NRPA’s Public Policy team took advantage of a quintessentially beautiful – although admittedly brisk - afternoon and ventured to a neighboring community to NRPA’s headquarters, Arlington, Virginia. Famous for the Pentagon, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Iwo Jima Memorial, Arlington is also home to 170 public parks.
Given its small size and relatively dense population, the allocation of public spaces in Arlington can be highly competitive. The need for green spaces, affordable housing, and schools are coming to a head at Lubber Run Park and Community Center, adjacent to an elementary school. Proposals for affordable housing units raised the hackles of neighbors, who want to retain access to the park and recreation center.
Arlington Parks and Recreation Department’s Director Jane Rudolph and Deputy Director Jennifer Fioretti took the Public Policy team on a tour of some of Arlington’s most popular and innovative parks. Our tour gave us the opportunity to see, first-hand, how this compact county is balancing its size with its green building initiatives and its status as one of the fastest-growing areas in its state.
Here are some highlights from the tour:
Arlington Mill Community Center
The Arlington Mill Community Center, located along the W&OD trail (one of the area’s best recreational paths), is a mixed-use facility built to LEED Gold standards, providing recreation, early-childhood development, senior services, language and citizenship classes for recent immigrants, and more to the Arlington community. The county is one of the fastest growing areas in the state with a housing market to match, so it is increasingly difficult for low-income residents to find housing. In accordance with Arlington’s Affordable Housing Goals, an affordable housing unit was strategically developed next to the center when it was built. Residents of this housing unit have easy access to the recreation, healthy vending machines, child care, and after-school and evening teen programs the center offers.
James Hunter Park
Just steps away from the bustling downtown Clarendon corridor of Arlington, James Hunter Park is an urban oasis. With space at a premium, the park is the result of an inclusive community planning process that carefully considered Arlington’s green building standards as well as the thousands of people that live and work in the area and their pets. As a result, this sustainably-designed park provides an equal amount of space for dogs and dog-owners and for everyone else. Solar panels generate energy for the park’s lighting fixtures, displays, and water management system, which collects and purifies rainwater and recycles it for irrigation. My favorite part of the park was the water feature for pups to play in when it’s warmer out – I can’t wait to bring my friends’ dogs here in the summer!
Powhatan Springs Park
This park includes a 15,000-foot skate park, complete with an in-ground bowl and plenty of street-style features. Although the skate park is certainly popular with the younger set, I was surprised to learn that it is also frequented by adult skateboarders. Even on a chilly Friday afternoon, we saw a father-daughter duo skating one of the bowls together – how cool is that! The Arlington Parks and Recreation Department is currently working with an active online adult skateboarder community on ways to improve the skate park. The park also includes a green education feature: a rain garden that serves both as a bio-retention area and as a children’s learning experience.
Long Bridge Park
Long Bridge Park is an excellent example of green redevelopment. Before the park came along, all you could find at this site located across the highway from the Pentagon was a brownfield resembling something you might see in a sepia photograph of the Dust Bowl era. Fast forward to just a few years later and you’ll find a gorgeous, sleek park with some of the best views of the DC skyline around. This park boasts three full-sized synthetic turf fields, including one funded by nearby Marymount University, which uses the field for its men and women’s soccer and lacrosse teams. The park also includes an esplanade overlooking the Potomac River and Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary and a three-quarter acre rain garden, which directs runoff from the sports fields. This attractive park played a large part in why Boeing chose Arlington as the location for its regional headquarters. Another great aspect of this park is its location adjacent to major train tracks and to the Ronald Reagan National Airport, making it a destination for train and plane spotters alike.
As we toured Arlington, I was surprised at just how much more was going on with each park than met the eye. With a booming population, a commitment to environmentally-sound development, limited space, and a highly participative community, Arlington’s parks never serve just one purpose or demographic.
I’ll be eagerly watching Arlington as they use their experience in efficient planning to reconcile affordable housing needs with a consistent demand for public recreational space.
Let us know what you think. Leave a comment below or tweet us @NRPA_News with your thoughts.
Jayni Rasmussen is NRPA's Advocacy and Outreach Specialist.