Tag Archives: northwest

Local

Broad Branch Road could include all users

The badly deteriorated Broad Branch Road in northwest Washington could become a more complete street that will accommodate pedestrians and cyclists as well as drivers, as part of a much-needed restoration.

Winding west from Rock Creek to Chevy Chase, the 2-mile-long route does double duty for recreation and commuting. It’s necessary link between upper northwest’s neighborhoods, Rock Creek Park, and downtown.

Originally a market road for local farmers, most of its current infrastructure dates to the early 20th century. Patchwork fixes have only staved off a century of deterioration. Flooding has undermined the road’s substructure, most dramatically in 2011, when the bridge over Soapstone Creek collapsed. Since it needs to replace the roadbed anyway, DDOT has taken the opportunity to update the design for modern uses. read more »

Local Reno Park Project

When a concert isn’t just that

reno-concert-1

Last night began week five of this summer’s Fort Reno concerts. The annual series of musical triptychs, which take place in an improvised venue in the Tenleytown park, may be the most urbane happening of any place in DC. Amid the mild yellow-orange light of a summer evening, a small local band plays and a few hundred people of various ages watch while they sit on the grass. But beyond that and behind the stage, those less interested in the concert partake in all kinds of leisurely activity. Really, I’ve never seen the park so well used. read more »

Architecture

Sidwell’s Machine for Environmentalism

Rain garden with wetlands in rear.

Landscape-oriented architecture blog Pruned is carrying an excellent post about the wastewater-recovering wetland installed at the center of their new campus. The LEED Platinum building, which opened in 2007, was designed by KieranTimberlake of Philadelphia. The firm designed the building to recycle all of its graywater and brownwater through an elaborate wetland, as one of its many sustainable features. If you go visit the building, the trickle filter is wrapped with a sign that explains how the system works. The sign rests at a child’s height and leads readers around and around with arrows, which I find a little obnoxious. Luckily, Pruned has explained the process more clearly, so without further ado, go read their article

Pruned also notes a very important civic issue this solves: the cost of runoff on municipalities and local watersheds. This beautiful oasis reduces the amount of water that flows out of the building, or flows off the hard surfaces of the building (there is a separate rainwater recycling system), and into Rock Creek and the White Plains treatment facility. Among the general public, a lot is made of water conservation (which this building also assists), but the strain on public facilities caused by sewage and stormwater is quite severe. At least up in Cleveland Park and Tobago, we do not have combined sewer overflow systems, like the do downtown. 

For elite Washingtonians worried that their children will become astronauts or mutant mer-men, the recycled water is dyed blue with a non-toxic coloring agent and reused in toilets and janitorial sinks. Meanwhile, St. Albans School’s non-LEED Marriott Hall, by SOM is in the interior-fit out phase, and has just gained its green roofs. More on that some other time.

Local planning

Macomb Giant: Where to from here?

The Zoning Commission has approved the Macomb-Wisconsin Giant project, after a difficult and involved process that began in 1619 1998.  Jeff Davis posted on the Cleveland Park Listserv about it this morning:

Last night, the Zoning Commission voted unanimously (4 to 0) to approve the
Giant PUD Application. The zoning process was robust, transparent, and fair and it yielded a terrific overall result.

He’s right, the overall result is excellent urban planning and competent architecture that  adds considerably more and better density to a major thoroughfare, while also managing to unite a mottled context of various building types and styles. The architects, Street-Works, have produced excellent cityscapes work in Shirlington, Reston, and Bethesda. Based on their prior experience, it’s safe to predict that the project will be a success. More than that, I predict that the already thriving area will become a new locality, a broad place that people will perceive intuitively as distinct from Cleveland Park and Cathedral Heights. 

And that’s a good thing, because Wisconsin Avenue needs more of this healthy density. The example that this sets will be a lesson to Ward 3, demonstrating how a few stores and few more stories can create an enjoyable neighborhood center. Not only will the extreme non-failure of the site be ammunition for people who support smart growth, it will serve as a billboard for those who are not engaged in debates, that urbanism is possible in Northwest. But it will be some time before the buildings are built and the storefronts occupied, so until then, activists for urban neighborhoods will have to focus on two things.

