Tag Archives: urbanism

Architecture Other

Out-of-District Experience: New Orleans, Louisiana

jackson square and St louis cathedral

Toward the end of his career, Pablo Picasso lamented that he had stopped being creative and was merely “doing Picasso.” New Orleans has followed suit sometime in the past fifty years, becoming the image of the idea of itself. That doesn’t mean the jazz or the culture has disappeared, just that a simulacrum of itself has been interpolated into the French Quarter in such a way that a visitor can’t get a sense of the beast for all the taxidermy. I only had a morning to spend in the area due to nuptials elsewhere, but my perception was that there was a very livable area there, but what I saw did not inspire me to live there. I’ll need to go back and give the whole city a better look. read more »

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.

Architecture Local

The Future Was Classical

While I finish writing the Forest Glen essay, please enjoy this alternative scheme to the Mc Millan Commission “Kite” Plan, rendered by arch-traditionalist genius/maniac Leon Krier in 1985.

Theres nothing like a fantastical image to start the weekend
There's nothing like a fantastical image to start the weekend, is there?

You can take a gander at other views of the plan here, although you might be surprised at who owns them.  His explanatory drawings and diagrams offer  dead-on critiques of the City Beautiful and Modernist planning that have turned central DC into a lifeless pile of stuttering architectural gigantism.

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.

Other

Is America ready for an Urban President?

This weekend, the Obamas went on a personal trip, to New York City, eating at the chic Blue Hill Restaurant before seeing August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, before returning home. Their not-so-little-trip was only one of a handful they have been having, beginning with a trip to the Kennedy Center in February, their night at Citronelle, the pre-inauguration trip to Ben’s Chili Bowl, and Joe and Barry’s Excellent Adventure back earlier this month. There are probably others events I’ve omitted, but add his preference for basketball to the mix, and it’s not quite brush clearing. 

Their nights out reflect a certain kind of lifestyle, an elite urban one. The ability to ditch the kids for a few hours and get out to a nice restaurant is precisely the sort of habit that is vaunted by pro-urban activists and expected of cities by young people looking forward to the freedom of the city. It’s luxurious, it’s cool, and it’s only possible in a city. Even for denizens of suburbia, a night in town is still obviously possible, but you still have to go into town, even if you start and end elsewhere. As for the elite part, anything any president does will be tinged with a degree of fanciness, for better or worse.

Not unlike Bill Clinton’s much-publicized jogging in the Nineties, I wonder whether Obama’s enjoyment of city life will raise attention – and elevate the place of  – something many people are already doing. Americans were already crowding into Broadway shows and going out to dinner, and going into urban centers for dates. There is nothing new here, but the perception has historically been that these activities do not jive with the populist image that comes with the Resolute Desk. 

At the same time, the more recent trips outside the White House do not depict the less glamorous benefits of cities. They reinforce the sort of young, fashionable life that has always been associated with date nights; they do not demonstrate that more prosaic aspects of life, especially with children, are still possible. Hot nightlife might be attracting people to the city for a boozy 10-year sojourn, but it doesn’t keep them. Comfortable neighborhoods and convenient shopping do. Perhaps Obama’s recent trip to the Palisades to watch his daughter play soccer is a reasonable balance to the condo-advertisement life that has otherwise made the news. 

On the other hand, no Twentieth-Century President has lived a particularly ordinary life, not mowing his grass or running down to CVS to get cough medicine. It might be unreasonable to expect a world leader to move the culture of country by example in those areas. The best citizens can expect, then, is better policy. If he delivers that, a night out doesn’t have to mean anything.

Architecture Theory Writing

Forest Glen Seminary: One Thing Leads to Another

Part two of a four-part essay exploring context, typology, and interpretation. Comments encouraged.

fglinden

Against rich complexity of the old Seminary, the houses designed by EYA are then a real letdown. They carry the superficial veneer of “context” that is endemic to New Urbanist planning and its most visible error. To be clear, they are not abominations, but they are dull and only stylistically similar to the outré conglomeration across the street. The application of traditional elements here fulfills a requirement that new buildings  respect the architecture of the historic landmark. Okay, sure, sounds good, but the legislation is fairly scant in the details of execution. The easy option, a cynical abdication of artistic responsibility, is to copy the notions of form in hazy facsimile and slap it on off-the-shelf buildings. Even where the designs are competent, the lack of sensitivity results in tepid mediocrity. read more »

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.

planning

Private Use, Public Image

The Post carried a tragicomical story this Sunday about a piece of property at 210 King Street in Alexandria. The three-storey building is a historic structure that had previously housed a sportsman store owned by Michael Zarlenga. However, when the capriciousness of the Board of Architectural Review stopped an apparently tasteful renovation, he was forced out of business, literally with tears in his eyes. He wanted to add an elevator, some new retail space, and a new bathroom, all in the local style. But the Board determined that the loss of his rear roof would have caused irrevocable damage to the physical history of the city. Zarlenga, disillusioned and losing money, just had to give up. 

So what happened to the property? He rented it to someone with less demanding needs: a store of erotica and other unspeakable modern things. So yes, Le Tache, a relatively local boutique for bachelorettes looking to explore their hidden places, has filled the gap in the storefronts, increasing the diversity of uses, adding to tax revenues, and still preserving the physical fabric of Old Town Alexandria.

But of course, this has gotten a few people upset. 

After the jump it gets a little NSFW. read more »