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.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

How surveys based on gross data can be very misleading: DC and parks

The Trust for Public Land released its annual survey of park space in the nation's big cities, and DC, because "97% of DC residents live within a half-mile of a park," ranks third in the nation ("DC has the third-best parks in the country, rankings show," Washington Post).

--  2014 City Park Facts, Trust for Public Land

But a ranking based primarily on the amount of park space can be misleading.  And I argue it ends up being a disservice to advocates dealing with these issues in their home cities.

Local control of park space matters.  For example, it's easy for any public official to denigrate the arguments I make about gaps in DC parks and recreation planning by saying: "You're wrong,  The Trust for Public Land says DC has the third best city parks system in the country."

This fails to acknowledge the fact that 89% of the parks resources listed for DC in the TPL report are federally owned and operated.

By comparison, about 40% of park space in Boston is controlled by the city, in Chicago it's 2/3 controlled by the local park district, New York City controls about 75% of its park space (although there are many of sub-agreements with nonprofits), the Philadelphia parks department controls more than 90% of city park space, San Diego about 80%, and Seattle 100%.

Such a disparity in local control ought to be a factor in making final determinations in the ranking system.

Dupont Circle.

There is no question that DC has a lot of park and recreational spaces.  As a result of the city's being the National Capital, the city has many parks, monuments, and historic buildings and grounds.  Most of those facilities are run by the National Park Service--, which is not charged with operating parks spaces with city residents in mind.

But the real questions that should be asked about the quality of a city's parks and recreation assets aren't captured by gross measurements.  City rankings should be based on more than one data item, although I recognize that's too hard for writers of story headlines.

Questions that should be considered when ranking cities and the quality of their parks offerings include:

(1) breadth and quality of facilities including a mix of active and passive spaces

One of the major tensions in parks planning is between passive and active spaces.  The latter, perhaps too often, is defined in terms of spaces for team sports (soccer, baseball, football, etc.).

Many of the "parks spaces" in DC are passive, especially those run by federal entities -- e.g., it's illegal to sled on the grounds of the US Capitol, guards for the Federal Courts administration building fronting a park-like space across from Union Station prevent people from being on the grass.

Silver Spring, Maryland

A complete parks and recreation system is based on a robust framework of types of spaces and elements based on a complete approach to meeting needs of a wide variety of demographics:
  • Plazas and Gathering Spaces
  • Neighborhood Parks and Playgrounds
  • Community Greens and Centers
  • Recreation Centers including Indoor and Outdoor Athletic Facilities
  • Dog Parks
  • Regional/Large Parks
  • Waterfront Facilities and Access
  • Special Facilities (may be located within Regional Parks or as separate facilities)
  • Golf Courses
  • Paths, Greenways & Trails
  • Historical & Cultural Resources
  • Public Art
  • Open Space Conservation and Preservation
Mix is important.  Most recreation programs are heavily weighted to team sports activities rather than to more broad-based participation (e.g., football vs. yoga or walking programs).
Public Realm as an Interconnected system, Slide from presentation, Leadership and the Role of Parks and Recreation in the New Economy, David Barth
Public Realm Framework concept by David Barth.

(2) access and equitable provision of resources

In New York City, there is criticism about differential access to resources in that well-funded conservancy groups for Central Park and Prospect Park, and parks managed by business improvement districts are able to provide much better experiences than parks and public spaces in less well off areas that are underfunded by the city and lack the ability to raise additional monies for improvements and operations.

(3) whether or not there is an approved parks master plan

A draft plan and process is underway in DC, but unlike the State of Maryland, which requires that all jurisdictions have a parks, open space, and cultural master plan that is updated regularly, DC as a local jurisdiction does not have a master plan in place and hasn't for more than 15 years.

-- Baltimore County Land Preservation, Parks and Recreation Plan
-- Play DC Master Plan webpage

(4) breadth and quality of programming and special events

Most parks systems have a wide variety of programs and DC is no exception.  However, most systems have gaps in what they offer--for example, few provide programming to promote walking and biking--and typically this is not systematically evaluated.

-- "The layering effect: how the building blocks of an integrated public realm set the stage for community building and Silver Spring, Maryland as an example"

I was struck by a listing of special events in the Washington State Park system in last Sunday's Seattle Times because it comes out of the idea that the state park system--separate from city and county parks systems--needs to market and promote itself in order to remain relevant.

