Greater Greater Washington

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For whom the bell no longer tolls: Historic Anacostia

Even as we discuss living in space, vestiges of the past are all around us. Neighborhoods are have reclaimed call boxes, named restaurants after area founders, and installed heritage trail markers. Giving history center stage puts life today into proper perspective.


St. Teresa's overlooks a small garden in the rear of the church. Photos by the author.

Centuries before wrist watches or mobile phones helped us keep our schedules or Twitter gave us the news, sextons tolled church bells to tell everyone what time it was. Some churches in downtown Washington still ring their bells today, but in Anacostia, the oldest church bell tolls no more.

Built in 1879 at the corner of Washington & Fillmore Streets (now 13th & V Street SE), Saint Teresa of Avila is the oldest surviving church east of the river.

While the church remains an integral part of the neighborhood's social fabric, a bell in its rear hasn't been struck for years, according to conversations with a number of local residents.

In 1893, 14 yeas after St. Teresa's opened, the congregation acquired a bell so it could tell the community it was holding services. With no place to install the bell atop the church, St. Teresa's built a wooden tower in the rear, and with the aid of horses, a crude winch, and a series of pulleys, raised the bell to the top. The city ruled the wooden tower a fire hazard in 1965, which led to the construction of a concrete and steel bell mount. The bell rests in that mount today.

"In former days bells were endowed with a large measure of personality, and were popularly supposed to be in league with the spirits of the air and other supernatural agencies," reported the New York Times in the late 19th century. "In consequence of such beliefs many of the old cathedral bells in England and on the Continent of Europe have some fine legends or fanciful stories connected with them in which they are made to play the part of good angels or ministering spirits with voices of warning or of hope and cheer to the children of men."


Close up of the church bell in the rear of St. Teresa.

I've heard many stories about the St. Teresa bell over the years. Earlier this year, a nonagenarian fondly recalled to me that as a child, when the lamplighters came around and the evening bell rang at St. Teresa, it was cue to go home. Others have recalled that in early April 1968, the bell rang simultaneously with small-scale riots breaking out on Nichols Avenue and Good Hope Road. More recent history agrees that the bell rang up until the mid-1980s and that new church leadership along with noise complaints from some of the neighborhood led to it being discontinued.

"One of the blessings about the Historic District and my block in particular was the abundance of places of worship," writes Angela Copeland, a resident of the 1300 block of W Street SE and administrator of the Great Ward Eight Facebook page. "When I first moved here, there used to be several religious parades conducted by multiple churches including St. Teresa. I don't see them so much anymore. I've visited St. Teresa. It's historic value to the neighborhood and the District's Catholic community cannot be overstated."

With the neighborhood slowly regenerating and being reborn, appeals to Anacostia's history are everywherefor example, Anacostia was DC's first subdivision as well as the home of Frederick Douglass. As part of Anacostia reclaiming its past, should the bell ring once again?

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The pop-up debate in Lanier Heights pits "property rights" against "neighborhood character"

If you've walked through Lanier Heights in recent years, it's clear that new construction has changed the neighborhood. Some residents want to change zoning laws to limit that trend, while others welcome it. Both groups faced off at a meeting on Tuesday.


Photo by John Leszczynski on Flickr.

Over the past five years or so, multi-unit condos known as pop-ups have replaced a number of single-family row houses in Lanier Heights. Several more of these projects are already under way, making it clear that pop-ups are the trend in the quiet, residential neighborhood.

Some long-time residents are mad as hell about it, saying pop-ups block sunlight and crowd yard space. They contend that buildings block views, damage historic row houses, and make it hard to find parking on the street. The result, they argue, is that it's much harder for families with children to live in the neighborhood.

Those who support pop-ups say that people's rights to build onto their property, which can increase its value, shouldn't be limited. They also point out that expanding houses or converting them into multiple units increases the city's dwindling housing supply.

A change in Lanier Heights' zoning laws would limit pop-ups

To stop future pop-ups, these residents have proposed a change to Lanier Heights' zoning designation. They want to downzone the neighborhood from R-5-B, which allows property owners to build to the back and the front of their lot and up to 50 feet in height, to R-4, which would limit the number of units in a row house to two as well as put a cap on how much of its lot construction can occupy.

Neighbors Against Downzoning has officially rejected the proposed zoning change, and at Tuesday's meeting residents added a number of additional reasons not to downzone.

Some pointed out the technical failings of R-4, citing ways developers could get around the proposed restriction. An architect in the audience voiced his opposition, saying that the difference between R-5 and R-4 is too minor to warrant changing. "We're fighting over 10 feet," he explained. Many lots in Lanier Heights aren't even eligible for R-5 development, making the debate a moot point for much of the neighborhood.

