Category Archives: planning

Architecture Local planning

American’s Unexceptionalism

While American University’s campus plan is a net benefit for Ward 3, the architecture currently proposed for the campus is mediocre at best. Beyond the land-use planning, East Campus and North Hall’s proposed buildings offer little in terms of aesthetics. The spaces are disorganized and the forms are uninspiring. On the outside, the buildings don’t relate the street well, and the facades present foggy contextualism.

Instead of well-executed buildings, the design revolves around appeasing neighbors while important aspects are left undeveloped.

For East Campus and some of the Main Campus buildings, AU hired Little Diversified Architectural Consulting, a Charlotte-based firm with offices in Alexandria. They have designed a large dorm at Catholic University, Opus Hall, similar in style and form to AU’s proposed facilities. Other design work was executed by the university’s large in-house architectural group and the firm of McKissack & McKissack. read more »

Local planning

East Campus is Still a Good Idea

American University’s campus plan goes before the Zoning Commission on June 9th. It’s imperfect, but the plan still deserves support.

Last May, I wrote in support of the plan to build a residential complex across Nebraska Avenue from AU’s main campus at Ward Circle. Over that time, the design has changed significantly. In response to overarching objections raised by some neighbors, the design has taken on less of an urban character than it originally had, which reduces its potential. Nonetheless, with architectural alterations, it will be one of the most important developments in Ward 3.

As part of a larger strategy for growth and consolidation of its school, American will replace a parking lot with six buildings of two to six stories. 590 beds, a bookstore, admissions offices, classrooms, administrative spaces, as well as some retail. The benefits for AU have been argued over many times; I’ll let AU speak for itself. But the benefits of the expansion to the neighborhood and the city are public business.

The new facilities will bring students out of neighborhoods. Currently, AU undergrads are spread out, with roughly 2,000 of 6,000 living off-campus. Some of those students do so by choice, but AU only has room to house 67% of its students. Many juniors and seniors have to look to the neighborhood for a place to live. The East Campus would pull students from the neighborhood and the Tenley Campus. Better residential facilities would mean fewer students spread out in the neighborhood, fewer noise disruptions, and less of a demand for vehicular commuting.

That reduction in traffic is no small thing. The new facilities adjacent to the central campus mean fewer trips for students and faculty alike. AU is also reducing the total number of parking spaces on campus, and has promised to expand its existing transportation demand management program. Even so, AU’s transportation study found that its users

The rest of the vehicles are commuters passing through the ward circle area. The three avenues in the area, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Massachusetts currently serve primarily as automobile routes. The new buildings offer the potential to reorient the circle for those who live and work in the area.

Rather than gnarling traffic, as opponents have insisted, the slight uptick in pedestrian activity caused by the new buildings will force drivers to pay better attention to their presence on this urban street. The potential for more stoplights and a redesigned circle opens the opportunity to reduce speeds and dangerous behavior, likewise making the area safer for residents of all ages.

Through commercial frontage and foot traffic, Nebraska Avenue would become a pleasant place for locals to enjoy. Leaving the interior of the campus for students, a commercial perimeter would become another node in the geography of Upper Northwest. It would never become as dense and vibrant as Bethesda, let alone Tenleytown, but as a tertiary urban center, it can merge into the neighborhood.

Finally, the scheme laid out in the university’s plan continues to facilitate the economic activity of American and its affiliates, estimated at $415 million,. Although academic institutions do not pay taxes for noncommercial properties, the Examiner reported last week that students and faculty bring money and talent to the area when they come to the region’s universities. By building on its land efficiently, AU will be making an optimal contribution to the city and enlivening the streetscape through the benefits of density.

There are potential negatives, which AU needs to mitigate. However, in their effort to compromise on objections, AU has layered the new buildings in greenery and minimized certain urban features, compromising potential, while still not satisfying opponents’ demands.

For example, a 40′ buffer of greenery adjacent to Westover Place feathers the campus into the neighborhood, but it’s not good on all four sides. Adding a similar barrier of impenetrable greenery along Nebraska Avenue will separate the campus and retail from the sidewalk. It requires creating a second, separated walkway that will reduce the very urban characteristic of unplanned interactions. It is no small leap to see this buffer as segregating the school from the city.

Worsening the Nebraska Avenue elevation, the most recent plans call for a roadway to be punched through building #1 to the interior campus. A roadway in that place would disrupt the crucial urban space at the sidewalk. Instead, the plans should return to the right-in, right-out entrance on Massachusetts Avenue presented in the March 18th Final Plan. This is similar to the one at Westover Place, the Berkshire, and other nearby driveways.

