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In Columbia Heights, a bench is not just a bench.
For more explanation, see this week’s cover story on the triangular park at 14th and Ogden Streets NW. Artist Sarah Tooley installed a temporary art installation of fully functional benches that helped reveal the history the park, and why benches were previously removed.
Tooley never expected her benches to stay forever—she just thinks the plan for the park’s upcoming renovation is ridiculous: It includes stone stools placed at a liberal distance from each other because benches apparently facilitate drug dealing and people ominously hanging out together.
At a recent barbecue, a friend of Tooley’s helped circulate a petition asking for the city to reconsider the park plan. Then, two days ago as I was wrapping up the story, Tooley sent out this e-mail:
Dear Mayor Adrian Fenty,
I am writing to request a meeting with yourself and Dr. Ximena Hartsock, Acting Director of Department of Parks and Recreation, to discuss a modification to the current renovation plan for the park at 14th, Oak, and Ogden Streets NW.
The modification myself and other community members would like to propose is the inclusion of seating that facilitates community gathering. The current renovation plan includes stone stools spaced a part from each other. Instead, the seating should extend beyond one person in length, have a handle on one or both sides to accommodate persons in need of a place to grip to steady themselves while going from a standing to a seated position, a back to lean up against and be placed in a closer proximity that facilitates interaction and conversation. This is a critical inclusion, as it makes the park accessible for seniors, parents with young children, residents with disabilities and promotes the park as a place for community socializing. Ideally the park would be outfitted with benches or something similar in likeness and function. In fact, more than 74 residents signed a petition asking that you ensure that the renovation be amended to include benches or something similar.
This week the City Paper will feature a cover article regarding the park and the absence of benches from the future renovation. The article will also feature the temporary public art installation (painted benches) that I created by working with community residents to express their feelings about what the small park means to our community.
As community concerns about drug dealing and crime surrounded the decision to remove benches from the park, I would like to speak with yourself and Dr. Hartsock about creative and effective ways to make the park safer, more friendly and attractive, yet retain the seating that is necessary in a park located in the midst of an active business and residential district.
I would like to meet with you before or soon after the publishing of this article where we may discuss this matter and I may present to you the signatures. I would like to invite a community member in support of this cause to participate in our meeting. I look forward to hearing from you.
The e-mail was sent to a number of councilmembers, writers, bloggers, editors, and others.