Hospital Center across the street.
To make this happen, however, the DC Council must decide this fall whether to declare the land as surplus and "dispose" of it. They can do this either by selling it to VMP or granting it as-is to VMP under existing zoning, which wouldn't allow major redevelopment to occur. They could also divide the property and sell off the parts to different owners and under different zoning. They can do all of this in a single set of hearings and votes, and they should to ensure that this process happens as quickly and fairly as possible.
Throughout the summer and fall, the council will hold separate public hearings on whether to surplus McMillan and the details of VMP's plan. Meanwhile, the DC Historic Preservation Review Board is reviewing VMP's plan to redevelop the site with housing, shops, offices and an 8-acre park and will hold hearings about it this month and in September. They've already offered comments about the proposal and will make their recommendations before the end of the year.
Plan will improve stormwater collection, traffic
Groups like Friends of McMillan Park and the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club argued that McMillan is already a public space and should become a public park. However, one DMPED official I spoke to after the hearing said that the city can't afford to do the work necessary to make the site safe for public occupancy. If the District retains ownership, the site would most likely remain decrepit and fenced off indefinitely.
Opponents maintain that the site's underground cells are needed to retain stormwater, mitigating the effects of frequent floods in Bloomingdale, which is downstream from McMillan. But DC Water already plans to replace two of the cells with water storage tanks, which will remain after redevelopment. Meanwhile, VMP has also promised to incorporate stormwater retention and buffers into the buildings and landscaping on the site, reducing stormwater runoff.
Another top complaint was traffic. Residents feel that the neighborhood's roads are already quite congested, especially at rush hour, and could not handle the extra trips generated by a major office, retail and residential center on the McMillan site. There is no question that the Washington Hospital Center, the city's largest non-government employer, needs better public transportation service, as it is not located near a Metro station.
VMP plans to build a bus turnaround for shuttles between McMillan and the Brookland Metrorail station, which would operate until a planned streetcar line along Michigan Avenue is built. Moreover, North Capitol Street has been designated a Bus Priority Corridor, meaning that the city intends to make changes to the street design and traffic flows to permit faster and more frequent bus service. The development would also open new through streets across the McMillan site, improving traffic flow and connections within the larger neighborhood.
Ward 5 needs parks, but it needs housing too
Some opponents say that new development should happen elsewhere in Ward 5, like on vacant and abandoned lots along North Capitol Street or Rhode Island Avenue. While not enough resources have been dedicated to encouraging more infill development, there's no reason why that can't happen in combination with the redevelopment of McMillan.
It is true that Ward 5 needs more and higher-quality parks, recreation facilities, and community centers. But the surrounding neighborhoods and the city as a whole are growing and are need more affordable housing, as well as more diverse shopping and entertainment opportunities within walking or biking distance or a short transit ride.
VMP's current plan reflects the input of community members gathered over the course of several design charrettes that were open to the public. It satisfies the need for several types of amenities in this part of the city in a balanced way. It combines buildings that are in keeping with the surrounding neighborhoods with a large park, and preserves some of the historic filtration cells and all of the silos and brick regulator houses.
We have an opportunity to transform a decrepit former public works site that has been fenced off for over 70 years into a citywide destination: a vibrant and attractive new place to live, work, shop and play that serves many of the needs of residents in this part of DC while incorporating many reminders of its unique history. The Council shouldn't waste any time taking advantage of it, as an opportunity like this won't come again soon.
If you'd like to tell DMPED and the Council to surplus McMillan and allow VMP's plan to happen, you can contact them here. Comments must be received by June 20.
Residential density in DC is increasing at a faster rate than we can create public spaces for new residents to enjoy. Parklets, like those that have been cropping up in San Francisco, could provide much-needed green space while making our neighborhoods more interesting.
When I look out my office window in Shaw, all I see are cranes. Planners and developers tell me that vacant land is almost impossible to find. Mixed-use developments being built in places such as the 14th Street corridor are allowed to cover between 75% and 100% of their lots, leaving few opportunities to create new public spaces.
In order to infuse more life into the city, we need to do more than increase population. DC already has amazing public parks, but what if there could be a more intimate outdoor experience?
