Photo by dctim1 on Flickr.

DC’s budget for next year has some great news for fans of parks, including people clamoring for better parks and playgrounds in the growing, and increasingly residential, downtown area.

The DC Council Committee on Libraries, Parks, Recreation and Planning, which Tommy Wells chairs, unanimously passed its budget this morning and gave funding to several key priorities, inclu­ding a downtown playground, planning for Franklin Square, and relief for residents of Kenilworth-

Parkside who recently lost their rec center.

DPR has come under some criticism in the past for focusing on recreation centers at the expense of its parks. Both are very important, and in this budget, DPR gets funding for 4 full-time employees and $750,000 in capital to work on park policy and programs.

In addition, parents pushing for a children’s playground downtown are a lot closer to getting their wish. The new budget allocates $500,000 to plan and build a playground, which should be enough to get it built. The National Park Service still has to select a site and give DC jurisdiction to build the playground.

For many years, few to no people lived downtown, so DC’s many downtown parks only served office workers eating lunch, the homeless, and otherwise little more than decorative backgrounds to drivers on major thoroughfares. Now, more people want to use the parks at all times of the day.

NCPC just released a a video about an effort by federal and DC agencies to renovate Edmund Burke Park, where 10th and L Streets NW meet Massachusetts Avenue.

Franklin Square represents the largest opportunity for downtown parks. It covers an entire city block, yet doesn’t see the kind of use and programming as similar spaces in other cities, like New York’s Bryant Park. DPR will get $300,000 to work with the Office of Planning to plan a renovation for Frankline. Since NPS controls this park as well, they will need to give DC jurisdiction here as well before any actual changes can come.

Most of the money for these priorities comes out of a $16 million project ($8 million in the next fiscal year) to create a new DPR and DYRS headquarters at Gibbs School. The committee doesn’t think that’s such an urgent need, as DPR just moved into offices on U Street. The budget retains $550,000 for them to continue planning for their office needs. The 4 staff working on parks will come out of 60 existing vacant positions at DPR.

The committee also assigned $500,000 out of $5 million which Mayor Gray had set aside to implement the sustainability plan. Parks and recreation are a key part of the sustainability plan, so this money will still contribute to fulfilling the plan, only in a specific way the Council chose.

Kenilworth-Parkside residents are hanging in limbo after DC tore down their old recreation center only to find out that contamination on the site prevents building a new one. It’ll likely take 7-10 years, say committee staff, for NPS to finish its environmental study, for DC and NPS to negotiate over who has to pay for remediation, and then design and build a facility. The Council instructed DPR to use some of the money it already has budgeted for Kenilworth-Parkside to find a short-term option for residents.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.