Dear PoPville – Why is it hard to find out what the National Park Service is doing in your neighborhood?


“Dear PoPville,

I’ve been concerned about the National Park Service’s apparent disregard for D.C. residents — reflected in stories about Fort Reno and Carter Barron concert issues, inadequate trash management, etc. So, nearly three weeks ago, when Shevchenko Park — an NPS site at 22nd and P in Dupont — was suddenly enclosed in barbed-wire fencing, I was eager to know what was going on. Demolition of the plaza began the next day, and my inquiry about the nature of the work and its completion date, submitted through, went unanswered for more than a week. After getting a vague email from the communications office with few details and no completion date, but encouraging me to contact them with any follow-up questions, I responded with a second request for the completion date, but heard nothing back. I then contacted an NPS superintendent for D.C. and heard nothing.

So I emailed the acting regional director, who told me someone would get back to me, at which point – more than two weeks after raising the simple question – a deputy superintendent told me that the work (basically redoing the entire area except for the statue of Shevchenko himself) wasn’t scheduled for completion until the end of October. That makes it a disruptive four-month project in a residential neighborhood, with no public notice other than signs that just went up yesterday but seem inadequate, since they provide no completion date or contact info.

I am looking forward to improvements at Shevchenko Park, which many Dupont residents see and use every day, but why should it be so difficult to find out what the National Park Service is doing in your neighborhood?”


32 Comment

  • I don’t work for NPS, but based on experiences at “My Government Agency”, I suspect that recent budget climates have led to serious cuts in communications and outreach. Ideally there would be a community liason who is responsible for all of this (or maybe mulitple liasons since there are so many discrete units within DC). Maybe they are understaffed, maybe they are zero staffed, or maybe the person who has this job is away on a detail and they have done a bad job of backfiling their responsibilities.

    I guess if you want more out of NPS, a good option is to ask your congressional representative to give NPS more $$.

    • Good luck! EHN will just claim she is a non-voting member and doesn’t have any pull. She only uses the NPS as a tool to cart her around the national mall once a year for the story about how she is doing so much for our national treasures. To which my reply is, maybe if she worked better with people she could help get some of these answers. Believe me, I am talking from personal experience.

  • This is a minor annoyance, but pales in comparison to some of their blunders in DC. The rehabilitation of Rock Creek Parkway a few years ago comes to mind. The project stretched on, seemingly without an end, and for years the newly-installed lighting didn’t work at all, making a very dangerous stretch of roadway even more treacherous.

  • Guess all of those runners who congregate there will need to find another meeting spot.

  • NPS has always been among the most bureaucratic and unresponsive of agencies. Especially when dealing with local issues. I don’t know why that’s the case, but would welcome an explanation from someone who works there.

  • To their credit, they already thanked you for your patience on the sign, so…

  • While I sympathize with the lack of notice on this, what exactly does the writer want NPS to do? This phrase especially sticks out:
    “That makes it a disruptive four-month project in a residential neighborhood, with no public notice other than signs that just went up yesterday but seem inadequate, since they provide no completion date or contact info.”

    In what way is this project especially disruptive? It would appear that the sidewalks remain open. Are they doing construction at night? It just smacks of hand-wringing and trying to couch the fact that you don’t like looking at the construction site in other terms. As for “in a residential neighborhood,” this park is bounded on its sides by: A church, a gas station, and a row of businesses. There may be an apartment building in that row; I can’t exactly remember. What exactly is the problem for residents?

    • There are two multi-unit residential buildings along the 22nd Street side of the park, and numerous buildings close by, all with residents who deserve the courtesy of NPS saying–at the start of this kind of disruptive project–we’re going to be in your neighborhood for four months, and if you have any questions or concerns, go to this website, or call this number, or whatever. They can, in 24 hours, enclose an entire park in barbed-wire fencing and start demolishing it, but they can’t put up a sign at the same time? That’s odd to me.

  • But…there’s a sign there that states what’s going on.

    I guess I just don’t get the complaint.

    • +1. Can’t you just be grateful they are improving it.

      • -1. Can’t one be grateful for improvements and still expect adequate, timely public information?

        • There’s adequate, public information right there on the sign. It even specifies what exactly they are doing to rehab the park.

          • That sign is new. It was fenced well before the sign went up.

          • The signs, which didn’t even go up until nearly three weeks after the work started, don’t provide a projected completion date, or contact info. I don’t find that adequate, and I would think there are many other people in the neighborhood who would like to know how long that park is going to look like a prison yard, and no one should have to go through two weeks of email runaround with the Park Service to find that out.