  1. Getting there. One of the criticisms of  the new project stemmed from the limited mass transit options in the proposal, legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. WMATA needs to step up bus service and introduce an express line on Wisconsin, either to Georgetown or Woodley Park. Bus facilities such as bus bulbs need to be added to Wisconsin, even at the expense of roadway space. Likewise, DC ought to facilitate the placement of SmartBike facilities, bike racks, and carsharing spaces.
  2. Connecting the surrounding neighborhoods. People must be able to walk to the new development. The current plans emphasize pedestrian traffic, but DDOT needs to improve the streetscape around Macomb, to lure neighborhood residents off of side streets. Without buffering from Wisconsin or new signals along Wisconsin, pedestrians lose the calmness that makes walking so appealing. 

Those who fought hard to get the right kind of development should not give up the momentum they have now, and instead should fight for even better facilities. This includes opponents, who should still look to make the area as leafy as possible, and ensure that Giant sticks to its promises. Resident involvement is one of the most crucial parts of developing community, so although the fight over the Giant has been so acrimonious, it’s important to realize that it will happen, and anyone interested must remain involved in working to ensure good growth elsewhere in the neighborhood.

Local

The DCPD are almost pedestrian-friendly

After a few high-profile accidents near the intersection of Connecticut and Nebraska Avenues near the north end of Tobago. Originally, the sign to urged motorists to slow and be aware of pedestrians crossing, which is certainly a good thing, except that they stuck it in the middle of the sidewalk. They later moved it after a complaint, but it didn’t get much better, especially considering its new state. 

Sure, pedestrians can walk around it, but this has been sitting there for a while, but it’s still there. And it’s not working. So…

comet corner sign fail

After the break, see that the city has also decided to remind pedestrians not to jaywalk, although that hasn’t nearly been as much of an issue at the site as, say, jaydriving or the lunacy known as reversible lanes. read more »

planning Reno Park Project Theory Writing

Streets through time and place

murdocksignI noticed yesterday that DC has re-signed Murdock Mill Road, down off River Road in Tenleytown. It’s a nice little reminder of history  – and of natural geography – among the rationalist streets of the city plan laid down in 1897. While those straight, predictable lines make navigating the city easy, they did erase the context and history of what was Washington County. By its perseverance, this little snippet of prior use reminds residents of the pre-urban past, adding quiet character to the neighborhood.

The road itself is no larger than an alley – its form preexists both the automobile age and the dreams of a residential garden city, so there are neither sidewalks nor setbacks. It is discontinuous, with one part behind the old Sears Building and the other appearing a few blocks to the west before becoming Butterworth Street. It’s also completely secondary: Where the narrow eastern section intersects with 42nd Street, the heavy grading on the latter route  necessitates a concrete retaining wall and a stairway down from Murdock Mill Road, ten feet above. It is very dislocated; left inexplicably during the changes of urbanization, along with the Methodist Cemetery, its only active address.

The road once headed down in the direction of Massachusetts Avenue, following a creek of the same name. Before the imposition of the 1897 Permanent Highway Plan, Murdock Mill Creek began at the west of Tenleytown, and cut through a subdivision of small farms registered as part of Friendship, and finally into what is now the Dalecarlia reservoir. Now, the stream is undergrounded, emerging only from underneath 52nd Place in northern Spring Valley. Other streams have been buried; still more roads have disappeared when developers carved up the farms they existed to serve. Murdock Mill Road is only one of these many streets, some of which are still used.

1871-overlays

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.

Uncategorized

Tobago, DC

I grew up east of Ft. Reno Park, in what I thought was called North Cleveland Park. I always felt that the neighborhood was a little dull and lacking community, like it really wasn’t a neighborhood. This sense was borne out when my parent’s realtor confessed that he had no idea what it was called. Now, Wikipedia claims there is a difference between North Cleveland Park, south of Albermarle St. and Wakefield to the north of it. Wakefield? Damnit, no! I’m calling it Tobago.

Map around Ft. Reno Park
You know, because there's already a Trinidad somewhere else in the city... Via DC GIS.

I am not joking at all; I want this to happen. There is no reason why we should stick with a real estate name that nobody knows. A funny name is precisely what DC needs.