At the least, the university could build on their plans for the Mary Graydon Tunnel and design the proposed road as a woonerf, prioritizing pedestrians in a roadway that runs through what is the students’ front yard.

Likewise, AU should not be advocating for a new actuated signal on Nebraska Avenue. Instead, it should build timed signals that guarantee AU students the opportunity to cross as frequently and in rhythm with the city’s traffic. A new stoplight, combined with the recommended changes to Ward Circle, would make the area safer than any phystical barrier by limiting the incentive to jaywalk. If a physical deterrent is necessary, planters between the street and the sidewalk should be sufficient, as at Bethesda Row.

Finally, the project should serve as a catalyst for alternative transportation in the area. Bike lanes on New Mexico Avenue would mean better safety and better quality of life for students and neighbors alike. On campus, the administration already promotes a progressive Transport Demand Management plan, with dedicated ZipCar spaces, Capitol Bikeshare, carpooling assistance, shuttles, and SmartBenefits. But without adequate facilities, the full benefits of cycling and bus transit will not be realized.

Smart Growth refers to planning that is appropriate not only at the local level, but across multiple scales: architectural, local, metropolitan, and regional. AU’s expansion plan, which would consolidate students, tame traffic, and create a new node of community, works at the larger three scales. Where it fails is in the way that it addresses the street and human scale, compromising enormous potential for solutions that will please no one and will require remediation in the future.

The Zoning commission should endorse AU’s 2011 Campus Plan with alterations at the architectural scale.

Local planning

AU’s plans for Tenleytown up for debate

Tenley Campus on a sunny day

American University is developing their 2011 campus plan, which will guide growth for the next decade.In effect, the plan is also an understanding between the neighborhood and the university about what the part of the city they share should look like in 2020 – and 2060.

In addition to some new buildings on campus AU proposes two major changes: First, the university would erect several buildings on some underused parking lots near campus, which I’ll discuss in a later article. The second proposal would relocate the growing Washington College of Law to the Tenley Campus, a facility between Yuma and Warren streets on Wisconsin Avenue at Tenley Circle.

In the abstract, the relocation should benefit the neighborhood and bring more life to the southern part of Tenleytown. The current location of the school is in an autocentric and distant office park on Massachusetts Avenue, a poor location for a professional campus. However, whether the new building benefits or burdens the community will depend on the quality of its execution and the policies with which the administration operates the school.

Currently, around 800 students live on the Tenley Campus, most of them taking part in the Washington Semester program. They occupy a buildings built for the former Immaculata School, which American purchased in 1987. A handful of those structures are designated landmarks, which AU will preserve; others are forgettable midcentury structures, which AU will demolish to handle the 2,500 students and faculty of the law school.

The site has tremendous potential to make Upper Northwest more walkable and more sustainable. Moving the law school closer to the Tenleytown-AU metro station will reduce the net amount of traffic along Nebraska and Massachusetts Avenues. To get to the current law school building, students and faculty can either drive to the generous parking garage, or take the AU shuttle from Tenleytown.

That access to the Tenleytown metro is especially important to these law students, because most live outside the neighborhood and merely commute in for the school day. Likewise, the Immaculata campus sits right on several bus lines — and a potential streetcar line — that will receive efficiency improvements through TIGER Grants.

As a side benefit, the new school would put more foot traffic along the southern block of Tenleytown’s retail area. The current shuttle buses isolates students from neighbors; the three-block walk down Wisconsin would put them face-to face on the main strip. The steady stream of students and faculty would patronize stores and restaurants and justify streetscape improvements that will make Tenleytown nicer for everyone.

On Nebraska Avenue, a well-designed campus would significantly improve the urban architecture of one of DC’s monumental boulevards. Against the other streets, a good architect would be able to make the building disappear into the trees that line the perimeter of the campus. Because the university has no plans or even a design architect yet, the possibilities for integrating the school into the neighborhood are vast. The campus plan is the right opportunity to ask for them.

For all of the potential benefits, the College of Law could still hurt the neighborhood. American could ask for an introverted suburban campus and receive an eyesore and a traffic nightmare. The negotiation between the ANC and the university administration will allow for specific terms of approval to be stated. Design guidelines, operations requirements, and community benefits can be spelled out ahead of time to ensure that both sides gain from the construction and trust is not broken.

American University’s plan is good at first glance. Whether it is good for the next fifty years will depend on how well residents and the university work together to make a lasting improvement to the city.

