DC Parks and Recreation Master Plan is Off to a Shaky Start

A master plan is the fundamental planning tool for a parks and recreation department. The DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) has never had a master plan to guide its decisions, although the DC Comprehensive Plan refers to a 2006 master plan that has never been publicly available.   On June 11, 2013, the Department in partnership with the Office of Planning launched an initiative to create a master plan.  According to the press release, “The Parks and Recreation Master Plan project team is interested in hearing residents’ ideas on the District’s overall parks system, including what is working well, areas that could use improvement, and large-scale ideas to be considered for implementation over the next ten years.”

The June 11 press release included one-week notification for the “first 3” public workshops on June 17th (Deanwood Recreation Center, 18th Judiciary Square and 20th Raymond Recreation Center.   Really? Professional planners know that attendance at public meetings in the summer (i.e.  Between Memorial Day and Labor Day) is not ideal and should be avoided.  Also, if you are serious about public engagement, notice needs to be well-publicized at least two weeks in advance with plenty of constituent outreach.  A notice of less than one-week is a patently inadequate.  With this feeble start, the Office of Planning and DPR have conveyed the message that they are not interested in genuine participatory planning.

If disdain for public input wasn’t clear from the handling of the public meetings, it was from the announcement of the master plan kickoff.  Once again short notice was given.  The kickoff event was held on the same day and time that DPR was holding its first “Park Partners Summit.”  If there is any group that should curry favor in the master planning process, it would be those organizations that have become officially designated DC park partners.  Why disrespect Park Partners by forcing them to choose between the first-ever partners’ summit and the master plan kickoff?

The rationale for planning the initial three public meetings is not clear.  Why was there such short notice; why only three meetings; why locate the meetings in Deanwood, Petworth and Judiciary Square; and why were these first meetings so lacking in substance?

I attended the first public meeting at the Deanwood Recreation Center, which was attended by approximately 20 residents.  When questions about the short notice were asked, some in the room indicated they were given advance notice, while the meeting facilitator countered by stating that public meetings were one of several public participation tools, including a statistically valid survey and an on-line survey tool called Mind Mixer.  Attendees were given business cards with a web address and encouraged to participate online.  http://playdc.org/  Mind Mixer does not yet have a following; none of the 19 “Great Ideas” posted apparently by the same person received more than 21 votes.

Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning and Parks and Recreation Director Jesús Aguirre provided generalized overviews about city growth and the changing needs for parks and recreation.  There were allusions to the challenge of doing a master plan when DPR manages only 12 percent of DC parkland—even maintenance of that 12 percent is now outsourced to the Department of General Services.  Mention was also made of the recent park scorecard issued by the Trust for Public Land showing DC as one of the overall best-served jurisdictions in the nation on a per capita basis, while suffering from an inequitable distribution of large useable parks.  http://parkscore.tpl.org/city.php?city=Washington

The project consultants have done a condition assessment of 67 of 325 DPR sites and facilities.  They indicate that there is no intent to complete the survey because of inadequate resources.  Furthermore, the scope of the master plan is ill-defined. The PlayDC website states that the master plan will be “comprehensive,” but does not say how. Will this be an update of the CapitalSpace Plan www.ncpc.gov/capitalspace which looks at all parks and green space in DC, including what is managed by National Park Service and DCDOT or, is this just a comprehensive look at parks and programs under the purview of DPR?

The parks, recreation and open space element of the DC Comprehensive Plan indicates that the 2006 master planning provides a detailed assessment of recreational needs in each of the District’s 39 neighborhood clusters.  DPR should post the 2006 plan, and make available the planning maps for the 39 clusters.  Each neighborhood can then make recommendations on how to review and update its plan.

For the master plan to be truly comprehensive the following steps must be accomplished:

  • Post the 2006 Park and Recreation Master Plan including the plans for the 39 neighborhood clusters
  • Map of all parks and green space in every neighborhood, regardless of management jurisdiction
  • Assess the condition of all parks and recreation facilities, both DPR and NPS
  • Substantively engage the public in each of the 39 neighborhoods to ascertain current needs and desires for parks and recreation facilities.

