The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts in category Public Spaces


America's most unattainable housing is right by downtown DC. That's a huge problem.

Tuesday is Election Day! In celebration, we're re-running our favorite April Fools post from earlier this year to remind everyone exactly how important it is to go vote! The polls are open until 7:00 in Virginia, and 8:00 in the District and Maryland. Find your polling place here, and Greater Greater Washington's endorsements here. Don't forget to vote!

Five people are currently vying for the chance to occupy the White House this November, but only one will win. This is a classic supply and demand problem, and the solution is simple: Build more housing.

Concept rendering for The Estates At President's Park. Original image by Jeff Prouse.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW is an extremely low-density property, with 82 acres housing a population of only 5 people (and a very small amount of office space). Even without adding new buildings, the existing one could become a taller apartment building with plenty of room for the Clintons, Sanderses, Trumps, Cruzes, and Kasichs, even without changes to Washington, DC's federal height limit.

This building is also located in a gated community with large open spaces around it which serve little purpose. They are off-limits to most pedestrian foot traffic and residents of the exclusive community are rarely seen using them either. The Ellipse, just to the south, is largely used as a parking lot. Developing some of these open areas could have provided even more housing.

Significant underutilized land. Photo by US Department of Defense via Wikimedia.

The exclusionary nature of this area has already prevented numerous families from being able to move here. According to news reports, families from Florida, New Jersey, Maryland, Kentucky, Arkansas, California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and others gave up on their hopes of being able to move here for a better job. The lack of available housing is an clear impediment to labor mobility.

Historic preservationists and other groups may complain about such a move. After all, this house is one of many which tour groups frequently pass by on their tours, and some (but not all) US Presidents lived here, adding to its historic value.

However, Washington has many historic buildings; this one is not as architecturally interesting as the office building next door to the west. The National Park Service, which controls the area, is so under-funded it may have to shut down a bridge which carries 68,000 vehicles a day. NPS needs to prioritize its funds and not waste so much money on a property which few people can enjoy.

Original architect James Hoban actually proposed a larger building, but changed his initial design, supposedly to better reflect the "monumental" nature of Washington, DC. As Kriston Capps put it, it's a "Hoban cut off at the hipbone." "It's a perfect architectural metaphor for the almost-urbanism that characterizes life in Washington," he wrote.

Candidates react to the idea

Reached on his corporate jet, Donald Trump said, "I think it's terrific. I can make a great deal to build this and I'm working with the GSA on the hotel down the street which will open early and will be the best hotel in all of DC. I'm good at building things. I'm the best. I have built so many things. Good things, you know, really good things. I know how to build. I have the skills, the best skills. And I can get this done. And I have great taste in furniture, the best taste. We'll increase the quality of the finishes substantially, marble finishes, very, very high quality of luxury marble, the most luxurious marble you've ever seen. Just phenomenal luxury."

Based on the District's inclusionary zoning ordinance, the new White House will be required to include one affordable dwelling unit, which will likely go to Marco Rubio.

In a press release, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager said they'd worked out an agreement to use the basement to build an ultra-secure server room inaccessible to the House of Representatives.

Reached on the campaign trail in Wisconsin, Ted Cruz expressed his opposition to the proposal. "I'm an outsider. I don't need a building to live inside."

The Burlington, Vermont headquarters of Bernie Sanders' campaign sent this statement: "This is why we need to break up the big banks and make sure everyday Americans benefit instead of just Wall Street and big corporations."

While many are excited about the 1600 Penn project's increased density, others have expressed concern that this is simply another situation where developers will trigger displacement of another black family from a neighborhood with an overwhelming percentage of African-American residents according to the 2010 Census.

Still, this neighborhood is very close to ample parks, stores, jobs, and transportation, including multiple Metro stations. The low quantity of housing is a clear public policy failure. Let's end the Lafayette Square housing crisis immediately.


National links: This week in pedestrian shaming...

Pedestrian safety campaigns in New York and Pittsburgh are kind of missing the point, just like Zillow did when it tried measure the best places to trick-or-treat. But Oakland's new transportation department is making some very progressive moves. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!

Photo by FaceMePLS on Flickr.

