The first call to Washington Parks & People for help came in 2006 from frustrated neighbors in Columbia Heights. Chip Fawcett, the late chair of Parks & People and a lifelong champion of DC’s parks, saw the opportunity to transform the site into a lasting community green space.
Thus began the creation of a coalition led by neighborhood residents, Parks & People, and many other partners including Ward 1 Council member Jim Graham. Determined and mobilized, they established a unified plan to transform this blighted vacant lot into an organic community farm featuring 16 raised-bed plots, a greenhouse, butterfly gardens, berry patches, native flowering & shade trees, green job training, and a learning & gathering space. For a while, the effort seemed hopeless due to more than 25 tax liens on the site, miring it in what appeared to be permanent limbo. It took special legislation by the DC Council coupled with massive legal efforts donated by a local law firm to wipe out the tax liens and at last deliver the site to community ownership. Even after community acquisition, the Green still faced entrenched illegal dumping and enforcement challenges, complex stormwater engineering requirements, and bureaucratic & permitting hurdles.
Despite the long process, Washington Parks & People and the Columbia Heights community were persistent; this perseverance ultimately led to the successful opening of Columbia Heights Green on September 11, 2010.
As part of the nationwide surge in community agriculture and greening, the Green is a blueprint for communities across the city to undertake similar green conversions of forgotten spaces. Ten years from that first planting, the Green has grown from a traditional community garden with individually managed plots to a model of community agriculture where volunteers farm collectively. All the produce is weighed and then either split by volunteers or donated to food distribution organizations such as Martha’s Table. In addition to growing food, they are committed to growing the community through social gatherings, education & outreach, and public events. In 2019, they built a new compost system, new beds for berries, a pavilion and kitchen area for workshops & cleaning products, and a covered stage for hosting local artists.
Nature Sacred re-engaged with Columbia Heights Green in 2021 to support further enhancements to the site, including an updated fire pit closer to the stage, moving the raised beds further towards the perimeter of the site to allow for more space in the center for the community to gather, and enhancing the Green’s “Spice Lady” garden, named after a resident dedicated to the garden.
Jack Sullivan, Nature Sacred Design Advisor, University of Maryland, working as a consultant to Jeffrey Catts.
Jeffrey Catts, landscape architect, Washington Parks & People