Others voiced broader opposition to restricting development. "I agree, we have a problem," one resident said. "However, I don't agree that downzoning is the solution. I believe in density, I believe in growth, I believe in diversity, and I think this downzoning will have unintended consequences."

"We're in the middle of a housing crisis in this city, and downzoning will only exacerbate that," another resident said.

He was not the only one to point out that many row homes in Lanier Heights neighborhood are valued at over $1 million, making them financially out of reach for many of the young families residents claim to want. Several younger residents explained that owning a home in Lanier Heights simply would not have been possible were it not for the smaller, more affordable condos available in pop-up buildings.

A solution could come in the form of a new type of zoning

While most residents are interested in protecting Lanier Heights' historic row homes, what became clear at the meeting is that R-4 downzoning is a far-from-perfect solution. ANC 1C commissioners brought up conservation districts and historic preservation designations as other possible solutions, but acknowledged that each has its downsides.

There's rumor that the DC Office of Planning's zoning rewrite will put forth a new zoning designation that would essentially fall between R5 and R4, and that might be an ideal compromise. But given how drawn out the zoning update has been, it's anyone's guess when the new code will go into place.

Neighbors should work to establish common goals

ANC Commissioner Marty Davis suggested a next step that's practical for all parties. "The one thing this neighborhood doesn't have," he said, "is a plan saying 'This is what we like. This is what we want Lanier Heights to be.' Help us make that plan by going to http://www.envisionadamsmorgan.org and expressing your opinion."

Davis encouraged everyone in Adams Morgan to join a community-wide meeting about these and other zoning issues on January 24.

As for downzoning, ANC1C will deliberate and vote on the substance of Lanier Heights' zoning proposals on Wednesday, December 3rd at 7:00 PM at Mary's Center. If you live in the neighborhood and have an opinion on the matter, come to that meeting to share your thoughts with the commission.

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Events roundup: Georgetown and Fairfax

How can communities change while preserving what's important? Learn about these challenges in historic Georgetown and developing Route 1 in Fairfax. Also, learn about transportation financing, water and equity, and Ride On service at upcoming events around the region.


Photo by terratrekking on Flickr.

Change in Georgetown: Moving historic neighbor­hoods into the future can be difficult. Georgetown is trying to do that with its "Georgetown 2028" plan. On Tuesday, November 4, Georgetown BID transportation director Will Handsfield will discuss how the area can continue to develop a thriving commercial district and preserve its historic flair. That's at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW from 12:30 to 1:30 pm.

Growth and stormwater: The Coalition for Smarter Growth's next tour takes you to Route 1 in Fairfax, where growth will affect the local watersheds. Experts will talk about how Fairfax can add housing, stores, and jobs while preserving water quality. You need to RSVP for the tour, which is 10 am to noon this Saturday, November 1.

Public-private transportation: Curious about how the nation will finance transportation infrastructure? Tonight, Tuesday, October 28, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is hosting David Connolly and Ward McCarragher, both from the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, to discuss a new report about how public-private partnerships can fund transportation. A wine and cheese reception will begin at 5 pm and the presentation will be 5:30-6:30 at 1666 K Street, NW, 11th floor. Please RSVP.

Ride On more: Montgomery County is planning to increase service on six routes, and will discuss the changes at a public forum Wednesday, October 29, starting at 6:30 at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place.

Social equity and water: Georgetown's Urban and Regional Planning program's weekly lecture series is talking about "big investments in big cities." On Monday, November 3 at 5:30 pm, George Hawkins, the general manager of DC Water, will discuss how infrastructure also affects social equity. The talk is at Georgetown's SCS building at 640 Massachusetts Ave, NW. RSVP here.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at events@ggwash.org.

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The 11th Street Bridge Park gets a brilliant design. Will it succeed?

The organizers behind the 11th Street Bridge Park have picked a design that could be the city's most brilliant piece of architecture in decades. Now comes the hard part: making this vision work in a spot surrounded by water rather than homes and businesses.


The winning proposal concentrates activity on the east side of the Anacostia River. All images from the design team.

From a field of four competitors, the jury picked a design team led by the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), best known in the United States for the Seattle Public Library, and landscape architect OLIN Studios, which designed Canal Park near the Nationals ballpark and will renovate Franklin Park downtown. Together, they created a design that can do what the bridge park's organizers wanted: reconnect neighborhoods on both sides of the Anacostia to the river and each other.


A diagram of the different activities on the bridge.

In the best case scenario, someone walking along the Anacostia up from Poplar Point in summer 2018 would see the riverbanks rise gently for hundreds of feet, crossing to form an X shape. At first glance, it's simple: almost like two logs falling across a stream, some kind of primitive bridge. But up close, the renderings and plans show a string of spaces that would appeal to people across the city.


A section showing how the park is laid out.

