What do you do when there’s 40 acres of asphalt not being used for anything? Most would have no idea why or how to address the situation, but to a group of neighborhood parents in Southeast DC eight years ago, the answer was obvious: build a sports park.
This group eventually became Friends of Capitol Riverside Youth Sports Park (CRYSP), and since forming in 2010, CRYSP has engaged with the community around RFK Stadium to develop a joint vision of how this unused parcel of asphalt could be activated for community use.
“More and more families are having kids and staying in the area, but there’s less and less space to do it,” says Mike Godec, CRYSP president.
“Everyone wanted it to work and be valuable,” he continues. “It was just one of those things that’s a kind of no-brainer.”
While awaiting feedback, this determined group of parents started the CRYSP coalition to keep it local, focused and simple. Eventually they were able to nab a meeting with Mayor Bowser, who said their idea was consistent with her vision of promoting youth sports and activity in the city. Soon, the coalition was joining forces with EventsDC. According to Godec and other CRYSP members, the original proposal looked “nice and flashy,” but not totally functional.
“Based on our experience as parents, coaches and members of the community, we made a variety of suggestions [to EventsDC] for the [field] design to make it more [accessible] to kids and more useful to organizations, including what kinds of turf to use,” Godec says.
EventsDC took those suggestions and incorporated most of that feedback into their specs for building the revised proposal. The fields are just the first part of a multiphase, multicomponent plan for the RFK Campus project, which will dramatically increase access to youth and adult sports and take demand off other facilities and the National Mall.
“Is it enough?” Godec asks. “No, this is just the beginning. It’s exciting that EventsDC is valuing it [because] it’s valuable to the city and their mission as an organization.”
The RFK Campus site is expected to open next month and will have three major artificial turf fields, several grass lawn areas, an events pavilion, a plaza and more. One of the many ways this no-man’s-land-turned-recreation-wonderland will benefit the city is its location at the intersection between Wards 5, 6 and 7.
“By creating this fantastic green space, those wards will get together, mingle and became less distinctive,” Godec says.
The new campus also has the potential to be one of the top spots to host sports tournaments in the region, bringing in more visitors and generating more revenue for the District. Godec mentions that DC is one of the largest cities in the country in terms of green space per capita, but that green space is organized and managed by several different agencies; there’s not just one park service. He hopes DC will be recognized as a community, and not just as the nation’s capital.
“We at CRYSP don’t want this to be the end. We succeeded. We know this means more [and] better access to fields, but we need the federal government and park service not to restrict uses of the Mall just because they want the grass to be green. We need to provide those kinds of assets to the city itself.”
Godec commends EventsDC for having this vision to pursue this opportunity in an aggressive way.
“I hope [EventsDC] sets an example for other things that the DC and federal governments could do, such as how to turn valuable green space into something that’s really truly a community benefit.”
For more on CRYSP, visit www.capitolriverside.org. For updates on EventsDC’s plans for the RFK Campus, visit www.rfkcampus.com.