Draft DC Parks and Recreation Plan Provides Opportunity for Necessary Dialogue

In March 2014 DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) released “Park + Recreation: Vision Framework.” I urge you to take a look. It contains good ideas that can become a foundation for discussion and dialogue. Specifically, the plan recommendations are framed around seven elements:

  • Parkland,
  • Recreation Centers,
  • Aquatic Facilities,
  • Outdoor Facilities,
  • Programs,
  • Bikeways & Trails, and
  • Environmental Lands & Natural Areas.

This draft plan revisits many of the ideas presented in the 2010 CapitalSpace Plan, which was a collaboration among DPR, District of Columbia Office of Planning, National Capital Planning Commission, and National Park Service.

Immediately after the kickoff of the DPR master plan project in June 2013, I wrote an article voicing skepticism about DPRs commitment to public involvement. As it turns out, my apprehensions were justified. The only public meetings held were those to kick off the project last June 15th, 17th, 18th and 20th. It appears that most of the input for the new plan came from an invited steering committee of regional park and recreation experts. It is shameful that this expert panel did not identity public participation as an essential prerequisite for a sound plan.

It is also ironic that DPR would slight face-to-face public engagement, when the Park, Recreation and Open Space element of the DC Comprehensive plan mandates “…responsiveness to the preferences and needs of the neighborhoods around the parks.” See below:

•Action 1.2 B: Public Involvement — Consult with ANCs and local community groups on park planning and development to understand and better address resident priorities.

• Policy 2.1.4: Responding to Local Preferences – Provide amenities and facilities in District parks that are responsive to the preferences and needs of the neighborhoods around the parks.  Park planning should recognize there are different leisure time interests in different parts of the city.  To better understand these differences, the community must be involved in key planning and design decisions.

DPR’s draft 2006 Master Plan was blunt: “Based on interviews with staff and external stakeholders, DPR is not effectively communicating with internal staff and external stakeholders.  Common complaints were a lack of consistent communication by DPR with the Area Neighborhood Clusters (ANC) and neighborhood stakeholders.”

Enough said about what was not done. The new “Vision Framework” provides an opportunity to redress past deficiencies. DPR should take the draft plan on the road to every ANC to solicit comment and engage the community in dialogue on how each of the different neighborhoods can benefit from enhanced parks and green spaces. As stated in the DC Comprehensive Plan, “To better understand these differences, the community must be involved in key planning and design decisions.” Finally, these meetings must be facilitated by neutral public participation professionals that understand how to build the capacity for community members to convey their needs and desires. Just as all neighborhoods have different needs, each has a different capacity to participate.

The District has never had a parks and recreation master plan. This first plan should be an exemplar of best practices. By committing to a robust public engagement process, the District of Columbia can take a bold step toward achieving that objective.

John Henderson, President, Green Spaces for DC