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.