Posts in category Public Spaces
Washington has long turned its back on the Anacostia River, and in turn the neighborhoods east of the river. The 11th Street Bridge Park could become one of the city's most distinctive places, turning disused bridge structures into a connector and destination. With a design competition now underway, all that's left to do is design and build it.
That's a tall order, but the project was born out of ingenuity. The proposed park takes advantage of foundations left over from one of the 1960s highway bridges. Rather than connect Capitol Hill to Anacostia, the highways isolated both.
Originally intended to feed the inner loop freeway, the old bridges were great for driving through the riverfront neighborhoods on the way to something else. When the city rebuilt the bridges in 2012, the city was left with an obsolete, but not totally useless, bridge next to the new local span.
The possibility of doing something with the remnants stuck in the mind of Scott Kratz, who at the time worked at the National Building Museum. At a meeting with then-Office of Planning director Harriet Tregoning, he brought up the concept of reusing the bridge. To his surprise, she immediately thought it was a great idea.
Since then, Kratz has been figuring out the details and building support for the Bridge Park, now working full-time on this project at THEARC in Congress Heights. That organization has held 195 meetings on both sides of the river to find out what the bridge would need to be, with a focus on reaching out to residents who often feel ignored in efforts to improve the city.
Now, THEARC and its appropriately named parent organization, Building Bridges Across the River, are looking to open the dialogue to everyone who benefits from the Anacostia. Since the park will likely be privately funded but publicly owned, raising the $35 million required to build and endow the bridge park will be a major goal. The other key part will be a design competition.
The Bridge Park must be more than a park
Given the precarious site and high cost, this project is risky. Getting the design right can make all of the difference between a world-class park and a white elephant, as Dan Malouff has previously noted.
Rather than stage an ostentatious open competition where flashy, iconic images predominate, Kratz went to the communities first. Some of those 195 meetings were charrettes, design meetings where stakeholders identified what was missing from their neighborhoods and how the bridge could fix them. When professionals do get involved later this month, they'll be screened based on their experience working with communities as much as design skill.
Participants in the outreach meetings have focused on a few ideas for the park again and again. Because the East of the River neighborhoods face high obesity and hypertension rates, active recreation figures prominently in visions for the park. This includes playgrounds, as well as conventional sports areas, since there isn't one in Anacostia proper. In a similar vein, the Bridge Park staff are interested in introducing urban agriculture to the bridge, possibly fruit trees.
Encouraging residents to interact with the river is another goal. This might mean a dock as much as a environmental education center. Artistic output forms the final side: an outdoor performance space, or even a facility for an arts nonprofit could be part of the project. In general, Kratz sees art as crucial to letting the community take ownership of the park when it opens.
Turning the site's challenges into opportunities
I would like to see programs that take advantage of the elevated site. Since it's not an automobile bridge, the Bridge Park doesn't need to be flat, symmetrical, or even the same width all the way across. A skate park might suit the site perfectly. It's a loud activity that needs uneven terrain to play up its acrobatic elements.
Urban agriculture, on the other hand, seems counterintuitive. Planting beds would require importing large volumes of dirt and building a heavy-duty structure to support it. There are sites in Anacostia on actual land that seem more obvious for a farm.
The main challenge the site faces is its isolation from busy streets. The first piers of the Bridge Park are ¼ mile from Good Hope Road on one side. On the other side, M Street SE is a long walk along the Navy Yard's fences and a highway viaduct.
Kratz realizes this problem, so he worked with students from Virginia Tech to find every possible connection, especially to the Anacostia Riverfront Trail. They proposed lighting and community art to enliven the sidewalks to M Street and Good Hope Road. Arriving with a gym bag might still present an obstacle, so Kratz is working with DDOT to install a stop for the Anacostia streetcar, which will run over the new bridge.
Streetcar access will be the most important factor in drawing residents to the active recreation sites. For casual recreation, how the designers locate activity areas could make those walks easier. With major attractions at either abutment of the bridge, visitors would come to pick up their kid from an event and kill time by talking a walk down to see the great view downriver.
