This is a long post, so click through…
It’s spring, and that means it’s construction season. Particularly in Tenleytown, a number of big projects have finally started, some after 6 years of delays. The headlines:
- Planning: AU presents their twenty-year plan to ANC 3F meeting. Hilarity ensues.
- Design: Shalom Baranes designing Babes site.
- Approvals: Chevy Chase Park will gain field lights.
- Demolition: If the Van Ness Walgreens is coming in, the gas station has got to go.
- Staging: Fences are up at Wilson.
- Site Preparation: Janney sets up temporary classrooms.
- Foundation: A 4-story condo is going up on Harrison street
- Structure: The Tenley-Friendship Library is no longer a hole.
- Commissioning: The placeholder building at Tenleytown is complete.
- Commercial Fit-out: The 4900 block is getting a pizza place.
And the stories below…
DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee is apparently considering relocating the prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts to a more central location. Currently, the school occupies a historically significant building in Burlieth, but if the move goes through, the school will move into the old Logan Elementary building near Union Station. In its place, a new High School serving mostly Ward 2 students (according to Councilmember Jack Evans) would begin operating.
For the most part, I support this move. Locating the building near a metro station will make it much more accessible for both students and teachers. Logan would also require a renovation, which would hopefully allow for some great new architecture and preservation by a local firm. The building seems dilapidated and lacking in the relevant facilities – and theaters demand great architecture. It could be a win-win for DC and its design community.
But much more importantly, opening up room for a new public high school in Northwest will accommodate new families who will undoubtedly come as appropriate development restarts in Northwest. Don’t forget, the building now occupied by Duke Ellington once held Western High School, one of two high schools in Northwest, along with Tenleytown’s own Wilson. Wilson is now pretty crowded. With more residents along Wisconsin and Connecticut, it will need to more room even than what the current renovation will provide. Private schools cannot be the answer anymore – St. Albans, Sidwell, Maret, and GDS are already larger than intended – and the costs of each are way too high for most families, $30,000 per year for some.
Backlash and speculation has (unsurprisingly) followed the discovery of the plan. Is it a racist plot to get black kids out of Georgetown? Apparently some assholes not only think so, but approve. Perhaps its is just a ploy to get better test scores from parents unable to foot private education. That’s plausible to me. Either way, the students are even getting involved, with a blog and a facebook group.
But look at it this way: growth in Northwest means slower growth and minimal displacement in less affluent parts of the city. If a new high school – and a renovated campus in Capitol Hill helps to facilitate those trends, then it is definitely worth it. Even if Jack Evan’s posturing is right, and this school will serve only students in Ward 2, then it will still likely serve African-American students. However, like Wilson, Hardy, and Deal, it should be open to promising students across the city. Compromises that benefit the entire city are absolutely necessary.
There are a lot of “ifs” behind my support. But planning for a future of 600,000 DC residents is necessary, and a new high school in Northwest would play a major role. DC has sacrificed enough school properties in recent years, however, it is time for re-use and revival.
So in the last post, I pointed out that it was easiest to demonstrate that some location is a place by showing the density of people there. That’s what this map is. It’s an imprecise but useful tool to map and note the actual behaviors of pedestrians in the T-T area. I’ve made a point of making it blurry and gradated. There are not borders, so much as dips in circulation and public activity that result from the popularity of one area and the amount of effort pedestrians are willing to exert to get from one place to another.
Take, for example, Friendship Heights. Most people arrive by Metro or driving to the retail district. But within only two or blocks of that hub of activity, the circulation patterns change: there are fewer people and they are generally more local. The walkable distance matters more. It’s clear that the locality ends, even if it is slight and gradual.
The character of the architecture changes slightly as one travels south on Wisconsin. It’s shorter, somewhat dinkier. But at Fessenden Street, the entire block is suddenly small, two-story local retail. It looks like little to the north, but also seems slightly different from Tenleytown, up a steep hill to the south. Someone who lived a block to the south would feel like it might be part of Tenleytown, and someone who lives a block to the north might feel it’s Friendship Heights. This is hard to define; just like foot traffic, it comes in gradients. However, due to its higher pedestrian traffic, small public park, and consistent look, I would argue it is effectively a between-place. So let me show you what I’ve come up with:
So, in addition to the visible boundaries of the city, there are the invisible ones, ones that are really only legible to a bureaucracy, but have significant effects on the lives of residents. Because it affects individuals so young and even effects the parents, where someone goes to school seriously alters the social geography of cities. They decide where the majority of socialization occurs: in one school, in another school; in private schools, in public schools; in classrooms or in breakfast nooks.
When I was a wee little Flannie, attending Murch and carousing about my block, I had neighbors across the street whom I hardly knew. Why? They went to Janney. We met and played outside occasionally, but by 3rd grade, we both had already formed our social lives, and that was it. Our parents were likewise divided; they knew each other, but that was it. My street was the boundary between two schools and there was a palpable difference between the facing blocks.
In the Reno-Tenleytown-Tobago area, there are seven schools that provide Nursery school through Twelfth Grade education. Obviously, there’s also American University, but that’s not as relevant since its students are not shaped as much by boundaries and divisions. There are also any number of private and parochial schools students could attend, three of which are in the area, but with a minivan or a Volvo, you too can idle your car outside your child’s school. So let’s just do the public schools.
Tenleytown: The Ward 3 Aquatic Center, or the Wilson Pool, as everyone will call it, will have a formal opening, complete with Fenty, on Monday, August Third, at 10:30 AM. The Hughes group have put together an inoffensive structure, but it supposedly boasts the capability for daylighting, natural ventilation, and water-loss mitigation, earning it a LEED Silver certification. The pool has been desperately needed since the shoddily built predecessor started falling apart at a more rapid rate in 2003.
Hawthorne, Palisades, Green Acres?: Opposition to sidewalks continues in the hinterlands of DC, where DDOT has been adding the badly needed infrastructure. This time, it’s over in Palisades, on Chain Bridge Road and University Terrace. Roger Lewis and Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh went on the Kojo Nnamdi show. Lewis shared some interesting history, but it was Cheh that laid down the law, insisting on sidewalks, but also demanding DDOT involve community members more. The two both agreed that the rational need for a network of sidewalks was a no-brainer. Callers disagreed, for some reason, mostly that “they’re not used” and they’ll “ruin the character of the neighborhood.” The panelists offered reasonable responses to the entitled views of opponents.
However, aside from the Cheh-Lewis lovefest, the two missed some important points, such as the dubious wisdom of low-density, limited-network streets in the middle of the city. One of the callers declared that residing in the area seemed like living in the country, but near the city. That’s just swell, but neither addressed whether having such low density a mere 4 miles from the center of town was a good idea. Also, Nnamdi and Lewis both guiltily admitted to driving on University Terrace routinely. Listen to the conversation, it’s worth some down time.