Green Space Meeting Minutes
 

Notes of June 4, 2008 NCHCA Meeting on Green Space and Town Hall on 11th and Monroe Park

Guest speakers: Councilmember Jim Graham, Carol Herwig from Casey Trees, Ian Tyndal from Washington Parks and People, and Jason Turner from Department of Parks and Recreation

 

 

Councilmember Jim Graham discussed two projects.

 

The first is the strip of Metro owned land on 11th and Park.  Graham is on the Metro board and he has been negotiating regarding this space.  The current aspiration is to make this area into a dog park.  The land is currently used by Metro for ventilation and Metro has no use for the land.  There is a high interest in adding dog parks to the city.  Metro can no operate a dog park, as it is outside their mission, but they are prepared to lease or sell the land to D.C. at a very low cost.  The problem is dog park regulations [FILL IN APPROPRIATE REGULATIONS].  Two possible issues: need assent from neighbors, and there may be a space issue [according to Ian Tyndal of WP&P, dog parks need to be at least 5000 square feet].  NCHCA will work to gauge feelings of neighbors. 

 

We would also need to establish a "Friends of the Dog Park" to maintain this space.  If interested in taking a leadership role or in participating in such an organization, please contact Jeff Zeeman. 

 

The second is the land in between Lamont, Park, Sherman and 11th.   The city is in the process of acquiring this land (money has already been allocated), but the resolution to forgive some back taxes so the land can be acquired will not be finalized until at least October.  At that point, Washington Parks and People will step in and take stewardship.  According to Ian Tyndal of WP&P, Steve Coleman and he will manage this process and the plan is to create paid parking which will fund upkeep of the remainder of the space, which will be community green space TBD.  If you would like input into that process once it gets rolling in or after October, touch base with Ian / Steve. 

 

Carol Herwig from Casey Trees noted that they filled Petworth triangular spaces with trees and can do this in public space in Columbia Heights upon request.  They also conduct watering campaigns.  Call her if you would like a tree planted in a public space (they also plant in private yards as well, but they do not plant in DDOT public spaces such as tree boxes between the sidewalk and the street) or if you would like to learn how to plant trees.  They conduct a Trees 101 class to that effect.  They also work to eliminate storm water run-off, such as at the soon-to-be renovated Raymond Park in Petworth.  All planting requests must involve community in execution and aftercare.  Herwig distributed a variety of fliers pertinent to these various programs.  Contact Carol at 202-349-1907 or at friends@caseytrees.org

 

Jason Turner, Chief, Planning & Capital Projects, DPR states that he wants to hear the community vision for the 11th and Monroe Park.  His goal is to help get funding and ultimately implement whatever the community vision is for that park space.  Contact Jason at 202-671-0363 or jason.turner@dc.gov

 

Ian Tyndal from WP&P added that the 11th and Monroe Park needs quite a bit of work, and the community needs to talk about what they want to see happen.  A total revamp of the park will cost at least $500,000, and likely more.  You can reach Ian at ian.tyndall@washingtonparks.net

 

 

Betty Pair introduces the Town Hall on the 11th and Monroe Park.  She first covers the history of the park [TO FILL IN]

 

Mack James, former ANC Commissioner: he was involved in remodelling the park ten years ago.  The ground surface is supposed to be cleaned twice per year but has not been.  Supposed to be twice weekly trash pick-up but that has also not happened.  Also supposed to be mulch drop-off each spring, again, that has not happened.   Says there were a lot of activities before the fence, used to be community health fairs, Saturday puppet shows, etc.  Noted that water fountain does not work (apparently that has been fixed but may still be some problems).  3501 13th Street are elderly residents who use the park during the day because they have nowhere else to go.   Also homeless are kicked out of the 14th Street shelter ever day at 6:00 and come to the park since there is nowhere else to go. 

 

Kevin Lambert, resident: he has a seven year old daughter who loves the park.  The surface of the park needs to be fixed, steam cleaning would do nothing, suggests a better surface like wood chips, right now it is in horrible shape and has urine on it and is degrading.  People should not be afraid of the drunks in the corner of the park, he has no problems with them.

 

Annie Jackson, outreach coordinator for Mount Rona Baptist Church: Prior to NCHCA involvement, the church was involved.  The church works to empower those with substance abuse issues or low incomes.  She commends Betty Pair for her efforts.  Cleaning the surface is not feasible, it needs to be replaced.  She is opposed to a dog park and does not want dirt or grass to replace the surface.  Need basketball hoops, new equipment, new tables for table games, new trash cans.  The cleaning of the park is derelict.  Human beings should take precedence over the concerns of property owners re: noise, etc. 

