Not far from my house, there is a reservoir and an elderly sand-filtration water-treatment plant that is no longer in service. As with so many things in the District of Columbia, its future use is the subject of heated debate. As I understand the history of the place, the city could have gotten the site for free from the federal government to use as a park, but instead bought it so that it could be developed for residential housing. As that development moves forward, a bitter dispute has grown between the Friends of McMillan Park, who would like to make it a park, and the locals who want more housing there."As I understand" means "I could not be bothered to even read the Wikipedia article on the park I am discussing." As always, McArdle misses out on the interesting part of her job--learning new information--so she can quickly skip on over to her favorite part, talking about herself and her desires. McArdle is referring to the McMillan Sand Filtration Site and park, built on federally owned land in 1905 to treat water from the Potomac. It was replaced with a new treatment plant in 1985.
The site's future became uncertain, though, in 1986 when the Corps of Engineers declared the property surplus and asked the General Services Administration to dispose of it. GSA iterated its position that open space was not the highest and best use of the property, and insisted on selling the property for mixed commercial development over the objections of the McMillan Park Committee. The District of Columbia government purchased the site from the federal government in 1987 for $9.3M, in order to facilitate development. Since the time of purchase, the property has remained unused and closed to the public.
The D.C. government is again considering the McMillan Sand Filtration Site for commercial and residential development. The National Capital Revitalization Corporation (NCRC), a development agency created by the city, selected the site as part of a land swap deal involving Anacostia riverfront property and the construction of the Nationals Park baseball stadium. (The government dissolved the NCRC in 2007 and merged its functions into the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.) The government selected a development team, Vision McMillan Partners, in 2007. Their proposal includes a mix of uses, including housing, shopping and office space. The site would also include a network of accessible park space, including 6.25 acres on the southern end of the site, a 1 acre healing garden on the north end, and an acre of green space over a preserved cell at the north end.So what's the problem? DC bought the property to develop it, and now it will finally be developed. Soon, corporations will make a lot of money building the new development, small business will open, and, best of all, shopping!!! Why isn't McArdle happy?
Well, I think I understand the economics of housing prices pretty well. Nonetheless, I’m with the Friends of McMillan: The site should be turned into a park and the housing pressure relieved by upzoning nearby areas. It’s not an opinion I’m too vocal about, because the arguments tend to be tedious and repetitive. But now that I’ve gone ahead and stated an opinion, let me explain. It’s pretty simple, really: Dense cities need big parks to thrive. I grew up in Manhattan, and I’m quite fond of dense living. I like having neighbors on either side of me, a few inches away. It doesn’t feel oppressive or crowded; it feels cozy.
But if you want people to commit to lifelong density, they need some open space to escape to -- somewhere they can walk to. It’s no accident that New York has an extensive park within walking distance of so many of its dense neighborhoods; it’s the safety valve that allows people to live in such close quarters without killing each other. Very dense cities such as New York are exciting places to live, but they also produce high levels of psychological stress in the people who live there. Parks can help soothe some of that distress, making it easy to spend the rest of the day surrounded by strangers.
Unfortunately, the area of D.C. in question doesn’t have much in the way of open space other than cemeteries and McMillan. If we build there, we’re pretty much giving up on the idea of having a big park within walking distance. (There will be a park included as part of the new development, but it will be pretty small.)So an 8.25 acre park isn't enough for McArdle, she wants the whole 22 acres. But the city says it's not needed and new development is. We find it utterly shocking that all that land is just sitting there and nobody is developing it for the greater glory of technology and mankind. Let's let McArdle explain:
Yesterday, I rode the bus for the first time from the stop near my house, and ended up chatting with a lifelong neighborhood resident who has just moved to Arizona, and was back visiting family. We talked about the vagaries of the city bus system, and then after a pause, he said, "You know, you may have heard us talking about you people, how we don't want you here. A lot of people are saying you all are taking the city from us. Way I feel is, you don't own a city." He paused and looked around the admittedly somewhat seedy street corner. "Besides, look what we did with it. We had it for forty years, and look what we did with it!"
I didn't know quite what to say. It's true that for a variety of historical reasons--most prominently, the 1968 riots that devastated large swathes of historically black DC--our neighborhood has more in the way of abandoned buildings than retail. And I'm hardly going to endorse the gang violence about which he presently discoursed at length. But the reason we moved into our neighborhood is that we want to live in a place that's affordable, and economically and racially mixed. We don't want to take the city from them; we just want to live there too. Perhaps I should have said that.The new residents don't want to take the park from them. They just want to live there too. After all, the neighborhood had the park for decades and did nothing with it.
It's only fair.