Building Community through Guerrilla Gardening
by Larry Janezich
Posted August 27, 2021
Guerrilla Gardening is a form of urban activism where individuals take responsibility for improving unused and neglected public spaces and build community in the process. As practiced by Capitol Hill based Guerrilla Gardeners of DC, it is more than organizing people to beautify the street and engaging community partners to provide the resources.
The Guerrilla Gardeners of DC is a non-profit with a three member board and a core group of about a dozen volunteers that recruits ad hoc volunteers on projects as needed.
One of those projects came together last year, when then-ANC6A Commissioner Kelly Waud and Naomi Mitchell (a neighbor who works in CM Charles Allen’s office) reached out to Jim Guckert of Guerrilla Gardeners for assistance with the two triangle parks on Potomac Avenue, SE, between 12th and 13th Streets. The parks had recently been renovated with fitness equipment and a splash pad at the cost of some half a million dollars, but upon completion were left with no plan or money for maintenance. Nature had taken over. Guerrilla Gardeners couldn’t wait to jump in. Waud co-chaired the restoration project with Guckert, raised money and recruited volunteers. Waud offered to match some donations from her own pocket which in the end, ran to several thousand dollars. The project kicked off last fall and community volunteers turned out in force to restore and plant. (see CHC post here: https://bit.ly/33NN5bt)
The Rumphius Foundation funded three summer internships for Potomac Gardens and Hopkins Apartments residents to assist in maintaining and enhancement of the parks. Guerrilla Gardener’s plan for future maintenance involves founding a Friends of the Park group to take over maintenance with help from Guerilla Gardeners. Guckert and Waud are also taking steps to activate the park. They reached out to Aquarius Van-Ghasri – long time DCHA Commissioner and President of the Potomac Gardens Resident’s Council. The three collaborate to implement programming for the parks. Some of these upcoming events* include a “Children’s Book Reading” featuring local authors of three children’s books (Saturday, August 27), “Unplugged in the Park” featuring the rhythm and blues band “Shug and Velvet Cover” along with DJ TKO and the poetry of Geraldine Jackson (Saturday, September 4). Later in September, a Capitol Hill Sport & Health fitness instructor will her services for a “Just Dance” fitness class in the park for anyone who wants to attend.
Guckert says the events are all undertaken with the “goal of connecting people with resources of community as much as possible – and if we are the catalyst, so much the better”. He hopes to use the Potomac Parks template in other parts of city especially in underserved neighborhoods, i.e., establish affiliate groups then transition to a Friends of the Park to take over and manage their own maintenance and programming.
Guerrilla Gardeners will launch another major project this fall – “One Beautiful Mile” – which will tie a series of their projects together, starting at Potomac Avenue Circle and extending to Garfield Park. Those existing projects include the two Potomac Avenue Triangle Parks, the planting of the Marine Barracks corner at 9th and I, Winston Park at 8th and I, and the landscaped knoll on the north side of the freeway between 6th and 7th Streets. The goal is to beautify the stretch and encourage the intervening homeowners and businesses to take responsibility for the public spaces and tree boxes in front of (or behind) their properties.
Guerrilla Gardeners has expanded its reach to support non-gardening ways to build community. Guckert is building a team of volunteers and neighbors to participate in Congressional Cemetery’s annual fundraiser, the 5K Deadman’s Run on October 29. Those who join the team and register for the race will get a free Guerrilla Gardener’s tee shirt– the only way to get one without volunteering and getting your hands dirty. Other examples include Guerrilla Gardeners’ support for the 6th Street mural restoration project headed up by ANC Commissioner Brian Ready and a project led by neighbor and former HPRB member Nancy Metzger to restore fire call boxes.
Guckert says, “What Guerrilla Gardeners does is a good thing to do. If you see something that somebody should be taking care of, maybe that should be you. That’s the spirit I try to infuse in others.”
Guerrilla Gardener’s Board is comprised of Jim Guckert, Karl Kindel, and Pat Startt. Guerrilla Gardener’s funding comes from donations and a grant from the Capitol Hill Foundation. The group was formally organized as a non-profit 501C3 in September of 2019. Donations are tax deductible.
*To learn more, check the upcoming events, donate, suggest a project, or volunteer, go here: https://guerrillagardenersdc.org/