Press Club

Peter’s Take: Parks and Recreation

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Peter RousselotThe hit show Parks & Recreation is “a hilarious ensemble comedy” that follows its lead character (played by SNL’s Amy Poehler), “a mid-level bureaucrat in the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, Indiana, and her tireless efforts to make her quintessentially American town just a little bit more fun.”

Recent news about a private developer’s proposal to build a sports and entertainment facility in Alexandria — a facility containing many elements that are “strikingly similar” to Arlington’s planned Aquatics Center — again raises issues for Arlington that are a little bit less fun.

The Alexandria private proposal is just the latest evidence that Arlington’s Aquatics Center contains elements that exceed the type of core services for which Arlington should pay, or elements that are too extravagant, or both.

Of course, Arlington should be offering a series of geographically-dispersed swimming and recreational facilities at public expense. I applaud Arlington for working diligently to do that. But, the Aquatics Center at Long Bridge Park goes far beyond that to include “a 50 meter by 25 yard fitness and competition pool, a family leisure pool, a hot water therapy pool, a ‘teaching pool’, and a ‘free-form water play area’ that will …have a lazy river, slides, play features, and a zero-depth ‘beach’ entry.”

Just because there was a long public process during which many Arlington residents supported having the public pay for these features, or because there are many Arlington residents who might use these features, doesn’t make it right. Many of these design elements at the Aquatics Center are elements that either ought to be provided by the private sector or not provided.

This is precisely the reason why Arlington County Board Chair Walter Tejada’s comments about the Alexandria proposal miss the mark: “For our project we are looking to be inclusive, so people of all incomes and backgrounds will have access to our facilities… whereas in a private facility it’s for profit and the purpose is whatever the personal group sets forth.”

Arlington shouldn’t be making these kinds of design elements available at public expense to any members of the public because it is not an appropriate government function to do so.

The County Board has erred on this and other issues because the Board lacks a systematic framework for deciding which core services of government deserve funding in the first place.

It’s long past time for the Board to develop such a framework.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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