Stop the shaming: The New York City DOT and the City of Pittsburgh are using flyers, guides, and even a dressed up grim reaper that talks to walkers to try to stop pedestrian deaths. The problem is that the campaigns blame potential victims, ignoring the fact that infrastructure isn't available for walking and roads aren't designed for safety. (Curbed)

Halloween metric botched: Trick-or-treaters tend to naturally identify the best urban design: it's easiest and safest to trick-or-treat in places where people drive slowly, where streets are narrow, where front doors are close together and houses have stoops. But in an attempt to quantify the best places for kids to enjoy Halloween night, real estate tech company Zillow developed an index that focuses more on home values and population ages rather than good urban design. (Slate)

Oakland's transportation turnaround: Based on policy changes the city has made in the last six weeks, you could argue that Oakland, California is at the forefront of a transportation revolution. The recently-formed transportation department has created a strategic plan, developed new parking policies, and moved traffic analysis away from a metric that just encourages more driving. The future is so bright, I swear I've seen the DOT employees all wearing shades. (Streetsblog California)

Just as good as St. Jane?: "Asset-based community development" is the process of creating an inventory of a neighborhood's strengths and organizing them together towards a greater good. Outside money and expertise will not help if the neighborhood is not first organized and aware of its strengths. Arizona State professor Otis White says this kind of approach is just as important to ones proposed by Jane Jacobs. (Otis White)

The perfect intersection: If an intersection is designed correctly, it can become a safe place for all road users. This article lays out 16 wonderful illustrations of ways to do that: there are bump outs, which narrow the streets at pedestrian crossings; speed tables, which raise the crosswalk for motorists to see pedestrians; and bike rails, which allow cyclists to stop at a light and stay on their bike. (Wired)

Quote of the Week

Pulitzer Prize winner Inga Saffron recently wrote about the impact Robert Venturi and Jane Jacobs had on modernist architecture fading in popularity:

At a time when urban renewal was mowing down vast swaths of American cities, Venturi and Jacobs championed the importance of maintaining older buildings. [Venturi] spoke about the "messy vitality," or complexity, that comes from a jumble of styles and urban facades. The phrase echoes Jacobs' "sidewalk ballet" performed by strangers who interacted as they went about their daily business on city streets. (Philadelphia Inquirer)


When it comes to food in our region, here's what "local" actually means

A lot of people think buying "local" food is a way to do your part in making sure you're eating something sustainable. But that word is more nuanced that it may seem at first glance.

Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

Farmer's market season is winding down in DC, so I've been stocking up on apples. There's nothing like the crisp crunch of a farm-fresh apple. Or even better—fresh-squeezed apple cider, warmed on my stovetop on a chilly evening.

I skip over to my favorite cider vendors at the Columbia Heights farmer's market. They hand me a jug, I hand them $5. I stare at my juice lovingly, until I notice something that surprises me.

"Pennsylvania?" I comment, reading the label on my cider. "I didn't realize you guys came from so far away."

The vendor shrugs. "It's not as far as you think."

I have a feeling it's farther than most people think when they walk down to their neighborhood farmer's market for "local" produce. I'm sure I'm not the only naive urbanite who subconsciously harbored the mental image of a farm just-down-the-lane when I shelled out an extra two dollars for produce.

Where did I think that lane was going? The National Mall?

"Local" isn't always as local was we may think, and that's not necessarily bad

Local food isn't necessarily grown 10 minutes away. At my favorite market in Columbia Heights, the produce comes from all over. A farm called 78 Acres is in Smithsburg, Maryland, some 70 miles away. Three Springs is based in Aspers, Pennsylvania, about 100 miles away and across two state lines. The farms that service local DC markets fall within a broad radius, and it goes beyond the region.

Because the word "local" as applied to food systems is not a hard-and-fast definition, some people have grown dubious about the term. Customers who feel they have been duped by "local" label especially bemoan the ostensible damage to the environment that comes when you expand a city's "local" food systems.

But in many cases, especially when it comes to farmer's markets, this isn't always deserved. Transportation is only a small part of the carbon footprint inherent in agricultural production. The proverbial problem is buying strawberries in the winter—shipping food by air for an out-of-season shortcake. And the problem of sustainability doesn't end with transportation. Even if their fields are in Pennsylvania, farmers with years of experience are better equipped to efficiently manage the of water, soil, and energy so that as little is wasted as possible.

This means that plenty of "local" projects, like farmers markets, are sustainable in the grand scheme of things, even if they stretch the definition of the very term. That's good, because their food tastes better, and buying it in-season promotes genetic diversity among crops. Produce from these kinds of providers is also usually better for you; it spends less time in transit, so it loses fewer nutrients it the time between the vine, ground, or stalk and your mouth.

Buying from local farmers also offers a level of transparency—they know where they're coming from, and they aren't afraid to tell you—so you can decide where to draw "local" lines.

