Comment on Arlington’s Public Spaces Master Plan before December 9, 2018

An Arlington County 20-year Public Spaces Master Plan (PSMP) — or the “POPS” plan — will be approved in the next few months.  Please comment to the County before December 9, 2018

(From Parks4everyone.org, a county-wide grassroots initiative to make our parks for everyone.  See https://mailchi.mp/0f5dda9688d2/6-arlington-county-myths-busted-1279221 for this summary and myths about Arlington parks.)  

It will guide and be used as a benchmark for decisions about ALL County-owned public spaces, including community parks and even some APS recreational facilities — decisions for the next 20 years. Despite an enormous effort and citizen input, the flawed foundation on which the recommendations are based undermines the County’s ability to address the many competing public space needs and priorities.

Underlying all recommendations for how parks will be planned and utilized, and how millions of dollars will be spent on capital improvements are “Level of Service” (LOS) goals, which are buried deep in the POPS appendix. Essentially, LOS means we need X facilities for Y people. However, these LOS goals were created without examining the existing or projected “supply and demand”—the actual needs and utilization of the various facilities in Arlington. LOS numbers are simply plucked from comparisons with other cities.

In the end, this flawed approach benefits nobody, including sports players who find it difficult to get field time. Myths about Arlington’s Parks:

·         Arlington has too few sports fields.

Internal county documents show that fields have been over-reserved, sometimes for twice the amount of time actually needed. Thousands of hours were being allocated to teams who did not use or need them. In-person staff “rover reports” confirmed this issue and so have outside experts hired by DPR who reviewed the management of Arlington’s fields.

This created the appearance that fields were in use, when in reality they were empty yet unusable by other teams.

Moreover, a closer look at when fields are empty – such as Saturday evenings — would reveal that scheduling problems often are the result of preferred playing times rather than lack of field space.

·         The PSMP is based on sound methodology and data

The PSMP, which will guide future park planning, contains no data about the actual supply and utilization of various sports fields. Instead, the lynchpin of its recommendations is “population-based Level of Service” (LOS) derived from generalizations and comparisons with other localities in the U.S.

The professional consultants assisting the county even provided DPR with Arlington’s POPS LOS guidelines stating that each community “determine its own LOS standard based on current supply/demand and future supply/demand projections

But that professional advice has been excluded from the public PSMP document, commissions, and the County Board. Arlington’s actual supply/demand data are nowhere to be seen in the PSMP document.

More information on the Population Based LOS

·         Don’t worry. LOS figures are not “set in stone”

Oh yes they are, because all other recommendations are based on them. Community planning processes rely on this information, but this is the only benchmarking information being made available for all park and recreational planning.

Without actual utilization (supply & demand) data, the only “data” that Arlington will use for community planning and investment decisions will refer back to the supposed “need” shown in the PSMP.

The Chair of the County Board recently acknowledged it would be nearly impossible to re-purpose a field to meet higher-priority needs or spend maintenance monies elsewhere because the PSMP would be relied on to determine those public space needs. This is in spite of internal data saying differently.

Even if the recommendations are reviewed in 5 years as proposed, all park planning and investment decisions in the next 5 years will be based solely on these recommendations with no data to support them, and the future review will still refer back to these PSMP recommendations.

·         This won’t affect me.

Whether you enjoy a walk through your neighborhood parks, have kids who play sports, care about tree canopy and environmental issues or are just a tax-paying resident, retaining and expanding unneeded facilities – at great expense — will affect you.

Services throughout the County are being reduced or eliminated and the growing needs of our population continues to be restricted by our limited supply of public land.

The PSMP will affect how public parkland will meet the open-space, natural areas and recreational needs of a growing population for decades to come, and this does affect everyone. It could even affect Arlington’s ability to deal with a shortage of space for crowded classrooms; with transparent data about facility needs, even APS fields could be better designed and utilized to make room for a school expansion.

·         People advocating for parks and schools just hate sports.

Sports advocates have been fed a false narrative that others just want to take away their facilities. Yet leaders in the sports community have acknowledged that even they don’t know what the current capacity is for the fields in Arlington and that over-scheduling has been a consistent problem.

Athletic facilities have not been managed properly, and there are some recent improvements, which is good news for everyone. However, the PSMP should acknowledge the underlying issues which perpetuated a mis-perception of field usage and need. And the PSMP should also make sure to consider:

·  how fields could be creatively optimized to meet future park and rec needs,

·  how transparency in usage & allocation benefits sports users & the general public and,

·  how improved field maintenance can allow for a better sport user experience

These important factors, which even sports advocates can agree to, should be made part of the PSMP recommendations for optimizing our facilities to benefit all Arlington residents.

·         There’s nothing I can do to support this issue.

Yes there is! We all want the best possible outcome for the future of our parks and our community engagement and planning.

So here are some actions you can take to make a big difference:

  1. Sign the Parks4everyone Petition on Change.org.
  2. Email the County Board with this already pre-filled email form, countyboard@arlingtonva.us. Add your name or personalize it further if you want.
  3. Add your comments to the county’s quick 7 question survey about the PSMP.
    • Example: “This plan needs to meet the needs of our growing community. Until this plan has resident priorities, transparent data reviewed by the public, this plan should not be adopted by the County Board.”
  4. Attend a POPS Open House.
  5. Make public comment at the Saturday Board meetings. The next one is on November 17, 2018 at 8:30 am.
  6. Sit one on one with your County Board member at Open Door Mondays. Here is the schedule.
  7. Share this newsletter with your friends and neighbors.

For More Information & Media Coverage

Visit www.parks4everyone.org and the County Webpage for POPS

PETER ROUSSELOT’S INTERVIEW
See the Sustainable Scoop interview regarding this issue with ARLNow Columnist, Peter Rousselot on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018 after the local 6pm news — Comcast channel 69, Verizon channel 38. Check for the Sustainable Scoop’s Youtube version of Mr. Rousselot’s interview posted soon.