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D.C.’s Franklin Park Reopens with a New Look for Everyone

One of the District’s most historic parks reopened on Sept. 24 with a new landscape and a commitment by city and federal officials that everyone will have access to it regardless of residential status.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and members of her executive and agency team, along with D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Downtown Business Improvement District President and Executive Director Neil Albert joined 60 people to celebrate the renovations of Franklin Park, a city block framed by 14th and 13th streets and K and I streets Northwest.

Bowser said Franklin Park stands as a defining landmark in the city.

“We knew that if the D.C. government could renovate Franklin Park, we would be able to turn this park into something special for residents, visitors and workers,” the mayor said. “The new Franklin Park is its own destination — a place for residents and visitors to enjoy and for workers to retreat to. This is the type of park you would expect to find downtown in our nation’s capital, and I want to thank Congresswoman Norton and our partners at the National Park Service and the DowntownDC BID for making this possible. D.C. is open and so is Franklin Park.”

The $21 million renovation of Franklin Park  started in August 2020 a year after Norton steered a bill through Congress to forge a cooperative agreement that sets D.C.- National Park Service joint management of the park. 

The renovation includes a restaurant and pavilion, an expanded and restored fountain plaza and a new children’s garden along with sidewalks accessible to the handicapped, a broader tree canopy, enhanced lighting, green space and seating. Much of the construction was the work of the D.C. Department of General Services. The District’s Department of Parks and Recreation is to coordinate park activities with DowntownDC BID. 

Black History at Franklin Park

Created in 1832 by the federal government, the park — then known as Franklin Square — was the staging area for the city’s first Emancipation Day celebration four years after the 1862 end of slavery in D.C. as more than 5,000 marchers gathered for a parade, “stopping at the White House, then returning here for speeches,” according to the Cultural Tourism DC website reported one observer, saying it “was the grandest event in the history of the colored race.”

The parades continued until 1901, when the observance was halted by disagreements among the organizers and disorders among the participants, according to local historians. The parade tradition was resumed in 2002.

Homeless Access Allowed But Dwelling Barred

Homeless encampments there, long the focus of media attention, will be blocked in the renovated square, according to District officials who said that a ban on tent living will be enforced although homeless persons will have access to the park. District officials countered with opening up nearby homeless shelters and centers that serve the population.

At a news conference after the re-opening, Bowser stressed the illegality of having an encampment in a District park. She said homeless people are welcome to go to nearby shelters for services such as overnight accommodations and showering facilities. Both Albert and Jeff Reingold, superintendent of National Mall and Memorial Parks of the park service, said camping in Franklin Park won’t be tolerated but the homeless will be treated with respect.

“The National Park Police have the legal authority to escort individuals who seek to set up camp out of the park,” he said. “We will do this as a last-minute move and work to make sure that people have access to good, safe shelter.”

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