DC Parks and Recreation Master Plan is Off to a Shaky Start

A master plan is the fundamental planning tool for a parks and recreation department. The DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) has never had a master plan to guide its decisions, although the DC Comprehensive Plan refers to a 2006 master plan that has never been publicly available. On June 11, 2013, the Department in partnership with the Office of Planning launched an initiative to create a master plan. According to the press release, “The Parks and Recreation Master Plan project team is interested in hearing residents’ ideas on the District’s overall parks system, including what is working well, areas that could use improvement, and large-scale ideas to be considered for implementation over the next ten years.”

The June 11 press release included one-week notification for the “first 3” public workshops on June 17th (Deanwood Recreation Center, 18th Judiciary Square and 20th Raymond Recreation Center. Really? Professional planners know that attendance at public meetings in the summer (i.e.  Between Memorial Day and Labor Day) is not ideal and should be avoided. Also, if you are serious about public engagement, notice needs to be well-publicized at least two weeks in advance with plenty of constituent outreach. A notice of less than one-week is a patently inadequate. With this feeble start, the Office of Planning and DPR have conveyed the message that they are not interested in genuine participatory planning.

If disdain for public input wasn’t clear from the handling of the public meetings, it was from the announcement of the master plan kickoff. Once again short notice was given. The kickoff event was held on the same day and time that DPR was holding its first “Park Partners Summit.” If there is any group that should curry favor in the master planning process, it would be those organizations that have become officially designated DC park partners. Why disrespect Park Partners by forcing them to choose between the first-ever partners’ summit and the master plan kickoff?

The rationale for planning the initial three public meetings is not clear. Why was there such short notice; why only three meetings; why locate the meetings in Deanwood, Petworth and Judiciary Square; and why were these first meetings so lacking in substance?

I attended the first public meeting at the Deanwood Recreation Center, which was attended by approximately 20 residents. When questions about the short notice were asked, some in the room indicated they were given advance notice, while the meeting facilitator countered by stating that public meetings were one of several public participation tools, including a statistically valid survey and an on-line survey tool called Mind Mixer. Attendees were given business cards with a web address and encouraged to participate online. Mind Mixer does not yet have a following; none of the 19 “Great Ideas” posted apparently by the same person received more than 21 votes.

Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning and Parks and Recreation Director Jesús Aguirre provided generalized overviews about city growth and the changing needs for parks and recreation. There were allusions to the challenge of doing a master plan when DPR manages only 12 percent of DC parkland—even maintenance of that 12 percent is now outsourced to the Department of General Services. Mention was also made of the recent park scorecard issued by the Trust for Public Land showing DC as one of the overall best-served jurisdictions in the nation on a per capita basis, while suffering from an inequitable distribution of large useable parks.

The project consultants have done a condition assessment of 67 of 325 DPR sites and facilities.  They indicate that there is no intent to complete the survey because of inadequate resources.  Furthermore, the scope of the master plan is ill-defined. The PlayDC website states that the master plan will be “comprehensive,” but does not say how. Will this be an update of the CapitalSpace Plan which looks at all parks and green space in DC, including what is managed by National Park Service and DCDOT or, is this just a comprehensive look at parks and programs under the purview of DPR?

The parks, recreation and open space element of the DC Comprehensive Plan indicates that the 2006 master planning provides a detailed assessment of recreational needs in each of the District’s 39 neighborhood clusters. DPR should post the 2006 plan, and make available the planning maps for the 39 clusters. Each neighborhood can then make recommendations on how to review and update its plan.

For the master plan to be truly comprehensive the following steps must be accomplished:

  • Post the 2006 Park and Recreation Master Plan including the plans for the 39 neighborhood clusters
  • Map of all parks and green space in every neighborhood, regardless of management jurisdiction
  • Assess the condition of all parks and recreation facilities, both DPR and NPS
  • Substantively engage the public in each of the 39 neighborhoods to ascertain current needs and desires for parks and recreation facilities.

John Henderson, President
Green Spaces for DC