Dear PoP – Horse’s Ass Award Nomination – Fences at Meridian/Malcolm X Park


“Dear PoP,

When are they gonna take down the fence around Meridian Hill Park? The grass there looks to have grown in nicely and the people want to play some soccer.”

This is a great question as the grass seems to be perfect. Anyone know what the parks department is waiting for?


34 Comment

  • I could swear this was discussed sometime last spring or winter right here on PoP. Someone from the parks district wrote a letter explaining the situation.

    The parks districted contracted with a contractor to renovate the park. In the contract was the clause that requires the contractor warranty renovations for a period of one year after ‘substantial completion’. Anything that is not in conditions set forth in the contract documents at the end of this one-year period, the contractor has to fix. It is not an uncommon clause in this line of work.

    Obviously in order to get any contractor to go along with such a clause, the client has to agree to let the contractor do what is necessary to protect their warranty. Otherwise it is impossible to distinguish what is shoddy work and what is the result of improper usage.

    In the case of Meridian Hill Park, the contractor re-sodded the lawns and it doesn’t take much imagination to realize what all the soccer players would do to it if the fences were removed.

    I’d expect the fences to stay up until next year.

  • From what I understand, the company they contracted with has an obligation to maintain the grass in good condition for one year (or maybe six months, but some long time period). The thing is, they can basically do whatever they want to do so. So, of course, this is the easiest way to keep it pristine. I could be wrong, but I seem to recall reading about this a few months back. Kind of ridiculous … I do kind of hope the grass doesn’t get totally chewed up by super-active soccer games once it does become available, considering this is basically the only large, attractive green space in CH … I thought there was supposed to be a soccer field installed behind DCUSA where the school used to be? It would make sense to have a few more dedicated soccer fields, and a few less small parks become de facto soccer fields (or rather, mud pits).

  • I chatted with a kind man and his wife in the park a few weeks ago. They told me the grass did need to take root for “at least” a year. They’re also turning those bath houses on the east side of the lawn into a police station of some sort. Maybe they’re waiting until that’s finished? He told me the lawn used to look like the torn up grounds on the national mall–dusty and little grass. And they’d play soccer up there back in the day.

    Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the weekly drum circles move into that grassy area and keep the soccer players at bay!

  • When was the grass planted? Was it seed or Sod. If it was seeded, it is probably a good idea to keep it fenced off for a year. The soccer and ultimate games is really hard on grass. It takes about a year to get really established and tough. It probably would have been a better public investment to have just sodded it so the park could have greater public utility.

  • I don’t understand why playing sports on a field ruins the grass. Is it because DC is unwilling to water and maintain green spaces once they are built? Central Park in NY is full of fields – both official and unofficial – where people play sports of all kinds and I have never seen so much as a brown patch.

    Really – what’s the deal DC? I don’t think that the answer is that no one can play sports in our green spaces so that it can look good.

  • What Kalroini said, except reverse it. Let’s hope the soccer players keep the drum circle at bay!

  • Just planted my first grass lawn this season and all looked great until my 2 dogs ripped it all up in 10 minutes just by running all over it. I was told by experienced gardeners that the grass roots stay shallow for the first year and it needs this much time (along with lots of daily water) to remain for years to come.

    Not sure about sod. But if grass was seeded I bet a full year is needed. 🙂

  • Dear DC Mom….While I’m willing to go after D.C. about a lot, this is out of their hands. That park is run by the National Park Service and they are responsible for the upkeep of Meridian Hill Park, so please vent your frustration/anger accordingly.

  • @dcmom, The Great Lawn in Central Park is a very special case, the result of an $18 million renovation in the mid ’90s. Prior to that, it had been known as the ‘Great Dustbowl” due to the chronic overuse which compacted the soil, basically turning it into pavement. This is what is happening to the National Mall, and what would happen to this park too. To keep it green, the soils, drainage, and grass mix was very specifically engineered to stand up to the use. And yes, New Yorkers were not allowed to walk on the new sod for an entire year, if you can believe that.

    A great summary article at the time of its renovation, from the NYTimes:

    Still, it’s been a tough wait for Meridian Hill/Malcom X park to re-open. I hope that this wait period works, and that the new green park will be worth the wait.

  • Anonymous – this is not an issue unique to NPS – have you seen the dirt field at Walter Pierce? How about the hill area at Kalorama Park? I am not angry – just curious about why there seems to be a lack of upkeep – and my frustration is not misplaced, DC is a big contributor to the problem.

  • dc mom, it’s an urban park, it doesn’t matter how much you water it or plant seed. the only way to keep it pristine is to highly regulate its use with strict permitting. it’s a very significant tradeoff in my opinion. some people would like that, but kids and people who want to play soccer on it wouldn’t. it’s not nearrrllly as simple as you make it seem.

