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Officials Developing Plan for City Parks & Rec Centers; Charging Fees Being Suggested

Accompanying images can be viewed in the current issue PDF

By Anthony L. Harvey

In a little noticed press release from DC’s Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR) and the Office of Planning (OP) issued on June 11th, amongst the daily blizzard of DC government informational press releases, program announcements, and Mayoral events and schedules, “all district residents” were asked “to participate in planning the district’s park system for the next 10 years.”

This they were instructed to do by participating four days later on Saturday, June 15th — no time given — in the Mayor’s kick-off of an official launch of the “One City” summer program in parking lots six and seven at RFK Stadium, where a variety of on-line tools and workshops would be made available for participants, and by subsequently attending one of three city-wide community meetings to be held the following week.

A schedule and meeting location roster was announced for these three meetings: Deanwood Recreation Center in Ward 7 near the district line on June 17th and Ward 4‘s Raymond Recreation Center north of Petworth on June 20th — both from 7 to 9 p.m. — and on June 18th from 12 noon to 2 p.m. at the District’s Judiciary Square building.

The purpose of this fast track planning effort was asserted to be three fold: (1) to survey the conditions of the district’s parks and recreation facilities and that of the programs being conducted in those facilities and on those sites; (2) to identify challenges and gaps in these facilities and programs; and (3) to develop and propose solutions to such challenges and gaps.

The first of the community meetings, conveniently located at the Deanwood Recreation Center directly across the street from the Deanwood Metro station in that magnificently appointed new Recreation Center with its stunning array of athletic and community programs, including a gymnasium and an indoor swimming pool, a public library, a fitness center, a seniors program facility, community meeting rooms, and outdoor playing fields, was sparsely attended by no more than two-dozen residents, primarily from Ward 7’s Deanwood neighborhood but including several from Capital Hill in Ward 6, Adams Morgan in Ward 1, and Kalorama Heights in Ward 2.

DPR Director Jesus Aguirre and OP Director Harriet Tregoning, accompanied by their respective staffs, addressed the attendees in general terms regarding this ambitious effort to craft a 10-year plan for a rapidly growing district population, at 632,323 as of July 2012 and growing at an estimated 1,100 per month, and then introduced the consultant conducting the program effort study — landscape architect Carlos F. Perez of the Atlanta, Georgia firm AECOM

In a friendly and engaging manner, Perez led the participants through real time surveys of priorities, concerns, and policy goals. While the immediate tabulation of the survey results were entertaining to observe, most of the attendees had come to the meeting with very specific questions and concerns about very specific recreation centers, outdoor athletic playing fields, and indoor facilities for currently un-provided programs such as martial arts. Half the evening’s participants had  departed during the course of the two-hour evening program.

Interesting preliminary statistics were also presented by Perez, the most startling of which was the contrasting percentages of total DC recreation center space in Wards 1 and 2, with 11 percent of the District’s total square footage in Ward 1 and only one percent in Ward 2. Results of the evening’s surveys with its miniscule number of participants were too hopelessly non-representative to be reported. The study consultants further reported that they were continuing to visit a representative number of parks and recreation centers in the process of data gathering for preparation of the study results. Perez urged the participants, and the DPR and OP staff in attendance, to encourage all District residents to participate in the on-line survey now being conducted, paper copies of which would also be available in all recreation centers.

[Ed. Note: Since there is no straight-forward way to access the on-line survey form through the DPR website, we are providing the following direct link:]

The evening concluded with an informal but spirited discussion regarding the last item in the evening’s real time survey — namely, the question of charging district residents for the use of parks and recreation center facilities and programs. OP and DPR staff in attendance — their directors having long before having slipped away — strongly urged that fees be required for DC facilities and programs, asserting that users only valued services for which they paid monetary fees and, moreover, that adjacent jurisdictions such as Montgomery County were already charging fees for the use of comparable facilities and programs. Should such a fee for service policy be implemented, however, the understanding of the political reality and definition in Washington, DC, politics of the concept of “pay to play” would need to be broadly expanded.