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.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Two articles on federal agencies: FEMA and the National Park Service

1.  There is a great article on FEMA in the current issue of Governing Magazine, "FEMA's Plan to Make States Pay More for Disasters," about how the director, Craig Fugate, has been working at reorienting the agency, understanding why people may not evacuate and respond accordingly (people didn't want to leave their pets, which they weren't supposed to evacuate), and increasing the "deductible" that states and localities should pay towards disaster response based on how proactive those communities have been in shaping land use, building codes, and other practices around resiliency.

The story lays out a great model for how government agencies need to reorient and can be capable of doing so.
National Park Service marketing billboard.

2. In the past I used to be particularly critical of the National Park Service because it runs a number of parks in DC that are locally serving, not "national" in their mission, and for the most part the facilities do not operate at best practice level.

 For example, while the Trust for Public Land's methodology for rating city park systems always ranks DC highly because of the amount of federal land they count towards serving local residents ("How surveys based on gross data can be very misleading: DC and parks"), no credible parks planning expert would claim that DC's system of locally serving parks is an example of national best practice.

Nonetheless, I've come to appreciate the reality that the National Park Service has an almost impossible job as it relates to their management of parks in the DC area, even though they aren't really set up to run these kinds of urban, locally-serving parks, because:

  • They are required to follow the National Environmental Policy Act to the letter, and it is a detailed and incredibly long and expensive process, and it has to be performed for any and all projects, regardless of significance, cost, etc.
  • All of their overseers -- the 535 Members of Congress, the President and Vice President, the leadership of the Department of Interior, and the leadership of the National Park Service -- are all local, putting anything and everything they do under hyper-scrutiny and subject to grandstanding, review, etc. It makes them "cautious."
  • They are underfunded, significantly ("National Park Service turns 100, but facilities not being kept up," Columbus Dispatch).
  • For the most part, Congress is no longer interested in investing in federal monuments, parks, historic sites, and cultural facilities in Washington, DC ("Neglected National Mall languishes," Associated Press). Instead they'd rather use whatever money they can get on projects in their home districts and states. This accentuates the general problem of underfunding.

As an example of the first point, NPS just released new guidelines for dog access at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco ("Final dog-management plan for GGNRA has owners growling," San Francisco Chronicle).

Technically, dogs aren't allowed off leash in national parks, and in most national parks, dogs aren't allowed, but dogs have been allowed in certain GGNRA facilities, and off leash too.

When trying to enforce the regulation, which was challenged by people who got tickets, the Courts required the NPS to acknowledge they had been applying the regulation inconsistently and they needed to develop a consistent policy.

That required a Federal Environmental Impact Study which has taken over a decade, and is more than 1,200 pages long.  This comment response document is almost 400 pages.  Economic analysis document, 72 pages.


That puts into perspective how difficult it can be for the National Park Service to act.

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