If you take a drive along S. George Mason Dr. it will make you really sad.
Alcova Heights park is in the process of demolition. The county has decided that it needed to remove over 60 healthy trees and already the shade and coolness that attracted so many to our park will find that the tree canopy has been annihilated along with the natural feel of the property just to do some things as simple as update the bathroom and add a couple of picnic shelters. This isn’t scheduled to be done until Fall 2023, so don’t worry, it will get uglier.
As you drive further down you’ll notice they took an open green space that was between the 7-Eleven and Doctors Run Park and they’ve covered it in rock as a staging area. They have used this as a staging area many times, but this time they decided to make it really ugly. In a time where modular building and scaling to make the projects go faster and have less negative impact, Arlington doubles down on 1950s building practices.
Continue driving past Doctors Run Park and you’ll notice that they planted a whole bunch of “street” trees in June. Everyone knows you don’t plant in the summer — it’s just too hot. So Arlington plants at the beginning of the hottest part of the summer without water, squeezed them into spaces where the bases won’t have enough room to expand where their canopy won’t be able to grow because the trees adjacent to them are too close and growing and they are already suffering.
Then you’ll pop out on Four Mile Run Drive where it’s open and ugly and there’s a dearth of shade to protect all the walkers and bicyclers and little kids learning to walk and scoot. And this is Arlington County government’s modus operandi. Shoddy work, that takes too long time, with a complete lack of thoughtfulness around spaces go together or how people would use them go about working and playing.
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
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
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
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.
“A society grows great, when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in” – Greek Proverb
A neighbor shared an email with me this week that was
discussing the merits of removing a significant number of trees for a county project.
There were three lines of particular interest
Infrastructure investments will improve storm
water runoff and reduce flooding
Tree preservation is a priority of [NOVA/Arlington
parks] so they will work to make sure that there isn’t a loss of trees.
The opposition [AKA those who are trying to save
the trees] is well meaning but not in the interest of our region.
I’ve heard these three lines a lot in the last few years and
they are said by three primary groups: the schools advocates, the sports advocates,
and the developers, which, let’s face it, includes the housing advocates. Thus,
the County Board and the School Board take these comments and perpetuate these
short sighted opinions without taking any responsibility for their roles in
positioning the county for the future. And, thus, Arlington has been left with
a wholesale slaughter of not just green space, but trees in general.
The Tree People (TTP) have been playing by the rules with
overly civil and agreeable tactics including writing letters, hosting meetings
with the elected officials and trying to use facts and data to build a case.
They are the receivers of sympathetic looks and phrasing like “we agree with
you, but our project is more important to the youth.” The irony is that
the small group of TTP are largely childfree and making the case that saving
the trees will benefit kids in both the short term (asthma, air quality, etc)
as well as the long term (infrastructure and long term planning).
TTP are super nice people, they aren’t zealots, they aren’t
anti growth, anti development, anti schools or anti sports. TTP are
pro-planning for a better Arlington. The data reveals that mature trees are
critical in storm water run off and that while infrastructure like tiling and
terraces can mitigate the damage caused by overdevelopment, it is the mature
trees that will soak up the most water and have the largest impact. When you
cut down a healthy mature tree, Arlington needs to spend a lot of money to move
that water down to the Potomac and the water that we are sending down is coated
in all of the grime that is on our streets. A rain garden or three young trees
will not take the place of a mature tree.
Tree preservation is not a priority of Arlington or NVPA. The
county officials say it is, but their actions do not align with their words. If
you plant seven new trees for every one old tree that you take down, but only
one new tree survives beyond three months, trees are not a priority. When every
project that comes into the Arlington development docket outlines clear cutting
mature trees, tree preservation is not a priority. When every project that has
been retooled to save some trees damages the remaining trees’ root system and
they die, tree preservation is not a priority. Take a moment: can you find any
project in Arlington and identify tree preservation and then demonstrate in the
final product that there indeed was tree preservation?
TTP should not be condescendingly labeled, “well meaning,”
they are thinking long term, strategically and for the betterment of everyone.
Quite frankly, they are thinking bigger than themselves and their immediate
families and their immediate wants. The schools advocates are filled with
parents worried about their kids right now and not necessarily what their kids
will need in ten, twenty or even thirty years. The sports advocates are filled
with parents who want their kids to play their preferred sports right now and adults like me who want to
be able to regularly play our leagues or hop on a trail without having to drive
far. It is about what we want, right now, not about the long term viability of
playing in the future. And the developers and housing advocates are in it for
the money right now. How to create revenue or ease housing costs right at this
moment, not about the long term thinking necessary for people to live a healthy
life or the quality of the surroundings. The sports advocates, schools
advocates, affordable housing advocates, developers, and the County Board are
thinking too short term, just about the right now.
Saving a tree isn’t well meaning. Saving a tree is
recognizing that growing a mature tree takes a long time and is beneficial to
everyone, especially the youth and the active. It is acknowledging that a mature
tree is good for the air, for the water, and for the animals. Saving a tree is
being strategic, data driven, and justified.
Arlington County must set a responsible example by holding itself to the same (or more stringent) environmental standards as Arlington homeowners in order to reduce stormwater runoff and lower flood risk.
DES has systematically made Arlington hotter, wetter, and, and more unlivable through their involvement in every project by using loop holes in policy to eliminate trees, straighten streams, undermine the Chesapeake Bay storm water management guidelines, and advocate for untethered development in Arlington.