Most importantly, at least to me, buying helps support the families that I see every Wednesday night when I'm buying my groceries. Because even if I can't walk down the road to their farm, they're inevitably a part of my extended community.

Plus, it turns out that food grown right next door may not be so great

The most vocal response to the obsession over "local" has come from proponents of urban farming. Many urbanists have tackled the issue of local food systems by developing gardens on rooftops or small plots of land within the city. But while these projects have brought a whole new tenor to the word "local," their costs often outweigh the perceived benefits.

For instance, studies show that urban farms can increase sprawl. City land is limited, and when these small projects are prioritized over density, the urban spaces diffuse. Urban farming can even increase carbon emissions as inexperienced (though certainly well-meaning) farmers plant crops in less favorable growing environments that require more energy and chemical inputs to sustain.

There are, of course, environmental virtues to the community gardens cropping up on city blocks—decreased air pollution, cooling down cities, building natural habitats for urban faunabut they are not inherent to them being local food systems.

Location is just one thing. Let's consider our habits, too.

City dwellers need to consider the scope of what it takes so sustain our urban cores. We consume and waste without thinking twice about the steps it takes to create our daily lives. We order groceries online without thinking what it took to get them to our door.

Perhaps it's more appropriate to call these food systems "regional" rather than "local" for the sake of clarity, but regardless, making an effort to understand what "local" means forces us to grapple with the true extent of our metropolitan area.

This winter, I'm going to miss the days when I can pick up fresh shallots from Pennsylvania, apples from southern Virginia, and kale from western Maryland—but they'll be back in the spring. Whether 25 or 250 miles away, our local farmers keep urban life tenable, sustainable, and deliciously palatable.


Three examples of great street design in France

On a recent trip to France, I had my eyes open for smart design. Three cities in particular were full of examples of how to make streets for people rather than cars. Here's what I noticed.

Rue de Trois Cailloux, a pedestrian street in Amiens, France. All photos by the author.

First, a small bit of context: the cities I visited were Amiens, Rouen, and Chartres, three regional capitals in northern France. Amiens and Rouen each have a little over 100,000 people, while Chartres has about 40,000. Here's where they are in relation to the rest of the country:

Image from Google Maps.

1. Amiens

Amiens is a small city known for its soaring Gothic cathedral, which is the tallest completed cathedral in France. The cathedral was built to house a relic—a piece of John the Baptist's skulland was built at such a grand scale to accommodate pilgrims who would come to see it. In Amiens, a large pedestrian street (Rue de Cailloux) cuts through the heart of the city, taking you through rows of trees and water features and past stores, bakeries, banks, and more.

At points, Rue de Cailloux intersects streets carrying car traffic, but the roads narrow so much at these intersections that instead of pedestrians waiting for a break in cars to cross, the cars had to wait for a break in the people walking to drive through.

Intersection of Amiens' pedestrian street with traffic.

When my mom and I arrived, we got stuck in a long line of traffic; I was pleasantly surprised when I realized it was because of the significant volume of pedestrians milling across an intersection like the one pictured below.

Cyclists wind down a street in Amiens.

2. Rouen

Rouen is another city known for its beautiful Gothic cathedral, which was painted by Claude Monet. A brief stop in Rouen to see the cathedral also meant stumbling onto a similar street. The Rue de General Leclerc in Rouen runs through the center of town and consists of two designated bus lanes flanked by a lane for pedestrians and cyclists.

Compared to Amiens, this pedestrian- and transit-oriented street wasn't as bustling or green. Tourists seemed confused about where to walk and the few passing bicyclists would swerve into the bus lanes, which are separated by a low gutter rather than a steep curb. But the bus passengers waiting at stops up and down the street showed that the design provides a useful alternative for bus transit compared with the traffic-heavy streets surrounding Rue de General Leclerc.

3. Chartres

Chartres, a suburb about an hour and a half outside of Paris, is a delightful medieval town crowned with yet another awe-inspiring Gothic cathedral at its heart. The cathedral soars above the small medieval town below it, whose buildings are generally only three or fours stories and whose streets are often only just wide enough to accommodate a car.

Ultimately, the grand structure serves to put the human scale of the medieval town center into perspective. And the automated bollard system set up throughout this center limits the presence of cars, meaning you can stroll the streets and ponder that difference of scale in peace.

When cars do appear on the winding, narrow roads of Chartres centre ville, they share the space with pedestrians and cyclists.

Is our region full of towns woven through with small medieval streets? No. But that doesn't mean cities like it can't learn from the scale and prioritization put forth by cities like Amiens, Rouen, and Chartres (plus, Annapolis is pretty close).

