Tag Archives: development

Local

North of Tilden: Old wounds

Tenleytown: Three threads of the ongoing Tenley/Janney controversy have converged in the past two weeks, plus a new arrival.

A well-scaled and elegant building for Tenleytown.

I. The city has declared that they will begin construction of the new Freelon-Group-designed library in September. However, out on the Tenleytown Listserv, discussion flared up when it became clear that the department of economic development was asking the architect to add structural columns that could support multistory residential. This practice is not uncommon, but it would be a wasteful expenditure if the Tenleytown Historical Society succeeds in landmarking the school, and adding to the structure becomes more difficult. Both properties sit on the same lot.
II. The HPRB has agreed to review a preservation application for the 1925 elementary school. Built by the city architect, Albert Harris, it’s a decent example of the stripped-down Beaux-arts Georgian style he developed for the rapid expansion of public facilities in the early 20th Century. Although it was the first of all the schools built in the area, I don’t see how the 84-year-old school merits perpetual legal protection, at least not at this point. Especially considering that the building is not in any danger of demolition or permanent alteration. Moreover, landmarking could seriously delay the much-needed renovation of the aging school needlessly.

III. The department of education is proceeding, however, with the development. They’ve hired Devrouax + Purnell to design a wing to the west of the current building. Part of the planning framework requires that DP respect the historical structures of the area. I have no doubt that they will. Their work in DC has been humane and sensitive, while also adding innovating modern elements. Freelon and DP’s buildings will be coups for the architecturally stagnated area, so it’s in the neighborhood’s interest to support their work.

IV: On the site of the former Oakcrest School at 4101 Yuma Street, a new religious center for women and girls will be opening this fall. The Yuma Study Center, a vaguely defined but Opus-Dei-affiliated religious institution will itself be renovating and expanding the old Bon Secours covenant. The current structure is dilapidated, so renovation will be welcome, once I can figure out exactly what the institution does.

Van Ness: This past weekend saw the second-ever farmers’ market on the plaza in front of UDC. The market is a twofer fer the residents of condograd across the street,  putting the large plaza to use and getting farm-fresh goods onto a public street.

Hawthorne: The Post covers the ongoing slapfest in the very northern neighborhood of Hawthorne, a small collection of 1950s houses that was built in the fashion of the times: without sidewalks. DC has been improving and adding sidewalks throughout the city, improving pedestrian safety and encouraging walking, however, some residents of the area northeast of Utah Avenue won’t have any of that filthy urban nonsense. They moved there because they wanted to be in DC without being in the city.

What, they stayed in DC for the schools? Or for the lack of voting rights?

The arguments against sidewalks sort of tumble out of opponent’s mouths, with all kinds of illogic. This is like country in the city, yes, and a ranch house makes your .2 acre lot a ranch. Nobody walks around here, uh, ever wonder why? We need curbs, not sidewalks, so pedestrians can’t get out of the way of cars? Lastly, the venerable, but that’s the way it’s always been! makes its appearance, proving opponents to be examples of a certain five-letter acronym. You can hear how literally incoherent their arguments are in this video.

On the other hand, there are almost as many proponents, since many residents do see the public obligation to make the streets safe and accessible for all modes of traffic. It’s heartening to see proponents of reasonable growth out and advocating their position. There’s not much of a worry that Hawthorne will become infected with the dread contagion of urbanism, since it’s pretty far from any sort of rapid transit and unsuitable for larger growth. It’s always going to be a side neighborhood, one whose character will not be negatively altered by allowing people to walk comfortably around their neighborhood.

Local Other planning

North of Tilden: Rock & Roll, P&P, and Lord & Taylor’s

Three minor news items in the Upper Northwest:

sweater-set
The Sweater Set get ready.

1: The first two Fort Reno concerts were a smashing success, with at least 300 people showing up to listen, eat, and frolic on the grass around the stage. Monday night’s show was a fun mix of different styles. The Sweater Set delivered on their ultra-indie promise to give a twee multi-instrument set. Funk Ark played some solid 70s funk that made the sudden arrival of a Park Police car seem a little too like a cop movie, especially when teens started fleeing the concert with black plastic bags. Lastly Pash led the night out with a harder energy, although the lead singer’s vocals were drowned out in the mix, which took away a lot of the melody.

