When you think of a park, what do you think of? Arlington is one of the top five richest counties in the country. An award will not replace having spaces to play and relax for all ages.
Arlington County was just ranked as #4 best park in the U.S. by the Trust for Public Land. Let’s set aside the fact that in this instance Arlington is considered a city, that the calculation includes federal park land that would not be considered accessible (i.e., the median of the GW parkway or the Arlington Cemetery, which is not conducive to sports, relaxation or get togethers) or that the TPL does not take into consideration the number of the people expected to use the size of the park (TPL does not use parkland per capita and instead uses access “walkability” to park where tens of thousands of people have access to a park which could be smaller than most backyards). Let’s just focus on what a park in Arlington currently is.
In Arlington, a school is tabulated as a park— all of the school land, including the buildings and parking lots are included in the park calculation. The schools don’t have the funding to take care of the “park” so you will notice the neglect due to the high-volume traffic and lack of maintenance.
In Arlington, a park could be a privately owned space, like the Market Commons or the new Selina Gray Square Park. These spaces exist at the whim of the landowner and may have been added so that the owner could get additional density or some other benefit from the county. Most of these spaces are maintained by the county but when the owner decides that they want to rebuild, that space is theirs.
In 2017, the Market Common was almost destroyed for more retail-friendly outside space. It was only after protests that the plan was sunset and the trees and the “park” remain. However, the residents lucked out because the Market Common is owned by the developer, not the county and it could have gone a very different direction.
In Arlington, a park is highly likely to be closed based on the excuse that either the park itself or some other nearby area needs to be renovated. This has been especially ugly during the COVID times as neighbors seek out green open space. Jennie Dean Park, Green Valley Town Center, Mosaic Park, and Henry Clay Park are all currently fenced off for renovations, renovations that will take years to complete. So, while we have thousands of people within walking distance to a park, they certainly won’t be using these beauties.
Mosaic Park was once full of life with people literally just hanging out, running their dogs and escaping the cement caverns of Ballston. What is clear is that it is a lot of cement and while trees have just been added, they aren’t set up to grow very tall in their tree coffins.
Henry Clay Park is slated to be closed for at least a year with $1.4 million allocated to renovate “the basketball court, the playground, the picnic shelter, fences, and landscaping, among other upgrades.” What is most noticeable as you drive by Henry Clay Park is that they have killed almost all of the trees and added huge swaths of cement on a much loved community park.
But in Arlington, a park is most likely to be a “tree preservation” zone. What this means is that the developer has made a commitment to save some of the trees. The trees won’t be saved though as the construction crew decimates the land under the guise of burying lines and pipes and having no incentive to keep anything alive. The trees and sod will be replanted but not watered, the weeds will begin to grow and the area will be used however is most convenient be it a dirt bike ramp or a dump truck play area.
The exception would be Oakland Park where they removed the trees around the new features resulting in people having places to sit by themselves in the full blaring sun.
All in all, a park in Arlington probably isn’t what I think of when I think of a park, but there is certainly the opportunity to strive for a more inclusive, equitable version of a park as we move forward.