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Green Space Is a Focus of Campaign Debate

As city copes with growth and density, how to preserve and expand parks and play space becomes a debate focus.

As Alexandria sees more development and growth, the city’s focus on green space has become a central topic of this election season.

During debates Tuesday night between the city’s mayoral candidates and then those vying for city council seats, the issue rose repeatedly.

In Tuesday night’s mayoral debate, independent candidate Andrew Macdonald said in his closing remarks that preserving and growing the city’s green space is one of the most important issues to him.

Mayor Bill Euille oversaw the adoption of the city's Eco-City Charter in 2008 — the first such charter adopted in Virginia — and the Environmental Action Plan in 2009, which includes land use and open space among other things as guiding principles for the city.

Council candidates were asked what they would do to increase the city’s open space.

Council candidate and Parkfairfax resident Allison Silberberg said the city’s tree canopy is at risk. “We need to think as a community and make it a top priority,” she said.

Parkfairfax, like many neighborhoods around Alexandria, suffered a significant loss of trees during the recent derecho and other violent storms.

The city's goal is to have 40 percent of the City of Alexandria covered by a tree canopy, which includes both private and public space. In 2010, satellite imagery showed that the city is about 34 percent of the way there. Forty percent is considered a good tree canopy for an urban area, according to the city's Transportation and Environmental Services Department.

Silberberg said the city could do better when it comes to open space: “I love the new Charles Houston (Recreation Center), but there’s not enough open space around it.”

Justin Wilson, who is a board member of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, said he thinks open space is what makes a community livable.

“We need to expand open space opportunity,” he said. “A key factor is redevelopment activity.” Wilson noted that the new Beauregard development plan includes 40 acres of open space and the city’s waterfront plan includes 5.5 acres.

But, he added, “We don’t have enough open space around the city” and it has “poorly maintained fields.” Wilson said he recently visited Arlington’s Long Bridge Park, which he called a “beautiful space for recreation. …We have the opportunity to do a better job.”

Arlington’s Parks and Recreation Department championed Long Bridge after that community found a strong need to increase the number of available athletic fields and to improve its aquatic facilities—issues also facing Alexandria.

“Redevelopment activity gives us the opportunity to provide it without tax dollars,” Wilson said.

The city's 2003 Open Space Master Plan calls for 100 acres of protected open space. In 2010, the city had about 69 such acres.

“Open space is what makes a community what it is,” said Councilwoman Del Pepper, who added that her residence overlooks Ben Brenman Park. She also said development, such as that in the Beauregard corridor, gives the city dedicated open spaces. “We’re not paying for that,” she said.

Councilman Frank Fannon noted that the largest population growth in the city is of children up to 5 years old. It’s important to add green space “every opportunity we get,” he said. Fannon cited the city’s dedication to green space is evident at places like the new soccer fields by the Monroe Avenue bridge.

He would also like to see more baseball fields and use of lights on more fields for longer playing time using new technologies “that can be put in without disturbing neighbors.”

For more news about Alexandria politics, follow @alexandriapatch@delraypatch and@WEAlexVAPatch on Twitter. Like Old Town Alexandria PatchDel Ray Patch and West End Alexandria Patch on Facebook.

Bill Hendrickson October 05, 2012 at 12:57 PM
The city's tree canopy has declined significantly during the past decade or so. In 2009, the City Council adopted the Urban Forestry Master Plan, which makes practical recommendations for reversing the decline, but the Council has put the plan on the shelf. Meanwhile, the decline in the tree canopy continues.
Amy Curry October 05, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Does anyone know what will be done with the parcel of open land at the corner of King St and Beauregard, back behind the Five Guys restaurant? Since that is open space already, it would be great to use that as a park or even set it up with community garden plots.
Betty October 05, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Green space is not the same as open space. And while Council talks a good game about both, they don't vote that way. In approving the Mt. Vernon Village Center they did not make the developer create any PUBLIC green space (only private) and also let the developer count a service roadway with a turnabout as open space.
A. Helmke October 05, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Betty is right, Green space is NOT the same as open space. There is a need for both, but people - especially children - need to have natural areas to explore, with trees they can climb and places to make forts and play "make believe". Kids need that space almost more than sports fields (which are also really good).
Kathryn Papp October 13, 2012 at 07:56 AM
Open space (not green space) is now a campaign issue being used cynically and crudely, especially by Mr. Wilson and Ms. Pepper, to leave the impression that their platform includes creating tree-filled, airy, walkable, broadly open areas. If you read the plans that define what is contained in the 5.5 and 40 acres, which requires a calculator and parsing the plans page by page, you find that most of the space meets few of the lovely visions they imply. Politically, It is the fun side of being "green" and used by both of these candidates to mask the continuous decline of landuse critical to the city's water and air pollution control. It masks a steady erosion of residents' quality of life. Urban open space can mean many things - as our city has demonstrated - but in cities with a greater sense of the future well-being of its citizens, it is realized with publically assessible landscapes that are tree-filled, have fountains, pathways, and places of rest. The waterfront's green roofs on the tops of commercial buildings do not count in this vision, nor do Beauregard's steep hillsides and disjointed walkways through tall buildings. These candidates should tell us about how they intend to accomplish the hard things: energy efficiency, stormwater runoff (very costly), integrated recycling systems, sewage impacts, and air quality and congestion. And true open space. We must get it right from the start; retrofits are extremely expensive.

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