Washington, DC is many things. It’s historical. It’s political. It’s a tourist city. It’s wealthy and poor. One thing it is not is dirty. The metro closes each night so the stations and trains can be cleaned. Men constantly sweep the streets to rid them of trash and debris. Meridian Hill Park, located between Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights, is dirty. That’s not to say it’s not beautiful and one of the most unique places in the city, but it is perhaps one of the least maintained parks in the city.
I entered Meridian Hill Park behind a homeless man hobbling along with his walking stick. As I ventured off to look at the giant cascading fountain he took a nap on a shaded bench not far from another homeless man also taking a nap. As I crouched down snapping various photographs two men speaking Spanish happily chatted and ate their lunch. People read next to the fountain. Children chased after the birds. Everyone was different. Different ages. Different cultures. Different incomes. All these people to coming together to enjoy the park.
The restrooms are closed. Benches are broken and missing. Fountains no longer flowing. But, the park is still a local haunt. Even with its unique European style and Sunday drum circles, the park is not a tourist park. It’s a local park. It strikes you as a place where elderly women head every Thursday because that’s what they’ve always done every Thursday. Where men meet for lunch on the weekends to catch up and where children go to feed the ducks.
Despite renovations that have been underway since 2010 there was little sign that these were actually happening. The bushes were overgrown in areas, statues left neglected and unclean, and even in the August heat, fountains broken beyond repair. The park is a perfect metaphor for the area.
Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and U Street. They intersect right about where Meridian Hill Park starts. Three of the most diverse areas in the city. They’re defined by a rambunctious night-life of clubs and bars and by their artsy feel. They’re also home to every type of restaurant you can think of: Mexican, French, El Salvadorian, Ethiopian, Greek. Before the region began gentrifying they housed one of the city’s largest immigrant areas. Increased cost of living has pushed many immigrants out and now, in many sections, American whites far outnumber other groups. But, diversity didn’t die. Immigrants still own restaurants and shops and many still live in their immigrant communities. The homeless still cultivate in places like the park to get a break from the brutal summer heat and take a nap or to bundle down on cold nights. Meridian Hill Park brings all the groups together.
The park has a rich history. Once the home of a mansion, once the home of one of the first African American Seminary’s, an experiment in European architecture in America. After his presidency John Quincy Adams lived on the grounds. During the Civil War soldiers stayed there. By, the 20th Century the park became the property of the United States government. With each change of hands and each new chapter the grounds became more special.
It’s sad that this place where I felt such a sense of community and history the moment I stepped on the grounds, this place that is owned by the government as a public park, is not better kept. My only hope can be that the renovations make the place even more impressive than it already is that the renovations are real and not simply said to be happening simply to make people happy. My hope is that the park is repaired so that all the diverse groups and people can continue to come and enjoy it, not repaired so that they are pushed away.