County Board Approves Plan for Arlington's Places and Spaces

Published on April 26, 2019

  • Public Spaces Master Plan offers six strategic directions

  • 214 specific recommendations

  • Call to add at least 30 more acres of public space in next decade

The Arlington County Board has approved a plan for public spaces that envisions a network of publicly- and privately-owned public spaces connecting the County's established neighborhoods and growing corridors to natural areas. The plan provides a framework for protecting valuable natural resources, providing opportunities for structured and casual activities, and ensuring access to the Potomac River, Four Mile Run, and their tributaries.

"Within our 26-square miles, Arlington's public spaces are precious, and under greater pressure than ever to meet multiple public uses," Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said. "This plan, crafted through an extensive public process, will guide us to balance those uses and maximize the benefits of our public spaces for years to come."

The Board voted unanimously at its Thursday, April 25 Recessed Meeting to approve the update to the Public Spaces Master Plan. It also approved guidance to County Manager on implementation and follow-up.

About the plan

The 2019 Public Spaces Master Plan (PSMP) is organized around six Strategic Directions or broad policy goals. Each Strategic Direction includes actions that need to be taken to implement these policy goals. The document includes 214 specific recommendations. Several of the recommendations were elevated through the community-driven process to priority actions critical to the success of the County's public space system. They are:

  • Add at least 30 acres of new public space over the next 10 years.

  • Secure or expand the public spaces envisioned by sector, corridor and other plans adopted by the County Board — including the Clarendon Sector Plan, Virginia Square Sector Plan, Courthouse Sector Plan, Rosslyn Sector Plan, Crystal City Sector Plan, and Columbia Pike Form Based Codes — and ensure they provide amenities that meet the County's needs.

  • Utilize level of service as a planning tool to manage public space assets efficiently.

  • Analyze athletic field utilization to improve data on the current use and assess future athletic field needs.

  • Ensure access to spaces that are intentionally designed to support casual, impromptu use and connection with nature.

  • Complete the implementation of adopted park master plans.

  • Develop park master plans for all new parks or when renovation of an existing park requires a major rearrangement of park amenities.

  • Ensure and enhance access to the Potomac River, Four Mile Run and their tributaries while improving the tree canopy, native vegetation, and other natural resources along waterways.

  • Expand Arlington's network of connected multiuse trails.

  • Update the Urban Forest Master Plan and Natural Resources Management Plan through a combined process.

  • Protect, restore, and expand natural resources and trees

"Public spaces support and strengthen our community by providing the common ground where diverse people come together and build connections that underpin our civic life," said Caroline Haynes, Co-Chair of the Public Spaces Master Plan Update Advisory Committee (PSMPAC). "In our increasingly densely populated community, Arlingtonians are acutely aware of the need to balance the places where we go to have fun, recreate, and sustain our physical and mental health, while simultaneously protecting natural areas, which are vital to our long-term environmental sustainability."

Ensuring equitable access to public spaces

The plan's six strategic directions include ensuring equitable access by adding and improving public spaces; improving our network of trails; stewardship of our natural and historic resources; enhancing fiscal sustainability and partnership; ensuring program offerings continue to respond to changing user needs; ensuring public spaces and facilities are operated and maintained efficiently, and to defined standards.

Each direction contains a goal, shaped by public input and analysis, and action steps to ensure Arlington works towards achieving its goals.

Developing the plan

The 2019 Public Spaces Master Plan replaces the 2005 Public Spaces Master Plan, which is one of 11 elements of the County's Comprehensive Plan. The 2019 PSMP outlines the vision, policies and tools for the development and management of the diverse public spaces system, including parks, natural resources and recreational assets.

Arlington launched a process to update the 2005 PSMP in 2015. This process was commonly referred to as POPS (A Plan for Our Places and Spaces). The County Manager appointed the PSMPAC, comprised of commission and at-large representatives and two staff representatives, to advise the Manager and assist staff with the update process and the development of recommendations. From the beginning of the collaborative engagement process, the County committed to reaching out to the broadest possible audience.

The PSMP update included a robust multi-year public engagement process that included a statistically valid community survey; focus groups and stakeholder interviews; pop-up events; a planning and design charrette; formal public meetings; online feedback opportunities, and presentations to County advisory commissions and community groups.  The County received thousands of feedback comments over the course of the project.

Next steps

"Public spaces are essential to the high quality of life Arlington County residents expect. The greatest challenge for the public space system in the County is to balance the needs of a growing population where there is competition for limited land, while continuing to provide recreational and causal use opportunities and steward sensitive natural resources," said Jane Rudolph, Arlington's Director of Parks and Recreation and co-chair of the PSMPAC. "Given the scarcity of available land, utilizing existing County and non-County owned spaces and facilities to their maximum potential is increasingly important. This document recognizes these challenges and attempts to provide a balanced framework for the long-term planning, development and management of our public spaces."

The final plan, as well as supporting documents and presentations that went into the final recommendations are posted at, search "POPS." The Department of Parks and Recreation is developing a process and timeline to implement the plan.

To read the staff report and view the video of the public hearing and Board discussion, including guidance to the Manager,  visit the County website. Scroll to Item no. 44 on the agenda for the Thursday, April 25, 2019 Recessed County Board Meeting.