Bridge Park needs to feel like a place to succeed
These designers will face a site pretty much unlike any other. Journalists frequently compare the Bridge Park to New York's High Line, but there are several crucial differences. For one, the High Line runs for 1.45 miles through dense neighborhoods, well connected to the streets below.
Reusing the entire structure of an old railroad viaduct, the High Line was stuck with relatively tight dimensions, ranging from 30 to 88 feet. That's about size of a tennis court. The 11th Street Bridge Park has the potential to stand 160 feet wide and 800 feet long, around the size of three professional football fields end-to-end.
And pedestrian bridges sometimes have places to rest, but they rarely are destinations by themselves. There are a few unbuilt parallels, like Thomas Heatherwick's Garden Bridge in London, or OMA's
There is one project that has actually gets beyond the transportation deck: a pedestrian bridge in Providence. Reusing the piers of what had been a highway bridge right through the center of town, the new bridge connects two sections of a greenway.
Architect inForm and engineer Buro Happold created a structure that varies width and height: In one place, a delicate bridge, while on the other, it's grassy steps down to the river. With all of this three-dimensional variation, the designers were able to put a café in the middle.
What's nice about the Providence project is that it looks a lot like a street: it has the multi-layered activity that happens when people are passing by, relaxing, working, and working out. To be successful, the Anacostia Bridge Park needs to sustain this kind of activity. The design of the project, from how the activities are arranged to the way it interprets the river artistically is what will do that.
The designers' test will be to take the communities' desires and layer them within architecture that connects the mundane to something bigger in the context. In other words, the park should make a basketball game feel as connected to MLK Boulevard as to the flow of water underneath. The players should sense that they're playing 20 feet in the air and a mile from the Capitol.
The bridge park can't solve that many problems. But it can create a place of confluence between the city's different constituencies. If everyone feels they own this park, it can be part of a more inclusive revitalization of Washington.
To find out more about the Bridge Park, please visit bridgepark.org. The design competition will be announced on March 20th.
Even the most hardened pedestrians can find themselves in areas where driving is the default way to get around. In those places, going for a walk can be a provocative act, met with stares and questions.
Still, some of us make the conscious choice to walk or bike somewhere even in places where it's not obvious to others. Our contributors share some of their funnier stories of when people didn't understand why they just didn't drive.
David Versel: I typically walk up to the Metrobus stop for my morning commute, which is about 0.5 miles from my house in Springfield. I am ALWAYS the only adult pedestrian about, but there are usually middle school kids walking to or waiting at their school bus stop. I have gotten scared looks from these kids many times who probably think I'm a pedophile cruising school bus stops.
It's just another casualty of car culture that suburban kids automatically assume that adults should always be in cars, and that those who aren't are probably sex offenders.
Dan Reed: In high school, I usually walked to my friend's house for a study group. One day we had an argument, as 15-year-olds often do, and I stormed out. As I unlocked the front door, her mother ran into the room in a frenzy.
"Where are you going!?" she asked, and I said I was walking home. (This is how far apart our houses were.)
"Don't worry, I'll give you a ride," she said. I said it was okay, but she relented, and went back to get her keys. She came back and said, "Alright, let's go." I felt terrible asking her to go through the trouble, so I said "Um, I changed my mind and I'll stay here," and returned to sulk in the basement with my friends.
David Alpert: When I was in Los Angeles once, I was staying with family friends in Brentwood and was at an event on Wilshire Boulevard just south of Brentwood. When I was ready to leave, I realized that the cross street we were right near was also one of the main cross streets near their house, so I walked the approximately 1.2 miles to their house instead of calling for a ride.
When I got there they were flabbergasted that I had walked.
Matt Johnson: I can do ya one better. And this conversation did happen. Word for word.
The first time I was ever in LA, Ryan and I stayed at a hotel one block from the Vermont/Santa Monica subway station. We got in fairly late, and we really just wanted to go to bed, but we hadn't eaten. On the one block walk from the station, we'd seen a few storefronts, but hadn't really been paying a lot of attention.
