At the urging of 13th Street SE residents Eric and Christy Schwalb, a group of Capitol Hill neighbors came together to discuss the idea of turning an empty corner lot into a community green space. The group discussed making the space into a pocket park, a community garden, playground space, or simply a grassy lawn with plantings. They determined that the vacant lot was part of the Kentucky Courts senior housing complex and owned by the D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA). Therefore, any transformation would need to involve the Kentucky Courts residents and meet the approval of DCHA. After their initial meeting, the group began to research different greening options and solicited the expertise of community gardening groups.
During a neighborhood walk to discuss public safety issues on Capitol Hill, Richard Lukas (one of Eric and Christy Schwalb’s neighbors) approached Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells and DCHA Executive Director Michael Kelly and told them about the group’s ideas to convert the lot into a greener space. The two officials immediately embraced the project as a way to 1) bring additional public amenities to Kentucky Courts residents and 2) remove an eyesore that had long plagued nearby residents with standing rainwater and hoards of mosquitos. The small group of neighbors set to work drawing up project ideas and meeting with DCHA staff to consider the various possibilities.
DCHA hosted a community kick-off meeting to encourage neighbors to work on project ideas and to announce the District’s intention to improve the site. In his remarks at the event, Mayor Adrian Fenty underscored his administration’s commitment to prioritizing affordable housing issues and sustainability.
The 13th Street Community Park & Garden organization was established as a “friends-of”group to help facilitate the project implementation. Founding officers included: Richard Lukas (president), Eric Schwalb (secretary), and Jeffrey Seltzer (teasurer).
Kentucky Courts residents and neighbors met at the Ellen Wilson Community Center to discuss and plan for creating a community park and garden. DCHA provided professional planning and design facilitators and Councilmember Tommy Wells attended on behalf of the D.C. Government. Designers Colleen Garibaldi and Liz Guthrie worked with community members to garner as many ideas as possible. These ideas became part of a conceptual study and subsequently the visual design options.
After months of project assessment and design work, the park’s collaborators held a ceremonial groundbreaking to introduce the community to the consensus design of the park and garden.
Richard Lukas, President of the 13th Street Community Park & Garden, and Michael Kelly, DCHA Executive Director, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to finalize the development plans and operations of the park and garden. In doing so, the nonprofit and DCHA agreed that DCHA would cover all costs associated with the construction of the site and upon completion would transfer management and operational oversight of the park and garden to the nonprofit.
Construction began on an adjoining ADA-compliant ramp near the site that would allow the lot’s dumpster to be relocated.
September 30, 2009
The DC Housing Authority was awarded more than $34 million in competitive grants by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for seven development projects, including over $650,000 for the 13th Street Community Park & Garden. Richard Lukas, President of the 13th Street Community Park and Garden organization, applauded the tireless efforts of the staffs of DCHA and the Office of Councilmember Tommy Wells. “We are grateful for the stewardship and commitment of Councilmember Wells and Executive Director Kelly,” he said. “I’d also like to specifically recognize Jamila Tolbert of DCHA and Daniel Conner of the Councilmember’s Office for continuing to guide this project through to its completion. This stimulus investment was granted in part as a recognition of the three years of planning and hard work by the DC government and engaged community members.”
Construction of the park and garden began with the erection of project fences around the lot and the adjoining sidewalks. Colleen Garibaldi and Liz Guthrie of the nonprofit’s design committee met with DCHA staff and the construction contracting teams to review and suggest further design elements.
Kentucky Courts residents and the greater Capitol Hill neighborhood gathered for a community update and met the project’s construction team. Councilmember Tommy Wells and the D.C. Housing Authority staff talked one-on-one to community members about their concerns and shared project details. The group celebrated with a picnic, including a custom cake.
Padula Construction Company and P&P Construction began demolition. As one passerby happily noted, “These are the guys I’ve been waiting to see for three years!”
Winter 2010/Spring 2011
Work crews demolished the concrete parking lot – salvaging as much of the material as possible to be recycled in the project – and installed the water and electrical infrastructure. By spring, the park and garden boasted new sidewalks, a garden shed, pergola, and hardscaping paths.
April 20, 2011
Casey Trees organized an Earth Day tree-planting event for the park. More than 30 people came out to help, including DCHA staff, Casey Trees workers, the designers and board, and neighborhood volunteers. We planted nine trees on the site, despite the rainy day!
May 20, 2011
D.C. Housing Authority Executive Director Adrianne Todman and Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells joined the Capitol Hill community at an opening celebration for 13th Street Community Park & Garden. More than 100 neighbors and Kentucky Courts residents attended the gathering to hear about the community-building process, learn about the design, and watch the first garden plot lottery for the 2011 season.