Omolara Fatiregun DRP BOH Testimony

April 26, 2017
Testimony of Omolara Fatiregun, Chief Operating Officer, Casey Trees
DPR Budget Oversight Hearing
Before the Committee on Transpiration and the Environment

Good morning Chairperson Cheh and members of the committee. My name is Omolara Fatiregun, Chief Operating Officer of Casey Trees. I am also a proud 17-year resident of the District, currently living in Ward 1. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Over the past decade, our city’s Department of Parks and Recreation has made great strides to serve the needs of our community. With modernized recreation centers, residents benefit from having nearby facilities for exercise, teen and senior programs, and to connect with their neighbors in safe and welcoming space.

We at Casey Trees are encouraged by DPR’s recent investment not only in recreational centers, but also in parks. The agency’s budget reflects new deployment of resources by way of: hiring managerial staff to oversee parks and environmental programming, doubling capital projects for park renovations (from 9 to 19 projects), and recognizing the many advantages of well- planned parks through the elevation of the agency’s Planning & Design Officer such that this staff now reports directly to the agency’s chief of staff.

The city’s investment in parks is a wise one. Washingtonians deeply value the time they spend in our city’s natural areas, whether enjoying a raucous kickball game or reading quietly under the shade of a large oak tree. Indeed, I personally enjoy having two DPR parks (Kalorama and Walter Pierce Park) within steps of my front door so that I can walk my dog in a safe and serene environment.

I want to recognize this investment in the District’s park infrastructure and strongly recommend that DPR sustain this financial commitment well into the future. Ongoing investment in parks would align with the mayor’s and Council’s commitment to the District’s green spaces demonstrated by: (1) the mayor’s Canopy 3000 initiative to plant an additional 3000 trees this year, (2) Council’s passage of the Tree Canopy Protection Amendment Act of 2016, and (3) the creation of the Urban Forestry Advisory Council, a coordinating body that brings together the key public and private stakeholders responsible for managing our city’s trees.

Government initiatives are often criticized as operating in silos and lacking in coordination— ultimately resulting in the diminished impact of well-meaning local projects. With DPR’s new investment in parks alongside the tree bill and increased tree plantings on government properties (including parks) we are close to realizing the vision of a greener DC and attaining the city’s 40% canopy goal. But to reach and maintain this goal, DPR requires sustained financial resources for parks and recreation centers.

There is also a tremendous opportunity to expand community tree plantings and deepen youth and adult environmental programming on DPR properties. It is widely known that an affinity for nature, along with a positive environmental ethic, grow out of children’s regular contact with the natural world. Perhaps, more importantly, structured programs—inside rec centers and outside in well-appointed parks—have the ability to transform parks into safe havens for our youngest and most vulnerable residents and improve outcomes related to: physical and behavioral health and reducing delinquency.

Casey Trees is poised to partner with DPR to develop year round environmental programing to get young people excited about being outdoors. We have also begun partnering with DPR staff to plant and monitor the health of trees on DPR properties by galvanizing resident volunteers.

Because residents use local parks differently, a variety of neighborhood facilities and natural areas must be made available for them to enjoy. To meet this need, steady leadership and consistent funding cannot be overlooked. We look forward to working with DPR to create a greener and more inviting city.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

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