  • Hopefully soccer players will play without cleats – that’s what REALLY tears up the grass. Perhaps they should post “NO CLEATS” signs – that will go a long way in ensuring the longterm beauty of the lawn. Although with the massive number of people at the park on weekends, DC Parks needs to step up it’s upkeep schedule…

  • The minute the fences come down is the minute the grass dies. Then people will complain about how the park doesn’t look nice anymore. Look at every school field in DC — most of them have been trampled by the urban soccer and ultimate frisbee players and/or dogs. You can’t have it both ways. Looks to me like the decision here has been made to restore the lawn for aesthetic purposes, not for athletic purposes. And I’m Ok with that.

  • Not sure that space was deisgned to have heavy athletic field type use. Personally, I think they should put the fake field turf down on all the atheltic fields in the city’s inventory. Its cheaper than trying mow, seed/sod and water. It creates less dust and can stand up to the hours of soccer matches that many of these spaces endure.

    Here’s a question. How many amature sports leagues operate in the city. The burbs have a pretty rigourous field reservation program that the leagues have to operate within. I am guessing the city has nothing like that. Anyone know?

  • DC Mom you’re comparing apples to oranges here. Meridian Hill Park is overseen by the National Park Service (just like the National Mall, which is also in terrible shape).

    As for Kalorama Park, until construction started on fixing an erosion problem, the slope in Kalorama was completely covered with grass. The Walter Pierce situation is the fact that Temple Group, the contractor originally hired to do the project (and subsequently sued by the city) did a crap job and now there is no money in the budget to redo it and DPR won’t redo it without a fence which many in the community are opposed to.

  • Play soccer somewhere else. Grass with a fence around it is better than a dirt patch with no fence. The end.

  • Play soccer somewhere else is not a solution. We live in an incredibly dense urban environment where these parks are everyone’s backyards. You are simply inviting more issues than we currently have with that attitude.

    Parks are for people to enjoy and that includes playing a game of pick-up soccer, throwing a frisbee, tossing a football, etc. I really don’t think the answer is really nice grass that no one is allowed to touch.

    Again, I point to Central Park in NYC where people are everywhere, on every patch of grass, playing every sport imaginable, playing with their dogs, etc. It doesn’t look like our parks in DC and there is not a fence around it.

  • And, for the record, I am not comparing anything – except other cities. It is a metter of an overall issue in DC of parks and fields being a mound of dirt, no matter the cause.

  • people complaining about that fence should read the NY Times article about central park that was posted above:

  • All the water in the world isn’t going to make up for the abuse of soccer balls and tennis shoes. This is true whether the grass is maintained by DCPR, NPS, or MLS.

    Athletic fields are maintained mostly by keeping players off of them most of the time. They are used for occasional games. Oftentimes regular practices aren’t even held on playing fields because of the damage it can do.

    And last time I was at Meridian Hill park, there was plenty of grass available for kicking a ball around, which people were doing. They just couldn’t commandeer the center avenue of grass from everyone else who wanted to play frisbee or sunbath or enjoy a picnic or read a book.

    Keeping the fences up will at least give the grass a fighting chance to last a few years.

  • Yeah, there needs to be some way people can play soccer here. If people want to look at grass, they can go to the national arboretum. Maybe synthetic turf in the future is the answer.

  • again, i woudl suggest reading how central park’s grass was renovated to allow it to stand up to concerts and athletic games (21,000 softball games a year). very complicated – they replaced the dirt 20 feet down with a special blend of sand and compost and installed 3 levels of drainage piping.

  • If you guys wand Meridian Park to be an athletic facility, then I suggest we petition the NPS to change the purpose of the park, which is designed for aesthetics and not athletics. The playing fields would be reengineered like Central Park and put on a strictly controlled reservation system – which it sounds like the city needs.

    The park was modeled on the formal grand urban parks found in European capitals, which to my knowledge aren’t used as sports field. For those who are interested, a little scholarly reading –

  • I have been a resident across Meridian Hill Park for 20 years. It has always been a community park with pick up soccer. In fact, Carter Barron, The Mall, The Polo fields, The Ellipse, etc, you name it, if there was grass in DC, it was used for soccer. People had fun, shared international cultural experiences and had a healthy pastime. To prevent soccer on grass in DC is simply ignorant, malicious and racist since it is mainly foreign immigrants who play. The DC Govt sold it’s soul to baseball and converted every athletic field in the city to a baseball diamond with a mound. Nobody plays and nobody will play in this town. So hundreds of fields have gone to waste as the soccer community has been moved on from place to place. When they bring those fences down, hundreds of local soccer enthusiasts will race to be the first on the grass, and believe me, they will play all night. Long live the soccer pick up games in DC!!!!

