Was it really more than two years ago that the sign for the 13th Street Community Park & Garden went up after the official groundbreaking? Neighbors who have been waiting expectantly for the materialization of the public park may actually soon have something to celebrate. Construction fences will be installed and demolition is expected to begin by June. Make sure to look for the big HUD Recovery logo and keep an eye on the site through the summer to see your tax dollars at work. If all goes well, come next spring, benches, a pergola, river rocks, a rain barrel, as well as space for public movies and gardening-related educational events, and a few plots for urban farmers, will have taken the place of the lone dumpster on the paved corner at 13th and C Streets Southeast.
The project began in 2007 when a group of neighbors saw opportunity in an eyesore. That dumpster, and the $90,000 of engineering and construction expenses it cost to relocate it, almost bankrupt the project’s non-profit organizers, who’s original budget of $250,000 was provided by the DC Housing Authority. There are still significant compliance and permitting hurdles ahead for the garden, and activities like digging sewer, power and gas lines must be completed before the glamorous work of flower and tree planting begins. Environmental testing was recently finished, and now the city is awarding bids for demolition, lighting, landscaping, and site furnishing. It’s been “somewhat of a surprise to everyone who’s been involved to learn what goes into a park project like this,” said Richard Lukas, the president of the non-profit spearheading the project.
According to Lukas, the city anticipates the park, largely funded by a $650,000 federal stimulus award from Housing and Urban Development, will be finished by Labor Day. He’ll be thrilled if it’s ready in time for the public to enjoy spring blooms in 2011 and he’s grateful the city has maintained its commitment to the project. “DCHA could have backed out with the tightening budgets citywide due to the economic downturn, but I’m confident they’ll break ground by June.” DC Mud recently wrote about the park’s funding.
The park portion will be open to all and includes a grassy area for kids to play in, a zen seating area with a bubbling water feature, a pergola and picnic table located in a shady cool area. The lighting for the park has been designed with safety and accessibility in mind, and the designers have taken great care not to create dark or blind spots on the lot.
Landscape architect Colleen Garibaldi, a Hill resident, said the project planners wanted to avoid the common pitfall of open spaces/parks that either don’t get used or become havens for undesirable activity. They also didn’t want to create a gated garden only open to members. With ideas gathered at a design charette with Kentucky Courts residents and other local neighbors, Garibaldi and Liz Guthrie fine-tuned the design and worked with DCHA’s engineering consultant VIKA to formalize the concepts.
Garibaldi thinks the park and garden fills a community need for “a casual place for neighbors to gather and get to know one another, as well as providing a space for people to garden and to hopefully share food ideas and traditions.”
While there’s been a significant interest in garden plot space, only about 1/3 of the space will be dedicated to individual garden plots. Those neighbors signing up through a lottery will have to eschew typical protective fencing for a minimal three foot fence that’s more decorative than protective.
Lukas said the liberal access to the community garden plots will “be a community goodwill experiment, and the intent is for gardeners to share their vegetables and plants with other neighbors.” He noted that a portion of the lots will go to residents of Kentucky Courts.
Garibaldi said the garden format encourages two types of gardening – “community garden plots for those who want to grow whatever their heart’s desire, and programmed areas that are available for adoption for those who want to “dig in the soil” but perhaps don’t want to commit to an actual plot.” She said the while the adoption areas are found in the park portion, the community garden plots are deeper inside the lot in a location that discourages “overeager garden lovers” from helping themselves to the fruits of someone else’s labor.
The big win for the volunteers behind the park is the city’s commitment to ongoing maintenance, including grass cutting, equipment upkeep and snow removal. Upon completion of the project, the city will transfer management and operational oversight of the park and garden to the nonprofit.
The non-profit plans to hold a community meeting in June to provide a detailed update to the neighborhood. Casey Trees is providing forest management services and will hold a tree planting in the fall.