DPR Written Testimony of Dr. Jessica Sanders

Testimony of Dr. Jessica Sanders
Director of Science and Policy
Casey Trees
February 22, 2019
Performance and Oversight Hearing DC Parks and Recreation
Before the DC Council Committee on Recreation and Youth Affairs

Good afternoon Chairman White and Councilmembers. I am Dr. Jessica Sanders, Director of Science and Policy at Casey Trees. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Over the past decade, the Department of Parks and Recreation has made great strides in financing their recreation centers and parks and using these projects as platforms for educating communities on the value of their local environment.

It is wise to invest in universal access to parks and recreation services. D.C. residents deeply value the time they spend in their city’s natural areas. From softball to lunches in the park, access to clean and vibrant open spaces is a defining feature of our city. As a Ward 5 resident, I personally have benefitted from my local parks and have seen firsthand how the modernized recreation centers, community programs and engagement opportunities bring groups together.

In 2018, Casey Trees formed a partnership with DPR. As part of this agreement, Casey Trees hosts summer camps for kids ages 6-12 at DPR recreation centers. This, along with other school programs, provides a way to connect school age kids to their natural environment through trees. In addition to youth programming, Casey Trees is responsible for holding 12 community engagement classes per year and 3 tree planting events on DPR sites. We are currently on track to plant 615 trees during this Fiscal Year; 115 trees over the MOA mandated amount.

In order to stay on track of our partnership goals, we meet with DPR on a quarterly basis. These meetings help us keep up-to-date on DPR’s current redevelopment projects, upcoming public meetings, and project plans. Having these meetings is necessary because it is very difficult to find this information on the DGS Park and Recreation Center Projects page. While Casey Trees has resolved this issue by going straight to the source, the public should also be able to easily access this information. The current layout of the Projects page is not user friendly. All DPR projects, past and present, are listed alphabetically with no sorting or filtering options available. The public should be able to seamlessly access information and sort the project list by ward, current project phase, and when the project was last updated. We ask that DPR, in conjunction with DGS, create a more user-friendly Projects webpage, so the public can be informed about redevelopment projects in their neighborhood.

While we commend DPR for its efforts to design lush green spaces in the city, we believe DPR sites can be more innovative and sustainable. To do so, DPR should collaborate more closely with DOEE to implement best management practices for landscape design solutions, biophilic designs, pollinator habitats, green corridors, and green infrastructure. These projects can also help the city meet the environmental goals set forth in Sustainable D.C. 2.0, the D.C. Wildlife Action Plan, Climate Ready D.C., the D.C. Comprehensive Plan, and other city-wide plans.

However, it will be difficult for DPR to meet these requirements without adequate staffing. Therefore, we encourage DPR to at least double the number of landscape architects they have on staff. As the subject matter experts for this type of work, it is important that DPR have enough personnel to meet current and future demand. DPR’s FY 2018 operating budget approved an almost 16% percent increase in personnel funding from FY 2018 to FY 2023. Because of this, there is no reason for DPR to not increase the number of landscape architects on staff and, with the growing need for landscape architects within this agency, it only makes sense for DPR to begin this hiring process now.

As an organization with goals that are closely intertwined with DPR, we encourage this committee to support DPR in the coming fiscal year and implement our suggested changes to ensure this agency is able to fulfill its vision of giving all residents the opportunity to connect with their local environment.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify and I welcome any questions.