There is the Salish Sea Native American Cultural Celebration, the American Roots Music Series, the Southeast Asian Cultural Celebration, dance events, etc.

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society runs pop up beer gardens.  Image from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

(5) the policies and practices for developing and operating new parks spaces (public vs. private management)

DC Government is avoiding taking on financial and managerial responsibility for new park spaces.

For example, the city gave land to the National Park Service for Georgetown Waterfront Park, and new parks in the Capitol Riverfront district are run by private entities.  A new park space at McMillan Reservoir will be run by an entity created by the developers of the site, not the city parks and recreation department.

By contrast, the City of Philadelphia believes that parks should be public, and just like DC, has developed new or renewed parks spaces, including Dilworth Park and the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk (pictured at right) but these spaces are public spaces.

(6) level of planning and operational coordination with other parks entities within the jurisdiction

For example in DC, "parks" and gardens are run by the National Park Service of the Executive branch, Congress (the Legislative Branch) through the Architect of the Capitol, the US Department of Agriculture (the National Arboretum), DC Department of Parks and Recreation, Business Improvement Districts (e.g., Yards Park), and nonprofit organizations (Canal Park).  Plus, the grounds of colleges and universities and other institutions (such as the Armed Forces Retirement Home or the Franciscan Monastery) function as park like spaces.

Even if the city had a comprehensive parks master plan, its scope is limited and won't provide a means to represent resident-citizen interests in these spaces.  Federal parks spaces are not managed as local spaces, even if their primary potential use is by local residents.

This matters especially in times of financial exigency.  E.g., the federal shutdown forced the closure of national monuments and local facilities across the city and the country, but there were no contingency plans in place to deal with it.  Similarly, many state parks systems have been closing "local" facilities because of financial problems and the localities don't have contingency plans in place to help them respond.

-- "Federal shutdown as another example of why local jurisdictions should have more robust contingency and master planning processes"
-- "Parks issues"
-- "National Parks Week"

In DC, in the face of budget cuts, the National Arboretum (a unit of USDA) cut the number of days the facility was open to the public.  More recently, the Friends of the National Arboretum has raised funds privately in order to get the Arboretum back to 7-day public access.

-- "Local parks planning, the USDA's National Arboretum, and the Friends of the National Arboretum

(7) innovation

Compare the Spruce Street Harbor Park in Philadelphia to how the National Park Service manages waterfront parks in DC. Or beaches (Paris Plages) along the River Seine in Paris in August (shown at left).

Or the impact of parklets.  Note that I am impressed that the Golden Triangle BID puts out movable tables and chairs in Farragut Square, an NPS park.

Hammocks at the Spruce Street Harbor Park.

The Porch in Philadelphia, an initiative of the University City District BID is pretty cool.  Etc.

(8) The presence of an integrated system of paths and greenways  (and restoring park and boulevard spaces in streets) -- treating streets as linear parks

While the trails aspect is an element listed in point (1) above, it's important enough to be listed as a separate element.

It also raises the problem of trails managed as "park space" as opposed to transportation infrastructure.  (E.g., the argument about whether or not to clear snow from parks-based trails in the winter.)

Relatedly, extending City Beautiful concepts to neighborhoods, in the Tampa Parks and Recreation plan, planner David Barth encouraged the city to manage plantings, vegetation, and trees along streets as "linear parks."  That's an element of my Signature Streets concept as well.

DC Department of Transportation restored the Thomas Circle park space, which had been rent by roadway cut throughs -- 1970.
Thomas Circle 1970 by army.arch.

Today.  A rebuilt Thomas Circle begins to show some signs of life,
A rebuilt Thomas Circle begins to show some signs of life

The Golden Triangle Business Improvement District has brought plantings to the median strip of Connecticut Avenue.
New planted street median, Connecticut Avenue, between K and L Streets

(9) capacity building efforts that also strengthen civil society

I frequently mention Atlanta's Park Pride friends organization and how it sponsors an annual conference of top notch speakers, and helps to build the knowledge and action foundations of interested residents, advocates, and other stakeholders.

