BID Participates in All-Parks Town Hall

Monday, October 29, 2012

By DowntownDC

How to liven up DC’s parks was the subject of an All-Parks Town Hall meeting hosted by DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton at the John A. Wilson Building (1300 Pennsylvania Avenue) on Thursday, October 25th. The gathering presented an opportunity for residents to share ideas and ask questions of park officials and panelists, including Rick Reinhard, the DowntownDC BID’s deputy executive director.

The National Park Service owns most of the city’s parks, and the discussion evolved around how it can work to enliven DC’s green spaces and adapt them to the needs of the individual neighborhoods where they are located. With more families living in Downtown, people expressed concerns about adequate play areas for children and neglected parks not meeting their full potential.

In his remarks, Reinhard noted that the one-square-mile DowntownDC BID area has 34 NPS parks and reservations, ranging in size from Franklin Square to smaller triangular-shaped or “bow tie” parks, often called “uptown” parks by the NPS to distinguish them from the National Mall, located to the south. He said that “money, management and partnerships” are all issues that should be addressed when discussing these parks, which will require $50 million to improve and activate open spaces in the DowntownDC BID area, according to preliminary BID estimates.

“Local NPS officials understand these problems and do not want to manage this way, but rules are rules,” said Reinhard, noting that “NPS is handcuffed to run its urban parks using the same rules they use to run Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Everglades. The same regulations that work so well to protect moose, redwoods and crocodiles work much less effectively to promote playgrounds, concerts and family picnics.”

So what to do? Three steps should occur, according to Reinhard:

  • The U.S. Congress needs to be serious about funding urban NPS parks; Downtowns are flourishing, while NPS’ urban parks are lagging.
  • NPS needs flexible rules for running urban parks.
  • Partnerships—many of which should be four-way partnerships among NPS, the city, property owners and the foundation community—must be ramped up to improve our parks.

 “If NPS is not appropriated enough money, and if NPS has inflexible rules, then the only way our parks ever will be what we deserve is through forging serious, meaningful partnerships,” Reinhard said. 

The DowntownDC BID has already successfully entered into four formal partnerships with NPS: to renovate Reservation 72, also known as Chinatown Park; to expand DC Circulator service onto the National Mall with input from the District Department of Transportation; to form a working group to reinvigorate Franklin Square (the largest NPS park within the DowntownDC BID area), along with the DC Office of Planning and Department of Parks and Recreation; and to have the National Cherry Blossom Festival, staffed by DowntownDC BID employees, take place primarily on land managed by the NPS.

Reinhard complimented NPS Regional Director Steve Whitesell, Mall Superintendent Bob Vogel, Deputy Superintendents Steve Lorenzetti and Karen Cucurullo and their staff members for understanding that “parks not only must respect history and serve our nation but also must be enjoyed day-to-day and serve our residents, workers and visitors.” He also said that the DowntownDC BID wholeheartedly endorses Secretary Salazar’s call for a new way to manage NPS’ urban space inventory, including all of Downtown DC’s green spaces.

Other All-Parks Town Hall panelists included Whitesell; David Alpert, blogger, Greater Greater Washington; Catherine Nagel, executive director, City Parks Alliance; and Danielle Pierce, co-founder, Downtown DC Kids