So after we got situated in our room, we went down to the front desk, and I asked the receptionist...
Me: "Can you tell me are there any restaurants nearby?"
Receptionist: "Oh, sure. Let me call you a cab."
Me: "Oh, no, no. We don't want to go anyplace far away. Just something close by."
Receptionist: "Yeah, there are lots of places. Let me call you a cab." [picks up phone]
Me: "No, please don't. We really just want someplace close. Is there any place within walking distance?"
[She looks puzzled]
Receptionist: "It's really no trouble for me to call you a cab."
Me: "We don't want a cab. We just want to know if there are any restaurants nearby. Are there any restaurants within a block or two?"
Receptionist: "Yeah. There are a few places at the corner of Vermont and Santa Monica. Are you sure you don't want me to call you a cab?"
Me: "Vermont and Santa Monica is a block away, right?"
Me: "We'll just walk. Thanks for your help."
Receptionist: "Really, it's no trouble to call a cab. Are you sure you don't want one?"
The ironic thing is that LA (the LA Basin at least) is actually very walkable. The problem is that Angelenos don't seem to know that.
I've ridden the 4/704 all the way from Union Station to the Santa Monica pier. And the density/urban form never drops below what you'd find in the Woodley Park commercial strip. That's about the same distance as going from Metro Center to Rockville. There are a few places were the walkability isn't great (Century City), but for the most part, the sidewalks are wide and complete, the street is buffered with parking, and buildings are built right to the street.
Dan Malouff: My example isn't quite so bad. It's a 0.4 mile walk from Fairfax City Hall to Fairfax Main Street. Who wants to guess how many people other than me walked to lunch, back when I worked in Fairfax?
Canaan Merchant: I used to walk to Fairfax City from GMU. It really freaked my roommates out. Thinking back, I have lots of examples of me having to explain that sometimes I preferred to walk for 20 minutes than drive 10 to get to places in Fairfax.
David Edmondson: In fairness to the drive-everywhere crowd, I definitely took the Metro from Mt. Vernon Square to Chinatown a number of times when I first moved to DC before I realized how close it actually is.
50 years ago, the Wheaton Youth Center brought local teens together around rock-and-roll and symbolized the idealism of the young, fast-growing suburb. As pressure grows to replace it with a new recreation center, can this building adapt to become a part of Wheaton's future?
To some, the 1960s-era building at Georgia and Arcola avenues is a local landmark with a storied musical history, but to others, it's an eyesore and an exercise in nostalgia. They can't even agree on what to call it: preservation supporters use its original name, the Youth Center, while opponents call it the Rec Center.
Whatever the name, county officials have been planning to demolish it and the adjacent library and put them in one new, $36 million building on the site of the library. The Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission and the Planning Board both recommended the building become a historic landmark, but it doesn't seem to have many friends on the County Council, which will make the final decision.
"Where rock-and-roll was invented"
When the Wheaton Youth Center opened in 1963, it won awards for its Japanese-style architecture. But it was better known for hosting famous musical acts, like Iggy Pop, Rod Stewart, and Led Zeppelin, who may have played their first US show there in 1969.
Eileen McGuckian of Montgomery Preservation, Inc. and the guys who hung out at the Youth Center as teens.
Local musicians played the youth center's stage as well, including a 13-year-old Tori Amos, then living in Rockville, who gave her first public performance there at a talent show in 1977. In December, the kids who once hung out at the Wheaton Youth Center came back to celebrate the building's 50th birthday with cake and a screening of filmmaker Jeff Krulik's documentary "Led Zeppelin Played Here."
Krulik, who lives in Silver Spring, says the building helped nurture a music scene in Wheaton. "Places like this are where the rock-and-roll concert industry was virtually invented," he says. "The building speaks to me. The walls talk."
"This was the cool place to be," says Olney resident Rick, who grew up in Wheaton and hung out at the Youth Center every weekend. "It kept us off the streets, gave us focus...all the things that young people should learn." Rick only recently learned about the building's architectural history, but says "that alone" makes it worth saving.
Is preservation a "fanciful plan"?
