The Rowhouses and the owner-occupied housing were back-to-back, and it was nice to have new families with kids in the neighborhood. But the kids were playing ball in our parking lot, and our tenants were complaining about their cars getting dinged.
At the same time, a thriving drug trade was being conducted in a vacant lot a few doors up. So one day I was standing in our parking lot, trying to figure out a way to keep the kids out, and had an epiphany. Why not get the city to convert that drug lot into a park? It would move the drug dealing out, the kids would have a place to play, and I’d have them out of my parking lot.
We got some of the neighbors together and presented our proposal to the city council. The city wasn’t interested. Didn’t want to buy the lot, maintain another park, police it, lock it at night, blah, blah, blah. So I called the lot's owner. I told him if he’d have the junk cars hauled, we’d clean it up if he gave permission.
He laughed at me. Said nobody would do it. I told him to meet us at the lot the next week and we’d see. So we went door-to-door, spoke to the neighbors again, and told them we’d all meet the owner that night. At 7 PM on a nice summer night, a large group of people walked up the street to the lot, another large group walked down the street to the lot, and the drug dealers, seeing this crowd, walked across the street. The owner couldn’t believe all those people showed up, and I couldn’t believe how easy it was to move drug dealers.
We got big garbage bags, rakes & shovels, and everyone pitched in. Other people and businesses heard about what was going on, and donated stuff, unasked for but welcome: gravel, picnic tables, a sign. There was a barbershop next door to the lot, and the men used to sit out on the porch anyway. Now they had something to watch out for. We never did get a fence around it, but we didn’t need it. Too many eyes for the drug dealers. They moved elsewhere.
The name Diamond Park was the brainchild of my assistant, B. Columbia Street used to be called Diamond Street, back in the days when it was the red light district. The new name worked on many levels.
And for a number of years it served as a simple but useful park for the neighborhood – until the owner lost both a building and the lot to a tax sale, and title transferred to new owners. By then the crack epidemic had calmed down some, so while it never again was maintained like when it was Diamond Park, at least it didn’t revert back to the awful drug hangout it had been.
Until recently I had a magazine article in my desk drawer with pictures of a similar lot in a similar type of urban location, which had been turned into a small neighborhood splashpark. I showed it to a few people through the years, but nobody picked up the ball, and I’m tired of crusading. Recently I gave up & reluctantly threw the article in the trash.