What if we had a park for every block?
Two years ago, I spent the summer in San Francisco researching my architecture and real estate development thesis in graduate school at the University of Maryland. I wanted to measure the value of quality of life, and San Francisco was attractive since it's a place of innovation that trickles down from tech to urban design.
That's when I discovered parklets, an extension of the sidewalk that turns on-street parking spaces into privately funded public parks. In 2005, San Francisco architecture firm Rebar installed a temporary park in a single-metered street parking space. This intervention evolved into what is now Park(ing) Day, an annual event in which day-long parklets pop up around the world to generate awareness of the necessity and value of public space. Last year, there were several Park(ing) Day parklets closer to home in the District, Silver Spring and Arlington.
San Francisco's Pavement to Parks Program, which began in 2010, says parklets "repurpose part of the street into a public space for people." Today, there are over 35 parklets in the city and more getting entitled.
Parklets often have seating, plants, bike parking and art. Unlike Park(ing) Day parklets, which are only a placeholder intended to start a dialogue for how we can utilize urban space in new ways, permanent parklets are set on a platform raised about 6 inches above the street. This makes it level with the sidewalk, creating a sense of separation and security from the activity of the street and establishing the parklet as a discrete space.
Though they're often maintained by private businesses, residents or community groups, they're open to the public. They're an affordable way to provide high-quality public open space in areas where land is expensive and hotly contested, especially on commercial corridors.
The Pavement to Parks Program has found that parklets also have economic benefits. "Parklets catalyze vitality and activity in the city's commercial districts ... by encouraging pedestrians to linger," notes San Francisco's Parklet Manual, making them more likely to shop and spend money at local businesses, which helps the city's economy.
You might wonder how a parklet is different from a wide sidewalk, nice landscaping, and a few benches on the street. The difference is all in the context. Extending the sidewalk into the street creates a sense of being in a separate space, the same way that a bay window feels separate from a large, open room.
Just think how much you cherish the bay window in your home, where you can curl up with a cup of coffee and look out the window, listen to the birds and appreciate the street scene. The parklet is essentially the same idea. It's a small, safe green space where people can curl up and rest, or spontaneously interact with friends and neighbors.
Parklets create intimacy in the street, and that's what makes the experience magical. And that's why people keep coming back to them.
Why aren't there permanent parklets in DC? For starters, it's a relatively new concept that not everyone is aware of. As a result, the policy isn't there, and there hasn't been organized demand to put one in place. While San Francisco has found a lot of benefits to parklets, they're hard to measure in dollars.
DC could build just one parklet as a trial, but the policy involved wouldn't make that feasible. For parklets to be successful, the critical mass of a city-wide program needs to be in place. Imagine going to Rock Creek Park and bringing 400 square feet of park space home with you for keeps! A lot of mini-parks would create a noticeable gain in open space. A city-wide program would also allow residents, business owners and policymakers to see different kinds of parklets in action in different contexts.
As DC grows, we will need more places to be outside, to linger, gather, celebrate and rest. Parklets are a great way to provide them. We should follow San Francisco's lead, so mini-parks can start to spring up around the city.
Prince George's County's parks department plans to triple the amount of paved trails in the next 25 years. But it's unclear whether the trails will take people where they need to go.
"I read the County's draft Formula 2040 plan for 200 more miles of paved trails," said a senior official of the Maryland Department of Transportation, whose staff makes decisions about which trails get federal and state transportation funding. "Nowhere does the plan seem to mention transportation."
Prince George's County has great parks, largely because they are managed by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). Although the county government has limited funds for infrastructure, the Commission has the authority to levy a 0.23% property tax for parks and recreation. The trails, however, leave much to be desired.
The county lacks a trail network
Major trails lead out of the District of Columbia in almost every direction: The Mount Vernon Trail to the south, the Custis/W&OD Trail to the west, Capital Crescent to the northwest, and Rock Creek to the north. But there's nothing going east.
I created this map for WABA's oral testimony at M-NCPPC's Fiscal Year 2013 budget hearing to help the commissioners visualize the county's lack of major trails into Washington and how they might cure the problem.
