Tag Archives: Washington

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.

Other

WMATA’s slight apostrophe problem

A sharp-eyed and sometimes lost Briton I know noticed this somewhat amusing error on a map in the Navy Yard Station.  It’s a mistake, but it’s pretty bad when a slip-up gets you 4-6 orders of magnitude off. Actually, the official name doesn’t use an apostrophe at all, as it’s a memorial to Vietnam veterans and not so much for them.  While they’re changing it, they might want to add the USIP as well. I presume Jim Graham can resolve up some funds.
veteranss
Photo courtesy Seb Page
Local Other

Eatable things: Fojol Bros. of Merlindia

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At Dupont and New Hampshire Ave.

The Fojol Brothers of Merlindia, a quartet of locally grown twentysomethings with a secret indian chef, are out to revolutionize the street food scene in DC. Along with Ali Baba’s, and the upcoming Sweetflow truck, they’re up against DC’s longstanding tradition of awful, awful street vendors. As one (I think it was Ababa-Du) told me, “All you get in DC is hot dogs and soda … yeah and awful pretzels.” Awful pretzels indeed, and without dijon. Running only on Fridays and Saturdays, all of the members do this in addition to regular jobs and apparently are willing to sacrifice their weekends to bring their traveling culinary carnival to DC.  

Their total aesthetic is a retro fusion of Indian with hip green techno, employing fake mustaches and turbans while they cruise around in a 1960s bread truck. Their trays are made out of sugar cane fibers, their sporks from corn resin, and they compost just about everything else. All of this half-ironic campiness and doo-goodery could be a pretty lame excuse for attention, were it not executed with such batty genius – and more importantly, if their food wasn’t so good. 

It can’t be stressed enough that the food is delicious, basic Indian food. Fretting about authenticity of cuisine is always a bit misplaced, but with complex food from a made-up place, you should just shut up and eat. I had the chicken masala, a pumpkin side, and some sweet sticks. The chicken was a moderately spicy dish that satisfies like any indian food with sauce, while the pumpkin was soft and delicious, with a heavy dose of cardamom that balanced the sweetness of the fruit itself.  The sweet sticks were not so much sweet as they were flavored with cumin and maybe allspice, which made them pretty good for cleaning out the lingering masala spices. 

As I sat there eating, I watched the stream of buttoned-down passers-by giving long, curious looks and other people lingering and plenty eating. It’s never going to be like New York, with its hour-long waits at 53rd & 6th chicken and rice, the ultimate drunk food that is Roti Roll, or the Vendy awards, but this little performance-food experiment is definitely a good thing, and hopefully a sign of things to come

Follow them on twitter and get to eating.

planning

United States Bicycle Route 101

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br1

Did you know that the United States has signed bicycle routes? You didn’t? Yeah… don’t feel bad, nobody else seems to know about them, and I only stumbled upon them trying to do this month’s Wikiglean. Obscurity notwithstanding, two bike routes do exist and the legal framework is still around – and right now is just the time to breathe life back into the system and make them serious transit.

Back in the 1970s, after the shock of the Oil Crisis, planners – AASHTO even – had the forward idea of determining and assigning interstate bike routes.  Primarily meant for low-traffic roads or dedicated trails, the routes were to connect cities for touring purposes. However, by 1982, only two routes had ever come into being, and so the system went the way of the DMC-12. But conveniently for Washingtonians, the two existing trails currently run through Virginia and one is poised to benefit the Washington Metropolitan area. read more »

Reno Park Studies

Fort Reno project 090424: Topography

So I want to study the park with as much detail as possible. I’ve been spending a lot of time there just observing, which is always the cornerstone of good design, but I’ve also been trying to understand the area objectively. Logically, the place to start is with the ground, so here is a topographic map I’ve put together.

s-topomap
Topographic maps represent altitude using lines called contours. The closer contours are to each other, the steeper the slope, the further, the flatter. The contours start here at 62m and end at 130m.

After the fold, there are other, cooler maps that show height using shading. read more »

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 »

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 »

Other planning

DC area stimulus projects – Updated!

I’ve updated my map of DC-area stimulus projects to reflect some that were missing last time and added stimulus projects in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. I’ll add projects in Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax when they are publicly approved.


View DC Area Stimulus Projects in a larger map

Architecture

At the end of the Mall, hope.

 

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The six finalists for the design of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture have been revealed, with some very promising and also very disappointing results. There’s not nearly enough information available to see which is really the best building, so I picked the one that I think can be improved upon in a productive way. Remember as you are reading my thoughts that these are in the conceptual design phase, so the architects will be revising the buildings considerably even before the NCPC and CFA get around to prodding the architect for greater contextuality. 

I’ve ranked these in ascending order of quality and appropriateness and then got my buddy Sam Rothstein to handicap each one’s chance at selection. The images are linked to high-res versions on the Smithsonian siteread more »

Other planning

DC’s Shovel-Ready Projects

This monday, Mayor Fenty signed and submitted the section 1511 certification to request funds for the first round of highway under the stimulus bill or the ARRA, as the hepcats in the GAO call it. Despite it being for “highway funding” the $57,650,000 will go to eight items that are actually quite urban. Almost every project includes some benefit for pedestrians or the city, and at least two are primarily for them: the Great Streets Initiative project on Pennsylvania Avenue and sidewalk enhancements across the city. Take a look at the projects in the map below, or follow after the break to see a list of projects as well as well as a few proposed ones that didn’t make it. 


View Larger Map
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