By some measures, Arlington parks are doing well, but without changing course, we’re falling behind.
Arlington Parks are Ranked 4th in the Nation…
Congratulations to Arlington County on our park system being ranked as 4th among the nation’s 100 largest cities by the authoritative Trust for Public Land (TPL) in its ParkScore® index, based on the three factors of Park Access, Park Size, and Facilities and Investment.
But, Our Parkland Acreage is Already Inadequate for Current… and Future… Population
As I detailed in earlier columns, our public parks and recreational facilities are a core government service. They provide social, health and environmental benefits critical to the quality of life in our community. Unfortunately, as a snapshot in time, the ParkScore® index doesn’t reveal that current demand in Arlington for active and passive parks and recreation already far exceeds current resources. County land acquisition has not kept pace with population growth, resulting in increased shortages and overcrowding of all forms of recreational and outdoor space.
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. The result is an ongoing decline in the ratio of parkland per 1,000 residents, declining from a ratio of 10.8 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents in 1995 to 7.9 acres per 1,000 residents in 2015 with a considerably lower average in our high-density corridors. Our neighbors are doing much better: D.C. 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.
Yet, our Comprehensive Plan contemplates the addition of 35,300 households or an estimated additional 75,400 people by 2040, a dramatic increase of 36%. What is now an acute shortage in active and passive park and recreation resources will turn into a crisis by 2040 unless the County accelerates its parkland acquisition now.
We need increased CIP Funding
Unfortunately, the County Manager’s proposed CIP includes only $3 million of parkland acquisition funding for fiscal years 2017 and 2018, at p.B-5, well below funding levels before the Great Recession.
Between 1995 and 2008, funding for parkland acquisition per two-year park bond cycle was between $4.0 and $8.5 million, with most cycles at $8.5 million. Yet between 2008 and 2014, a six year period, parkland acquisition funding, from both bonds ($3.0 million) and budget allocations ($5.47 million), totaled only $8.47 million.
With land in Arlington costing on average at least $4 million per acre and increasing every year, the $3 million of land acquisition funds now proposed for the CIP for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 will potentially purchase approximately only three quarters of an acre of parkland! This is woefully inadequate to meet current, no less projected, demands for passive and active recreation in our County.
The County Board needs to dramatically increase the parkland acquisition funding in the 2017-2018 CIP to at least $8 million, the same approximate level as prior to the Great Recession, for inclusion on the November 2016 ballot.
Let’s ensure that we have adequate parkland for all of our people in the future… and that Arlington continues to rank highly in the ParkScore® index.
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.