Given that the Arlington County Board recently approved pedestrian-only streets, and that such streets in other cities have been reversed due to low pedestrian traffic, these French examples give us good fodder to consider what makes or breaks a street that is not primarily used by cars.

The primary key to a successful pedestrian street, it would seem, is a city that designs streets so that pedestrians feel safe and welcome. As Arlington moves forward with their plan, it will be interesting to see how they implement parallel plans to encourage walking and biking, and therefore the success of their newly approved car-free zones.


A big empty space next to the Metropolitan Branch Trail will soon be a park. Check out the plans.

A large park is coming to NoMa, and its design includes a lawn and a children's play area. There will also be a café situated around two pedestrian walkways that extend DC's street grid through the space.

This will soon be a great new park. The view here is from Harry Thomas Way NE. The MBT runs down the far side of the space. Image from Google Maps.

Previously known as the NoMa Green, the park will go up on two acres next to the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT), north of the New York Avenue bridge. Heading up both the park's design and construction is the NoMa Parks Foundation, an affiliate of the NoMa Business Improvement District (BID). It bought the land from Pepco in January.

Robin-Eve Jasper, president of both the parks foundation and BID, has described the park as the "most important thing" that the organization will do for parks in the neighborhood.

Landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz, which is known locally for its work on the public spaces in North Bethesda Market and on the landscape design guidelines for the McMillan Sand Filtration Site, won the design competition.

In May, the space gained half an acre thanks to a donation from developer Folger-Pratt, which plans a large development on the empty plot just to the north of the park (the "future private development" in the map below). The donation means there's space to make the trail's S-curve at R Street a lot easier to ride.

An early conceptual drawing of the full large park site. Image by NoMa BID.

Extending the city grid to define spaces in the park

The park will have walkways that follow the paths of Q Street and 3rd Street and break the space up into four quadrants—like the District itself. Each quadrant will have a separate use, including a café and restroom building in one, a possible children's garden in another, and the large lawn that the BID has sought for the park in another.

"You have these long incredible avenues and boulevards that stitch the city together… they're kind of what DC is all about," said Thomas Woltz, principal at Nelson Byrd Woltz, at a community meeting on the park in October.

The park's four quadrants. Image by Nelson Byrd Woltz.

One aspect of the plan is a "remediation" meadow, named such for the pollution in the soil that will be taken out by planting native flora, that Woltz says recalls the site's industrial past. The meadow will also have a boardwalk and a small hill, with the latter acting as a natural barrier between the pedestrian and bike traffic on the trail and people in the park.

This is an example of adding topography that engages users in park spaces, which was an element that designers highlighted when they looked at other parks as models for this one earlier this year.

Other aspects in the plan include imbedding old railroad rails in the paved areas at the edge of the park as a reminder of its history as the Eckington Yards, says Woltz.

A view of rails imbedded in the ground and the potential cafe from the street. Image by Nelson Byrd Woltz.

The design also includes a dog park in the half acre of green space created by the softening of the curve on the MBT at the northernmost end of the Pepco site. This would complement the dog park that the NoMa BID plans for the corner of Third Street and L Street NE.

Community engagement ahead

The NoMa BID plans to engage the community and work with the team at Nelson Byrd Woltz to finalize the park design's details throughout this year. Under its latest timeline, construction could begin as early as 2017, and it could be be complete by 2018.

Attendees at the October meeting were given the chance to review the conceptual design for the space and chat with officials. One point that was raised was how, by following the city grid, the Q Street path meets the MBT at a point north of the southernmost junction of the trail and park, where many residents of Eckington will walk to reach popular destinations like the NoMa-Gallaudet Metro station.

Image by Nelson Byrd Woltz and modified by the author.

NoMa BID officials and the designers welcomed the comments, saying that the designs are just the first in the process.


Meet Anacostia's newest bike trail. It might be the most beautiful in the region.

A new four-mile trail just opened along the east bank of the Anacostia River. It joins two trails that were already there to create one big, continuous path that runs from where the Anacostia meets the Potomac to a number of places well into Maryland.

The new segment of the Anacostia River Trail provides stunning views of the river. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

The trail situation along the Anacostia can be a little tough to follow. In Maryland, there's the Anacostia River Trail, which runs for two miles through Bladensburg. It's the southern tip of the the Anacostia Tributary Trail System, a network of a half-dozen connected trails (more than 25 miles worth) that extend into Wheaton, Adelphi, and College Park.

