Alexandria, Virginia

The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area is a region rich with history. For more than 200 years the national government's presence has created a mixed culture of community, ranging from short-term residents to life-long "inside the beltway" dwellers, and of all different economic, ethnic, and political backgrounds. Alexandria, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from D.C., is a microcosm of this situation. The challenge of providing parks that address the desires of such a disparate group is a formidable one.

First established as a park in 1945, Windmill Hill Park sits on former marshland that was filled in the 19th century. Its name comes from the wind-powered water mill that occupied the sandy bluff in 1843. The park was initially selected for a children's playground, as a result of a citywide open space study. In the late 1970s, the yacht basin on the east side of the park, which formerly housed a commercial marina, was closed when the federal government claimed the majority of Alexandria's waterfront. Redevelopment of surrounding land has resulted in the presence of two upscale residential townhouse complexes, both completed in the late 1990s.

The various housing types and income levels that are adjacent to the park have created pressure for park uses that have not entirely matched the city's priorities. The neighborhood would prefer quiet, non-programmed uses. The city envisions waterfront access for all citizens, including families and tourists. Another challenge is integrating the pieces that comprise the 3.4-acre park, which have been built over time without a single set of intended uses. There is a waterfront, natural resource use, dog exercise area, a playground, basketball and volleyball courts, a bicycle trail, and a picnic area, all within the site adjoining an upscale neighborhood.

Achieving a balance among all these priorities is a major design issue. Mayor Kerry Donley recognized that Windmill Hill Park was in need of a design process that included significant public involvement. After creating a nine-member steering committee, appointed by the city manager, the city retained a planning consultant to facilitate this process. With the assistance of a City Parks Forum grant, the consultant facilitated a series of meetings. The first two meetings were design charrettes where the steering committee, city staff, and citizens discussed the design components, with the goal of reaching consensus on the final design.

As a result of the various opinions entering into this process, consensus was not reached quickly or easily. A total of four additional meetings and five draft designs were needed before reaching a design solution that satisfied everyone. The final design plan was approved unanimously by the steering committee, and submitted to the city council, which accepted the plan after amending it slightly. Now with a completed plan in place, staff will be able to research funding options from a variety of sources to make the plan a reality.


Kirk Kincannon
City of Alexandria
Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities
1108 Jefferson Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
(P) 703-838-4842