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Can A Garden Cut Crime?

On Capitol Hill, the quickly gentrifying blocks around the Kentucky Courts housing project are home to ever more people who must wrap their minds around the contradictions between $700,000 houses and the screaming sirens that indicate another homicide down the street.

As neighborhood activist Jim Myers and others have chronicled, the crew warfare around 14th Street SE has faded only somewhat in the years since well-to-do folks started moving into the area. But efforts to stem the violence have expanded, and now a group of residents has embarked on a project designed to bring the Hill East neighborhood's two worlds closer together.

At 6 p.m. today on a barren parking lot at 13th and C streets SE, residents will gather with Mayor Fenty, D.C. Council member Tommy Wells and Housing Authority Director Michael Kelly to launch construction of a community garden and park where affluent residents and housing project tenants alike will get plots on which they can grow vegetables and come together over the mysteries and secrets of making green things thrive.

The idea, put together by residents Eric Schwalb and Richard Lukas, is to improve an unsightly lot, create human connections, and put more people out on the street as a deterrent to crime. Lukas says plots in the garden will be distributed to dues-paying members of the community garden project, but the group is also working on a way to assure that Kentucky Courts residents get plots without charge. The garden concept has been successfully used elsewhere in the neighborhood but this would be the first time a Hill garden was used as an anti-crime device.

Planting tomatoes isn't likely to turn kids away from crew life, but it might help ease some of the tensions between rich and poor and black and white in a neighborhood where longtime residents sometimes feel as if they are being discarded or pushed out. Put that together with former mayor Anthony Williams' effort to turn Kentucky Courts into a mixed-income community, and you start to see a path forward for a place where class conflict too often bares itself in shootings and sirens in the night.

By Marc Fisher |  September 12, 2007; 12:34 PM ET
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There will always be sirens in the night around Kentucky Courts -- thank goodness. Engine Company 8 and Medic Unit 8 are just down the street at 1520 C Street SE, keeping all neighbors safe, no matter what kind of housing they occupy.

Posted by: Mike Licht | September 12, 2007 2:34 PM

I suspect underneath it all Marc looks with doubt upon the idea of a community garden. He will say that advocates of a community garden promise all sorts of wonders. The reality is a community garden will not solve anything, but for those of us who are lucky enough to have a plot in one - and I am here to say that EVERYONE should have access to a garden plot if they want it - it IS a wonder, a miracle. People will say - oh but we could build such cool condos there! People will say (smiling underneath) oh but we could build affordable housing there! People will say, a supermarket! But come on. Sometimes you just gotta do the right thing. There are environmental and economic benefits to be had with a community garden, but mostly I think it is the sense of rootedness it gives a neighborhood. All neighborhoods should have them. ALL. If there's no space (which I doubt), put them on the roofs!

Posted by: DC Native | September 13, 2007 8:01 AM

I'm all for community gardens - people living in both public housing and private condos definitely benefit from it, and so does the neighborhood. But no matter how succesful, crime will not be reduced because many of the crew members aren't even residents anymore, but keep coming back to hang at corners such as 14th and East Capitol, 17th and C, and so forth. Perhaps the city should do something about those places first.

Posted by: Hill Resident | September 13, 2007 10:02 AM

One may work ON Capitol Hill, but one lives IN Capitol Hill...

Posted by: JohnnyReb | September 13, 2007 1:34 PM


I've lived on Capitol Hill for ten years. Most locals I've interacted with say the live on Capitol Hill, not in Capitol Hill.

Posted by: Hillman | September 13, 2007 1:44 PM

I'd love to hear mpre about this garden and for Marc to give us regualr updates. Whether or not it has a lasting impact on crime is just a side issue, the garden itself enriches the neighborhood just by its existence.

Kathy Jentz
Washington Gardener Magazine
826 Philadelphia Ave.
Silver Spring MD 20910
Our mission: to help your Washington, DC, area garden grow better!

Posted by: Kathy J. Washington Gardener | September 14, 2007 3:07 PM

Good site! I'll stay reading! Keep improving!

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