By Martin Ricard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 21, 2009
Eleven-year-old John Blue sat alone Thursday afternoon high atop a domed metal climber, dangling his feet and soaking up the fresh air.
His private perch, amid other newly installed equipment at a playground near Division Avenue and Foote Street NE, gave him a great view over a much-improved Marvin Gaye Park.
"They need this playground," the boy said of the children in the neighborhood. "They need something to do in the afternoon so they're not just sitting around."
John was one of a number of residents, District officials and businesspeople who gathered at the park to celebrate the opening of the new playground, the first time in almost 30 years the park has seen a major improvement.
To the soulful tunes of Gaye -- the Motown singer for whom the park was renamed in 2006 and who grew up not too far away in the East Capitol Dwelling housing complex -- children played on the purple, yellow and green swings and jungle gyms. People also mingled on the playground's spongy rubber groundcover and at the newly paved amphitheater, surrounded by trees, newly planted shrubs and flowers and the restored Watts Branch stream.
The playground, they said, was a sign of new life in this long-neglected corner of Ward 7.
"This is so beautiful," said Rebecca Stamps, one of the community activists who helped launch the effort several years ago to clean up the space, once dubbed "Needles Park" because it used to be a haven for drug users. "For so long, I dreamed of wanting to see this as a place where moms could go and just sit with their children. And this is it."
For the past several years, a network of government agencies has contributed to making improvements in the park, from the restoration of the stream to the development of 1.6 miles of hiking and cycling trails. The playground project, spearheaded by the National Recreation and Park Association and Washington Parks & People, is the first phase of an $8 million revitalization effort for the entire park.
Giving children a place to play and residents a greener place to enjoy, however, is only part of the purpose of the new playground, officials said.
On Thursday, Barbara Tulipane, chief executive of the park association, said a study is being launched by the organization, along with George Mason University and Washington Parks & People, into how the playground and park affect the long-term health of the community.
"This is more than just about a playground," Tulipane told the crowd at the park. "What we're hoping to demonstrate is how this community will benefit spiritually, physically and mentally. So this is just the beginning."