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Does D.C. Have Too Many Parks?

Shortly after the 2004 election, I almost totally gave up on politically oriented blogs, realizing that they rarely made me smarter and generally just made me angry. This has improved my general disposition, but every once in a while it means that I miss a teacup-tempest that really does interest me. Thankfully, I ended up at the playground this weekend with a politically plugged-in dad who turned me on to liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias' latest series of posts on how DC could stand to do a bit less park building, thankyouverymuch. (Wags immediately wondered aloud if Yglesias would think differently if he had kids.)

The core of Yglesias argument is relatively simple: while parks are all well and good, given the number of kids in Washington (which is dropping), the number of existing parks in DC and the demand for office space and close-in housing (which he assumes will rise sooner or later), is throwing another strip of grass down really the wisest planning investment? I'm not unmoved by his argument; I'd love to see walkable, kid-friendly neighborhoods full of mixed-use development. But I've never felt a siren call for another couple of boxy office towers full of lawyers.

So I'm on the the-more-parks-the-better side. Part of this is a reflexive desire to maximize the number of places that kids can play. I'm not sure you can have too many parks. When I was in Alexandria, we were within 10 blocks of three different playgrounds. Having those kinds of options so close vastly improved my quality of life as a stroller-pusher.

That's the self-serving argument. The broader case is that parkland is tough to come by, but once a park (almost) always a park. Reserving green space now means reserving it for decades -- or longer -- maintaining an oasis of a playspace for future generations. And though the number of kids in downtown D.C, is small now, demographic trends are difficult to forecast. A little-used playground today might be the hub of the toddler scene in 10 years.

One of my favorite parts of New York is the pocket parks that were carved out of the urban landscape whenever they could be. No matter how high the economic fortunes of that city rose, those parks remained. They're not all gorgeous. They're not all overrun by screaming kids. But they are there, as a permanent testament to a city that takes its parks seriously.

Hard to imagine many anti-parks people here, but I'd love to hear about how urban green spaces have played a role in your parenting narrative.

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at rebeldad.com.

By Brian Reid |  August 28, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Recreation
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Comments


Obviously Yglesias is a known crank and gadfly trying to draw advertising traffic to his site. That said, I'm always excited to find fossils in DC parks.

Posted by: bbcrock | August 28, 2009 8:12 AM | Report abuse

We have multiple parks close to where we live. The closest one is within walking distance and the one we take the kids to most often. We use another one for its extensive bike trails.

When the swimming pool is closed, we use the parks to wear out the kids. After an hour or so in the playground, they are not quite as restless, noisy and obnoxious to each other in the house. Since we live in a condo, we can't just kick them out to the backyard to play.

Posted by: Billie_R | August 28, 2009 8:17 AM | Report abuse

There are so many reasons why there can never be too many parks, I doubt even the blogosphere can list them all.

1) All the kids who are walked to nearby parks from their daycare centers (even if the kids don't actually live in DC)
2) All the kids visiting DC with their families, who need a place to run around too.
3) All the adults who enjoy fresh air, and a nice park bench, whether it's to eat lunch during the work day, walk your dog, or sit with your date eating an ice cream cone
4) Environmental reasons - less asphalt, more trees
5) hello - fresh air. Can't be counted too many times. You can't get fresh air sitting in a box
6) once the building goes up, that green space is lost forever.

Posted by: JHBVA | August 28, 2009 8:59 AM | Report abuse

we've lived in 20007, 20008 and 20036 in DC and our observations are that the less urban the area, the fewer kid-friendly parks exist.

in 20008, where there are lots of single-family homes and lots of kids, there are lots of parks! we go to a park almost every weekend and we notice that they're consistently busy.

the parks closer in (dupont circle, logan, u street, etc), are really not 'parks', more so just open green spaces. but if you live there with your young one, you know what you're getting yourself into and there are lots of other things in those neighborhoods to enjoy.

are there too many parks? we don't think so. seems like a pretty decent balance to me.

but please, lets put to rest the assumption that if the park at 34th & macomb were to be closed, that it would be replace with a mixed-use mecca. it would be replaced with single-family homes.

off the top of my head, i can't think of a park in DC that would/could be redeveloped into a mixed-use project. remember that mixed-use usually includes lots of fun retail (restaurants, bookstore, coffee shops). for every bethesda row or dupont circle there are a dozen failed projects. DC doesn't have the density to support unlimited retail development. And forget about more office buildings for the next 10 years. the vacancy rate in the new neighborhoods of NOMA, SE & SW is hovering around 20% - developers can't give the space away.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | August 28, 2009 9:27 AM | Report abuse

I'm with the more parks the better. Everyone benefits from green, open spaces. Parks are not just for kids.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | August 28, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

It's a basic fallacy that parks are for kids (not for rabbits). Open space is an important aspect of a livable city. I wonder how people would react if a developer proposed this.

