Something Happened On the Way to the Rec Center

November 18, 2015

Something happened on the way to the kickoff meeting for the upcoming renovation to the Edgewood Park and Recreation center that took place at the Inspired Teaching School at 200 Douglas Street N.E. – the community showed up. Even the representatives from Moody Nolan Architecture were surprised when their expectation of 15 to 20 attendees was easily eclipsed by nearly 100 or more passionate community members. The representative from the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) couldn’t help but commend the Edgewood community for its turnout. However, the residents of the Edgewood community tempered their energetic enthusiasm and high expectations with a healthy dose of skepticism that comes along with a project of this type. In fact, the night was a tale of three meetings starting with the presentation by Moody Nolan. \"Audience\"

Moody Nolan led off the meeting with a well-structured PowerPoint presentation outlining a pictorial display of projects they have been involved including their signature project in the District, the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center. Throughout the presentation they encouraged the residents to think big and challenge them to use their expertise to bring features and functionality that might be seemingly impossible to life in the facility. In fact, they stated this is what their architects and engineers thrive on.

They provided a preliminary time line that spoke to additional workshops that would be working sessions to hear from the community. They stressed the desire for the center to be “what the community” wants it to be. The speaker admitted that given the large turnout, the original number of workshops set aside to collect community input would have to be adjusted upwards. The Moody Nolan presentation was clearly head and shoulders above similar presentations of other architectural firms doing work in Ward 5.

Then as if triggered by a slide about a “rooftop garden” the focus abruptly shifted to neighborhood concerns that obviously have been brewing for some time. Some of which was a carryover from the previous night’s ANC 5E meeting. Concerns were raised about making sure that the recreation center was not tied to the school which could limit the community’s access to the facility. Parking and fears that the needs of the longtime residents of the neighborhood would be overshadowed by “newcomers” to the neighborhood – which clearly started at the previous night’s ANC meeting where a discussion of a dog park was interpreted as an attempt to preempt tonight’s kickoff meeting. There were even murmurs about the very school in which the meeting was being held where it was commented that children that live in the neighborhood can’t attend what was touted as one of the best primary schools in the District.

Just then when the DPR representative was clearly losing the audience – Ward 5 councilman Kenyan McDuffie unexpectedly intervened to refocus the meeting. The councilman used the story of his upbringing in the neighborhood to reassure longtime residents that their needs would not be slighted in favor of the changing face of the neighborhood. He called out individuals in the audience by name to remind them of how he fought with them to get the $14 million dollars back in the budget that had been cut by the previous administration to complete this project. \"McDuffie\"

One distressing moment in his passionate delivery was the clearly divided applause when he commented that this project would include “all residents of the community”. A sparse applause clearly came from the newer community members in the audience who represent the changing face of Edgewood and Ward 5. This points to a long-term issue that will be addressed in future articles on the changing face of Ward 5. At some point someone has to figure out how to bridge the gap between residents of under served communities who have stuck it out through the bad economic times of Ward 5 and now feel that new residents want to step in and reap the rewards and influence decisions.

Then, as if the fever were temporarily broken the meeting returned to a calmer tone as several attendees convened in the hallway with councilman McDuffie. At that point, probably the most ironic moment amidst all of this discussion about the recreation center happened – the children were heard from. Two young men – probably between 7 and 10 years old spoke up to talk about what they wanted to see in the new recreation center. Nothing was more fitting than the question of whether the new recreation center would have a zip line. Amidst the whispering that there wouldn’t be enough space for such a thing – the audience was reminded that the Columbia Heights playground has one. So in some ways the meeting ended echoing what Moody Nolan asked everyone to embrace at the start of the meeting – Think Big!

All in all it – good showing Edgewood.

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