The Port City suffers from an acute lack of open space


By Neal Learner, Alexandria
(File Photo)

To the editor:

What is it about Alexandria and development?

Our north end is being consumed by the Borg-like Potomac Yard development. The Mark Center monstrosity better known as the Washington Headquarters Services complex has forever scarred the view from Winkler Preserve and the surrounding neighborhoods. Oversized condos and townhouses dominate the blocks around the Braddock Road Metro station and U.S. Route 1. The Eisenhower Valley development is a mishmash of dark alleyways, hulking buildings and awkward parking lots. The Old Town waterfront is about to undergo a jumbo-sized overhaul that will push density way beyond acceptable levels.

And now the city has gone and screwed up a nice little pocket park in Del Ray.

This park, on the corner of Commonwealth and East Del Ray avenues, used to be an overgrown vacant lot. I’d take my daughters there as toddlers and run around in the scruffy grass, enjoying a bit of natural space.

A few years ago, however, a bunch of surveyor stakes appeared on the lot, and immediately I feared the worst. Here we go again, more development. But much to my surprise and pleasure, the city actually turned it into a park. City workers landscaped the space with a little hill and installed trees, a kids’ playground and benches. It was all very nice.

But they couldn’t leave well enough alone.

Recently, contractors moved back in to rip up a major chunk of the remaining grassy space, filling it instead with several wide, meandering sidewalks and a large circular cement common. What? The previous green space already was woefully small. But at least it was something.

I’d see fathers playing Frisbee with their kids and families having picnics in the grass. Now what do they have? Benches and paved walkways that the kids will have to navigate as they try to kick a soccer ball.

Why does the city do this? Why is there so little passive green space in Alexandria?

The linear park along the railroad tracks in Potomac Yard is fine enough (if still miniscule compared with the amount of development surrounding it), but sidewalks, playgrounds and cement courts mostly dominate even that space. Meanwhile, some of the large open spaces that do exist are off limits to the general public. For instance, the big fields by Monroe Avenue and U.S. Route 1 heading into Del Ray, are all fenced off. No entry unless you’re part of an organized sports club.

I recently was in Fredrick, Md., a city comparable in size to Alexandria. There, they have a huge city park with wide-open fields, picnic areas and groves of trees — everything that a city can and should have. Why don’t we? Instead, we have to be grateful for pocket parks and linear parks alongside goliath developments where the developers probably couldn’t squeeze in any additional condos anyway.

Alexandria’s development project director Judy Lo lists her telephone number on a sign outside of the pocket park construction site in Del Ray. She specifically solicits questions and comments. I left mine. I’d suggest others do the same: 703-746-5490.




  1. Frederick vs. Alexandria. No way comparable.
    15 sq/mi vs 22 sq/mi
    146k vs 66k pop
    4.9% vs 3.6% unemployment
    244k vs 469k median home value

    Alexandria is a city. Adjacent to but distinct from another city. If you want country livin’ then you get country education, country cultural amenities, country transportation, and country salaries. That vacant lot should have been put to productive use back as a house lot. Alexandria have plenty of places to take their dogs to poop.

  2. I tend to agree with the author’s general sentiment, although the details are different. ‘Spookiness’ is dead-on in that Frederick and Alexandria are hardly comparable. That said, the development in Potomac Yard is increasingly taking Alexandria in the direction of Clarendon – with all the same issues. Traffic, never particularly good on US-1, has become pretty much unbearable. As new homeowners increasingly move into the new developments, this will increasingly be the case, despite the new road networks.

    I tend to agree with Mr. Lerner’s observation that the green spaces that have been created are pretty darn limited compared to the scope and scale of the development in Potomac Yard. Furthermore, new soccer fields remain closed – chained to the general public – and limiting options for me to spend time with my 11 year-old son. Volleyball courts, basketball courts, and tennis courts are all nice – but is it so difficult to plan for a couple of soccer fields that are relatively open to the general public?

  3. Plenty of green space in NW Alexandria, between Ft Ward park, and the neighborhoods themselves. Also, Four Mile Run park is very well-sized with many facilities to use.

    I find it amusing that he criticizes Potomac Yard since it used to be an enormous rail switiching facility. My guess is that if it wasn’t for private development, the former rail yard would be blight on the city.

    Will you complain if they turn the old coal power plant into a development? At least if the city turns it over to a developer, they can put in a requirement for an easement for including a park.