Tag Archives: internet

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 »

Other Russia

Пуска Река Сама Несёт Меня

I was walking home late tonight, passing through Archibold-Glover Park, a car sped by me, all lights and noise. In the silence after it had passed by, I briefly heard the trickle of Foundry Branch. It reminded me of Ёжик. Then the moment too passed.

Architecture

The Basics

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces is the single most important book for creating non-monumental public spaces. The reason it’s so great is not just that it’s always right, but that it’s all about behavior and process and not so much about architecture, so it lets you expand on its rules, rather than just being some nuts-and-bolts guidebook.

So how awesome is it that Tropolism found this video of William Whyte going through the areas of the book. With the film you get to see a little more of the behaviors that don’t come across on the page and you get to see the time-lapse film that Whyte  used to make rigorous studies of the Seagram building. After you’ve seen this, you’ll see social spaces in totally different ways.

Other

God Hates Blog Posts

GodHatesProtesters is the hardest-hitting webstream of tomfoolery that’s come my way recently, and with much more palle than the backroom snickering of  Spotted: DC Summer Interns. While garrulous and hateful protesting isn’t a novel phenomenon, the people doing it do seem to be acting crazier than usual. Likewise, the approach featured in GHP is not the usual counter-protest tactic of more anger. Instead, it builds on the rich tradition of snobby pranks and other high-minded jackassery. Enjoy yo guvmin’t cheese!

Also! This is my 100th post, less than a year from the first. Hooray for arbitrary milestones!

Architecture

PSA: Prefabrication and You!

One topic I want to talk about more, but don’t have a good enough grasp of, is offsite prefabrication for construction. That is, building parts of buildings into larger assemblies in controlled factory environments and bringing the assemblies out to sites. It’s been saving money, reducing mistakes, and making life easier for workers in other industries for a few years now, and it’s coming into the building world slowly, primarily through structure and building system contractors.
Anyway, I can’t give you the details, but watch this video, where some people with New York and Boston accents explain how they and KlingStubbins made prefabrication work for Autodesk’s new Trapelo Road office in Waltham, MA.  Via (BIM)x.

Local Other

Soapstone Valley gets blogged!

In a blog post tangentially related to the Reno Park department, a geologist from NOVA took a look at Soapstone Valley, a deep forested gash that divides Forest Hills from Van Ness. I don’t know so much about the science of rocks, but the article is actually really interesting. Soapstone is a very soft stone, consisting of talc that kind of feels smooth but sticky, like soap. Anyway, it’s an interesting article, and the guy has many other posts about DC geology that are also interesting. Have a look.

Architecture

See, structure is a building system

Great video of the Manhattan Bridge flexing under the weight of subway trains.

planning

Middle path density gets some news

Option A
Option A (by nydiscovery on flickr)

This  past weekend, the East Bay Express (a paper in Oakland), wrote a fairly balanced article about the battles over densification in Oakland and Berkeley. Although it took as its subject a particularly acerbic debate over local development projects, the scenario is the same everywhere. The article presents three largely oppositional theses: tall buildings are environmentally sound, all density is environmentally unsound, and that density can mean Paris as well as Manhattan. Each one is given a fair voice, but ultimately only the middle path comes out looking informed.

Of course the commenters jumped out of the starting blocks and onto their respective causes: the electric car, renewable energy, zero population growth, THE IMPORTANCE OF WRITING EVERYTHING IN CAPITAL LETTERS, planting “subsistence” gardens in quarter-acre lots, and obviously the meme that developers are profiteers and gentrifiers. But what none of these people seemed to see was that the options of a pleasant human environment and a limited footprint on the natural world are not mutually exclusive.

Option B (from baslow on flickr)
Option B (from baslow on flickr)

Read the article; take a look at the section on pages 3 & 4 in particular, where Mike Pyatok, an architect with decades of experience, drops the usual truth bombs.

In an environment with artificial scarcity by way of outdated and strict zoning, the costs of land allotted to tall development, prices will be too high, even for luxury development. 5-8 story buildings are cheaper, more comfortable, and more energy efficient on a regional scale. Similarly, the need for a large footprint to justify the vertical costs means a less refined urban grain and less human-scale detail and fewer potential owners.

As long as cities are lusting for the skinny towers of 1920s New York, opponents will only see a superblock grime of the 1970s. Unfortunately, those skinny towers never made much money and definitely won’t nowadays. So, many opponents are simply reacting to unreasonable visions of the future with equally wrong visions of dystopia. Expect to see knees jerking until city councils and armchair planners ask for middle density.

Local

DC’s famous! Whoo!

It’s always good to see DC – not Washington, not The Nation’s Capitol – get come visibility. It’s going to be nice living in a city with some cultural capital again.

Russia

Moscow Cycle Chic

The Cycle Chic network (of sorts) has introduced a new member, Moscow Cycle Chic. There’s not much of a cycling culture in Moscow, but hey, from the pictures, things are looking up! They also have a video. Good to see some change, but I think that pants will be necessary part of biking around the old onion.