When Pierre L’Enfant completed his design for the District of Columbia, green spaces were a major component of his vision to make the capital of the United States one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Initially, the Federal Government was responsible for management and maintenance of these public spaces, including parks, school grounds, library lawns and even the small triangle parks formed where diagonal avenues intersect grid streets. With the coming of home rule in the early 1970's, many of these areas were transferred to the District of Columbia Government - but unfortunately without the necessary funds to care for them properly. As a result, countless numbers of our loveliest green spaces fell into disrepair and, as other demands were made on the District budget, the cost of returning these green spaces to their former glory became prohibitively expensive.
In the face of this deterioration, many citizens joined together in neighborhood groups to add private dollars to the Department of Parks and Recreation’s budget in an attempt to restore their local parks and open spaces. These groups now number over 40 and are responsible for such projects as the renovation of Kalorama Park in Adams Morgan, planting traffic triangles in Brookland, and beautifying the grounds of the Tenleytown Library.
But, as generous and determined as these neighborhood groups are, many neighborhoods of the District are not similarly organized. These communities may face substantive problems relating to crime and urban decay, or they may simply not have a venue or locus for community organizing. Still other parks do not “belong” to any particular communities or groups and are left without advocates and volunteers. Uniting the diverse experiences of the city’s parks is the simple, difficult and over-arching reality that the District’s Parks and Recreation budget is simply unable to meet all their needs.
Taking a lesson from the New York City Parks Department, Neil Albert, the Director of the District of Columbia’s Department of Parks and Recreation, has envisioned a private, non-profit group modeled after the Central Park Conservancy to be the catalyst for public-private partnerships to restore the city’s system of green spaces. Mr. Albert enlisted Sarah Boasberg, a landscape designer and former Chairman of the American Horticultural Society, to begin such a group - Green Spaces for DC. She has been joined by a dynamic board of directors composed of concerned citizens, public park professionals and leaders of several Friends-of-Parks groups. Green Spaces recently hired a fulltime Executive Director.
In addition to providing technical assistance to the Department of Parks and Recreation and to other city agencies, Green Spaces for DC will bring together the 40 existing neighborhood groups to share successful strategies, coordinate efforts, and aid in expanding and developing economic resources to support our city’s parks and green spaces.