BB

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | August 28, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Since I don't have kids, I can't provide any first-hand insight in terms of parenting and parks, but in response to Mr. Yglesias' assertion that people only use the parks in the summer, my exercise group is out in the parks in the winter, in the rain.....and we're not the only ones out there (except when it gets down to 13 degrees). And there is an overwhelming demand for certain adult park facilities, such as sand volleyball courts.

Back when Silver Spring had the astro-turf out on that property downtown, the space was PACKED, almost every weekend (even in the winter months). Kids, teens, adults....everyone hung out there. I think this provides pretty strong evidence of the demand for parks in urban environments, especially the mixed used redevelopments that he is advocating for.

Posted by: lizbeth1 | August 28, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

I don't think there can be too many parks. I love the DC area, including the MD and VA suburbs, because there is such a wide variety of parks and playgrounds. The green space is beautiful and provides a place for both kids and adults to relax, play, and exercise. Parks are not just for kids.

Posted by: emily8 | August 28, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

I like living in an area that has open green spaces and lots of parks just like most people do.

However, if the local citizens feel that a parcel of land can be best served by allowing a Walmart or 7-Eleven to be built on it it rather than preserving it for civil war history buffs to visit and gawk at a monument that reads, "George Washington slept here", why should I care? Let the decision up to the local people. They are the ones who are most affected.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | August 28, 2009 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Personally I would never raise children in a city environment. I love visiting cities but I don't think they are good places to raise children. It's nice to be able to send your kids outside in your own backyard.

Posted by: sunflower571 | August 28, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

I'm not from DC, but love taking kids to the park! I think parks are an investment in happy, healthy kids. As others have stated, they also represent an excellent opportunity for adults to get outside.

Katrina
www.twitter.com/katluvsshoes

Posted by: KatLuvsShoes | August 28, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

@sunflower - I live in a very livable city. I don't have a backyard of my own, but there is a very nice open area behind our townhouse and we're walking distance from several parks, including a historic one (Fort Ward). The notion that a city environment

I do not cast aspersions on the small town environment--I grew up in Nebraska (not Omaha or LIncoln). I had opportunities that my kids won't; they have opportunities that I didn't. I think one can make the best of both.

BB

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | August 30, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

This is a ridiculous non-issue. Obviously "too many parks" is virtually oxymoronic. I suppose if the parks were crowding out so much housing that no one could even live anywhere near them, that would be too much, but I have never heard of this problem.

The idea that parks are "for" any one sector of the population is weird too. In my city, Chicago, most of the small parks are called "playlots," and literally ban the presence of those over 12 years of age and dogs, even on leash (I assume adults are allowed if they bring children, but the signs do not actually say so). I live a few feet from one such park, but a mile from a "dog park," which is a small dismal paved area where dogs with special park permits may play off-leash. I hope this is not going on in other cities. Parks should be for everyone, maybe with designated areas for different uses, but open to all. We can all benefit from nearby green space, the more the better.

Posted by: rh36 | August 30, 2009 9:08 PM | Report abuse

Ditto what JHBVA | August 28, 2009 8:59 AM wrote.

Parks are for everyone!

Posted by: ishgebibble | August 31, 2009 5:59 AM | Report abuse

I live in Southwest. The biggest complaint of the people in my building with children is that the green spaces in the area don't have facilities for kids.

Too many people are afraid that if a swingset or playground were put in, it would become a center for drug deals.

In my opinion, we should not only have parks, we should have mixed use parks. Dog runs would be lovely to have at some parks, but I don't know where there are any besides Rock Creek Park. Playgrounds in more of our parks would be terrific.

Green space is important. I live here for the green space, but welcoming families is important too.

Posted by: Fabrisse | August 31, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

"Too many parks"? That statement is proof that even in this economic climate, at least one person can still afford to smoke the good stuff.

I live in New York City, specifically The Bronx, and while there are green spaces in my neighborhood, they are almost exclusively private property, highway verges or dedicated baseball fields. The only real park space is a 15-minute walk away. (I refuse to count the fully-concreted pocket park where the Sanitation Dep't. boys park their trucks so they can have breakfast... which stretches into lunch. In the summer, the smell is unbelievable.) The absence of usable green space is pretty depressing, and is part of the reason I'm considering moving out of the neighborhood, despite the fact that it's safe, affordable, an easy commute, and has plenty of other amenities.

Posted by: northgs | August 31, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

fr whackyweasel:

>...However, if the local citizens feel that a parcel of land can be best served by allowing a Walmart or 7-Eleven to be built on it it rather than preserving it for civil war history buffs to visit and gawk at a monument that reads, "George Washington slept here", why should I care?...

Because one can (unfortunately) ALWAYS find a wally world or 7-Eleven. Can't always find a Gettysburg, Franklin, the Wilderness, Chancellorsville, etc. I fully support the CWPT in fighting a wally world going in by a historical site such as a battlefield. Remembering the Civil War is much more important than the third world garbage that wally world sells.

Posted by: Alex511 | August 31, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

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