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.”