          • Eh, projected completion dates are never helpful. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that is correct, so I don’t think I’d be that bothered if a construction project near me didn’t have one (and there have been plenty of construction projects near me – including digging a hole in my street to fix something, I’m still not sure what).

    • Ditto. Given the long list of NPS properties in DC that need work, I was pleasantly surprised that this little park even made it on the list for improvements.

  • Did the original poster contact his or her ANC rep or council member for more details? While the NPS has admittedly been poor about informing neighbors on projects, in my experience they have been somewhat more communicative with ANCs and the council.

    • I (the OP) heard nothing from the ANC or Jack Evans’s office when I looped them in on Twitter. There is no advisory neighborhood commissioner for 2B02 right now.

  • What would change if you knew the projected end date? Why not spend your time tutoring disadvantaged youth or something like that? There’s some real good that you could do in this city, and this rant isn’t it.

    • If you lived near a park that was suddenly closed, you wouldn’t want to know how long the closure would last? It’s straightforward information that shouldn’t have taken any time to find out (especially if it were posted on site). And I suspect that the volunteer and professional time I’ve spent “tutoring disadvantaged youth or something like that” in D.C. would compare quite favorably to yours.

  • NPS is not set up to function well in an urban environment. No one who works for NPS dreamed of working on small urban parks. NPS treats small urban parks the same as massive wilderness parks in the middle of nowhere, which makes zero sense. There is little of national significance about most of the small urban parks in DC (even Rock Creek), so there is no reason for NPS to control them. They should therefore be turned over to the DC government, which is much better suited to controlling and maintaining them for DC residents, who are the overwhelming users of said parks.

  • I’m somewhat sympathetic to the concern with wanting to know what’s going on in one’s neighborhood and to have an opportunity to provide input to ensure it’s done in the best way possible. But in this situation, where the work is essentially an exact rehab of what had been there, I don’t know that public notice is necessary. And the claims that it’s disruptive seem overblown. Had you been planning to use this pocket park, and now have to go elsewhere? At most that’s a really minor annoyance. And if you had known ahead of time about the annoyance, the only benefit would be that you would have planned to sit in the other park that you ultimately walked over to. So not a whole lot of benefit to advance awareness.

    I think it’s important to recognize that there is a cost-benefit balance to all things, and while it may seem minor to you, there are costs involved in hiring the communications people and figuring out the appropriate communications channels. It may be minor but it’s not nothing.

    Sometimes we fall into the trap of being so hyper-informed that we can’t deal with the idea of not knowing exactly what’s going on even when it really has no effect on our day to day lives. If your options are to have the park redone without information or be highly informed without the park being redone, I for one would take the redone park.

    • It’s a loud and ugly work site — and appears likely to remain so for at least four months — that’s a regular place for dog walks. That’s the disruption for me. I didn’t even raise the issue of *advance* notice and an opportunity for input. I simply think that if the Park Service could put up vague signs three weeks after starting the work, they could have put up more specific signs when the work started. And, believe it or not, if they had done that, I wouldn’t have contacted them. And as I said, I am looking forward to improvements.

      • Worksites are loud and ugly, that’s just how construction is. And you can walk your dog somewhere else, no? So what’s your beef here? I don’t get what you’re up in arms about. Sounds like you just can’t stand not knowing what’s going on.

    • I think you are spot on, though you explained it more kindly and in greater length than I would have. I just don’t understand what OP stands to gain from all this fuss. Some people these days seem to insist on having information that doesn’t make a damn bit of difference to anything.

      • I didn’t say that the disruption is dire or unmanageable. It’s reasonable to want to know how long the park will be closed, and it was hard to find that out. I do certainly believe that information about a public agency’s work on public property should be readily available to the public. Even if you don’t care about the information yourself, I’m surprised that anyone wouldn’t think that the information should be easily accessible, but thanks for sharing your perspective.

  • They’re replacing paving stones and repairing sidewalks and stairs in this park, which incidentally is part of RCP. The fence is to secure the site to ensure no one enters and possibly hurt themselves. Construction involves the use of machinery that may be noisy at times but is necessary to complete the project in as timely and safe manner as possible. Once it’s done, the fence will come down and the park will be open for all to enjoy. Thank you for your patience.

  • I think the fact that the OP was piled on for having the unmitigated gall to ask questions and the government agency was defended for not providing answers goes a long way toward explaining how the feds and city officials can keep springing these types of things on DC residents with little information or accountability – because they can.

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