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At 11:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You join a growing list of commentators who in my opinion continue to totally miss the point about DC parks. There's the usual bellyaching about federal control. Let's not mince words. DPR is possibly the worst agency in local government. There is scant programming at parks. The land gets degraded. There may not be much better programming at NPS parks, but their sense of history and design is worlds better, I am talking heads and shoulders. Not even in the same ballpark. They are professionals. With experience. And education. DPR - not. Because DPR is such a bad agency, our parks often end up in very amateur "friends" hands, and parks get segmented up, losing a sense of wholeness. And, they in effect can end up becoming privatized, at least the running of them can. No, this DC citizen is quite strongly in favor of NPS, as a last bastion of park professionalism. The problem with NPS parks of course is - Republicans in Congress cutting their/our budget.

Regarding the Trust. I haven't read the report. But I might drill down some more, if I were you, into the details. My opinion about them is not fixed yet. I'll have to see.


At 12:26 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

FWIW, I have been making these points for more than 10 years. I am hardly new to the discussion.

I understand that as an agency DPR sucks. But that isn't the point.

The point is to make the agency awesome.

A plan would be a good start. But then hiring great parks professionals to run the agency would be the second step.

I'd be a better DPR director than most of the people who've had the job for the past 10 or 12 years.

(Had a good laugh a few months ago with a DC Council staffer about Jesus Aguirre being appointed parks director of Seattle...)

2. WRT NPS, besides the urban vs. wilderness park issue, I used to be very critical of them. Now I have a lot more empathy.

It's not just the funds issue, which as you point out is considerable.

It's also the fact that all of their overbosses, in NPS, DOI, and the Executive Office, plus all of Congress (535 Representatives and Senators) are based here. SO they are hyper about doing anything wrong or the least bit controversial, because they are so visible and so easily reprimanded.

Besides that, the level of professional and dedication of the average NPS staffer is incredible.

FWIW, a few years ago AP did a great story about the problems of the National Mall.

I blogged about it at the time, mentioned this article in other entries, etc.

At 12:28 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

FWIW/2, kind of on my recommendation, DPR hired AECOM's parks group (formerly Glatting Jackson, led by David Barth) to do the new plan.

I gave them very detailed criticism of the scope. They claim I will be satisfied with the final results, but I have no insider information.

Similarly, the NoMA BID hired the same planners, specifically at my recommendation (in part because of their work on the Buckhead Collection parks and open space plan) to do their parks and open space action plan...

At 1:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't mean to imply that you were new to anything, but I do think that the way you emphasize NPS as the problem *without even mentioning the dismal state of DPR* is .... unbalanced to say the least! I think it is very important to understand the problem first (laying it out in detail) before moving on to solutions.

"I understand that as an agency DPR sucks. But that isn't the point."

It is the point. You can't maintain a beautiful park system in the city with such a lackluster agency. You can however continue to complain about NPS as if they are the source of all evil.

"The point is to make the agency awesome.

"A plan would be a good start. But then hiring great parks professionals to run the agency would be the second step."

All the good ones leave - some for NPS. Yep, it happens. It's crucial to understand AND VALUE good park design and management. DPR - neither.

Good characterization of challenges facing NPS in your first comment.

Finally - will DGS destroy our city parks faster than anything? It's a good question!

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

This is a tough discussion. Because of two different things, people end up jumping to conclusions, which is not a good thing to do.

1. Because DPR is deficient, people say don't criticize NPS, be thankful we have those diligent public servants assisting us.

2. Because NPS is federal, people like me say they are disconnected.

The point is to develop a great parks system for the city. My biggest criticism of the scope for the current master plan process, and I talked about it with the people from AECOM in a very pointed way, is that a "city" "master plan" should include guidance on the federal installations, because otherwise the citizen interest isn't represented.

But the best way to couch it is "as part of the city's continued maturation post-Home Rule, it's incumbent on us to extend maturation of the agency."

2. wrt the DPR sucks thing, I had this same argument around 2003 with Pleasant Mann and Alex Pado vis a vis Shaw Middle School and rec. facilities.

I said places like Arlington and Baltimore County have an MOU between the DPR and the schools so that rec facilities in schools can be open to the public. (The MOU in Baltimore County has been around for 60+ years. What it means is that DPR invests in making school facilities more robust and bigger than the school would need on its own, but to meet needs of the complete community. And they jointly do maintenance.)

Alex and Pleasant said, DPR sucks, so we can't rely on this to be a public facility. It's just for the schools. The school system can manage the public use (I think that's the gist, it was a long time ago). Well the school system isn't managed well either, etc., so the result is that the results are substandard all around.

