City parks, not just national ones, give DC the edge!
"The most comprehensive evaluation of park access and quality in the 100 largest U.S. cities." Trust for Public Lands ParkScore Index
When the District of Columbia was first conceptualized by the new U.S. government, it was seen as a vehicle for protecting the federal institutions free from state or local control. Thus, the city was not set-up as a typical, living city in many respects as it was governed exclusively by the federal government. This arrangement included the new city’s open spaces and parks, including the many circles and squares formed by the street grid designed by Pierre L’Enfant, the banks of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, and other open spaces.
In 1901, the Senate Park Improvement Commission drew up a plan for the redesign of the downtown portion between and including the US Capitol and the White House in what became known as the McMillan Plan. This plan also resulted in the large open space known today as the National Mall that lined by numerous museums and cultural institutions and contains several large-scale monuments. A few years later, the US National Park Service was created with the Organic Act of 1916. In 1933, under President Roosevelt the National Park Service was re-organized and enlarged.
National parks were included in the original design and layout of the District of Columbia, and the 1933 re-organization of the National Park Service incorporated these parks (National Capital Parks) into the national system. As a result, NPS took control of those parks within the District that were considered to be of national significance and left the remaining parks under the control of the US Congress and its Buildings and Grounds division that also controlled the US Capitol grounds. It was not until 1973 that the District of Columbia Home Rule Act allowed the District to establish its own government and, with it, eventually the District’s Department of Parks & Recreation.
Some 47 years later, the Trust for Public Land has placed the District of Columbia as the #1 city in the United States for its city park system. No doubt the city has benefited heavily from its foundation of national parks, including Meridian Hill Park (picture above), Rock Creek Park, and the National Mall, but also more recently by the work of its expanded urban forestry program and through the extensive work of the non-profit Casey Trees, which is working toward a goal of reaching 40% canopy cover for the District (currently at 38%). Today, residents and visitors alike can enjoy one of the leafiest cities in the world because of these efforts!
By Melanie D.G. Kaplan
U.S. News & World Report
May 22, 2019