Alexandria On Sunday I tended a small pocket park in the heart of Old Town and for the first time found a syringe among the cigarette butts. This park is poorly lit at night, the azaleas are diseased, and were it not for some attention, would be covered in weedy vines. This park has been a collective effort of the neighborhood florist, the city and myself, which after three years is finally a space that people kindly remark on and relax in.
But the incident of the syringe brought me back to an appeal I heard this past spring from other Alexandrians about one of their own parks. They described it as overrun by drug dealers and users — for lack of city attention. Despite complaints to the city, both basic maintenance and attention from the police never materialized. It took this visit to council and the public embarrassment of city officials to ensure lighting and increased police patrols. The question is why did it have to go this far to ensure a minimum level of public safety in Alexandria’s public parks? Public parks should not be ignored, so that they make havens for drug users and dealers.
Making the case for health benefits from easy public access to well-maintained, safe, and pleasant parks has by now become a tedious exercise. A quick web search by almost anyone turns up thousands of well-documented supporting studies and cases. Alexandria’s own planning director, with a degree in landscape design, knows this quite well.
It seems, as with the publicly vital Metro system, maintaining an infrastructure of public parks for all Alexandria city residents is something that is no longer important to city officials. In Germany the public parks are studied to determine what creates a safe, relaxing and healthful place. Their answer, which is proved by a number of studies, is that park upkeep such as good lighting, cutback of low growing plants to eliminate hiding places, pruned trees for spreading natural light, and well-kept pathways increase health and safety benefits for all.
This trend in the direction of “hands off” city management in Alexandria is growing to the point where developers are actually beginning to talk aloud about how deficient city officials are in providing “what’s best for residents”. Outstanding civic leaders do not declare that they act “in the best interest of the city” — but, instead, in the best interest of the people they serve.
Public parks in high density urban areas are not entertainment venues, for that we have National Harbor, King’s Dominion, and the Kennedy Center. How about more good public policy making and less laissez faire city management, so that all citizens benefit from safe, clean, attractive, public park infrastructure, which they already own and annually fund.