In DC, there's the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, which is actually two trails along both sides of the Anacostia in DC, running between Benning Road and the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge with numerous connections to neighborhoods on each side of the river.

And until now, there's been a gap in the trail between these networks. What recently opened is a new trail, shown in green below, that bridges this gap and makes one seamless 40-plus mile trail system throughout the Anacostia watershed.

The Anacostia Tributary Trail System. The green portion is the new part of the Anacostia River Trail.

The new segment will be officially called part of the Anacostia River Trail. It weaves through the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and connects to DC's Mayfair and Eastland Gardens neighborhoods. DDOT's Anacostia Waterfront Initiative team built the segment over the course of two years.

DDOT plans to construct a more direct route through the Kenilworth area, which would provide a more direct trip along the river and a new bridge connecting to the National Arboretum. But this proposal faces an uncertain future, largely due to the fact that the National Park Service needs to clean up the land the route is supposed to run through, as it used to be a hazardous waste dump.

The new trail sure is gorgeous

While the trail had its official grand opening on Monday, it's been open for use on recent weekends and I was able to check it out.

Starting at Benning Road NE at Anacostia Ave NE, a short ramp curls around to a new underpass of Benning Road. After a short stint along the river, the trail enters the Mayfair neighborhood, using a designated sidewalk section to pass along Thomas Elementary School.

The new segment starts with an underpass of Benning Road and the metro tracks. View looking south.

Users then loop around Mayfair Mansions using a curb-protected cyclepath until a new bridge crossing the Watts Branch and entering Kenilworth Park.

Curb-protected Hayes-Jay Street bikeway around Mayfair Mansions, one of the first portions of the new segment to be constructed.

The next three miles of uninterrupted trail through the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens offers an array of woodland, meadow, and wetland scenes that are among the best scenery of any trail in the region.

The heavily wooded section adjacent to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens provides ample shade and benches alongside the trail allow a chance to rest with views of the Gardens' wetlands

Wetlands at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens from the trail.

An extensive concrete boardwalk offers panoramic views of the river. You can also see Amtrak and MARC trains where the Northeast Corridor crosses the Anacostia.

The trail where Amtrak's Northeast Corridor crosses the Anacostia River.

Also, meadow and wetlands line large portions of the trail between the DC-MD border and Bladensburg Waterfront Park.

Several meadow areas are visible from the Anacostia River Trail in Maryland.

The newly unified trail network through the Anacostia watershed should provide recreation and enjoyment for years to come. And now, you can get out and enjoy it today!


Our endorsements for ANC in Ward 3

Separated from most of the city by Rock Creek Park, Ward 3 is the western corner of the District. Known for both its beautiful neighborhoods and wealthy enclaves, the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions here have seen lots of bitter arguments over new development and change. Many Ward 3 candidates responded to our survey, and we chose four to endorse.

Map created with Mapbox, data from OpenStreetMap.


What are ANCs, and why should I care?

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, are neighborhood councils of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community. ANCs are very important on housing and transportation. An ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects. On the other hand, proactive and positive-thinking ANCs give the government suggestions for ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support.

Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes; Your vote—every vote—really counts.

Not sure which SMD you live in? Find out here.

Here are our endorsements

After reviewing the candidate responses from each competitive race in Ward 3, we chose four candidates to endorse. You can read their positions for yourself here, along with responses of many unopposed candidates.

Cleveland Park. Photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

In ANC 3C, we endorse Emma Hersh, Chaz Rotenberg, and Bob Ward

The National Zoo, the Naval Observatory, the National Cathedral; all of these are inside the boundaries of ANC 3C. Three major thoroughfares—Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Wisconsin Avenues—cut through this ANC, and it includes the neighborhoods of Cleveland Park, Woodley Park, and a portion of Cathedral Heights.

Today there are a couple of headline-grabbing issues involving this area. One is the proposed homeless shelter in Ward 3. There has been tremendous debate about this shelter's location since Mayor Bowser announced her plan to close the DC General shelter earlier this year and replace it with new ones in all eight wards. A group of residents close to where Ward 3's is supposed to go up have filed a lawsuit to try and halt construction.

Another contentious topic is the redevelopment of the Wardman Park Hotel, a large site that could be home to many DC residents if redeveloped into housing, but which has met a lot of neighborhood resistance and now has an uncertain future.

Finally, we asked all candidates about their priorities for the ongoing Comprehensive Plan amendment process, and how they envisioned their neighborhood accommodating more housing for incoming residents.