 

William Jordan, resident: he wants the process to be open and inclusive.  The city makes commitments and does not back them up.  Do not look at the park in a vacuum -- this area has a limited amount of green space.  Need to take a holistic view of area green spaces and take an organized approach to making them better.  For example, we can make the Harriet Tubman school green space more of a community asset. 

 

Margaret Wright, resident: she does not like the fence, feels like slavery.  Most people don't like drugs and alcohol but the users in the park do good things and clean up the park and keep it safe.  Thinks there should be an outhouse in the park.  Asks who opens and closes the park?  [Answer: Urban Rangers].  Wants the park to open earlier. 

 

Ernest Johnson, resident: agrees with Mack James.  People want to be heard.  We need compassion for people in the park.  Worries that the city will fail to follow through on promises.  Nothing ever gets done, we need to listen to each other. 

 

Elizabeth Vazquez, resident: she has a two year old, she doesn't take her kid to a bar and likewise does not want her kid someplace surrounded by public drinking and drug use, as the park has become.  She endorses the idea of structured, safe time for families.  Police officers have told her they are not interested in cleaning up the park because they consider it to be a holding a cell for criminals, so it is an easier to just allow criminals to congregate there. 

 

John Gibbons, resident: he commends the effort the community puts into the park, he can only imagine the frustration people who work on the park feel.  We should not have urination and drinking and defecation in the park.  He has a two year old son, and the only place they have to go in this area in this playground.  They need a system for how to deal with problematic people in the park.  Police need to be a part of it, but so does the community, we need community action for people who have no place else to go.  These people do not clean up the park.

 

Dottie Wade, ANC Commissioner: who is committed to clean the park?  It should be DPR.  Why is the city not keeping the park clean?  Why is this the responsibility of the citizens.  Not a function of residents, a function of governance.  The police should not corral criminals in the park, they should do a better job of policing.  We need to write letters asking for action. 

 

Anonymous resident: she lives on Monroe with two young children.  She sees a lot of drinking at the park.  She hates the fence.  The fence is a psychological barrier that dissuades lawful users.  The city does not deal with substance abuse issues and needs to.  For example, Hispanic people are turned away from detox facilities after 4:00 P.M. because no one speaks Spanish.  She does not think punitive measures like building a fence work and wants to see any evidence to the contrary before more such measures are enacted.

 

Lars Sondergrad, area resident: thanks Betty Pair for the work she does cleaning the park.

 

John Henderson, resident: has lived across the street from the park for over seven years, he was director of park planning in Chicago, and he is distressed about daily cycles of the park.  The fence was well intentioned, but not well realized, it looks like a prison.  The park is horribly designed, sunken area that feels like a prison even without the fence.  There is kid equipment, but most parents won't take kids there because of the smells and condition of the park.  Notes that if a park is all men, that signals a problem, because women are more sensitive to quality of life issues and aesthetics.  By the end of each day, there are men fighting, screaming, and ambulances coming to the park.  Better to spend money on preventative measures rather than only emergency vehicles.  He wants to work on the park vision with DPR, residents, etc.

 

Anonymous resident (self-described drunk who hangs out in the park): people in the park aren't that bad, come on into the park, we welcome kids, we welcome the church.

 

Anne Theisen, ANC Commissioner: many of her constituents live near the park.  The process needs to be inclusive, she is the parent of a body who uses the park.  The equipment is not age appropriate for older children, the park needs more physically challenging equipment.  The layout of the equipment divides the park.  She never encountered problems with the park users.  The fence is restrictive and her son has expressed that.   The surface is rotting and needs to be replaced.  It would be great to get the green team in to clean the park. 

 

Reginald Maultsby, former ANC Commissioner: he walks past the park on a daily basis.  It has been a real problem for a long time.  The fence is a last resort, before the fence, it was far worse, there were needles, condoms, etc. in the park on a daily basis.  The consumption of alcohol in the park is prohibited by law.  The police are two blocks up the street.  No reason why they can't do more regular checks on the park.  He does not want kids to see the drunks in the park as they have little self control.  Police need to have a more visible presence. 

 

Ernestine Benedict, resident: she is a proud new resident.  There needs to be immediate action, she does not want to be having this same conversation in eight years.  There needs to be no tolerance for illegal behavior.  The laws govern how we use public spaces.  Don't confuse long term redesign objectives and short term improvements that are needed.  Email and phone DPR, Graham's office, etc. to inspire action. 

 

Brad Peterson, former NCHCA President: fence has significantly reduced crime and filth from drug use, condoms, etc.  The police do come by frequently but the problems are so pervasive that they resume after the police leave. 

