The Arlington County Board should adopt a formal numerical target of adding a minimum annual average of 3 acres of County parkland for the next 10 years. A recent paper produced by the Arlington County Civic Federation’s (ACCF’s) Parks & Recreation Committee presents a compelling case to support the adoption of this numerical target.
Parks are a critical core service
Public parks and recreational facilities are a core government service. Parks are critical to the quality of life and health of Arlington’s residents and to environmental sustainability.
As I noted in an earlier column , parks reinforce our social fabric, providing opportunities to socialize and exercise. Trees, shrubs and grass reduce air pollution, decrease storm-water runoff, and ameliorate the urban heat-island effect with shade and cooling.
Acquiring more parkland is vital
More County parkland represents an investment in Arlington’s future. Current demand for parks and recreational facilities far exceeds supply because land acquisition has lagged behind population growth.
The County projects adding over 75,000 new residents by 2040. Nearly all new households will be located in multifamily buildings with little open/green space of their own–meaning demand for open, green, and recreational spaces will become even more acute.
We can’t rely solely on sharing community facilities to solve our present and projected parkland shortfall. The 2015 Arlington Community Facilities Study noted the following on p. 56: “Although there are success stories from sharing facility resources, the open space system has been pressured by recent and forecasted population growth.”
In 1995, Arlington County had 10.8 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. By 2014, the parkland-to-population ratio declined to 7.9 acres per 1,000 residents. However, in high-density corridors like the R-B corridor, parkland acreage per 1,000 residents is considerably lower than these averages.
Our neighbors are doing much better: DC has 13.2 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents; Fairfax County has over 20 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents and is planning to purchase an additional 2,015 acres for parks. Nationally, compared to other high-density communities, Arlington falls behind Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis, the District of Columbia and Oakland. [Source: TPL’s 2015 City Park Facts, p. 10]
Why 3 acres per year?
Over a 20-year period, Arlington County acquired an annual average of 3.8 acres of new public parkland. The most recent trend has been lower–just 0.63 acres were purchased in 2015. Whereas a higher acreage figure could be justified given the 20-year average, current unmet demand and projected population increases, ACCF’s Parks & Recreation Committee settled on the 3-acre target because it represents a practical, reasonable goal that helps correct the recent downward trend.
On February 2, with only one dissenting vote out of over 60 cast, the ACCF approved a resolution that the County Board should add a minimum annual average of 3 acres of County parkland for the next 10 years. The County Board should do so.