  • Park Resident “Maicious and racist?” Pretty strong charges. Different parks have different civic purposes. Some are for athletics some are for aesthetics. Not every sward of green grass should be used as a playing surface. I would agree that the city needs athletic fields for soccer, ultimate, touch football, kickball, what ever. I am just saying Meridian Park was not designed for it and given the investment in improvements, probably not the best venue. I would further suggest that that lets see how the Park Police responds, since they will have a substation in the park. The Park service has restricted use on the Mall. They will probably do so here as well.

  • DC Mom is right–look at Pierce Park at the east end of the Duke Ellington Bridge. I used to cut across that park daily to walk to the metro when i lived in Adams Morgan. The city came in and resodded that field, erected a fence, and then proceeded to FLOOD the field with water for literally 6-8 months. Water running off that field froze into an impressive ice sculpture that winter, making crossing the paths there treacherous. at the end of the year, the fences came down, and within 90 days, the park was a dustbowl, without a blade of grass on it.

  • Um, yeah, Park Resident’s comments seem just bizarre to me.

    Plenty of people play soccer, not just ‘foreign immigrants.’ Nor are all said foreign immigrants of a different race. Nor are the fences solely to prevent soccer. They also prevent frisbee throwing and bocce ball and many other things, enjoyed by people of all races and nationalities.

    I do think we could use some more soccer fields in town and less baseball fields. The baseball diamonds in DCPR’s roster seem a bit disproportionate given the overall park space.

    But that doesn’t mean that every place with grass has to become a soccer field. Even with all the fences down, Meridian Hill is not large enough, nor landscaped for the sport. It is intended to be a English-style formal garden, which has a useful place in our society.

    And I find the claim that soccer players are going to stage some sort of all-night sit-in when the fences come down to be pretty dubious. Even without a police substation, the park is closed at night and patrolled. There will be no all-night games.

  • OK, DC mom said no watering was destroying the grass, now Jim claims flooding the fields destroyed the grass.

    Give it up people, it isn’t water or winter or even dry summers that destroys grass. Grass roots will survive all of those and come back the next year, if it is left completely alone. Fields all around the world in every kind of place from forests to cities are left to the whims of mother nature. And survive.

    It isn’t the amount of water that kills the grass. It is the people on it.

  • Hmmm, I think I found a use for the Armed Forces Retirement Home! Bocce ball!

  • anon 3:15, it’s not the people, it’s the design of the grass. again read the article about central park!!

  • Very interesting point hidden in here about the free-riding of for-profit organized sports leagues. Would greatly prefer to see DC Parks & Rec institute a more rigorous field reservation system than to continue to have the tragedy of the commons that emerges when no one has incentive to limit their use. The only result from that situation is overuse and depletion of the community resource, which has happened before this renovation in Meridian Hill and continues to happen all over town.

    And let’s be practical here — two friends tossing a football/frisbee/softball or kicking around a soccer ball on the green is vastly different than 7-a-side all-afternoon games with cleats in terms of wear & tear on the space. Even when the fences go down, I hope that the latter is not allowed. Steve is spot on by identifying the purpose of this park. It’s clear in the design.

  • Pierce Park (Adam’s Morgan, behind bus depot?) has a dedicated soccer field. Does Meridian? Or are the now fenced-off fields for a specific purpose? Pierce seems to have several distinct and dedicated purposes. Dog park, playground, soccer, basketball. And community garden.

    In my experience, the people using the field at Pierce have all been members of some sort of league, not pick-up players. Kickball leagues, soccer teams playing with uniforms (most of the time). And yes, the new grass at Pierce wasn’t in place more than a few months before they let people on it. It died very quickly. Let’s be patient with the Meridian grass and let it root.

    That way, we can take our golf clubs up there and practice our short game.

  • anonymous at 3:15 –you might want check out a community college horticulture class before the time you want to spout off about plants. Over or underwatering can stress many plants, and grass sod is one of them. add a hundred cleated feet on top of a poorly managed field of sod and you get Pierce Park, AKA Sahara DC.

  • I guess some people who don’t get it, never will. Grass in a park is not just for looking at. It is for all purposes, for recreation, play and leisure. In case you are still new to our community, this neighborhood is filled with soccer enthusiasts. So if there is a grass area available, the soccer folks are coming out to play, and they will play until dark (not at dark). Too bad for you naysayers. For those that do not know the history of this area, before the new millennium, the park was filled with mainly non-White soccer players. That’s why I can claim racism. So now that the area is more diverse, that will not prevent the soccer players on the grass…albeit the police might. In any case, there is a long stretch of grass in the park, and some will be used for sport, and other parts for leisure. I just hope we don’t see any gay softball or frisbee catching on. More seriously, I am more concerned for the kids. Where do you see the neighborhood kids playing sport? There is no green space for them and maybe that is why we see too much crime and violence among our youth. They have no outlet to express themselves and both DC Rec and National Parks are to blame. Parks like Meridian should be filled with kids playing, not just adults. It’s time people figured that out before they argue for more space for their pets.

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