Cross-posted on Greater Greater Washington.

Local planning

Small Town Politics: No dialogue with Safeway

seatingAfter the heated debate at the November ANC 3E meeting, you might have expected an even fiercer confrontation this past Thursday.  There were even promises of it.
But it wasn’t. Instead, anger had been supplanted with dismayed grouchiness. While Avis Black, the regional real estate manager attended the meeting, she entrusted the presentation to Brian O’Looney, an associate principal at the architecture firm Torti Gallas. In a series of slides, he demonstrated the great lengths the architects had gone to in making the bulk of the structure as unobtrusive as possible without sacrificing the program of the store.
Yet, that program, the functional concept of the store, is precisely the problem. The grocery store, and all its subsidiary stores, such as a Starbucks, would face inward, contained in one enormous envelope with a unitary entrance. To their credit, the architects have tried to address neighbor’s concerns, but their efforts are like putting a rhinoceros in a corset. When called to cut down the size of the proposed store by 1,000 square feet, around 2% of the total area, Ms. Black simply refused.
The other sources of contention revolved around automobility. Noise emandating from the garage concerned one 43rd street resident in particular. Out front, it became clear that Safeway did not want to remove a slip lane between Wisconsin and 42nd St. because they intended it use it for cars to idle for grocery pick up. That a reconfigured intersection would be safer for pedestrians, produce a better pocket park, and reduce the amount of speeding on 42nd was not worth the change.
Unfortunately, critics of the store could not put up a consistent front, entering tangents about a number of minor elements – some of which were created by other halfhearted concessions.  Whose interests does the store need to address? The hottest moment of a debate came when an irate Georgetown Day teacher called out the proposal to move the controversial rear walkway, which ran from the school to the store entrance, inside the garage. The teacher declared, indignantly, that GDS was a neighbor too.
And beyond that, how about the residents of a few blocks away – or the region? At what point does a corporation that entered into public debate, as part of the Planned Unit Development process, have to address the public benefits. Safeway has tried to reduce the impact on adjacent neighbors. However, the store needs to take into consideration public issues, like regional planning, street life, and future growth in the area. A beautiful wall like the one to be built along 42nd is still just a wall. With the currently proposed monolithic store, Safeway cannot be urban.
What did appear was a conclusive sense that dialogue had failed between neighbors and the store. Safeway had made no promises and now promised even less. The neighbors in attendance seemed to not expect any changes. So the potential for mixed use and sustainable neighborhood design is lost, unless Safeway reconsiders their plans, or the zoning commission rejects them. The site has much potential, but Safeway is choosing to  squander that.

After the heated debate at the November ANC 3E meeting, you might have expected an even fiercer confrontation this past Thursday.  There were even promises of it.

But it wasn’t. Instead, anger had been supplanted with dismayed grouchiness. While Avis Black, the regional real estate manager attended the meeting, she entrusted the presentation to Brian O’Looney, an associate principal at the architecture firm Torti Gallas. In a series of slides, he demonstrated the great lengths the architects had gone to in making the bulk of the structure as unobtrusive as possible without sacrificing the program of the store.

Yet, that program, the functional concept of the store, is precisely the problem. The grocery store, and all its subsidiary stores, such as a Starbucks, would face inward, contained in one enormous envelope with a unitary entrance. To their credit, the architects have tried to address neighbor’s concerns, but their efforts are like putting a rhinoceros in a corset. When called to cut down the size of the proposed store by 1,000 square feet, around 2% of the total area, Ms. Black simply refused.

The other sources of contention revolved around automobility. Noise emandating from the garage concerned one 43rd street resident in particular. Out front, it became clear that Safeway did not want to remove a slip lane between Wisconsin and 42nd St. because they intended it use it for cars to idle for grocery pick up. That a reconfigured intersection would be safer for pedestrians, produce a better pocket park, and reduce the amount of speeding on 42nd was not worth the change.

Unfortunately, critics of the store could not put up a consistent front, entering tangents about a number of minor elements – some of which were created by other halfhearted concessions.  Whose interests does the store need to address? The hottest moment of a debate came when an irate teacher at the adjacent Georgetown Day School called out the proposal to move the controversial rear walkway, which ran from the school to the store entrance, inside the garage. The teacher declared, indignantly, that GDS was a neighbor too.

Just a little too large.
Just a little too large for anyone's good.

