Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Playgrounds for Children

Panel to Kickoff Family Amenity Effort
The DNA Family Amenity Panel was the primary focus of the July meeting. Four district agencies along with the Downtown Business Improvement District were represented. The panel moderator and co-chair of the DNA Family Amenity Committee and resident of the Ventana Condominium, Giles Beeker, led the discussion. The participants included Geraldine Gardner, Associate Director for Neighborhood Planning with the Office of Planning, Jeff Hinkle, Community Planner with the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), Nithya Joseph with the District Parks and Recreation Transition Team, Rick Reinhard, Deputy Executive Director for Planning and Development with the Downtown Business Improvement District, and Jose Sousa, a Project Manager with the office of the Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development.

Giles Beaker started the panel with commentary on the importance of finding ways to keep families downtown rather than losing them to the suburbs. He posed a question to the panel asking whether there was a plan for families downtown; whether existing plans factored in the growth of this segment of the neighborhood. Garner explained that families, diversity, open space, and recreation were all part of the city’s Comprehensive Plan and the Center City Action Agenda. Hinkle added that part of the concern of the NCPC was not only a good working environment for federal employees, but a great civic life, too. The maintenance, programming, accessibility, and overall quality of the federal parks that exist in our community is the focus of the Capital Space project that includes NCPC, District, and the National Park Service. Joseph noted that there were plans for a playground in nearby Shaw that residents could use, though the location on the corner of 7th and N Streets, NW are not within a reasonable walking distance of most downtown residential buildings. Sousa suggested that there may be opportunities to identify pilot projects collaborating with the District and our neighborhood collaborating with the National Park Service. Lt. Royal recommended that any actions taken to bring playground programming to the neighborhood involve the police department to ensure systems were in place to provide a safe environment. Reinhard suggested that there may be opportunities to gain family programming in one of the 34 national parks located downtown through temporary installations of playgrounds. He offered, though, that that neighborhood needs were a subset of a larger problem of the lack of investment in Downtown Parks by both the District and the Federal Government. He noted that the 34 parks covered 22 acres requiring $15 to $20 million in capital improvements and $1.5 to $2 million annually in programing dollars.

All agreed that a critical factor was that someone needed to take leadership of this issue if we are to make any headway in improving the quality of life for Downtown residents. While there appears to be a commitment for help, none of the panelists were prepared to take the challenge and accept responsibility for bringing family programming and playgrounds into our neighborhood. However, the meeting was a good first step to assessing neighborhood concerns and discussing alternatives.

Next Steps
The leadership needs to come from downtown residents. As Giles Bleeker suggested, resources should not be a problem given who the breadth of downtown stakeholders we can seek funding from. Downtown residents need to work with the city agencies to identify opportunities that will address our family amenity needs and then seek ways to make it happen. We have been successful in pursuing other challenges to improve our neighborhood with the help of District Agencies, our activist ANC6C, and support from our councilmembers. This may be the most challenging project yet and it may well be the critical measure of our success as a neighborhood association. So, if you are concerned about greenspace, flowers, playgrounds, and nice places for quiet contemplation then this is the project for you to step up to.

If interested in being part of this effort, contact Miles Groves at miles@dcdna.org or Giles Beeker at beekerg@itcdc.com.

Miles E. Groves
Downtown Neighborhood Association

1 comment:

  1. If the city is to keep the families of all those young people who have and are continuing to move into DC, playgrounds downtown (in addition to drastically improving the school system) is a necessary part. You can walk around downtown Manhattan and find plenty of parks with playgrounds. Why not in DC? Even for those who work downtown, seeing kids playing would add life and make it a nicer environment.

    I was disappointed when the developer of the City Center project (old Convention Center site) told us at an advisory committee meeting that a playground was not in the works, for a variety of reasons, many of which were based on the continued assumption that people don't have kids downtown: http://theother35percent.blogspot.com/2008/12/playgrounds-downtown.html.

    One option currently in the works is the park at 2nd and Massachusetts Avenue NW. While there is a redesign of the park currently planned, it is temporary (basically unfunded). When funding comes available, a more permanent redesign could use a portion of the park as a playground (the downside is that the park is surrounded by high traffic streets). It would be a short walk for people living in Penn Quarter and Mount Vernon Triangle.