John Henderson, President

Green Spaces for DC

June 23, 2013

Norton Calls on NPS to Ban Smoking in D.C. NPS Parks

 Eleanor Holmes Norton

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                      Contact: Daniel van Hoogstraten

 June 13, 2013                                                                o: 202-225-8050

                c: 202-225-8143

Norton Calls on NPS to Ban Smoking in D.C. NPS Parks

  WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today wrote to National Park Service (NPS) Regional Director Steve Whitesell asking NPS to further its efforts to preserve and enhance parks by banning smoking in all NPS units, including parks, sites and trails, in the District of Columbia.  Norton cited United States Department of Interior Director Order #50D that provides superintendents with the authority to ban smoking in NPS units.   “Many find smoking in parks to be incompatible with enjoying the fresh air and recreation afforded by our many parks here,” said Norton.  “In a city with high rates of bronchitis and asthma, the parks ought to be a refuge from smoking.”   D.C. residents have been working with the D.C. Council on a bill, which is currently pending before the Council, to ban smoking in the city’s parks that are within 25 feet of a playground.  However, NPS action is necessary because the majority of parks in the District are owned by NPS and a smoking ban in D.C. parks would have little effect in the District.   The full text of Norton’s letter follows.

June 13, 2013                                           

Dear Regional Director Whitesell:

Thank you for your continuing and important work to preserve and enhance our parks in the National Capital Region.  I write today to ask you to further this effort by banning smoking in all National Park Service (NPS) units in the District of Columbia.   This issue was brought to my attention by several constituents who have expressed concerns about smoking in NPS parks in D.C.  I agree with their concern that residents and visitors should be able to enjoy our parks free of health risks, including second-hand smoke, which contributes to asthma, bronchitis, cancer and other severe health conditions.  One should not go to an NPS park to enjoy the outdoors and find smoke instead of fresh air.  Freedom from second-hand smoke in the outdoors is particularly important in big cities like D.C., where pollution and traffic congestion already contribute to health conditions similar to those caused by second-hand smoke.   My constituents have been working with the District of Colombia Council on a bill to ban smoking in the city’s parks that are within 25 feet of a playground, and a bill to do so is currently pending before the Council (Bill 20-93, the Prohibition of Smoking Near Playground Act of 2013).  As you know, however, the majority of parks in my District are owned by NPS, and thus a smoking ban in D.C. parks would have limited effect here.   We have learned from NPS staff that NPS has the authority to implement the smoking ban we are requesting.  Under U.S. Department of the Interior Director Order #50D, NPS superintendents have the authority to ban smoking in NPS parks to protect the public from environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) exposure, or second-hand smoke.  The official order provides that “a site manager may, at any time, close an area or facility to smoking when necessary to (a) protect park resources, (2) reduce the risk of fire, (3) protect employees and the public from ETS exposure, or (d) prevent conflicts among visitor use activities.”  The order also explains the harmful effects of second-hand smoke and notes the general NPS policy to “provide smoke-free environment[s].”  Implementing this policy in our parks here is particularly important at a time when the D.C. population is growing by over 1,000 residents per month and when many of these residents are young parents with children.  The well documented health risks associated with second-hand smoke converge with D.C.’s unfortunate number of smoking-related health risks and deaths.  Our city has long benefited from our many NPS parks, and my constituents reap the benefits of­ the nature that NPS parks provide.   I ask that you ban smoking in all NPS park units in D.C.  Thank you for your attention to this matter, and I ask for an early response.

Sincerely,

Eleanor Holmes Norton

###

www.norton.house.gov

Proposal to Ban Smoking at DC Playgrounds

Council Members Evans and Orange have introduced legislation to ban smoking within 25 feet of a playground.  CM Cheh will hold a hearing on Monday May 13 at 11:00.  See public hearing notice with links to the legislation below. We believe the more effective approach would be to ban smoking in all parks– both those managed by DC government and those managed by the National Park Service.  A simple uniform prohibition on smoking in all DC parks will require minimal enforcement becasue it will be self-policed by District residents.

Transportation and the Environment: B20-93 and B20-95

Bill 20-93, the Prohibition of Smoking Near Playground Act of 2013, would prohibit smoking within 25 feet of any playground. Bill 20-95, the Smoking Restriction Amendment Act of 2013, would also prohibit smoking within 25 feet of a playground and would also require property owners to post four signs stating that this prohibition.

See our petition to register your support for a uniform total ban on smoking in DC parks:

http://www.change.org/petitions/dc-park-users-ban-smoking-in-all-parks-in-the-district-of-columbia?post_id=1007652469_10200404267521750

 

DC’s Green Space Alliance

Green Spaces for DC is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that uses civic engagement, education, and partnerships to ensure that Washington has an inspiring park and green space system that stimulates social, economic, environmental and physical health and fosters cherished experiences for all citizens.