And beyond that, how about the residents of a few blocks away – or the region? At what point does a corporation that entered into public debate, as part of the Planned Unit Development process, have to address the public benefits. Safeway has tried to reduce the impact on adjacent neighbors. However, the store needs to take into consideration public issues, like regional planning, street life, and future growth in the area. A beautiful wall like the one to be built along 42nd is still just a wall. With the currently proposed monolithic store, Safeway cannot be urban.

What did appear was a conclusive sense that dialogue had failed between neighbors and the store. Safeway had made no promises and now promised even less. The neighbors in attendance seemed to not expect any changes. So the potential for mixed use and sustainable neighborhood design is lost, unless Safeway reconsiders their plans, or the zoning commission rejects them. The site has much potential, but Safeway is choosing to  squander that.

Local planning

A lack of trust in Tenleytown

A week ago, some Tenleytown residents, received letters from Safeway or a Safeway representative.  The letters discussed the project to rebuild the Safeway at Davenport and 42nd Street, asking residents to sign reply cards in support of the project. Safeway hasn’t exactly explained what they intended to do with the card, but the general sense is that Safeway and Venator simply wish to hedge their bets against vocal opposition. A stack of paper and a polished graphic of neighborhood support could prove the existence of a silent majority favoring the project, with some NIMBYs with too much free time getting in the way.

Courtesy Safeway
Courtesy Safeway

Now, that strategy alone would be a cautious and defensive practice for a company. Considering that the Cleveland Park Giant has been under review for nearly half my life, I can sympathize with their fears of endless fighting. However, according to posts on the Tenleytown Listserv and offline as well, it has come out that Safeway excluded the people who live nearby from the mailing. The people who live on the block, and who would be most affected by any changes got no voice in that survey. Considering that there was no way to say “No” on the card, again, the only reasons why Safeway wouldn’t send it out to the residents that are known critics are that the answer is a forgone conclusion, or that they did not want to incite opponents further. The Northwest Current quotes spokesman for the company, Craig Muckle, as saying the omission was an “oversight.”

To be completely honest, I’m pretty split over whether this action was reasonable but defensive or an example of disrespectful cunning. At meetings of ANC 3E, which represents residents on the western side of Tenleytown and all of Friendship Heights, vocal transit-oriented denialists can bring to bear a disproportionate influence on decisions. However, critics of the project include people who want more building or just a shorter one – the opposition is not necessarily opposed to the current project. Some residents worry about the effect of large, blank walls abutting their townhouses. In fact, when presented with their  concerns, the Zoning Commission told Safeway modify the building in response to resident concerns over shadows and massing.

While no wrongdoing has occurred in a legal sense, Safeway may have breached the public trust in going around the public Zoning Commission hearings. Safeway has touted the successful integration of their stores into neighborhoods and their outreach to neighbors. So far, they had done an exemplary job, proposing a fine urban structure, submitting to the public process for a planned-unit development, and presenting a good amount of information to the public. Safeway could have built a multistory building as-of-right with no discussion.

Jon Bender, the ANC3E chair, is trying to broker a deal, and he’s suggesting progress in the right direction. He has mentioned a compromise of a multistory structure on 42nd Street, stepping down into townhouses nearby. That would be an ideal resolution: to not only ameliorate the impact on the community, but also to make it better for the greater city and environment by adding some reasonable density. Whether Bender’s plan has any more support than the current one will come out at the ANC meeting tonight. Hopefully, with that discussion, Safeway and the residents can continue to work together to find a reasonable compromise for Tenleytown’s future.

ANC 3E will discuss the Safeway at their meeting tonight, 7:30 pm at St. Mary’s Church, 42nd and Fessenden Streets.

Cross-posted at GreaterGreaterWashington.

Architecture Local planning

McMillan Two envisions a Classical Anacostia

mcmillan-two-anacostia-quay

The public character of Washington has grown around two grand plans. First, Charles L’Enfant laid out the city as a sacred grove for the marking of America’s history. One century later, the McMillan Commission restored and expanded upon that original design to include the history of the Nineteenth Century. Now, The city center has grown up in the second hundred years since then, enough for Congress to declare the Mall closed to new development. Meanwhile, the rest of the city has built up or spread out into suburbs. In light of the last fifty years, a group of traditional Washingtonian architects have developed an audacious proposal for the next lifetime of growth, McMillan Two. Fulfilling some less-known intentions of the McMillan Plan with slight modifications, this plan essentially calls for bringing Paris, mansard , Seine and all, to the Capital of the United States.

