Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

More thinking about parks planning for DC

Given that in the next fiscal year, apparently a parks and recreation master plan is going to be created in DC (one does not currently exist today), it behooves us to learn more about best practice parks planning in the interim.

As I have mentioned frequently, I am enamored by the work of David Barth, a parks planner for the AECOM firm.  His theory and practice continues to evolve from what in 2003 he called "City Revival" which married "City Beautiful" and New Urbanism concepts to parks being a key element of sustainable communities, with economic, social, and environmental benefits.

The City Revival concept hasn't been written up as a textbook, but is discussed in an appendix to the City of Tampa Parks Plan, and shapes various plans that the firm has done, including the City of Miami-Dade County Parks and Open Space Plan and more recently, the Buckhead Collection plan for a section of the City of Atlanta.
Sustainable Communities Slide from presentation, Leadership and the Role of Parks and Recreation in the New Economy, David Barth

Montgomery County Parks plan update process as an opportunity to learn

Closer to DC, Montgomery County, Maryland is going through the update process to their Parks, Recreation, and Open Space Plan.  (draft document)

In Maryland, counties and the City of Baltimore are required to maintain a current Land Planning, Preservation and Recreation Plan, and just as the State of Maryland requires counties to update their master plan about every 10 years and colleges and universities to update their campus plans about every 6 years, the LPPRP is updated on a 6 year cycle as well.  In the LPPRP process, cultural resources (historic preservation and archeological sites) are also addressed.

It's worth reading through the new MoCo PROS draft.  I haven't finished it, but new to the plan are more detailed recommendations and a framework for serving urban areas of the county.  Of course, it outlines a system of parks and a hierarchy of types (staring on page 20). 

In Appendix 11 the plan inventories, but doesn't make recommendations for, park and open space installations in the county that are independent of the Montgomery Parks Department. The plan is also heavily focused on implementation and has a nice evaluation matrix of the quality and demand for various amenity types.  

The recommendations for urban parks reflect the county's suburban development paradigm, and are not fully applicable to DC, but are still worth looking at.  From the draft (p. 5):

◊ For the Sector Plan Area:
• active recreation destinations within or near the plan area
• a central civic urban park, ranging in size from 1/2 to 2 acres
• an interconnected system of sidewalks and trails to connect parks and open spaces
• wooded areas that will provide a sense of contact with nature

◊ For each Urban Neighborhood: a neighborhood green
◊ For each Block: an urban square or pocket park
◊ For each Building: recreation space
◊ For each Residence: private outdoor space
Park classification framework, Montgomery County Maryland
Proposed modified park classification framework, Montgomery County Maryland.

Parks and Recreation Management Issues for DC 

One of the things that bugs me the most about how DC functions is that Councilmembers and such are quick to focus on developing responses to problems that are personalized and a-systemic.  In my neighborhood right now, some residents living across from the Takoma Recreation Center (a four block park with athletic fields including tennis courts, a playground, aquatic center, rec. center, and community garden + access to the Coolidge High School track) are up in arms about amplified sound (music mostly) in the park, and a petition is going around to ban such.

I argued that the point isn't to ban amplification but to manage it, and I provided examples of permitting processes and guidelines from other jurisdictions.  The City of Boise for example, has a regulation, measured at the perimeter of the park, limiting sound to 65 to 75 decibels.  They charge too.

Of course, the Councilmember's office wrote to the list stating they'll work it out with the center manager.  I got incensed, because the point isn't to personalize policies that only work when the personnel are on site, it's to standardize a practice and represent the needs and interests of all citizen, at all parks and recreation sites across the city.

Anyway, sound amplification and a permitting process isn't the kind of thing you'd think wasn't already addressed, but apparently it is sadly the case.  And note, high school PA systems need to be subject to the same restrictions--you can hear the Coolidge High School football/track announcer 4-8 blocks away from the field.  That's way too loud!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thinking about National Park Service parkland in DC

Because 90% of the parkland in DC is under the control of the National Park Service, a federal agency that takes very limited input from the local government and especially citizenry, we need a strategy for better addressing these parks and representing citizen interests, and integrating guidance and regular input into their management into a DC Parks master plan.

In talking with one of the founders of the Friends of Peirce Mill organization earlier in the week, it occurred to me that we can think about the federal NPS "parks" in two dimensions, parks and memorials that are truly federal in scope, and those that are not federal really, but just leftover responsibilities for managing federally-owned lands because DC is the National Capital.  (The way I first thought about it was not unlike how Statehood advocates argue for the creation of a federal interest area separate from the "State of New Columbia".  You can have the NPS federal interest parks and separate them off from the NPS spaces more part of general land management responsibilities.)

So the National Mall and the Monuments located on the Potomac River (Potomac Park) such as the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, etc. are decidedly part of the federal interest.  The same goes for the C&O Canal Historical Park, it's a federal park, just as Yellowstone is, although not directly related to National Memory functions.

You can argue whether or not the Fort Circle Parks have to be federal, because they can just as easily be comparable to state parks, and there is no reason why a local or state jurisdiction wouldn't maintain such parks. The same goes with Theodore Roosevelt Island or Rock Creek Park.

In any case, every NPS installation should be inventoried as part of the DC Parks master planning process, and rated in terms of whether the site serves the federal interest or could be locally controlled. 

A process for addressing how to better manage federal parks that primarily serve the local citizenry needs to be developed as part of a DC parks master plan.


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