In Prince George's County, most trails are very short. The few longer trails generally lack connections to transit, and they stop just before their destinations. The WB&A Trail starts 2.5 miles from the New Carrollton Metro station and stops at the Patuxent River. The Henson Creek Trail stops across the Beltway from the Branch Avenue Metro Station.
Neither trail has an interim on-road bike route. You just have to turn around. For several years, the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA) has urged M-NCPPC to extend the WB&A Trail west to the New Carrollton Metro station, but to no avail.
One exception is the Anacostia Tributary Trail System, which runs from College Park to Bladensburg and west to Langley Park. Soon, it will extend south to the Anacostia Trail along the east side of the Anacostia River in DC.
No agency is trying to create a trail network
M-NCPPC's transportation planners have created a master plan for what the ultimate network should be by the year 2100. But no entity is responsible for actually creating it. Certain segments are simply built when convenient.
Several government offices are responsible for some aspect of the bicycle infrastructure in Prince George's. M-NCPPC's Parks Department builds trails in parks. Its Planning Department often requires developers to build trails through new neighborhoods, if a trail appears on the county's master plan. Transportation planners at M-NCPPC occasionally conduct feasibility and preliminary design studies of trails useful for transportation.
The State Highway Administration sometimes builds sidepaths along state highways. Although the county's Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPW&T) has not built trails, it is responsible for most of the bicycle network that actually exists: the county roads.
No one coordinates these disparate activities. So rather than a network, the county has a set of standalone trails: Short, disconnected segments through new developments and a few reasonably long trails.
Residents ask for more trails, Parks Department responds
M-NCPPC is revising its master plan for parks and recreation for the first time since 1982, and trails have become a big part of it. In a poll that asked residents which park amenities they use, more residents listed trails than any other M-NCPPC facility.
In response, the Parks Department proposed adding 200 miles of paved trails, along with almost 100 miles in unpaved trails. About 20 percent of its capital budget would be dedicated to trails, according to Chuck Montrie, the park planning supervisor.
The plan emphasizes trails that "connect urban centers and neighborhoods with existing trails facilities; employment centers; Metro stations; historic, environmental, and cultural resources," along with "neighborhood anchors including schools, libraries, and parks."
The County Council is now reviewing the plan. At a hearing last month, WABA enthusiastically endorsed the increased emphasis on trails. WABA also recommends an interim goal of 40 miles by 2020, and connecting trails to designated transit-oriented districts, such as New Carrollton. (I spoke on behalf of WABA.)
Will M-NCPPC take the lead?
The draft plan prioritizes connecting trails to other trails and Metro, but M-NCPPC doesn't always own the land necessary for those connections. So what will have the higher priority: a difficult crossing over the Beltway to a Metro station, or connecting two trails on park property in a low-density area?
Is M-NCPPC proposing to take the lead on creating a trail network designed for both transportation and recreation? Or is it merely saying that if two possible trails on park property are equally challenging, it will build the one that goes somewhere? The plan does not say.
Montrie has indicated that M-NCPPC may be ready to move beyond park boundaries. "Stream valley trails can only take us so far," he recently told a meeting of local advocates. "We are going to have to build other types of trails."
M-NCPPC planners think that this plan might get agencies to start taking responsibility for bicycle transportation. I recently suggested to Fred Shaffer, a transportation planner who also chairs the county bicycle advisory group, that the county seems unwilling to even consider cycle tracks on county roads. "That may change," Shaffer responded. "Parks and DPW&T may soon start working together to achieve the 200-mile goal."
Is M-NCPPC ready?
Every June, the Maryland Bikeways Program solicits proposals from local governments for bike lanes and trails that are useful for transportation. Proposals have the greatest chance for funding if they connect existing trails to rail transit stations or other population centers.
With the new plan's emphasis on trails to Metro, one might expect that M-NCPPC would propose to connect the Henson Creek or WB&A trail across the Beltway to the planned transit districts, which County Executive Rushern Baker hopes can help jump-start the county's economy. But no: The Parks Department intends to seek funds to connect the Henson Creek trail to a recreation center. And its focus is not extending the WB&A trail west to New Carrollton and on to the Anacostia Trail, but east into Anne Arundel County.
