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HomeCommentaryOp-Ed: Make RFK Campus A Green Space

Op-Ed: Make RFK Campus A Green Space

Opinion

In the spring of 2020, with the world shut down, my family and I had a chance to explore a hidden gem in our neighborhood, on the east side of Washington, DC.

Kingman and Heritage Islands offered just what we needed: a chance to step away from virtual work and school and into a world full of turtles, waterfowl, snakes, and even the occasional bald eagle – all with the quirky specter of the old RFK stadium looming in the background.

Imagine my disappointment when I heard that Mayor Bowser is considering spending time and effort to put a new NFL stadium in RFK’s place. We already know that NFL stadiums produce little to no economic benefits and involve significant opportunity cost.

In the case of Washington DC, the opportunity cost would involve increasing noise pollution (known to increase stress hormones in children) and diverting police from being present in the community so that they could manage a significant increase in traffic flow, in seeming contradiction with the Mayor’s Vision Zero proposal and Safer, Stronger. And, as Charles Allen pointed out in his August 2023 Op Ed, the resources used to update RFK could be spent on updating existing infrastructure.

But that’s all been said before. I’d like to focus on an innovative, groundbreaking, even edgy opportunity: bringing more nature into our community. Florence Williams, in her book The Nature Fix and Dr. Eva M. Selhub and Alan C. Logan, in their book, Your Brain on Nature, highlight the many benefits of having access to plentiful green space.  Spending time outdoors reduces signs of stress and anxiety, decreases the stress hormone cortisol, and lowers inflammation, blood pressure, heart rate, depressive symptoms, and hostility.

People who exercise in nature – like the many runners, walkers and bikers I see in and near Kingman Island – are more likely to stick to their exercise routines. Nature is good for our children – giving them a chance to engage in creative play – and for the elderly, increasing opportunities for social connection and offering a preventative to cognitive decline. And unlike an NFL stadium, a greenspace in the old RFK spot would be an equalizer. Whereas many people living in this neighborhood wouldn’t be able to afford Commanders tickets, access to green space has been shown to mitigate the health effects of living in poverty.

The benefits of a green space go beyond health. Imagine children and families playing and learning about native flora and fauna, then relaxing at local restaurants. Imagine a sustainably built retreat center, hosting nonprofits and entrepreneurs during the week. Imagine a place of healing in one of the most divisive cities on the planet.

Greenspaces can be economic hubs, drawing people, organizations, and events that want to take advantage of an outdoor setting.

And unlike an NFL stadium, providing the eastern side of the city with more green space would align with some of Mayor Bowser’s proposed policies. In fact, DC’s 2020 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan calls for building “a system of green spaces, corridors, and trails across the city that connect residents to nature.”

Achieving this is a real possibility.  Other local governments have taken opportunities to fight climate change and make their cities more livable for their citizens. Singapore, which has 6 times the population of DC, has managed to convert nearly half of its land to green space. As Williams wrote in The Nature Fix, Singapore “is a remarkable model of what’s possible when green gets coded into a city’s DNA.”

A little while ago, my son and I rode our bikes on the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. As we paused to rest, we saw an egret standing quietly in the water, patiently hunting for its next meal.  A new stadium would disturb this type of vignette, disrupting the little green space that the people on the east side of the city can easily access.

We know more now than we did over 60 years ago, when RFK was built. We have an opportunity to do something for the long-term benefit of the residents of Washington DC —and for the planet. I hope we take it.

Megan Grimaldi is coach and nonprofit leader with a deep interest in the way our natural environment impacts our physical, mental and spiritual health. She lives in Hill East with her husband and her son, a DCPS student. Reach her at RenaissanceLista@gmail.com

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The views expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Hill Rag. Contact the Editor: editor@hillrag.com

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