A venerable and venerated leader in Arlington’s one-time Little Saigon community is likely not to have a local park in his honor.
But that doesn’t mean the county government won’t do something to memorialize the legacy of Nguyen Ngoc Bich, who died six years ago after 40 years of service to residents in the area.
Nguyen’s name finished third among four options in a poll of residents of the Clarendon-Courthouse area for the name of the soon-to-be-renovated park at 11th Street North and North Danville Street. The top finisher was the prosaic choice, “11th Street Park.”
“It kind of makes sense,” Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association president David Cheek said of the top-finishing name during a recent meeting of the Arlington government’s Park and Recreation Commission. “We want people to find it. It’s a hidden gem.”
The top name won general support from members of the parks commission. “It’s consistent and it’s also functionally useful,” member David Howell said.
The four proposed names – which also include “Danville Park” and “Wayside Green Park” – will now go out to the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board and the Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Commission for comment, then back to the Park and Recreation Commission and, eventually, to the County Board for action.
Shruti Kuppa, who chairs the parks commission, said the county government’s survey of residents came up with the same preferred option as a previous poll conducted a month earlier by the local civic association.
“Coming to similar results is nice,” she said, suggesting the two polls drew from different pools of respondents.
Still, there remains a desire to “honor the legacy of the Little Saigon neighborhood,” said Melissa Riggio, a member of the commission.
Little Saigon was the name applied to parts of the Clarendon neighborhood starting in the 1970s, when refugees fleeing the fall of South Vietnam began moving into the area and starting businesses.
(At the time, rents in the corridor were cheap, owing to disruption caused by construction of Metro’s Orange Line through the corridor. Once construction was completed, rents soared, older buildings were razed and many of those who had moved in ended up decamping for points west.)
Nguyen (1936-2016), who arrived in the local area as a refugee in 1975, served the local community as an educator, advocate and, for a time, a multi-cultural coordinator for the Arlington government.
While the park may not end up being named in his honor, Nguyen could be remembered by an historical marker, said Diane Probus of the county government’s Department of Parks and Recreation.
While much of the Little Saigon legacy of the vicinity has been swept away by the deluge of redevelopment, it remains important to “keep that legacy, that sea of knowledge” alive, Riggio said.
The park is set for a refurbishment to start shortly, which will including new signage and lighting, an increase in trees, replacement of furniture and improvement of paths.