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.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Defining National Park Service installations in DC as locally or nationally serving

In this piece, "Washington DC has lots of parks and open space, but it's not the #1 City park system in the US," I wrote that Rock Creek Park could be defined as national serving, but I didn't say why. In response to a comment by Edward Drozd:

I'm curious, other than the National Zoo, how is Rock Creek Park nationally serving? Speaking as a complete layperson about planning and all, but it seems to serve similar purposes as, say, Central Park or Boston's emerald necklace system. In Boston's case there is a Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site (which is actually in Brookline, not Boston), but that's orders of magnitude difference from maintaining the system.
I said it was because RCP was one of the earliest parks designated by the federal government, decades before the National Park Service was created. But that is the only reason. It's a locally serving park otherwise.

NPS has a lot of parks, memorials and historic sites in the city. Even their webpage on DC parks doesn't list all the various sites, in particular "circles" and various reservations across the city, although the webpage lists the major sites.

As I argued in the above-cited and other pieces, most of the NPS parks serve local audiences, and restrictions on how these parks can be operated dis-serves the users, in this case, DC residents.  DC should take on the management and operational responsibilities for federally-owned parks that are primarily locally serving.

The list below is not complete.

Park/Site Federal Interest Local
Anacostia Park no yes
Capitol Hill Parks* no yes
C&O Canal National Historic Parkarguable** yes
Circles and reservations outside Downtown***no yes
Columbus Circle**** not as an interest separate from the railroad station Should revertt to Union Station
Downtown Parks+ arguable primarily
Fort Circle Parks Fort Stevens***** mostly
Georgetown Waterfront Park no yes
Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardensnot really functions as an extension of Anacostia Park
Meridian Hill Park no yes
National Mall and Monuments yes no, except for use as sports fields
President's Park++yes no
Rock Creek Park+++ yes, as part of the history of the creation of the federal park system, no in terms of use yes
Theodore Roosevelt Island as a memorial yes as a park, yes

* Capitol Hill Parks.  What would be large "circles" or squares have been designed as parks: Lincoln Park; Stanton Park; Folger Park; Marion Park; plus Seward Square on Pennsylvania Avenue SE.  Garfield Park is actually under the control of DC. The grounds of the Capitol are under control of the Architect of the Capitol, not NPS.

** C&O Canal.  Many canal parks across the country are operated as state or regional parks.  If C&O Canal Park were to revert to local control, DC and Maryland should create a joint management plan.
Erie Canal Museum Postcard

*** Circles outside of Downtown.  For example, Chevy Chase Circle; Dupont Circle; Grant Circle; Logan Circle; Thomas Circle; Washington Circle
Logan Circle 1

****The area in front of Union Station.  It's a travesty that it serves a transportation purpose but it isn't maintained to support it, such as during snow events.
Union Station changes
Washington Post graphic.

***** Fort Circle Parks.  A system of forts and batteries were created to defend the national capital during the Civil War.  While the majority of the forts and supporting batteries are in DC, some are present in Maryland and Virginia.  In DC, Fort Stevens is the only one that came under direct attack during the Civil War and President Lincoln actually attended part of the battle.  Therefore the argument can be made that this park and the related Battleground National Cemetery on Georgia Avenue, should be classified as federal.  Although note that other forts, such as Fort Totten and Fort Slocum, and batteries, provided artillery support to the battle at Fort Stevens.  So the number of installations that could be determined to have a federal interest could be larger.

Otherwise, if the parks are used it all, it's by local residents.
Abraham Lincoln at the Battle of Fort Stevens and shelling of Gen. Early's forces in Silver Spring, MD July 11-12, 1864 [NARA RG.66]

+ Downtown Squares.  Farragut Square [The Golden Triangle BID does some stuff there]; Franklin Park {there is an MOU between the Park Service and the Downtown BID so that the latter will operate it]; McPherson Square.  You can make the point that since they "complement" the White House as a park system, they could be designated as federal.  But the users of the parks are local.

++ Parks around the White House: what we call Layfayette Square but the Park Service calls Lafayette Park; Ellipse; White House grounds. They function as an extension of the National Mall.

+++ Because Rock Creek Park extends into Maryland, where on the Maryland side the park is run by Montgomery County, a joint management plan would be in order.


NPS managed parkways in DC are Shepherd Parkway and Suitland Parkway.  As their primary purpose is transportational, they should revert to DC with the proviso that they be maintained as parkways, not converted into traditional roadways.

A joint management plan with Maryland should be developed when these roadways extend into Maryland.

Same with Rock Creek Parkway as a roadway. The park should be run by DPR, the road by DDOT.  There should be a corridor management plan for the roadway ("Transportation network service interruptions part 3: corridor/commute shed management for Northwest DC and Montgomery County, Maryland," 2016).

The same is true for the parkways in Virginia and Maryland, they should revert to the states, with the one possible exception being Mount Vernon Parkway, which connects to Mount Vernon.

Other Historic Sites

Include the Frederick Douglass House, Carter G. Woodson House, Mary McLeod Bethune Home, Old Stone House in Georgetown, etc.  These sites serve national audiences and should remain under the control of NPS.  Although Old Stone House is arguable.  It does interpret the history of the city before the federal district was created and helps to tell the story of the creation of the federal district (Georgetown predates the creation of DC.)

Show me the money.  The problem is that "Home Rule" is costly.  Were DC to take on the financial responsibilities for these parks, and operate them to the level they ought to be operated, the cost would be many millions of dollars annually.  The city doesn't want to take on these kinds of financial responsibilities.  But if you want to be a state...

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At 5:06 PM, Blogger Edward Drozd said...


Editing as I go... not first, but zeroth, I'd like to thank you for this extended response to my question. This is why I try to check on your blog and comment when I have something to say; the thoughtful responses in return are at least as good as anything I raised.

First, in re whether locally serving, thinking about it, I wonder what should be the goal of the National Park Service. Clearly part should be iconic areas. But, I do think selected locally serving areas, whether National Parks or National Historic Parks, might be important as well. Not just as outreach between the NPS and most people, but also to connect people to history and/or environment.

Part first amended: my wife lives near the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (full National Park) between Akron and Cleveland. I've been in it, and have been underwhelmed compared to, say, Acadia or Glacier, but it is truly lovely and can connect people to the environment like few other places in the area can.

But, why there but not places in NJ where I grew up? Granted there are National Historic Parks, but those are tied to history. However, in the grand scheme of things, perhaps it doesn't matter because of the programming.

Second, in DC, were I someone who lived outside of the region, I'd stick with the "yes" Federal Interest parks in your table. As someone living in the area, I'd add the arguables and maybe Rock Creek. To be honest, Rock Creek Park, other than the Zoo, feels just like a large local park in Baltimore, Phila, NYC, or Boston. Why should the city not pay for upkeep? My only answer is that locals from outside DC use it. But, why not a park equivalent of Metro?

Eh, why not a park equivalent of Metro might answer its own question given the management failures (speaking more about the board) of Metro...

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