Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: What Are Your Priorities for Falls Church Parks?

By Paul Stoddard

What do you think are priority projects for the City’s parks? Later this month, staff will launch a survey to gather feedback on which park-related projects should have the highest priority and be completed in the next three years. The results will help update the Parks, Open Space, and Recreation Chapter of the City’s Comprehensive Plan, the official policy guide for shaping the future of the City of Falls Church. The existing chapter was last updated in 2005. Since then, conditions in and around the City have changed. Continued population growth is creating more demand for access to parks and open space. At the same time, land prices are rising, making it more difficult to purchase land for public use. This chapter update will help establish priorities for developing the City’s park system and identify specific implementation strategies to help accomplish priority projects.

What are the benefits of parks? Parks can have a dramatic impact on a community. They have the potential to provide a wide range of benefits, from social and health, to environmental, and even economic. From a social and health point of view, parks contribute to physical health by providing venues of exercise and sports. Parks also contribute to mental health by providing spaces for relaxation, contemplation, and stress relief. And, parks help connect communities by providing places for social interaction.

In terms of the environment, parks and their resident plant life help improve air quality by removing pollutants. They also improve comfort by reducing ambient air temperatures. Parks also provide spaces for storm water management and habitats for wildlife.

As for the economy, parks help with both labor and business attraction. Skilled workers are attracted to places that offer a higher quality of life. Businesses in turn, locate in places attractive to skilled labor. Parks also increase economic activity by attracting more visitors to the City, who then contribute to the economy by shopping in local stores and dining at local restaurants.

What exactly is a park? The definition of parks is expanding. Municipal parks certainly include traditional ball fields and other playing spaces, but the term park now also includes pocket parks and mini parks, as well as linear parks that connect different parts of the City, such as the W&OD Trail and Cavalier Trail Park. These linear parks can even run along streets. For example, portions of Broad Street – with landscaping, seating, and inviting store fronts – provide a park-like setting.

What input has been collected so far? Through meetings with City Council, ten advisory boards and commissions, the Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS), and a community meeting, City staff has collected ideas for both changes in park policies and specific projects to implement. Most of the policy discussion has focused on park funding.

unding options include enacting standard developer contributions, more actively searching for available grant funds, designating pennies within the tax rate for park expenses, or even taking specific park projects out as specific bond issues. The City could also stretch the available park dollars by looking for partnership opportunities, like creating volunteer Friends of the Parks Groups and working with neighborhood jurisdictions to share available field space.

As to specific projects, staff has heard requests for projects both large and small. Larger projects include swimming facilities, indoor sports fields that can be used all year round, and implementation of park master plans. Smaller projects include creation of plazas within commercial areas, return of community gardens along the W&OD Trail, and installation of a disc golf course. The latest draft plan, available at www.fallschurchva.gov/ParksOpenSpaceRecChapter, includes a list of the project ideas heard to date.

How can the City keep these projects affordable? Investment in public goods, such as parks, requires investment of public dollars. But the cost of investment can be reduced dramatically by finding opportunities to leverage available funds. For example, partnering with neighboring jurisdictions on field space can reduce capital and operating expenses while maintaining sufficient playing spaces for City residents. Additionally, individual projects can serve multiple needs. The stream restoration project in Howard E. Herman Stream Valley Park will reduce the City’s storm-water burdens while also providing recreation facilities. Lastly, grant opportunities for park projects are another mechanism for expanding the City’s purchasing power and getting more out than it puts in.

How can the community get involved? This information and feedback on parks is being folded into an update of the City’s Comprehensive Plan for Parks.

This plan should be the product of the entire community, so your feedback is critical to improving the plan. Keep an eye out for the web and print survey, send comments to staff, participate in community meetings, and attend board and commission work sessions.

Information on all of these events is available on the project webpage, www.fallschurchva.gov/ParksOpenSpaceRecChapter. For more information or to submit comments directly, please email me ([email protected]) or call me 703-248-5041.

 


Paul Stoddard is a senior planner with the City of Falls Church.

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