 

Jeff Zeeman, NCHCA President: aesthetics of the park need to improve.  Need more greenery, should replace surface with grass.  Long-term, the concrete bunker and fence need to come down and the park needs to return to street level.  Overall, there needs to be less concrete and rubber and more green to make the park more attractive, which will attract more users. 

 

Jackie Orguelles, ANC Commissioner: she has been in the area since 1948.  We need to attend monthly PS 302 meetings at the Tubman School to complain about the park to police, as the squeaky wheel gets the oil.  Show up to this meeting and complain about policing of the park.  She notes that the ANC did not recommend the fence, but did consider a fence as there are concerns about kids chasing rolling balls into the street.

 

Anonymous area resident: people would like the park to be a place where everyone feels welcome, age and economics do not matter.  Walking by the park ans seeing people who need help is not compassionate.  We need to spend money on outreach to people who need help from human services.  The park should be a place for safe, clean, legal activity in a space where everyone is welcome. 

 

Ali Muhammad, former ANC chair: ANC voted for no fence.  The issue at the park is a social issue, need consortium of city services, and MPD, to help us eradicate those issues.  He is glad that message is being repeated tonight.  He wants a place for children to play and also wants services for our neighbors in shelters. 

 

Donnie Gonzalez, current ANC commissioner, outreach coordinator for Mayor Fenty's office: he learned about problems in park via a walk-through with Larry Ray.  Drains are now (finally) exposed.  It is not acceptable for any officer to say the park is convenient for crime.  DPR has the money to maintain the park.  Fenty has a ten billion dollar budget, Donnie has Fenty's ear as he meets with him weekly and Fenty is aware of this park.  He wants to bring city services to the park users.

 

Darby Hickey, resident: used to take her goddaughter to the park, she finds the park enjoyable, does not believe in criminalizing park behaviors and locking people up, does not want more police presence in the park.  Some people want some welcome in the park but others to be not welcome.

 

Betty Pair, ANC Commissioner and Town Hall organizer: everyone is welcome, but illegal behaviors are NOT welcome -- drinking, drugs, fighting, we are not supposed to do that in public.   The volume of bottles, cans, plastic is unbelievable.  Officer Liriano has been reassigned, he did a good job barring people who exhibited repeated problematic / illegal behaviors from the park, which really helped the situation.  We need a police officer who has the park on his beat.  She does not like the fence, but it has stopped the worst nighttime behaviors, she no longer has to pick up feces, needles, condoms on a daily basis.  We all have a vested interest in making the park a full part of the community.

 

 

 

GLOBAL THEMES: (note -- while not always unanimous, these were the themes most commonly expressed both during the meeting and in my conversations with residents who did not wish to speak in public, but approached me after the meeting)

 

-- WE WANT THE PARK TO BE INCLUSIVE: ALL LAWFUL USERS, INCLUDING KIDS, WOMEN, LONG-TIME RESIDENTS, NEW RESIDENTS, AND THE ELDERLY NEED TO FEEL SELF AND WELCOME.  WE DON'T WANT TO DISSUADE USE JUST BECAUSE CERTAIN PEOPLE MIGHT MAKE OTHERS UNCOMFORTABLE, BUT WE ALL HAVE A RIGHT TO A PARK FREE FROM ALCOHOL AND DRUG USE, PUBLIC DEFECATION / URINATION, AND FIGHTING. 

 

-- CRIME IN THE PARK NEEDS TO STOP: NO MORE PUBLIC DRINKING, DRUG USE, FIGHTING, OR PUBLIC DEFECATION/URINATION.  IN ORDER FOR THIS TO HAPPEN, THERE NEEDS TO BE A MUCH GREATER POLICE PRESENCE, SIMILAR TO WHAT WAS HAPPENING WHEN OFFICER LIRIANO WAS ON THE PARK BEAT, WITH A DEDICATED OFFICER WHO KNOWS THE PARK USERS AND INTERACTS WITH THEM ON A DAILY BASIS. 

 

-- WE CAN NOT TURN A BLIND EYE TO THE UNDERLYING PROBLEMS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO THE PROBLEMS IN THE PARK: SUBSTANCE ABUSERS AND HOMELESS PARK USERS WHO HAVE NOWHERE ELSE TO GO DURING THE DAY.  THE CITY MUST ACT ON PAST PROMISES TO INTERVENE AND HELP THESE PEOPLE SO THEY ARE NOT SPENDING ALL DAY IN THE PARK DRINKING AND DEFECATING.  BRING CITY CURATIVE AND PREVENTATIVE SERVICES TO THE PARK, NOT JUST EMERGENCY VEHICLES TO TREAT THOSE PROBLEMS IN THE SHORT-TERM. 