To current users, however, the recreation center is too small and falling apart. December's party happened in a crowded hallway between the gym with the leaky roof and the computer lab with four machines.
The county didn't have to consider preserving the building because it wasn't on its survey of historic buildings, a prerequisite for historic designation. The last survey was done in 1976 and doesn't include any buildings from the 20th century, because nobody thought they were historic yet. Planner are working on a new survey to identify which buildings deserve further study, says historic preservation planner Clare Lise Kelly.
Naturally, residents anxious for a new recreation center fear that designation will add unnecessary delay and cost. Outside the party, opponents planted little yellow signs reading "NO DELAY" all around the building. Last fall, the Planning Board recommended keeping the old recreation center since the new one would be built next to it anyway, which wasn't received well.
How the new recreation center and library (right) could fit in with the old one. Image from Montgomery County Planning Department.
"If the Planning Board wanted to add another element to their fanciful plan, they might as well have added a zoo for unicorns," wrote Olney resident and library board member Art Brodsky in a letter to the Gazette.
Both sides disagree how much it would cost to rehabilitate the building, which has never been renovated. Architects Grimm + Parker, which is designing the new facility, estimates it could cost nearly $7.8 million to bring the building up to code and move in the Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity, currently housed in the library. Advocacy group Montgomery Preservation, Inc. hired a structural engineer to assess the building, who says it would cost just $1.3 million for more basic improvements.
Community leaders say neither price is worth it. Before a public hearing last night, Councilmember Nancy Navarro, who represents Wheaton, sent an email blast to her constituents asking them to testify against preservation. "We can - and should - find ways to honor the history of this facility in the new design, but not through historic designation," she wrote.
Could the Youth Center represent the future again?
The Wheaton Youth Center is young enough that people don't consider it truly historic, but old enough to be unfashionable and in disrepair. But for a community that grew up in the 1950s and 60s, buildings like the Youth Center are as much a part of Wheaton's heritage and Montgomery County's heritage as Victorian rowhouses are in DC, setting it apart as a product of its time.
Eileen McGuckian, president of Montgomery Preservation, Inc., was a student at Blair High School in Silver Spring when the youth center opened. "It's the period of hopes and dreams, of things happening...it was exciting," she said.
But Wheaton has changed a lot over the past 50 years, from a largely homogeneous, middle-class place to one that's much more socioeconomically and racially diverse. At the party, Rick said that many of his friends growing up have moved out to Olney or Damascus, taking their memories with them.
And it was hard not to notice the contrast between the older white guys standing on the stage, reminiscing about their days playing in rock-and-roll bands decades ago, and the young, mostly black and Hispanic kids playing pickup basketball on the floor. For kids growing up in Wheaton today, this building belongs to a past they can't relate to and people who don't live there anymore.
Preservationists have to prove that a building that reflected Wheaton's future in 1963 can still be a beacon today. One option is leasing it to a nonprofit group who would fix the building themselves, like the the Writer's Center, housed in the Bethesda Youth Center.
Kelly sent me a list of 13 organizations willing to take over the building, including arts groups, theatre companies, and the Ethiopian Cultural Center, which serves the region's quarter-million Ethiopian immigrants. These groups represent where Wheaton is today, and they might help this building become a valued part of the community again.
In any case, it might be too late for the Wheaton Youth Center. But I hope we'll give Montgomery County's other notable modern buildings a second chance. If you think this building deserves historic designation, you can email the County Council at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Park Service plans to create a new Circulator route around the National Mall. NPS and the city could also improve transit options to nearby neighborhoods with a line from the Mall to Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle, and U Street.
The Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) for Foggy Bottom and Dupont Circle have voted to ask NPS and the city to consider such a route, which we have nicknamed the "Abe's to Ben's" or "A to B" route.
The planned Mall Circulator route, which NPS plans to fund in part with revenue from new parking meters along the Mall and in West Potomac Park, is an excellent beginning and will improve transit accessibility to some of DC's most popular attractions.
