BY BILL BROWN
“I’ve seen this hell-hole for many years, I’m glad it’s gone” said one man to a neighbor. The two local residents were part of a small crowd gathered June 6 at newly renovated Triangle Park to see it officially opened by the mayor.
Not everyone there was happy with the drastic changes. What used to be a Takoma, DC hang-out spot is now pointedly designed to discourage hanging out.
The benches and raised, circular gathering place are gone, replaced with a garden divided by a brick walkway. There are no benches or other sitting areas and the black metal fence surrounding the garden areas is above waist-high.
The people some considered undesirable who used to hang out have moved on – though possibly they have not moved very far.
It’s a “symbol of progress” Cinema Wood said sarcastically, “to accomodate newcomers” who felt uncomfortable walking by on the way to and from the Metro.
Wood, a lifelong local resident she was disgruntled and unhappy about what she called a “neighborhood failure.” She said the fences blocking access to the garden areas are hardly park-like. Now, “it’s a, quote, park, unquote.” she said.
She said the concerns of newcomers and those of the city are more with property values than the problems of those dispersed, she said. She said the park’s hang-out crowd have not gone far -she said they now loiter under the Metro underpass to drink. They could be in alleyways or playgrounds where they are more of a problem, she said. At least when they were in Triangle Park, she said, residents, businesses, and authorities could keep an eye on them, and an eye out for them.
The people who congregated there were a community, she said, and were known by many in the neighborhood. Newcomers who didn’t know them reacted with fear, she said.
Not all long-time residents feel the same way, however. Rick Toye has lived in the community since 1958. He is now a homeowner and real estate agent. Toye, who teaches nearby, said his female students complained of harassment when they passed the old park.
“People resist change” he said, but “This will be attractive”
“I’ll bet every business here is happy,” he said, indicating the row of small storefronts across the street.
Local resident and business-owner Rabbi Jeffrey A. Kahn was happy. “This is important to me,” he said, explaining why he was at the dedication. His business, a medical-marijuana dispensary, The Takoma Wellness Center, is set to open next week. It faces Triangle Park across Blair Rd.
“There are a lot of good reasons why public intoxication is against the law.” said Kahn. He ruefully noted, however, that many of the old park crowd now congregates across the street on the 4th Street sidewalk.
Also happy is “Singh,” the owner of nearby S&S Liquors and Cedar Crossing Tavern. “I like it” he said. His concern had been that the community was “bringing it back to my business,” citing his liquor store’s proximity for the presence of the park’s alcohol-drinkers.
“It was a community request” to deal with the park in response to complaints, he said. “Now it’s done and people are still complaining. I’m not happy that people are still complaining,” he said.
Singh said he attended meetings in the park with other community and business members to discuss the problems. He also paid people to water the flowers in the old park, according to Faith Wheeler, the local ANC (Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner).
Triangle Park is on a wedge of land flanked by Blair Road and 4th Street, NW just around the corner from the Metro underpass and station. Locally-owned businesses face it on on 4th and Blair and around the junction, including the venerable Fourth Street Market and Hang Out Barber Shop.
A number of those business owners came to the park’s official re-opening. After some short speeches, Washington, DC mayor Vincent Gray wielded giant scissors, as did about a half dozen other politicians and department heads, to cut a red ribbon.
Speeches by Gray, Bowser, and Wheeler emphasized the benefits to local businesses and residents, but did not directly mention the re-design’s main purpose – to disburse and discourage loiterers.
They obliquely acknowledged the controversy over the park’s re-design. “It does not solve every problem,” said Muriel Bowser, DC Councilmember. “Moving forward sometimes can be difficult, but also very necessary,” she said.
Bowser introduced Faith Wheeler, local ANC commissioner, as a “bulldog that gets things done on this corridor.”
Wheeler gave a short history lesson stressing the ties between Takoma, DC and Takoma Park, MD. The area was one of the original business hubs of B.F. Gilbert’s 1880’s Takoma development. The division between the DC and Maryland sides came much later.
She praised the teamwork of the community and city that led to the renovations. She singled out Roz Grigsby, former director of the Old Town Business Association, for her efforts, which included watering the Triangle Park plants every morning for 1 or 2 years. Grigsby is now Takoma Park’s community development coordinator. Her successor, Laura Barclay, was on hand at the park dedication.
Other speeches touted the green aspects of the new design. The plants are all native species. The park’s once 85 – 90% impermeable surface is now 100% permeable, said Brian Hanlon, Director of General Services. Not only is this more environmentally responsible, it saves the city money because it means less water flows into the storm drains.
The park’s dividing walkway’s bricks appear ordinary, but they are 4-5 inches deep into the ground, resting on tamped layers of stone dust and gravel rather than concrete or mortar. Water can pass through. Also out of view are the brick’s serated edges, which help hold them in place.
There will be no further need of watering, the city installed a watering and irrigation system.