Last week the Planning Department started to think about how to extend the WB&A trail west accross the Beltway. But lately its transportation planners have had their hands full with the Purple Line and a new policy requiring developers to build more sidewalks.
Creating functionally useful trails will probably take more staff, and a change in how park planners view their mission.
Parents from around DC who throng Dupont Circle's Stead Park can rejoice: Yesterday, after months of community advocacy, a DC Council committee voted to fund upgrades that will expand play space, install a jogging track, and better utilize the large playing field.
Stead Park has an endowment from the Stead Family, which will help maintain the transformational renovations, but the project requires city funds. Mayor Gray originally included $1.6 million in capital funds in his budget, but not until Fiscal Year 2015, which starts in October of 2014.
Residents asked the Council to approve the funding and move it up to FY 2014. Marion Barry (ward 8), the chairman of the Committee on Workforce and Community Affairs, was very supportive; yesterday, his committee voted 5-0 to put the funding in FY 2014, which will allow the construction happen over the next year.
The committee report says,
While the Committee applauds the Mayor for funding this initiative, the community and advocates of Stead Park are ready now for the much needed project... In order to not slow down the major progress of advocates, the committee recommends that 1.6 million of funding be moved into the FY14 budget so that the project can begin in the next fiscal year.While playground is packed, field often goes unused
Stead Park, on P Street between 16th and 17th, has some playgrounds for children, a basketball court, and a large playing field. A few wonderful sports teams and after-school programs use the field loyally and lovingly, and know how rare such space is in this part of the city.
However, the field currently doesn't get much use during the rest of the day. It's also in bad shape. Holes and dirt patches mar the surface, and large puddles make it unusable after heavy rain.
Meanwhile, Stead's extremely popular playground draws parents from Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, U Street, Shaw, Logan, and Dupont. Friends of Stead Park, whose board I serve on, has been gathering community input since last year. Because the playing field is so underused, many residents without children that we've spoken to didn't even know the acre of greenspace exists behind the playground.
On Sunday, the field hosted a rare community event: a Jewish Music Festival organized by the nearby JCC. But even though the field was bustling, the playground was still very crowded with visitors from all over. Over 20 strollers and dozens of kids and parents were trying not to bump into each other as they crammed among the jungle gyms.
The playground was renovated 6 years ago and is very popular, while the field has sadly been neglected. Many of the parents we spoke to said that while they want to stay in the city and raise their kids here, they worry that there currently is not enough multi-use space or outdoors options for recreation and community building located nearby.
Project will provide fitness, recreation, and entertainment for all ages
With the city assistance, Friends of Stead Park plans to renovate the field with a smoother surface, better drainage, and artificial turf that will hold up better with use. A jogging track with trees and benches around the edge will give people another way to use the field during the day, while it will remain large enough for the organized sports leagues that use it in the evening.
A small part of the field space will become a kiddie splash park. A performance stage behind the existing building will allow the field to host more concerts, films, and cultural programming.
Parents and community members are excited to let their kids run around the field safely and reduce congestion on the playground. They are happy that more concerts, films, and cultural programming will come to the performance stage. They were relieved that there will finally be trees, shade, and seating, and places for children to splash on hot days. They are excited to be able to go for a jog without having to battle with street traffic.
Friends of Stead Park told the committee that we are glad the city is upgrading playgrounds, including the Harrison playground on V Street. That is necessary since the number of adults and children is growing so rapidly. Stead's playground is already quite nice and doesn't have much room to expand, but this great piece of green space is crying out for better and more use.
Starting the project this year will go a long way toward encouraging families to stay in the city and to be actively engaged, as community members said recently and during public meetings last year.
We would like to thank Councilmember Barry and the other members of the committee for voting to accelerate the funding. We ask that the full Council retain this relatively low-cost, high-value project in the FY2014 budget when it votes on May 22, so we can move forward this year to start improving the field and provide some much-needed space and options for our families and our community.