At the same time, the route, which goes east-west along the Mall to and from Union Station, doesn't give tourists an easy path off the Mall and into the neighborhoods to support our local businesses.
More than 4 million tourists visit the Vietnam Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, two of the most popular landmarks, each year. But the area still has poor transit service, with little Metrobus service and the nearest Metro station ¾ of a mile away.
The "Abe's to Ben's" line would begin at the triangle in between 23rd Street NW and Henry Bacon Drive, by the Lincoln Memorial. The bus would then travel north along 23rd Street and provide service to the State Department, Columbia Plaza, and George Washington University's main campus before meeting up with the Blue and Orange lines at the Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro station at 23rd and I Streets.
From there, it would proceed up New Hampshire Avenue and around Washington Circle to the southern entrance to the Dupont Circle station on the Red Line. It would continue around the circle to 18th Street and travel north to U Street before heading east to the U Street Metro station, the Green and Yellow lines. It could then end near the African-American Civil War Memorial (linking Park Service sites at each end) or Howard University.
This Circulator route would improve transit connections for both residents and tourists, providing a one-seat ride between the Mall, downtown, and mid-city neighborhoods. It would provide a direct connection to all 5 Metro lines, a crucial reliever of core Metro capacity and an alternative during service disruptions.
It would also restore bus service on the east side of Dupont Circle which ceased two years ago when Metro re-routed the L2 away from 18th Street. With this proposal, all of the bus pads that were installed as part of the streetscape project on 18th just a couple of years ago can serve a purpose again.
What about other routes?
DDOT's 2011 Circulator master plan envisions extending the current Rosslyn-Dupont route to the U Street and continue the National Mall route up 23rd Street and over into Georgetown by way of Pennsylvania Avenue.
There are better ways to expand service. An extension of the Mall Circulator into Georgetown would be redundant with the 31 Metrobus, but with less utility since the 31 serves the entirety of the Wisconsin Avenue corridor up to Friendship Heights.
Extending the Rosslyn-Dupont route, on the other hand, raises issues about service reliability and neglects to serve Foggy Bottom and the National Mall. The current route already must traverse congested L and M through Georgetown and the West End.
Our proposal introduces a more direct, less traffic-choked connection to the Blue and Orange lines for Dupont and mid-city residents, while implementing service in areas of Foggy Bottom that don't have good transit service.
Our proposal isn't perfect. We're not transit professionals; we're community activists looking to improve connectivity between our neighborhoods in a way that reduces automobile dependence and hopefully serves many of the city's goals.
We know, for instance, that there many not be enough demand for Circulator service on the National Mall at 11 pm on a Saturday, but there may be a lot of demand in U Street and Dupont Circle. We also would love to extend this route proposal farther east to Howard University, with its transit-dependent student population. We welcome suggestions as to how to resolve these, and other, potential dilemmas.
Tonight, February 25th, DDOT will hold its semi-annual forum on the Circulator, where members of the public can comment on future service. This is a critical opportunity to ask agency officials to consider our proposal.
Despite the long road and uncertainty that lies ahead, we feel that this idea is one worth sticking with and fighting for. It would benefit residents, workers, and tourists alike, while providing benefits for local businesses and inducing additional tax revenue for the District.
Now that the National Park Service has changed the rules of the game, it's time to examine the opportunities, and provide better transit options for everyone.
Last year, DC announced a tentative deal to fund and build a new soccer stadium for DC United through a land swap. The details haven't been worked out yet, though concern is growing that the soccer team may ask more of DC than it will give back in return. By making sure DC United accepts more risk, the city can get a better deal.
Under the deal, DC would swap land in Buzzard Point owned by developer Akridge for the city-owned Reeves Center. Then, for $1 a year, it would
donate rent the land to DC United to build the stadium. While it appears better than the baseball stadium deal, considering how expensive it was, that's not a particularly high hurdle to get over.
Both the DC Council and local budget activists have begun to question whether the deal is fair or wise. And public skepticism about the deal could help drive a discussion about how to craft a better one.