Developed by the Build DC Initiative and architect Nir Buras in particular, the design has been sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America, the National Civic Arts Society, with some support from the DC chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism. Buras’s philosophy draws hard from tradition: we know what is beautiful and what works – and we should do that. Downplaying strident formal innovation, the relationship buildings have to precedents in a cultural tradition guides design. For McMillan Two, France provides that tradition, particularly L’Enfant’s garden models and the Beaux-arts education of Burnham, McKim, and Olmsted. Though the partners have kept much of the project under wraps, Buras has recently begun sharing the outlines of this radical rethinking of DC’s future, namely that “Washington remains the most beautiful city in the nation.”

current-anacostia-plan
Near Southeast today. All images courtesy Nir Buras.

The McMillan Two plan
The McMillan Two plan

read more »

Local planning

Two Steps Forward and One Step Back

Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
This past week, Safeway revealed their plans to renovate the Safeway at 42nd and Ellicott Streets, along Wisconsin Avenue in the northern reaches of Tenleytown. What they propose (huge PDF) is a dramatic improvement over the bunker-like current building, and will enliven a dreary section of the neighborhood. However, the project includes no residential or commercial component on top of the new stores, despite its location roughly one-half mile from both the Tenleytown-AU and Friendship Heights Metro stations. Like the TD Banknorth building across Wisconsin Avenue, these patches in the urban fabric will better the community, but without more of a plan, they are just patches.

The new Safeway will activate 42nd Street, which is separated from Wisconsin Avenue by just a small triangular park. Instead of a forbidding blank wall, Safeway plans some outdoor seating for an in-store Starbucks. Residential Ellicott Street will get a landscaped park in front of the store’s substantial setback. The surface parking lot will become an enclosed one-story parking wing, and the loading dock will move to Davenport Street, adjacent to Georgetown Day School, screened from the street by a brick wall.

Courtesy the ARD (how nice of them) and Torti Gallas
Courtesy the ARD and Torti Gallas

Unfortunately, Safeway wanted to be expedient with the design and worked with one of the five neighborhood organizations that claims to represent the community, the Alliance for Rational Development. As their double-plus inaccurate name implies, ARD opposes most, if not all development of sites along Wisconsin and in Tenleytown. Their policies are transit-oriented-denialist, insisting that the area is optimally zoned and built up, and that any more growth will only have negative effects, primarily on the supply of parking.

Some of their concerns for any given project can seem legitimate when viewed without context, ignoring of the multiple benefits of well-designed areas with mixed uses. But Tenleytown’s zoning only allows for densities along a very narrow band on Wisconsin Avenue, closer in form to a suburban arterial than an interconnected city neighborhood. Many other lots, just a block or two from the Metro have no opportunities for development at any scale, because they are zoned as low-density in spite of their location at a major node in the city’s infrastructure network.

read more »

Local planning

Stop the Mega Sears!

I mentioned earlier that I wanted to make an account of the many things Tenleytown residents have opposed over the years. For now, though, I’ll just to highlight one fight in particular, the oldest one that got any news coverage, and one that has some parallels to the current, pointless fight over the Macomb Street Giant.

Most residents and visitors admire the sleek moderne building that now houses a Best Buy and a Container Store. It is a registered landmark, ably capped by a Shalom Baranes-designed condominium. Critics and writers have shown almost nothing but praise for the structure, including Roger Lewis.

tenleytown-mud

But in 1940, when Sears Roebuck first proposed the store, the neighborhood condemned the proposal and tried to stop Sears with all the weapons they had. Letters were written to Eleanor Roosevelt, lawsuits were filed, and many cried out for someone to think of the children. The primary concerns revolved around the Janney School, just as they have with the Library PPP and also in another dispute in 1991 about a homeless shelter. read more »

Local planning

What’s bad for Montgomery is bad for DC too

Caution by M.V. Jantzen
"Caution" by M.V. Jantzen

As many people have now realized, the current highway-based, auto-oriented Gaithersburg West sector plan will waste money on unsustainable, outdated forms of growth that will lead to more congestion and auto-centric developments. However, attention must be paid to the serious negative effects I-270 highway expansion will have on areas other than Montgomery County, particularly the District of Columbia. The foregone conclusions of the traffic studies say little about the effects of this decision elsewhere in the region.

The technology companies of Montgomery County have tremendously contributed to the economic growth of the greater Washington region, and more jobs and more vitality in the future are a boon. However, the design of any new developments must also have a positive effect on the rest of the region. Employing effective land use policies, encouraging compact development, and investing in efficient transportation will increase the benefits to the region in many other ways.

