Post 1: Hello from Parks for People

Covering the world of parks in the Fairfax County, Virginia Area

[updated July 16]

Parks are a major public resource, representing major public investment.  Per the Fairfax County Park Authority’s recent annual report, its nearly 24,000 acres of land, building and equipment of that agency are valued at $624 million.  It employs thousands, and thousands more contribute to parks as volunteers and donors.  We can’t put a number on inherent value as natural holdings and public commons.   Parks touch on every aspect of physical, social, environmental, economic, cultural, and educational health and vitality.

This blog and site will focus on parks, with an emphasis on advocating for the role of people.  How can we citizens best work together with each other and with our government for parks that are at their best?  In the most enjoyable and productive ways?  Using creativity and sound practices? What information, what tools and kinds of discussions do we need for the best outcomes?

We’ll publish regularly, and grow the site with other useful pages, such as the Reference Page with its lists of organizations and publications you may be interested in; and we’ll seek to bring people and organizations together.

This is dedicated to our parks and to all of us in Fairfax County.  Below I write about why this blog is important to me.

Marie Reinsdorf, editor

I’ve lived in the county for almost 2 decades.  After spending time on civic association work, land use and other advisory groups, school committees and task forces, I spent almost 5 years as an at-large member of the Park Authority Board.

I came away from all the above experiences with an appreciation for the professionalism and dedication of our elected officials and our county staff, but also with a daunting sense of the challenges faced by citizens, individually or in groups.  The individual is often quite at sea just trying to figure out how county processes work.  By the time you have made it to that public comment meeting in central Fairfax on a weeknight or gathered the signatures of your neighbors to speak as a group, spending months in anticipation, the decision on your topic may have been made, or just as good as made.  The language used by the government is often not the same as our language, for agencies as they grow develop their own vocabulary.  We need the experience of talking about things as we see them, not just as they fit into that vocabulary.

This is not to say that government doesn’t make a good effort to hear from people: advisory groups are convened, meetings and comment boards are opened, and supervisors spend a lot of time meeting individually with their constituents.  But the size of the county and the board-based system of governance present some challenges.  When I joined the park authority board, I noted that my supervisory district, Mason District, had 109,000 residents.  That’s 109,000 people for one elected official to represent.  The city of Falls Church had around 11,000, inside of a bit more than 2 square miles.  The city of Falls Church has a full city council and a mayor.

It’s awfully hard for us to keep up with, or even relate to all communities Fairfax county-wide.  To drive from Herndon to Mount Vernon, or Clifton to Pimmit Hills, is something I’d recommend against on carbon-footprint burden alone.  But we are all governed together, and we benefit from talking to each other and sharing ideas or debating pros and cons.  We need blogs and gatherings and such to look at all kinds of subjects:  libraries, community centers, schools, life for youth, multi-cultural connections, reducing trash, waterways, how we are affected by our state government structure, and more.

I am not presenting the above as anything new.  I’ve heard such good discussion at meetings and read very polished writing and analysis by fellow citizens in proposals and reports.

I’d like to close with a memory that stands out strongly.  A speaker from a social service agency at a meeting I attended many years ago said she wanted to talk to us about “what’s behind the veil.”  She was referencing the needs of the poor in the county, and we could think about “behind the veil” for almost any topic. Fairfax is justifiably proud of its standing and reputation, but it’s good and freeing to feel that any topic is open for discussion for improvement.