When I woke up on Sunday, the sun was streaming through the blinds and I was gripped with excitement. This is the day I’d been waiting for. 60 degrees. 60 whole degrees!
I decided it would be a good day to check out Meridian Hill Park so I grabbed my dog and my boyfriend and headed out. The park was lovely even though the flowers had not come in to bloom yet and the fountains were off. But as I watched many young, white people unfold their yoga mats and chase after their Labradoodles, I couldn’t help but think about how the faces in the park, and the neighborhood in general, have changed.
Today, Meridian Hill Park is a beautiful landmark, overflowing with flowers and large scale fountains in the springtime. It is often utilized by residents of the Shaw neighborhood, a neighborhood that has changed drastically in recent years with many wealthy, white residents moving into the historically black neighborhood.
Meridian Hill Park, known to locals as Malcolm X Park, has seen much of the same kind of change. It was established in 1910 and was modeled after the grand parks found in many of Europe’s urban capitals. It was completed in 1936 and immediately became popular with residents. Many concerts, rallies and political gatherings were held in this influential space.
As DC’s inner city declined after the ’68 riots, the park and the surrounding neighborhood experienced significant decay. Crime, vandalism and drug dealing became an issue. Upkeep suffered and the park itself became unsafe. In 1990, neighborhood residents dedicated themselves to restoring the park to its former glory and in 2005, the Park Service began wide scale renovations which have brought the park back up to scratch and continue to this day.
When I was there on Sunday, I saw only three homeless people and one of them was a white hipster, not even of the crust punk variety, sleeping on a bench who I’m not sure was homeless. He may have just been taking a nap. This is something that would have been unheard of 20 years ago.
And while many of these improvements and renovations are positive, it is impossible not to draw the conclusion that these problems, crime, violence, etc., have not been solved but that these people have simply been pushed out. The problem moved somewhere else.
Gentrification is something that is seen on a wide scale throughout the city and it does not just manifest in the form of skyrocketing real estate prices. The Shaw neighborhood as a whole is a perfect example of this. While crime was down in Shaw for many years, it has now gone back up as cultures clash.
I wonder if Meridian Hill Park will soon go through what much of the rest of the city has gone through which is a loss of diversity. Will the drum circles disappear, that have taken place in the park since the 1950s, disappear?
The change seen in Meridian Hill Park has been largely positive however, I don’t think that change has to come at the cost of diversity. Longtime residents do not have to be displaced to accommodate the changing demographics of the city. We all belong here. Let’s work together.