The second night began with noon:30, who added some soul-like vocals to cool and muddy indie rock. They’re having an EP release party on July 4th. Meow vs. Meow followed up with a harder sound with a lot of strong rhythm. Lastly, the Electricutions played the crowd out, just after the sun had totally left the horizon. There’s another show this Monday and another on Thursday, but more on that later.

friendship-home-plate
Plenty of potential connectivity.

2: National Realty & Development, the owners of Lord and Taylor’s, have announced plans and received approval to build a one-story commercial building on the “home plate” parking lot behind Mazza Gallerie. The Northwest Current’s reporting mentions that the original lease between L&T’s and Mazza called for the parking lot to be used as a car park in perpetuity. Now, the unanimous and quick vote of the council is to turn it into a walkable shopping district, competing with the deluxe stores along Wisconsin Avenue. Could still have some height on top of that, but apparently the 50-year lease ends in 15 years, so development won’t have enough of a payoff for them. Completion of the five stores is expected for early 2011.

3: Politics and Prose, the cultural institution at the border of Tobago and Chevy Chase, announced its schedule for July/August. You can look at the schedule, but here are the authors presenting books on urban issues:

  • Wednesday, July 8th, 7PM: Alyssa Katz will discuss her book on the foreclosure and mortgage crisis, Our Lot.
  • Friday July 10th, 7PM: Reloville, by Peter Kilborn, examines large subsets of suburban residents whose livelihoods depend on not forming close ties to the local community and frequently moving on to a new job.
  • August 11th, 7PM: Jane Jacob’s struggle with Robert Moses, and the issues it was born of, are retold in Anthony Flint’s Wrestling with Moses.

Maybe I’ll see you there. It’s not too accessible, but you can take the L1,2,4 or the M4 from Van Ness and Tenleytown Metro stations, respectively.

Russia

Lone man in a United Russia

In what has to be the bravest damn thing done by a Russian politician in a while, a Russian council member blatantly elected by fraud has denounced his election and resigned. The Washington Post and NTV report that Anton Chumachenko, alarmingly close in age to me, discovered that he had won an election, and rather quickly sent a letter protesting the victory, pretty much shocking the entire country, as well as many abroad, who have come to expect very little from his party, the ruling United Russia

Of course, he is some jerk kid who was running to represent a backwater district of St. Petersburg (think ANC 4a), but it can’t be emphasized enough how exciting this whole event is. He was running against not only other United Russia candidates, but also against a Yabloko candidate and a few indies who were opposed to the gigantic Marine Façade project on Vasilievsky Island. The project, meant to be the equivalent of Moskva-Citi in Moscow, or La Defense in Paris is probably too dense, considering it won’t get transit for years and also includes a gargantuan highway. But that was not his issue; he was just looking to represent his area and took the easy route of joining the safest party. 

So I can’t be shaken from my cynicism completely. This is a guy who formerly was a member of the Young Guard of United Russia, so is either a shrewd opportunist soon to be obliterated or someone who is swiftly being disabused of belief in his political allies. I can’t be sure, but it’s not a bad thing to hope for this. The election in his raion garnered an unusual 35% electoral turnout, a 250% increase from the last election. The world will be hearing more about him for sure.

For a better project on Vasilievsky Island, have a look at Norman Foster’s humane combination of sculptural modernism, regionalism, and preservation at New Holland Island, originally designed by Vallin, the architect of the Little Hermitage. 

Architecture planning

Height is not an urban strategy

Over the weekend, notable urban-issues political wonk Matt Yglesias wrote a passionate and well-meaning argument for greater density in the DC area that got it completely wrong. Yglesias claims that DC is suffering culturally and economically due to its height limitation, which inhibits the extreme density seen in Chicago or Manhattan. It also results in an uninteresting skyline to boot! Alas, he unconsciously bases his speculation in outdated thinking that assumes that commuter town is the optimal configuration of a city.

Washington in 2056
Magnacar dependency does not make a better Rosslyn.