Perhaps because of the many hot-button issues in and around this ANC, there are a lot of contested races here. In the race for 3C05, the district at the northern border of the ANC, we endorse Emma Hersh.

Hersh's incredibly detailed responses showed a strong support for both bus and bike improvements in the area, and while she expressed concerns about the location selection process of the Ward 3 shelter, ultimately she "would be able to support the shelter" and hopes that the community "would welcome and embrace our new neighbors."

Hersh also says she is in favor of something different happening at the Wardman Park Hotel site, and that "[i]n its present state, the 16-acre [site] is doing far less to contribute to Woodley Park and the surrounding communities than it could." Her aspirations for the site are in tune with her three goals for the Comprehensive Plan amendment process: more "affordable housing, transit-oriented development, and an increase in local services and amenities." Hersh thinks all can be done in a way that "balances the importance of protecting and preserving our historic architecture and landmarks with the pursuit of opportunities to increase residential and commercial density."

Opponent and incumbent Margaret SIegel did not send in very thorough responses, and has different positions on a number of issues. She believes that the proposal at Wardman Park was "radically out of scale with [the] neighborhood," and did not offer a clear stance on the homeless shelter. We see Hersh as the clear choice for this district.

The National Cathedral. Photo by ehpien on Flickr.

Along the opposite border of the ANC lies 3C08, which includes the embassy-filled area surrounding Massachusetts Avenue and the Naval Observatory. Chaz Rotenberg was our clear choice for this race.

Rotenberg is unabashedly and "strongly in favor of the proposed homeless shelter at 3320 Idaho Avenue" and proclaims that this "is the neighborhood issue I care most about." Rotenberg also supports the development of more housing along Wisconsin Avenue, noting that "[h]ousing density has been disproportionately increasing at a lower rate in Ward 3 compared to other Wards," and was cautiously in favor of the proposed Wardman Park project, saying that he wanted a large proportion of the 1,500 units to be made into affordable housing.

Rotenberg is running against Malia Brink, who was less enthusiastic about building more housing along transit corridors. She is also still hesitant about the homeless shelter, having testified against the first location. We hope neighbors vote for Rotenberg.

Finally, the last contested race in ANC 3C is 3C09, where Bob Ward is running against long-time incumbent Nancy MacWood. Based on their responses to our survey, we support Bob Ward here.

Ward says he is "running to offer a different point of view than the one that prevails on ANC3C today." This includes being a strong supporter of additional housing along both Wisconsin and Connecticut Avenues. He says the "Wardman Park project is one of the more exciting prospects for the area to add residential density in close proximity to transit in ANC3C," is adamant that the "nightmare that is DC General should be closed," and supports the current proposed shelter site, though he admits it seems to be the result of a "hastily-cut deal."

Ward also gives specific recommendations for pedestrian and bike improvements and says one of his goals "is to make parking irrelevant for intra-neighborhood shopping," increasing connectivity and access to make it easier for pedestrians and bicyclists to move around. Sounds good to us.

American University. Photo by Raul Pacheco-Vega on Flickr.

In ANC 3D, we endorse Troy Kravitz

Encompassing the neighborhoods between 42nd Street and the Potomac River, ANC 3D is the westernmost section of the District. Spring Valley, Palisades, Foxhall Crescent, and the American University are all a part of this ANC.

Relationships between this commission and American University have not always been great, so we asked candidates how they hoped to work alongside the institution. Transportation along Massachusetts Avenue and the pending Comprehensive Plan update are also of importance here.

Finally, there has been a longstanding debate about the redevelopment of the Spring Valley Shopping center, where at one point a group of neighbors fought for and won a historic designation for the site's parking lot, effectively hampering development there.

There is one race we'd like to highlight in this area: 3D02, the neighborhoods directly surrounding American University's campus. Here we enthusiastically support Troy Kravitz over incumbent Tom Smith.

Kravitz fended off a long legal challenge by Smith in order to run for this seat, the first time a challenger has appeared in many years. Kravitz has long "publicly supported thoughtful regeneration at the Spring Valley Shopping Center," and also considers the planned Superfresh development nearby as an opportunity with "the potential to re-activate a largely moribund commercial district while imposing few hardships upon the nearest neighbors." He is eager to improve relations with the ANC and American University, and has specific recommendations for improving public transit along Massachusetts Avenue.

What is most important here is that a strong challenger to Tom Smith is an opportunity, as Kravitz puts it, to end the ANC's "pattern of obstruction at every turn." Contributors to Greater Greater Washington have written for years about Tom Smith and his many attempts to block challengers, as well as his consistent history of opposing and slowing down many changes to the area.

