Removal of “Guerrilla Playground” Worsens Park Conditions Near Eastern Market Metro

Photo dates from summer 2013 - by the time the playground was dismantled by DPR  in early June of this year, it had grown to three times the size pictured above

Photo dates from summer 2013 – by the time the playground was dismantled by DPR in early June of this year, it had grown to three times the size pictured above.

Removal of “Guerrilla Playground” Worsens Park Conditions Near Eastern Market Metro

by Larry Janezich

The park at 9th and D near Eastern Market Metro Plaza has been the site of an uneasy stand-off between neighbors who support its use as a playground and a number of homeless persons, substance abusers and drug dealers who find the park a convenient location for loitering, consuming and dealing.

Recently, as part of an effort to clean up the park, the Department of Parks and Recreation – citing city liability issues – removed the rag-tag assortment of plastic toys contributed by neighbors which attracted a population of children and their care takers to the park daily.  The collection drew scorn from some neighbors as being unsightly and the approval of others who cited the need of a place for children to play and interact.  Regardless of the aesthetics, the playground kept the loitering and drug related activities confined to the north side of the park.

The result or removing the toys, say many neighbors, is that loiterers and drug users have expanded into the area where the children used to play, and conditions in the park have become much worse – to the point where some residents avoid walking through it.

ANC6B’s Outreach and Constituent Services Committee, chaired by Commissioner Jennifer Samolyk,  met last night with a number of residents, community stakeholders and city officials to brainstorm how to take back the park.  Among those in attendance at the meeting – in addition to commissioners Samolyk, Oldenburg and Hagedorn – were Carl Reeverts from Eastern Market Metro Community Association, Captain Beach and Lt. Black from MPD, and representatives from the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), Barracks Row Main Street (BRMS), Near Southeast Community Partners (NSCP), and Community Connections.

A consensus emerged that re-establishing the park as a playground with equipment approved by DPR is a top priority.  As you might suspect, this isn’t easy.

Martin Smith, Executive Director of BRMS, is behind an effort to create a non-profit “Friends of the Park” to create an entity to receive funds and coordinate improvements and maintenance for the park.  But IRS sanctioning of non-profits is reported to be a slow process in a climate where the agencies’ funding has been cut by Congress the agencies has had to prioritize its activities.

Residents say that an interim solution would be for MPD to be more aggressive in displacing the drug users who use the park (even though that probably means moving the problem to the green spaces between 4th and 6th Streets on either side of PA Avenue, recreating the problem for nearby neighbors there).

Captain Beach responded that he was willing to walk the park himself, but that there is little point in arresting users of K2 (a catch-all term for smoke able synthetic drugs with continually changing chemical formulas to stay ahead of the law) since it is impossible to prosecute.  He noted that other, more troublesome parks – ones where gunshots are frequently reported – have a higher priority and that 40 – 50 calls MPD receives per day asking police to respond to an unconscious person – many who have overdosed on synthetic drugs – drains resources.  MPD reminds residents frequently that there is no law against loitering.

Martin Smith said BRMS would work with DPR to determine what playground equipment would meet DPR standards and pursue funding for purchase and installation of equipment, with the goal of moving forward in the next couple of months.

A possible source of funds is from a pool of money CSX has made available to the community as part of a benefits and amenities package in connection with construction of the new CSX tunnel along the Southwest Freeway.  Another source might be the $75,000 ANC6B negotiated as part of the benefits and amenities for the community from the Hine developers.  That money must be transferred by the developers before a certificate of occupancy is issued for the project.

Other ideas offered as a way to fill the park space with community activities included MPD meet-and-greets, making it a Pokémon Go site, and publicizing a schedule for park maintenance park so any toys which re-appear can be removed before being cleaned up by DPR.  (One large plastic playground structure has already appeared since the clean-up.)  In addition, there was general agreement with a suggestion of Samolyk that the group meet regularly, possibly under the aegis of a new ANC6B Task Force on oversite of the park.


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16 responses to “Removal of “Guerrilla Playground” Worsens Park Conditions Near Eastern Market Metro

  1. David S

    Our theories of liability are sorely misplaced. Our “city” is an embarrassment.