Yglesias makes three arguments: taller buildings with will increase tax revenue, improve livability, and reduce what he calls “job-sprawl.” In each case, he is partially correct, but also misses broader issues of urban land use and planning. Primarily, he misunderstands the qualities and causes of density, mistaking the unique and exceptional conditions that created metropolises like New York, Chicago, Tokyo, and Paris for natural growth. read more »

Reno Park Project

Introducing The Fort Reno Project

This blog exists partially as an outlet for a particular project I have long been thinking about, teased by its difficulty. Fort Reno Park, in Tenleytown, occupies one of the most historically complex sites in the District of Columbia, yet it is also one of the least understood and developed sites. It once was a farmland, a civil war fort, then a black neighborhood, and finally turned into undifferentiated parkland after an abortive attempt to create an extensive system of parks and civic buildings in DC. In the process, most of its history has been swept away, damaging the permeability of the neighborhood and acting as more of a dead zone than an asset. I am doing this primarily as a personal project, something to use for my portfolio.

 I want to explore the way that social media, blogs in particular, can be used by architects to solicit information and, in turn, illuminate process for laypersons. Rather than asking questions wildly, I will present my plans, my theory, and my designs for the site and hope to get constructive criticism through the comments. I expect that the gradual revelation of plans will help locals easily digest the ideas, expose them to healthy strategies of urban design, and ultimately make them feel involved from the start. They may not be going anywhere, but the lack of productive local involvement or even transparency has resulted in sour relations with an often parochial and misinformed locale.

I hope that this develops buzz and becomes a catalyst for neighborhood identity, the explorations of place and history informing the kernel of a new spirit of Tenleytown-Tobago-AU Park. Additionally, I want to show residents the power of architecture and the value of good urban design by giving examples in the real world and relating them to local situations. Most audaciously, I want to energize the area’s community groups to act more productively, giving and getting more from those around them. Changing the values of a population is the surest way to changing lifestyles, something critical to creating a meaningful, sustainable city.

The thought of redesigning the park is nothing new. Tenleytown neighbors have been trying for years, DC Parks has made a little change, and the NPS’s CityParks project aims to make the DC parks better. Nonetheless, I will bring a decidedly different perspective to the concepts of historical preservation, park use, context, place, park design, interpretation, social capital, and management than any of these projects have before. I appreciate any thoughts on the matter. I want to know what people want to see examined or designed, so feel free to request things. I really am open to all reasonable suggestions other than “leave it alone.”

The first post, about the history of geography will be coming tonight, but in general I will post my ideas slowly – I have a job – and this will take a considerable amount of time and dedication, lasting well into the summer. If you are interested and wish to get updates most easily, rather than checking back and getting frustrated, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed.

Uncategorized

Babe’s is becoming something already.

Demolition has already started around the site of the late Babe’s Billiards, a classic Tenley dive once slated for a 42-unit condominium and now expected to become a retail site. The Northwest Current is reporting that the project will contain two levels of street-fronting retail, with up to two levels of office space above that. The plan is a downscale of the previous plan, however it will add more retail, which will undoubtedly make the corner lively again. 

Babe's/Maxim site
Although still in funereal black, laborers have already moved in and started redecorating.

As has been noted before, the site at 4600 Wisconsin, its zoning exception, and even the architectural documents were auctioned this week to the Douglas Development outfit. Sold for $5 million, the price was $2.3 million less than Clemens paid for it in 2005. Douglas have a good reputation for redevelopment, executing projects at the Woodward & Lothrop Building, the Car Barn,  the Avalon Theater, The Peoples Building, and the building that houses the International Spy Museum.

A few interesting facts emerge from the article in the Current article. First, the requirement to build underground parking apparently was a major contributor to the construction costs that made development unfeasible once the real estate market contracted. Second, the difference in size between the buildings Douglas Development currently own and their plans for the site might indicate that they intend to use the building as a placeholder until a better market for development emerges. Third, much conflict was made over the prior project, at the modest height of five stories. Five stories is within the commissar’s approved height and would have been quite appropriate for an area near a Metro station. Hopefully if my wild speculation in point two comes true, there will be less opposition to future plans that can only benefit the neighborhood. Strong advocacy for transit-oriented development and explanation of why it is important not only for the environment, but also for community is absolutely necessary to make appropriate development possible.