If you're a resident in 3D02, make this election count and vote for Kravitz.

Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.

In other ANCs, there are no contested races or we make no endorsements

In the other Ward 3 commissions (3B, 3E, & 3F), all the candidates are running unopposed. As per our endorsement process outlined here, we didn't offer endorsements in uncontested races, though you can certainly read full candidate responses to our questionnaire here and learn more about your representatives and issues in the neighborhoods.

As for ANC 3G, we encourage residents and readers to look carefully at the the candidate responses we received, though we decided not to offer our endorsements to any candidates there.

Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 3 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 3. You can also see responses and our endorsements for all 8 wards on our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page, and we'll publish our rationale for those in upcoming posts.

These are official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this year's endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and presented endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.

Public Spaces

A record number of people petitioned for a dog park at the Takoma Rec Center, but it's still not happening

In December 2015, dog owners across Ward 4 submitted the largest petition ever to build a dog park in DC. But a small group of neighbors put up a big fight, and last week the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) made it official: no dog park. Here's what happened.

Image from Wikipedia Commons.

In late 2014, a group of dog owners that live around the Takoma Recreation Center started meeting regularly to let their dogs play together in one of the fields.

It turns out the closest canine closure was at Upshur Park, which is the only dog park in Ward 4, and is about 2.5 miles away from the rec center. With the goal of getting a dog park built closer to them, the neighbors organized into the Northern Ward 4 Dog Park Group. The full list of DC's 13 dog parks can be found here.

Here's how DPR decides whether to build a dog park

The application to build a dog park in DC is a gauntlet of work. It requires the applicant to gather lots of signatures of support from their neighbors; it requires a letter of support from the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC); it also requires applications be posted in DC Register for a 30-day public comment period.

After the public comment period, a Dog Park Application Review Committee reviews the entire application and provides the DPR Director a recommendation, but DPR's regulations give the DPR Director the sole authority to decide whether to approve or reject applications.

The criteria for making that ultimate decision? The preamble for DPR's regulations on dog parks states that flexibility is required when making decisions about where to put them because DC is dense and parkland is scarce.

DPR's regulations also state that dog parks should be placed on under-utilized land where possible, but not in areas specifically designated as playgrounds or children's play areas, including athletic fields and courts.

Neighbors found all kinds of options for a dog park, but they keep getting shot down

In early 2015, the Dog Park Group started talking to DPR and neighbors of the rec center about possible locations for a dog park. If you look at the map below, you'll see the corner of 4th and Whittier Streets, NW marked as Site #1, as that's where the Dog Park Group initially proposed that the park be located.

Satellite view of the proposed sites for a dog park at the Takoma Recreation Center. On this map, north is to the right. Image from Google Maps.

All that sits at that site is an abandoned shuffleboard court and some trees. Across the street, there are a few single-family homes.

Close-up of the Dog Park Group's first proposed site. Image from Google Maps.

I interviewed Michael Cohen, a representative from the Dog Park Group, and he said DPR initially agreed to this site. But, he added, after they gathered almost 300 signatures for their petition, a DPR official told him that a few neighbors that lived across the street objected to the proposed site because it was too close to their homes and DPR advised picking another site.

I asked DPR about this claim, and Communications Director Gwendolyn Crump told me the first site was rejected by the Department of Energy and Environment due to concerns about stormwater runoff.

Cohen told me his group worked with members of the ANC covering the rec center, ANC 4B, to find a better site. As shown in the map below, the second site was not adjacent to any streets or housing, instead bordering the Takoma indoor pool and was just north of Coolidge High School.

Close-up of the Dog Park Group's second proposed site. Image from Google Maps.

Cohen told me DPR again initially supported the site location, so the group again began conducting outreach and collecting signatures. But, again, prior to making a formal application to DPR, he claims that DPR told them that the principal for Coolidge High School objected to the location.

I also asked Crump about this, and she said that a nearby church objected to the site over noise concerns.

Cohen said the Dog Park Group was disappointed but again worked with ANC 4B to find another alternative site. As shown on the map below, the third chosen site was near the intersection of Underwood and 3rd Streets NW, wedged between a baseball/soccer field and a parking lot.

Close-up of the Dog Park Group's third proposed site. Image from Google Maps.

Again, DPR initially supported this location for a dog park, so the Dog Park Group began to conduct outreach to their neighbors. The group collected 563 signatures in favor of building at this site—the largest dog park petition ever recorded by DPR.