Instead, we have to endeavor to change that reality.

(FWIW, at Coolidge the track is open to the public outside of school needs, and it seems to work pretty well, at least from observation.)

All I am saying is that we shouldn't be satisfied with the highly unsatisfactory present circumstances.

... wrt the TPL report and quality, compare the "quality" and offer of say Madison Square Park to the various downtown parks (Pershing, Franklin, McPherson, Farragut, Dupont). Farragut is the exception that proves the rule. I haven't queried GTBID about their interactions with NPS.

Dupont works ok because of how tightly it is woven into the urban fabric.

At 1:36 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The DGS question is a whole other thing. With each administration, the executive takes an action to further executive control. For Gray, it was the creation of DGS and the usurpation of facilities management by the individual agencies (not that they necessarily did a good job of it).

The only DPR parks I observe minutely are the Takoma park and rec. center and the pocket garden (ex-park) at 4th and Blair Road NW.

I pick up litter on the perimeter of Takoma Park and Rec. Center at least 4 days/week. It doesn't seem as if most of the facilities are directly managed, but it seems to be run ok.

I know because of the constant blogging over the years about winter sidewalk snow maintenance that they've improved year after year from zero to almost 100% snow clearance this year...

But I haven't seen much difference, at least here.

In Baltimore County (I worked there briefly and used to talk with the parks staff) they break up the resources into four districts, and have facilities maintenance staff for each district, with managers, maintenance plans, etc.

I don't know how DGS is dealing with the parks assets.

The garden-let is not being maintained at the same level as the Takoma facility. It hasn't yet been cleaned and weeded this season, and snow clearance was minimal and inadequate compared to the Takoma site (which is about 6 square blocks all told, not a small site). It is fenced off so it is not possible for me to de-litter it.

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

...another counter. charlie and I "argue" about the AG. As you know, in DC the local AG is not responsible for criminal prosecution. Instead, unlike everywhere else, that's handled by the local US Attorney's office.

I argue that while this is not optimal, creating an independent AG _is a step_ toward eventually getting control of local prosecution. That it is a step in a long term plan to build the capacity of local government to handle its legal affairs.

A similar process needs to happen for parks and recreation.

I'd say you need a plan and great staff. And a typology that redefines the federal parks on whether or not their purpose and mission is truly federal, space by space, and coming up with a process for devolving certain parks assets to the city that aren't really federal.

NPS might not mind, because it would offload some of the financial responsibility. But it's not part of the discussion.

I laid this concept out a few years ago, and some people in the city find it an interesting proposal forward.

Basically I argue that the National Mall and monuments and the Potomac River Waterfront for sure are federal. Rock Creek probably. (It doesn't have to be, but was created as a federal park.) The Fort Circle Parks are arguable. In another jurisdiction they could just as easily be state managed, but because this is the Capital and the forts were built to protect it, you can argue they are a special case.

Anacostia Park, even though it was created by federal legislation (all national parks are, at the end of the day, created by Executive order or legislation), I argue should be categorized as a regional local park.

Most of the traffic circle parks and reservations should be devolved to DC, including Dupont Circle, Stanton Park, Lincoln Park, etc. There just isn't much federal nexus for them, in my opinion.

I don't think the Downtown Parks outside of Lafayette Square really rise to the level of federal interest.


2. But then there is the issue of DC DPR developing the capacity to take them on, and DC Government taking the financial responsibility.

At 7:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the risk of generating an endless comments thread and us talking past each other (again), I will say we seem to have a big difference in approaches: meta vs micro. I start with hands on first - get good people. Know what it is that needs to be prized above all else, find people who know what they're doing. Not saying YOU do this, but so many bloggers just go, "plant trees." And this has been our perennial problem - no knowledge. If there's knowledge then there's regular upkeep (amending, pruning, watering). But alas, with new tech, we lose knowledge. (It's like cleanup days - people think that's park management!)

Yes, you're right - have a plan. But who are the good land managers in DC, for example? Who, specifically, are the people who know about this stuff? Anyone? Anyone at all in the government? At DPR.

DGS is not a separate issue to me. They are driving DPR's agenda in many places, which perfectly encapsulates the problem - and worsens it as if it were on steroids.


