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Gentrification Upsets Soccer Players Who Use Washington, D.C.'s Columbia Heights Field

Updated on July 28, 2017

Gentrification Creates Conflicts Over Washington, D.C. Soccer Field

Gentrification Upsets Soccer Players
Who Use Columbia Heights Field


By Tom Ramstack, The Legal Forum
The grass field at Harriet Tubman Elementary School is a new focal point for disputes over Washington, D.C.'s rapid pace of gentrification.

Old residents want it to remain open to the public for pickup games of soccer and other Columbia Heights neighborhood activities.

New residents who are willing to pay permit fees to use the field want anyone else excluded.

The older residents tend to be predominantly Hispanic with a few African Americans. They most commonly hold the kinds of blue collar jobs typical of the neighborhood for decades.

The newer residents often hold administrative or white collar jobs and live in upscale, refurbished homes that have proliferated throughout Columbia Heights in the past 10 years.

Unlike the long-time residents, the residents who arrived with gentrification usually play soccer or other games in leagues organized by ZogSports D.C. They pay as much as $95 an hour to use the field, which has been resurfaced with artificial turf.

Their differences of opinion came to a head recently when the pickup players took down a soccer net they pooled their money to buy. The league players called police, saying the net was a benefit of their permits.

Afterward, the pickup players angrily voiced their complaints for four hours at the next Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) meeting and at a second meeting with city officials on the field. They presented the D.C. Department of General Services with a petition saying the Tubman field should not be rented by the city but kept open for the community.

City officials invoked a 1982 law that allows them to rent public school property without community input or approval.

So far, the D.C. Department of General Services’ only recommendation is to give the pickup players a permit to play before 6:30 p.m. on weekdays.

They largely rejected the idea, saying the weekday start time is too early because of their daily work schedules. Saturdays also are out because the leagues schedule some of their games on weekends.

The ANC for Columbia Heights is trying to convince the D.C. Public Schools to use the same permit method as the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Groups that want to use school property could get permission if they present school officials with a letter of support from their local ANC.

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