A new DC United stadium and a successful franchise could be good for the city. It could bring in business and tax revenue and create opportunities for entertainment, local unity, prestige, and civic pride. These things have value, and it would not be unreasonable for DC to help DC United as long as the benefit exceeded the cost, because a stadium is unlikely to happen without some public contribution.
Even AT&T Park in San Francisco, which is often billed as privately financed, got help with the land and transportation improvements along with continued city service to the park. Without any contribution from the city, no stadium will be built and it's possible DC United could move.
So what would a good deal look like?
Have DC buy the land outright. They already own some of the land that the stadium sits on and they have the power to force landowners to sell if they need to. The District's lack of borrowing ability is something of an impediment, but it can probably still buy and assemble the land necessary for less than DC United can.
And the city is, by definition, invested in the area, so it can hold the land for a very long time if the deal goes south. This makes it a low-cost, low-risk way to help the team. The District would continue to own the land and could always sell it later.
Use a crowdsourcing campaign to pay for transaction costs. Assembling the land will require title work and environmental site assessments that will cost a lot of money. DC United fans are eager to have a stadium. Let them raise $1 million of their own money to make it happen.
Periodically, the Green Bay Packers sell "stock" in the team to raise money for stadium-related projects, but this stock consists mostly of a piece of paper that doesn't pay dividends. A similar campaign for DC United would demonstrate public support and allow those who care the most to pay the most, while reducing the city's burden. It would also be a way to get fans outside of the city to pay more.
Let the District pay for environmental remediation. Currently an industrial site, the future stadium location will require environmental remediation. The cost of the land plus the cost of remediation should be somewhat related to the land's value afterwards, suggesting that DC could recapture most of this expense when they sell.
DC United commits to pay for the stadium's eventual removal. One day, the stadium will reach the end of its life, and DC United should be responsible for restoring the land to the condition in which they get it. They could meet this requirement by either posting a bond to cover the cost, or paying insurance to cover it in case they go bankrupt.
DC United pays market-rate rent and full property tax, eventually. The term sheet has DC United paying $1 in rent per year and getting a reduced property tax for 20 years. By buying and preparing the land for DC United, the District is already taking on a large portion of the risk for them.
But the price of the land will include the potential rent they can charge. Paying $1 in rent regardless of revenue, as is currently proposed, means that DC is losing money on its land investment. It's a clever way to mask the contribution, but it isn't in the best interest of the city. Nor is reducing the property taxes.
If soccer is doing as well as its proponents argue, then covering these expenses shouldn't be too difficult. It would make sense to create a system for deferring these payments without penalty when revenue is low, or in the early years while the league is still growing. But they should be paid eventually, at an interest rate similar to what the city pays on its bonds.
Stadium-related sales taxes go to DC whether DC United profits or not. The current deal makes the tax revenue related to ticket sales, concessions, parking and merchandise available to DC United. In exchange, DC would share 50% of the revenue (which includes the tax revenue that DC would normally get) if DC United makes more than a reasonable profit.
This places all the risk on the city, but splits the reward with DC United. Because of concerns that the team will refuse to open its books or to move money around in such a way that it will never turn a profit, City Administrator Allen Y. Lew has stated that this part of the deal may not happen.
This is a good thing. It's far better for the District to be involved in normal government functions like collecting taxes, than trying to be a business partner of Major League Soccer. Being their landlord is enough.
Tax future development to pay for transportation and security. If the argument is that the stadium will generate spillover development in the area, then it can help pay for stadium-related costs, like security and transportation improvements. In addition, the city could also dedicate about $5.5 million in stadium-construction-related taxes it will earn.
Instead of a land swap, sell the land with open bidding. Once DC determines the value of the properties it proposes swapping, potential buyers willing to pay more should do so. DC and developers on the other side of the swap could split the excess value.
This is actually not too far from what DC is already proposing. But it moves more risk and cost to DC United, its fans and the landowners near the stadium that will benefit most from it, which is where those risks and costs should go. By allowing DC United to defer some payments in the early years, DC can create a cushion for DC United to grow into this investment. That's what a good deal would look like.