At 6:45 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt DGS, I sit on the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee, which is what passes for a board for Eastern Market. (DCG is hamstrung in running "retail" properties. E.g., EM, the retail spaces at Reeves Center, etc.)

And I have observed DC's property management strategies for some time.

As a preservationist, I joked that DC's property management and maintenance strategy is "demolition by neglect."

I still remember the City Paper cover story from the early 1990s about maintenance of city facilities, such as boilers etc. Maintenance comes out of current operating budgets, but replacement out of capital funds, hence a failure to maintain (this is part of charlie's point about WMATA and capital budgeting).

What the WCP recommended and this is something Fenty sort of did for some things, is to combine the maintenance functions at the whole govt. scale, such as trash pick up contracts or cutting grass.

That made sense, but we agree that DC never demonstrated that it had the capacity at the full government scale to develop and deliver property management for all the agencies by one agency, in this case, DGS.

I said that at the time, too.

Speaking of demolition by neglect, in my writings and testimonies from 2002-2006 about how DC needs to add receivership to its toolkit for dealing with nuisance properties, I specifically said that in a court setting, objectively, DC would not be deemed fit to carry out nuisance abatement, based on its history and track record. (I recommended the system used in Ohio, where nonprofits do this work. BUT, for the most part, DC's nonprofits lack this capacity as well.)

So the issue is capacity. And how to deliver the services.

I agree that DGS lacks the capacity to do what needs to be done. So does DPR, either with or without the actual responsibility for maintaining facilities. But by disconnecting maintenance and operations of physical assets from the agency that uses them, there can be serious accountability issues.

E.g., Suzanne works for a federal agency that used to own its building but has since sold it to Brookfield, while still having some units in the building.

And most of that agency's facilities are still self owned and operated. To her, the difference in skill set and quality of operation and management by Brookfield far exceeds what is done by the agency's facilities people in their owned and operated facilities.

Yes, DCG has not demonstrated that they care about this issue, either for DPR or DGS.

OTOH, devolving our park and recreation system by default to NPS, which for different reasons, has similar issues, isn't any better.

We have to make it an issue. And it isn't an issue now. Especially when people can read headlines about how DC's park system is so great.

At 6:47 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

This is what I wrote in the 2012 piece, so it's not like we don't think the same on this issue generally.

Curtis Clay, no longer with what was then called the DC Department of Real Estate Services, was the construction project manager for the rebuilding of DC's Eastern Market, the public market building that was wrecked by a devastating fire in April 2007. The building re-opened in September 2009. He left a few months later. But at the grand opening press conference, I commented to him that despite all the politicos speaking, he was the true and unheralded hero of the day, because he did a damn good job shepherding and overseeing the project.

Skills like that are rare.

In the case of DC oversight of real estate generally, while I thought that the move by the Fenty Administration to consolidate services, such as have all the lawns at government agency facilities be cut via one master contract rather than through separate contracts with each agency, was a good idea and lowered costs, I was really leery of the Gray Administration's creation of a Department of General Services, modeled after the federal government GSA--and you know they've had some problems...--although other local governments do something similar, because it creates a very large agency with a lot of responsibilities in a government that has had some very serious problems with the quality of execution.

If you haven't demonstrated robust capacity already, stretching capacity further by creating a massive consolidated agency (e.g., like all the issues with DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which suffers from similar problems) is likely a mistake, unless it is used as the opportunity for significant improvements in management, staff, focus and business process redesign.

Obviously, if it doesn't work at the scale of one relatively small project, it doesn't bode well for the overall approach.

Still, the project managers at DGS should have been all over the problems at Janney Elementary, long before complaints would be percolating up to the local Councilmember.

At 7:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All very interesting. On your blog it's not always easy to come back to these entries and find this information, especially if its in the comments section. (Is it?) I'd like to take my time and go through it.

The problem I see with DGS is that their employees concurrently work for the very contractors who get the jobs. You just can't get much more corrupt than that. I see DGS as the pimp, DPR as the hooker and the contractor as the customer. I apologize for being graphic, but sometimes you gotta. DPR's money goes to DGS who is funneling it to contractors whom they know or work for. It's a story ready to be written or covered. A huge story.

"OTOH, devolving our park and recreation system by default to NPS, which for different reasons, has similar issues, isn't any better."

I disagree because with NPS you preserve the properties, whereas with DGS and DPR you degrade them and then repurpose/segment and ultimately destroy them through lack of wholeness.


