It's NOT "too hard"!

Yesterday, I discussed Aaron Weiner’s Peter May I?: Meet the most powerful man shaping D.C.’s growth you’ve never heard of in the context of Statehood, and I firmly believe that regularizing our status with rest of America is the best, fairest, and most practical way to correct that wrong.

But so what?

The harsh reality is that Statehood won’t happen soon, and it won’t happen at all if we don’t take a more comprehensive look at achieving it. In the meantime we HAVE to punch above our weight class in Congress. 

I think it’s safe to say that isn’t happening. Let’s start here:

The Park Service’s one-size-fits-all rules that treat Farragut Square like a wilderness area and make it hard to bring in uses other than grass, trees, and benches on its D.C. territory have drawn criticism in the District. In other cities, outdoor cafes, public restrooms, and playgrounds have helped revitalize parks, but Park Service regulations often make it nearly impossible to install these amenities here. “The reason why Lincoln Park gets treated the same as Yellowstone is that in terms of the basic legislation that established the Park Service, there isn’t really any differentiation,” May says.

Yes, that’s right. We can’t put a public restroom or a dog park in Lincoln Park because the Park Service is hemmed in by regulations guided by cumbersome federal legislation. We can’t change the name of Meridian Hill Park to Malcolm X as the residents long ago desired because of these regulations. We couldn’t even help the feds out in what is unambiguously their responsibility by putting a Circulator bus on the Mall.

As a resident of Washington, to say nothing of being a professional tour guide who spends an inordinate amount of time on the Mall, I’ve long, long been frustrated by the unimaginative and cumbersome National Park Service bureaucracy. It’s unresponsive and opaque, and more importantly, lacks a vision of what they want to achieve with their presence in the national capital. But I can’t be too hard on them. After all, it’s not like they choose to be this way:

“It’s a very valid criticism,” says John Parsons, May’s predecessor at the Park Service and Zoning Commission. “The only true metropolitan park system that we manage is in the District of Columbia. What’s probably needed is legislation that would set up regulations to give the Park Service more flexibility. But it always goes into the ‘too hard’ pile, unfortunately.”

Let’s repeat that. It goes into the “too hard pile”. This statement is part of why I’m running for Delegate. We HAVE an official who can introduce legislation to correct this long running open sore. We can have a citywide discussion about our parks, and maybe, just maybe, taking over some control of our destiny away from the federal government. Or even, at the very least, craft legislation that allows the National Park Service to better engage the city and better serve our visitors.

It doesn’t require full-fledged Statehood, however desirable. We can do it right now. Would even the most reactionary Tea Party Republican object to a bill that only affects Washington and would streamline how our parks are run?

Ok, dumb question: I’m sure one or two would. But I’d venture to say that we could get plenty of Republicans to go along with such a bill. Frankly, it would be a great way to build relationships across the aisle, and to work together for the common good of the country on an issue that doesn’t fall along traditional partisan fault lines.

We just have to DO it. We must have confidence that it can be done. Our Delegate can craft this legislation, can get co-sponsors, can build a legislative agenda that clarifies and refines what the National Park Service is responsible for and empowers them to work with the city. If legislation is the problem, then fix the legislation. Or at least try.

We have to stop thinking of the Home Rule Act as the last word on District-federal relations. As we pursue, and as part of the pursuit of, Statehood we can and should challenge Congress to confront these legacies of complete federal control of the District. Let’s stop being afraid of our own shadow, and push the federal government –our government– to do a better job.

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