The people petitioning for a dog park made a strong case for one

The group's December 2015 application made a pretty clear case for why northern Ward 4 should have a dog park. The zip code of the Takoma Rec Center, 20011, has the second-highest number of registered dogs in DC; DPR's own master plan, Play DC, designated a future dog park around the rec center; and finally, the rec center has more than six acres of unutilized land.

Also in December 2015, the group managed to secure a written endorsement of support from ANC 4B. As required, the application was published in the DC register from February 26 - May 1, 2016 (even though DPR's regulations only require 30-days of public comment).

DPR was not required but held community meetings in July 2015, October 2015, March 2016 and April 2016. The Dog Park Group is opposed primarily by a small, opaque organization known as the "Friends of the Takoma Recreation Center". That group is one of many community advisory groups created under Mayor Anthony Williams to help DPR manage its facilities.

The Dog Park Group made repeated attempts to work with the Friends of the Rec Center toward a compromise. I attended a public Friends meeting in March of this year to observe the discussion and wrote about it on my blog, but here's what they put in writing to the Dog Park Group as their bottom line:

Our mission is to support a clean, safe and fun environment at our park. The Friends' focus is and has always been programs and activities for children. We hope you find a community that is interested in supporting your cause.

Despite opposition, on September 12, 2016, the Dog Park Application Review Committee voted 5-3 in favor of the third chosen site.

Map showing some of the addresses of the Petitioners seeking a Dog Park at the Takoma Rec Center. Image from Google Maps.

This month, the dog park effort received a formal "no"

On October 16, 2016, DPR Director Keith Anderson formally denied the Dog Park Group's application. Mr. Anderson noted that he considered the application, community meetings, the public comments and various letters and emails in support and opposition. Despite a positive endorsement from the DPARC, Mr. Anderson's denial rested on three reasons:

  1. Its too-close proximity to nearby residences' front porches
  2. Its failure to streamline with the existing use of the open space where adults and children play, walk, and rest
  3. Its location between two heavily used athletic fields
Mr. Anderson ended his denial letter with the following statement:
Please note, however, this does not foreclose the possibility of a dog park being located in an alternative site within the community. DPR is committed to collaborating with the community to ensure the needs of dog enthusiasts are met.
Dog owners need a place to let their dogs play

I have reviewed Mr. Anderson's stated reasons for denying the Dog Park Group's application and find them to be curious when you consider that DC's other dog parks are mostly on DPR parks and adjacent to housing and athletic fields. The larger issue, however, is that DPR completely ignored the preamble to its own regulations, which requires flexibility and compromise. Playgrounds can and already do co-exist for both kids and dogs.

According to some reports, there are now more households with dogs (43 million) than with kids (38 million), and urban dog parks are the fastest growing. That's because urban dog owners usually lack the outside space needed to let their dogs exercise and play with other canines.

Image from Wikipedia Commons.

The Dog Park Group proposed using unutilized land at the Takoma Rec Center to let their dogs exercise and socialize. They followed all of DPR's rules, made multiple attempts to find a site that DPR would support, conducted extensive outreach with the opposition group and received a positive recommendation from the review committee. What more could they have done?

Where do we go from here?

I contacted Keith Anderson and posed a few questions to better understand his denial letter. DPR's communications director politely responded to some of my questions, although I was told to submit a Freedom Of Information Act request to answer others.

My final question to DPR was "is Director Anderson willing to reconsider his decision?" DPR responded basically no, but that they have already contacted Mr. Cohen and plan to collaborate "to find an area within Takoma that is best situated to handle a dog park while not impacting use of the park by those without dogs."

I confirmed that DPR did indeed contact Cohen to discuss an alternative site. But the entire experience is ponderous - why is building this dog park on unused land so controversial? Could the Dog Park Group have done more to alleviate concerns by the Friends group?

If you think DPR's director should support the Dog Park Group application, you can let him know by sending an e-mail to and copy Mr. Cohen ( If you live in Ward 4, please copy your e-mail to Councilmember Brandon Todd at (I contacted Brandon Todd to get a comment for this post and he did not respond).

Full disclosure: The author lives in Maryland and has no "dog" in this fight, but has a dog that loves to play with other dogs.

Update: Gwendolyn Crump, DPR's director of communications contacted us to say that while the original application was denied, Keith Anderson met with Dog Park Group representative Michael Cohen last weekend, and that the agency is "committed to collaborating with the dog park applicant and the community to find a suitable area within Takoma," adding that it is "planning a walk through with members of the community within the next two weeks to identify alternative locations that are more suitable for the dog park."

Cross-posted at Takoma Talk.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City