At 8:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One more thing. The blog GGW recently did an article about people's favorite outdoor spaces to get away to. As far as i understand it, that blog also advocates giving NPS properties to DPR, which is a mistake.

It's all in the end effects or outcomes. Even the very commenters who advocate against NPS prefer NPS sites!

C&O canal
pershing park
Teddy Roos island
Dumbarton oaks
National Cathedral
Fletchers boat house
Frederick Douglass site
Aquatic gardens
Dupont circle

One DC-maintained space:
Fort Reno Park

There's just no comparison.


At 8:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your headline, while apt, then IMO goes on to make faulty arguments. That in spite of terrible management AND corruption, DPR needs to take ownership away from NPS who, although terribly underfunded, does a decent (not great) job at maintaining properties and more importantly preserves the wholeness of them for US CITIZENS AND RESIDENTS (us not U.S.). To me it seems that you have not completed an assessment of DPR and have just jumped ahead to some principle. Giving those lands to DPR now would spell utter and complete disaster for them. I get it about home rule. I totally do. But I'm sorry, this is just not the way to go. Let's walk first, then think about running later.

There's too much trendiness often in discussions about DC parks in the media, and not enough basic knowledge about land and park management. I often do not see people with the fundamental knowledge and training discussing these things. But it's for bloggers like GGW to pass themselves off on park experts. Who knows any better?


At 9:49 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I don't think the headline is wrong at all. Does DC have the "third best" city park system in the country? That is what the TPL report said.

I don't think I make faulty arguments either. The question is how should the park system of the 22nd largest city in the country be managed, recognizing that a majority of the highest visited parks and monuments are federal. And how should resident needs be served is a major question. Right now I would say the latter needs are being underserved by both NPS and DPR.

We're talking past each other. You argue that because DPR sucks we shouldn't even be evaluating the issue and question. I disagree of course. Without analysis, yes, there is paralysis, and the situation will only deteriorate.

TPL's "survey" doesn't help us to get to a better place, and there is no question that we need to be in a better place than we are at today.

I do think there should be a process for determining what the "city park system" should look like, how it should be bulked up, managed, planned, and operated.

I've been arguing that for years too, and in response to the 2009 Capital Space "plan", which lots of parks people think "is great" and I thought was a sophomore effort, and not much of "a plan."

Yes, I am arguing a theoretical position. The way social and structural change works is based on laying out frameworks and dealing.

There is no question that DPR in its current state, lacks the capacity to carry out the kind of mission that I think should be carried out by the city parks agency in the 22nd largest city in the US.

The difference between NPS and DPR is that while both may be underfunded, NPS has plenitudes of expertise, no question. So they do a decent enough job, even though their ability to act is compromised.

But I think it's fair to say that NPS doesn't do a very good job about serving local needs in those parks that function as local parks.

At 9:53 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

2. wrt your point about the GGW post, I will have to go back and look at it. But I think your analysis of it misses the real point.

People go to the parks that are what we might call "regional" in intention and orientation and service. And to historic sites.

This has "nothing" to do with whether or not they are run by NPS or DPR.

Although I guess the point is that over the last 200 years, the parks that would be termed "regional" have been developed by NPS, while DPR has become very locally focused on recreation needs (playgrounds and athletic fields and pools).

I will have to check out Pershing Park today. I always thought it was horrid, but I haven't been there in years.

wrt the regional park vs. recreation needs, it's not unlike the tension in Montgomery County between the executive and legislative branch on this issue.

MoCo is probably the only jurisdiction in the US where the planning and parks functions are under the legislative branch. This happened because of the creation of the MNCPPC back in the 1920s?

But the executive branch, has over the decades, developed a separate recreation department apart from MNCPPC, because of the lack of control of parks.

The bifurcation isn't useful I don't think.

At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the article--
NYC: “although there are many of sub-agreements with nonprofits”
Actually, that’s a **huge part of how large parks in the City run there, bigger than you imply. It should not be minimized.

“But the real questions that should be asked about the quality of a city's parks and recreation assets aren't captured by gross measurements.”

“Many of the "parks spaces" in DC are passive, especially those run by federal entities -- e.g., it's illegal to sled on the grounds of the US Capitol, guards for the Federal Courts administration building fronting a park-like space across from Union Station prevent people from being on the grass.”