  2. Evan Handu

    The park needs better sight lines. Loiterers would behave better if they knew they could be seen from all angles, and pedestrians would feel safer if there were fewer places for muggers to hide.

    Therefore, the city should remove the bushes and trim the low tree branches to open up the park.

  3. LAG

    I walk by there several times a week. There are at least three garbage cans and yet the loiterers throw their trash everywhere, around the benches — on the ground, on the grass. It’s disgusting.

    The area is POORLY LIT at night too.

  4. John

    Isn’t the park slated to be redeveloped as part of the Eastern Market Metro Plaza project? What’s the status on that project?

  5. 9th St Mom

    As a neighbor with a small child (who didn’t play in the park when there were toys because there were still loiterers there), I too lament that this park has degenerated from dodgy to disgusting (not just trash but urine, vomit, and probably other things) since the toys were removed. And if the purported rationale for removing the toys was liability, then why haven’t the plastic toys been removed from Turtle Park? Does anyone know if there was actually a case brought against the city relating to this park specifically?

    • David S

      It would help our politics locally and nationally, if bureaucrats could not hide behind terms like “the city” or “the government” and instead had to have their name front and center on each and every governmental decision. Who ordered the toys removed from the park? Wouldn’t they no whether or not liability was actually an issue? etc.

  6. Craig D'Ooge

    Love the continued attempt to be PC by using the word “loiterers” in this thread. How one “loiter” in a public park? Isn’t “loitering” precisely what they are there for? LOL

  7. dlg

    Capitol Hill has too many small and underused parks that basically act like homeless shelters, toilets, and / or drug corners. The city really needs to redevelop them (perhaps even sell them to developers) or aggressively police them.

    • Yep

      This comment is spot on.

      This is a runt of a park. The whole neighborhood — and especially the close by neighbors — would be better off if the lot were developed with single family row homes on the D street side and commercial on the Penn Ave side. It’s very valuable real estate.

      Imho the city should auction these kinds of lots and earmark the proceeds to fund improvements on other more worthy parks located nearby (say in the same ANC boundary).

      Suppose the land sold for $10m+. That could fund a lot of improvements at Marion Park, Watkins playground, etc. All much more useful and usable spaces than this little corner of paradise.

  8. wndr_boy

    Put the toys back. It’ll take the city a few years to remove them.

    • Bring Back The Pop-Up Playground!

      This is now happening. As Larry noted a larger plastic playhouse appeared a couple of weeks ago. As of Saturday July 23, somebody donated a toddler-sized slide. I think this is a positive trend, and I encourage everybody who has outdoor plastic play toys to donate them soonest.

  9. anon_1

    is it the city or NPS? funny that they’re concerned over liability from children’s toys but not the liability of vagrancy. God forbid a kids scrapes a knee but cool if homeless people die using synthetic drugs sold, bought and consumed with impunity.

  10. anon_1

    I’m not sure there’s causality here between worsening conditions and removal of the play space. The two seemed to co-exisist in the past few years even while the vagrant issue was equally pronounced. The problems spiked the past few summers as well. I wonder how much is a result of vagrants being run off 8th St. where sidewalk cafes have removed most of the places vagrants congregated (and the Hine site). Outside of 7-11 and the post office entryway their presence is less pronounced in commercial area than in past years. Just like Starbucks, the businesses make a greater effort to discourage loitering. The parks along N/S Penn near Metro and 4th-6th St. see the highest volume.

    While the library has vagrants on its front steps it’s also used by homeless people throughout the day and provides a meaningful service. Maybe that’s the real lesson — DC’s social services agencies need to do a much better job of providing support and steering these individuals into social services so they don’t waste their days smoking K2 in the park.

  11. S. Carolina Ave Resident

    I think it’s the set up of the NW side that causes problems. To deter dealing and loitering they should remove half the existing benches entirely and replace the few remaining with seat-style benches that can’t be slept on horizontally. Right now the placement and number of benches invites users to congregate day and night. It didn’t bother me until this summer when the trash became so bad and then someone pitched at tent there and stayed for a full week.

    As for the toys, I’ve seen both dogs and people urinate on them, so it was time for them to go.