City officials and others opened the new James Bland Park at Old Town Commons on Wednesday morning, saying the new green space will foster unity.
“This is about bringing people together,” said Derek Hyra, chairman of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority board of commissioners.
Hyra, a Virginia Tech professor who also studies race relations in urban developments, added that the new Old Town Commons development will have mixed races and mixed income levels ranging from less than $20,000 annually to more than $150,000 living side by side.
“This is something that hasn’t been done that often” in our country, he said, adding that the park is a necessity that will stimulate interaction among the neighbors.
Old Town Commons is a five-block redevelopment of public housing that when completed will feature 134 affordable housing units alongside 154 market-rate townhomes and condominiums.
Hyra noted that the just over a quarter-acre space, located at the corner of N. Alfred and Montgomery streets, could have been turned into $800,000 townhomes, but instead the city recognized the need to integrate and bring people together.
Mayor Bill Euille said the partnership of developer EYA and ARHA brings the “best of the best to our neighborhoods” by offering a lifestyle upgrade and plenty of open space.
ARHA chief Roy Priest said while current public housing in Alexandria meets a high standard, “we can’t reinvent it enough” with all the new amenities offered by building new townhomes.
Alexandria’s director of its Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, James Spengler, said the park’s focus on activities for children 2 to 5 years of age is important because they are Alexandria’s future and it is important that the city work to help reduce the city’s obesity rate among that age group.
The park includes a sand box, musical play equipment, climbing mound, bike racks, benches, fencing and other features. It is named after Bland, a Virginia musician and banjo player.