Eli’s post about historic preservation and his mention of D.C.’s Meridian Hill Park has a lesson for preservationists who promote government as the savior of historic buildings and neighborhoods.
I’ve lived a block away from Meridian Hill Park for over 30 years. In the seventies and eighties, as managed by the U.S. Park Service, the wonderful cascading fountains weren’t operating, some of the stonework was vandalized, steps were crumbling, graffiti was displayed on the padlocked restrooms. The park and its adjacent streets became known for vandalism and muggings, and drugs deals gone violent. Only in daylight would a cautious person venture to visit it. Here’s a Washington Post article from 1981 about the dark side of the park.
During that period, the park indeed was threatened.
A small group of volunteers who lived in the neighborhood formed an organization that wanted to reclaim the park for the neighborhood, and for other DC residents and visitors. They began with a cleanup effort and sought better policing so people would feel safer visiting the part. That volunteer effort blossomed.
A good lesson about how private efforts can work to preserve sites and buildings. If that volunteer effort hadn’t taken root, I expect that Meridian Hill Park could have been razed by the government in the name of safety and security.