Vastly increasing the capacity of highway-scale roads throughout the region will likewise increase the number of automobile trips undertaken. Wider highways up the road will only encourage growth, which will bring calls for I-270 widening closer to the District, just as the highway lobby has pushed planners with good intentions to widen I-66. But that, in turn, will only make trips from further out easier, and so more individuals will opt to drive from further out, filling up the highway. Conversely, any resident of DC that finds a job in the corridor will have to commute from the city by car or move and still commute by car.

But between the Beltway and downtown, where will these drivers go? The project assumes that people will basically commute from Clarksburg to Gaithersburg. Although many will commute within the corridor, history has shown that many will also continue on into DC, into the growing Central Business District. Some, perhaps, will park and ride the Metro or MARC in. But most will simply drive in, pouring cars into the city, onto Wisconsin Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, Beach Drive, Georgia Avenue, Sixteenth Street, River Road, and the Clara Barton Parkway.

The new drivers, passing through the neighborhoods of Northwest will themselves be more traffic, meaning more idling, more speeding, and more side-street cut-throughs. The idling and the stop-start traffic will not only make everyone’s commute harder – the new cars will compete with the excellent bus service in Northwest – the engines will release greenhouse gases and noxious pollutants into the air along the way. Moreover, all the new, frustrated drivers will add more than a few chances for injuries and collisions.

For all the fears that middle-height transit oriented development along corridors in northwest, the sprawlway will have much more severe and lasting consequences for Wards 3 and 4. Politicians and citizens alike need to support rational development, development of a reasonable density, designed for humans, and designed for transit accessibility. Only through TOD can one part of the region grow without adversely affecting the others. But more importantly officials need to coordinate with their peers in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia to and work together as a whole, the way the economy of the region does. Otherwise, no infrastructure project can be said to benefit the region, especially one with such an adverse impact as the Sprawlway.

Architecture planning

Introducing the boozy walkabout

I want to talk about my favorite way to explore and study a city. Let me be upfront with you. All I’m really going to say in this post is “get drunk and walk around.”

More specifically, get together a group of friends, conceal-carry a tasty alcoholic drink, and start walking down the street. In the dark and with diminished inhibitions, a cadre of walkers can become closer to the city than at any other time. When empty and dim, even the canyons of Midtown can seem intimate, as the view from a mountain can be both accessible and impossibly vast. Add friends and a moderate amount of booze, and it becomes a kind of private party on the move, with guests arriving as the group passes them.

Now, the best way to analyze a city is simply to walk around in it; just to see, in an uncritical way, the functioning of an urban environment. This kind of study is called a “transect,” which is not exactly Duany and Plater-Zyberk’s Transect zoning system, but it is the underlying idea. Taken from ecology, a transect is an activity where the participants examine conditions along an unbroken line, basically creating a section of a lake, or a rainforest, or a city. The technique has shown success because it enables a holistic understanding of a city, exploring the weave of the so-called urban fabric.

Best, but not the most fun. There are two problems with an academic transect: It is, um, academic. Walking around to observe human-building interaction has consistently proven to be one of the least enticing activities to my friends. On a more personal level, expectations of what sort of urban environments work can interfere with observation. Reason and language get in the way of simple experience. Disarming guarded faculties is critical to being fair and free – and friends are a great remedy for crotchety ol’ critics.

b-walkabout
Preferrred, 3-step alternative.

The solution, then, is to turn the transect into a social event. Everyone I know who’s tried a boozy walkabout has had a good time – with repeat customers. Who needs an outdoor café to get that feeling of urbane place? Grabbing a bottle of Coke and mixing in some bourbon not only saves you a stack of cash, it also lets you see more of the city. When the conversation fades you can just take a look around at the beauty and the oddities that surround you, and likewise you can tune it out with conversation.

Here’s a map of some recent walkabouts.

View Boozy Walkbouts in a larger map

The evening is the best time for this kind of fun. Evening into night, where you begin in the remnants of the workday, pass by diners on the street, and then you hit peak inebriation at the same time as nightlife gets ebullient, before finally reemerging into consciousness in the cool and sleepy streets. In this time, you see age groups come and go in turn, old, young, and youthful. Before heading home, you and your friends have explored a little bit of the city, learned a little bit, but it won’t feel like an expedition.

There are no books, no notes, and no theories weighing you down. You feel the city, both its living and sturdy parts, and you share these feelings with others. There’s community from the common experience. Connections grow, even between those in the group and those who aren’t.

So visit the city, and bring your own party.