 

-- EVERYONE WHO IS INTERESTED IN THE PARK SHOULD FLOOD DPR, MAYOR FENTY'S OFFICE AND COUNCILMEMBER GRAHAM'S OFFICE WITH PHONE CALLS, EMAILS, AND LETTERS EXPRESSING SUPPORT FOR FUNDING AND INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT FOR THE PARK. 

 

-- THE PARK NEEDS REGULAR CARE AND MAINTENANCE FROM THE CITY, NOT JUST PRIVATE RESIDENTS.  THE PARK NEEDS FREQUENT CLEANING AND TRASH PICK-UPS BY DPR, ALONG WITH MULCH AND FLOWER DELIVERIES, BETTER POLICING, AND IMMEDIATE SHORT TERM INTERVENTION TO MAKE IT A MORE HYGIENIC AND ATTRACTIVE SPACE.  THE GREEN TEAM CAN ALSO HELP WITH TRASH COLLECTION. 

 

-- THE SURFACE OF THE PARK IS IN AWFUL CONDITION AND NEEDS TO BE REPLACED IMMEDIATELY WITH SOMETHING MORE USEFUL AND MORE ATTRACTIVE, POSSIBLY GRASS, ASTROTURF OR WOOD CHIPS.

 

-- DRAINAGE, IRRIGATION, AND WATER FOUNTAINS MUST BE PERIODICALLY MAINTAINED BY DPR.  PROGRESS HAS ALREADY BEEN MADE ON THESE FRONTS.

 

-- THE PARK NEEDS MORE GREENERY AND LESS CONCRETE. 

 

-- IN THE LONG RUN, THE CONCRETE BARRIER NEEDS TO COME DOWN AND THE PARK MUST BE BROUGHT TO STREET LEVEL TO ELIMINATE THE PRISON-FEEL.  EVERY EFFORT SHOULD BE MADE TO RETAIN THE ATTRACTIVE TREES DURING THIS PROCESS. 

 

-- THE FENCE, WHILE VIEWED BY MANY AS A NECESSARY SHORT-TERM EVIL WHICH HAS HELPED ERADICATE THE WORST PROBLEMS IN THE PARK, MAKES THE PARK FEEL LIKE A PRISON AND DISCOURAGES MANY LAWFUL USERS AS WELL.  THE MAJORITY WERE AGAINST ANY FENCE AT ALL IN THE LONG RUN, WHILE OTHERS FAVORED SOME SORT OF FENCE BUT WERE DISMAYED AT THE EXECUTION OF THE EXTREMELY LARGE AND DOMINATING FENCE PRESENCE.  EVENTUALLY, THIS COMBINATION CONCRETE BARRIER / FENCE NEEDS TO COME DOWN AND ANOTHER SOLUTION TO THE PARK PROBLEMS NEEDS TO BE FOUND.  THE ONLY CAVEATS THERE IS TO MAKE SURE KIDS ARE SAFE IF THE AREA BECOMES UNFENCED, AND TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEMS THAT LED TO A NEED FOR THE FENCE IN THE FIRST PLACE (FOLKS USING THE PARK AS AN OVERNIGHT DRUG / SEX HAVEN).

 

-- LONG-RUN REDESIGN OF THE PARK NEEDS TO MAKE IT A MORE ATTRACTIVE, INVITING SPACE INCLUDING ENHANCED PLAY EQUIPMENT FOR A WIDE RANGE OF CHILDREN, AN ATTRACTIVE PARK SURFACE, MORE AND MORE ATTRACTIVE GREENERY, AMPLE SEATING AND A VARIETY OF GAME TABLES.  IT NEEDS TO FEEL MORE OPEN TO PASSERS-BY AND LESS LIKE A PRISON.  KEEP THE PARK FOR PEOPLE AS OPPOSED TO A DOG PARK.  ONCE RENOVATED, A CITY COMMITMENT TO PERIODIC CLEANING, MAINTENANCE AND UPKEEP IS CRITICAL. 

 

-- IN THE SHORT RUN, SCHEDULE REGULAR KIDS PLAY TIME AND OTHER ACTIVITIES (TAI CHI, CHESS TOURNAMENTS, PUPPET SHOWS, ETC.) THAT WILL BRING CRITICAL MASS OF LAWFUL USERS TO THE PARK AND MAKE IT FEEL MORE SAFE AND INCLUSIVE.