Is that it? Sledding on Capitol hill? Didn't we do that this year?

“Even if the city had a comprehensive parks master plan, its scope is limited and won't provide a means to represent resident-citizen interests in these spaces. Federal parks spaces are not managed as local spaces, even if their primary potential use is by local residents.”

I just do not agree. There are many many federal parks in DC with local input and great programs. You are minimizing NPS’s educational programs and their expertise in addition to their willingness to reach out to the public.

From the comments--

I do not say we should not be evaluating the issue. Quite the opposite. I say TO evaluate it. It seems to me that you did not discuss, in your article, one single thing about DPR (local control). I really want to talk about DPR. I have spilled many words about how things work at DPR. We can't decide the issue, it seems, without evaluating NPS and DPR but all you say is that not having local control is bad. And we’ll get down to what that local control is all about in a second.

My analysis of GGW does not miss the point, it precisely is the point. Those commenters at GGW IMO just don't know much about parks, but dangit they wanna sled on the Hill. That's it? That's the extent of their knowledge and outrage? And, didn't they after all sled on Capitol Hill this very year? We have city parks under local control, but we want ALL of it, we want the PRETTY parks, we want the MAINTAINED parks. Because they’re ….. better. Watch us as we destroy them too. Never do any of these people stop to ask what it is that attracts them to those parks – because it sure is something, but curiosity is in short supply. And it goes against their nonstop criticism of NPS. You say it has nothing to do with who manages it, and I say it has almost everything to do with it.

When you talk about local control, the fact is DPR has no sense of appreciation to say nothing of history about its own inventory of parks. They respond usually to a very small cadre of (local) people who are the ones essentially running the parks. Now, this is good if the people are good (and this happens rarely) or as is the case most of the time, this closed cadre of people (and often we are talking about ONE person) does not know what they are doing, and should not be entrusted with a park. So, there’s the local control. Sure, someone needs to lead, someone needs to be in charge. But let’s not fool ourselves. It’s not DPR.

Forgive me for at the end of it all being mystified by this comment of yours and not being able to square it with your essential position:

"There is no question that DPR in its current state, lacks the capacity to carry out the kind of mission that I think should be carried out by the city parks agency in the 22nd largest city in the US."

So the men and women with the great education, training, knowledge and experience, who have actually been working on the land in our city, bequeath to us these lands and it is given to an agency that by your characterization is dysfunctional? How does that work?

And we’re perfectly fine with saying adios to those people?


At 10:34 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Maybe I am a lot worse at communicating than I believe. I do not advocate transferring parks to DPR in its current state.

Long term, I do believe that many NPS installations ought to be devolved to the city.

BUT that requires a great agency, comparable in capacity to say the Chicago Parks District, the parks department in Philadelphia, the parks department in Pittsburgh, etc.

And there is no question we are at least one decade--if we started seriously now--from that point.

It requires a committed administration. The closest we were to having that was with Anthony Williams, and the reality is that while the agency improved, they never did get around to releasing the master plan. By the time it was ready it was the next administration.

It was a lost opportunity. And the successor regimes (Fenty, Gray, Bowser)--it's not within them to be able to take something like this on, because the outcomes expectations have to be so much higher.

From the civil society perspective, the first thing to do would be to start holding the equivalent of the Park Pride annual conference, as a way to begin building capacity and setting much higher expectations about what should be achieved.

2. Baltimore County is pretty interesting as a counter example. The foundations, maybe because of state requirements for planning, are stronger. However, the directorship is usually a sinecure for a strong supporter in the political campaign of the County Executive.

The other thing, and it has real problems, is that in budget cuts in the 1970s, they eliminated staff-provided programming and devolved it to the citizens. A set of parks and recreation councils were created to fund and provide programming. The maintenance and capital expenditures are still done by the County parks dept. (which also has a separate agreement with the school system, which integrates most school rec. facilities into a full system).

The rich areas of the county have a lot of funds and programming and the poor areas of the county don't.

I think that there should be supplemental funding to equalize opportunities for the poorer areas.

And there is no capacity building infrastructure for the parks and recreation councils (e.g., nothing like Park Pride, or the training infrastructure for Minneapolis' since discontinued Neighborhood Revitalization Program funded by a special time-limited TIF levy).

And there is no systematic process for assisting the provision of programming outside of the normal focus on athletics.


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