While new investment and street life arrive in Northwest DC neighborhoods like Petworth, Brightwood, and Takoma, Kennedy Street has been slow to respond. But a group of local citizens seeks to change that.
Shuttered storefronts define Kennedy Street today, despite its population with rising incomes, newly-arrived young families, and relatively low crime. Folks who arrived in the neighborhood ten, five, or one year ago all say they thought the same thing when they first arrived: "Kennedy Street will arrive any time now." Long-term residents also complain about the lack of services, and are resigned to driving to other neighborhoods for restaurants, groceries, arts and entertainment.
Growing weary of hearing complaints and disappointments, a group of citizens and I started the all-volunteer Kennedy Street Business and Development Association (KSBDA) in January help hasten the evolution.
Geography and the street experience hold Kennedy Street back
Challenges beyond supply and demand explain why Kennedy Street has been slow to change. The street is oriented east-west, against the grain of the city's main north-south commuter routes, and it is bisected by the imposing four-lane Missouri Avenue, isolating the eastern end of Kennedy Street from the rest of the corridor closer to Georgia Avenue.
The area's public transport connections are not ideal, as much of the street is just beyond walking distance of the Fort Totten, Takoma, and Petworth metro stations. Except along Georgia Avenue, bus service is limited outside commuter hours.
The street itself creates a difficult environment for thriving retail. Fortuitously, Kennedy Street is zoned C-2-A between Georgia Avenue and North Capitol Street, permitting a mix of housing and commercial uses. But many of the true commercial buildings are clustered around corners with row houses in between, creating gaps in potential retail clusters. In some places, alleys, the sides of houses, wooden fences, and back yards break up the street wall.
Meanwhile, the sidewalks are narrow, with retaining walls and telephone poles creating bottlenecks. Though there are few places to plant, residents and business owners alike lament the street's general lack of greenery. Some commercial buildings have no alley access at all, requiring business owners to leave waste receptacles on the sidewalk.
Limited support for Kennedy Street
The city's support for the street appears uncoordinated and uneven. After a model effort in community buy-in, the Office of Planning issued a Revitalization Plan for the street in 2008. The plan is as valid today as it was six years ago. But few of its recommendations have been implemented.
The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) offered $3.75 million in funding for streetscape improvements, but it's tied up a separate $3.1 million fund to reconfigure the intersection of Kennedy Street with Missouri and Kansas avenues, both of which are behind schedule. Quick fixes like new parking lines, street furniture, and bike racks have been generally unrealized. City programs to improve building facades and invest in businesses have barely touched Kennedy Street.
Oddly, the eastern portion is not eligible for several city incentives, though the commercial buildings there are in worse shape. Pepco has refused requests to bury or even reduce the number of overhead wires, citing the cost and reliability of the existing infrastructure.
Businesses are determined to make it work
Still, some current businesses are determined to grow with the neighborhood. Culture Coffee, a community-oriented cafe at 7th and Kennedy streets NW, has fast become the neighborhood's third space. A block away, a new outpost of Taqueria DF will add patio seating for tacos and cervezas this summer. Local take-out favorite Andrene's, at 3rd and Kennedy, has pledged to remove its plexiglass windows and open up to the street.
KSBDA has found some businesses who seek locations here, but would need to buy and invest in a space. Most owners are only looking to lease, but don't have the capital to install commercial kitchens, quality floors or new facades. Some owners are speculating on appreciation, but their marginal tenants or unavailable vacant storefronts hold the street back.
More than a few prime commercial locations are shuddered and their status is entirely unclear: are they operating irregularly, defunct, or hiding from city regulators? Other owners are absent, often elderly, and have little faith that the street could ever change. Two owners have even tried to talk me out of starting a business on the street!
So how do we overcome these challenges to help Kennedy Street fulfill the potential that residents and businesses all see? How can a movement of volunteer residents and true mom-and-pop businesses help the street become a walkable, welcoming destination, without turning to major outside developers with no attachment to how we define our neighborhood?
Many of us are ready to take action to help grow the street from the bottom up, but we need your help, your lessons, your advice, and your resources to get it done.
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