Bike lanes, parks in NoMA and around the city, streetcars, libraries 7 days a week, new trash cans for free, school modernizations, and many more programs get funding under the operating and capital budgets Mayor Gray is unveiling this morning.
Streetcars: In the 6-year capital plan, streetcars get $400 million, which should fund completing the first line from Minnesota Avenue to Georgetown, engineering the Anacostia line, and studies for north-south lines such as Georgia Avenue.
The operating budget contains $6.2 million to start running the streetcar, which Gray continues to promise will roll by the end of the calendar year.
Bike infrastructure: There is a pot of $10.7 million for bike lanes and trails, which appears to be entirely new; formerly, there was no dedicated local bike money. The budget staff have promised to follow up to confirm this. Another $5.1 million will go to "bike-friendly streetscapes," which will be interesting to see in more detail.
Capital Bikeshare: The mayor is funding 10 more Capital Bikeshare stations beyond the ones that area already supposed to be going in. In December, DDOT announced 78 locations, of which it had funding for 54 and was going to install those by March. Unfortunately, it's late in installing most of those. That list also identified 24 future locations, so this budget funds 10.
Buses: The budget office's presentation did not discuss the Circulator or other bus projects. I will follow up to find out whether any Circulator expansion in that master plan have funding. Streetcars are important, but they are one of several modes we need, and for many neighborhoods, better bus service is the better way to help people get around.
Bridges: The South Capitol "racetrack" project and new Frederick Douglass Bridge gets $622.5 million, which would fully fund the project.
Taxes: The budget imposes no new taxes or fees, maintains DC's fund balance, and keeps the debt cap at 12%. The administration also wants to get rid of the tax on out-of-state bonds, which they say primarily impacts seniors and is far and away the biggest complaint they get about taxes. Gray chief of staff Chris Murphy said they "always felt it was ill-conceived."
Affordable housing: As promised, the administration is putting a one-time $100 million into affordable housing. $86.9 million goes into the Housing Production Trust Fund, ($20M in FY 2014 and the rest in FY 2013). The rest, $13.1 million, goes to other smaller initiatives that the recent Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force recommended. He is also promising to keep the 15% of the Deed Recordation and Transfer Tax, which is supposed to go to the HPTF, in there; previous budgets raided that to fund other programs.
Parks: The capital budget provides $50 million for parks (likely a few different small parks) in NoMA: $25 million to acquire land, and $25 million for development. DC made a mistake when it upzoned NoMA without any plan for parks, which is why this is going to be expensive. However, NoMA is generating a lot of tax revenue.
Other parks capital spending includes $20 million fro the Fort Dupont ice arena, $26.4 million for Barry Farm, $2M to renovate and improve athletic fields and parks, $18M for the Southeast tennis & learning center, and funding to modernize 32 play spaces in 8 wards including Fort Greble, Palisades, Macomb, and Takoma which will start in April as well as already-underway work at Noyes, Raymond, and Rosedale.
Libraries: Gray is expanding funding for DC Public Libraries so that every library can be open 7 days a week. Most will be open until 9 pm Monday to Thursday as well as afternoons on Saturday and Sunday. They also get $2 million for books and e-books.
Further, the budget provides $103 million to renovate and, as part of a public-private partnership, expand the MLK Library. There is $15.2 million to renovate the Cleveland Park library, $21.7 for the Palisades library, and $4.8 million for Woodridge's library.
Trash: Residents who want to replace their trash cans are in luck: the administration wants to replace everyone's trash cans over 5 years, for free. If there is money available, they also hope to let people replace stolen or damaged cans without the fee residents have to pay today.
Flooding: Bloomingdale residents hopefully will see some relief from their flooding problems with $1.5 million in the budget to pay for recommendations from the task force studying those problems.
Police and fire: The public safety budget pays for 4,000 sworn officers, replacing police and fire vehicles, cadet training programs and maintaining domestic violence programs that are seeing federal cuts. In general, the budget officials say, they are replacing all federal from sequestration across the board, even assuming sequestration will continue throughout the year.
Raises: DC employees will get their first pay raise in 4-7 years, spanning both union and non-union employees, and DC will fully fund its pension obligations.
We'll have more analysis and further details in upcoming posts.
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