The design creates iconic spaces and helps reconnect Anacostia to the river

From a functional perspective, it's best to look at the design like it's an extension of the ground on either bank. A long bar from Capitol Hill interlocks with a loop from Anacostia, making the bridge feel like an outgrowth of the banks and not a discrete transitional space. Multiple programs fill in the in between space. Some are shady and enclosed, like the amphitheater, while others are open and dramatic, like the overlook.


An outdoor theatre would have multiple levels.

The designers also chose to place the anchor elements, like the environmental education center, the cafe, and the playground, closer to the Historic Anacostia side. One reason is to encourage more people to visit the east bank, which I-295 cuts off from the river.

Anacostia also needs those activities more, especially the play space. They will serve a basic need while also generating the traffic that makes parks feel safe. What's better is that the environmental education center has eyes on both the main deck and the secluded space below it.


A detailed section drawing. Click to enlarge.

As the section above shows, the cafe also sits between levels, so someone sitting on the upper lawn can see through the restaurant and onto the environmental center's boat launch below.


Views extend across different levels, improving visibility and making the site feel safer.

The other elements, like the dramatic overlook, the main plaza, and the amphitheater sit closer to the Navy Yard. These are iconic attractions, for tourists, local bikers passing by, and I suspect even weddings, like at New York's equally dramatic Fort Tryon Park.

Finally, the ecological design is appropriately balanced. Along the main paths are spaces that people can play on. They're visible, but not in the way are the hands-off landscapes, like wetlands, oyster banks, and swales to filter rainwater. OLIN found a way to integrate ecological urbanism into the project without compromising the people habitat. They even proposed a wooded berm to block out traffic noise from I-295.


Section drawing showing the design's ecological features.

The project reflects the sophistication of the designers, who have shown that they can stand up to criticism and push their designs as the demands of money, politics and gravity weigh down their vision.

Public input can help this bridge soar

How will the organizers and their team face down the remaining challenges? Some are design issues, as competition entries are never quite figured out, and designers often fill renderings with aspirational eye candy. I think the public can help in this case by identifying those problems constructively and allowing the design team the room to solve them.

Scott Kratz, the man behind the bridge, has done that. He deserves commendation for the long-running and effective public outreach that formed the foundation of the competition designs. Respecting residents as experts in their own lives and the designers as experts in their fields, he has arrived at something that could work well. More of that is ideal.


Trees could buffer the park from I-295.

The bigger challenge is getting people there. This bridge is in the middle of the river, with the Navy Yard at one end and a highway interchange at the other before reaching nearby neighborhoods. That means there's little of the incidental activity that helps public spaces like this to be busy and safe.

New infill development could help, like the planned Maritime Plaza along the river on the north side. So would the redevelopment of Poplar Point, if it ever happens. Even without those, adding more destination activities to the nearby riverbanks, as in the WRT/NEXT design for the bridge, might have the same effect.

If the city builds the streetcar across the river, including a stop at the bridge park, it would open easy access to the park up beyond the immediate neighbors.

But a growing appeal around the park could cause a rise in rents and influx of expensive retail, displacing the groups the bridge was meant to serve. The four or so years before the park opens could be spent developing strategies to add housing diversity without disrupting lives and preventing the poor from enjoying the benefits of good urbanism and great architecture. The bridge has been an excellent catalyst for design, perhaps it can also be a great catalyst for social policy.

In Washington, some people criticize proposed buildings or developments to kill them and preserve the status quo. Meanwhile, designers criticize something with the hope of refining it. What can we refine with the 11th Street Bridge Park? Now is the time to start talking.

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David Catania on Metro, economic development, streetcars, affordable housing, bike lanes, building heights, and more

We chatted with David Catania, DC councilmember at large and an independent candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia, today at noon. Here is a transcript of the discussion.


Photo by tedeytan on Flickr.

David Alpert: Welcome to our chat. I'm here in Catania HQ with Aimee Custis, Ashley Robbins, Jonathan Neeley, and Abigail Zenner. We'll get started in just a minute.

I am going to be asking questions verbally to Mr. Catania, who will answer verbally. Aimee, Ashley, and Jonathan will be taking turns typing in his words.

That means that if there are any typos, they are our fault and not Mr. Catania's. We suggested this arrangement to ensure we can get a lot of questions and answers in (it has nothing to do with Mr. Catania's typing ability).

I want to ask as many of your questions as possible. Please tweet them with hashtag #ggwchat and I will be able to post them directly to the chat.

David Alpert: Okay, David Catania is here with us. Let's get started!

Welcome to the chat, Councilmember Catania!

David Catania: Thank you very much! I'm really excited to participate. I've been looking forward to this conversation for a long time and I'm eager to get started!

David Alpert: To get started: What makes you the best candidate for mayor of DC?

David Catania: The District of Columbia has had reversals the last twenty years. When I first joined the council, we had a pretty bad budget shortfall. We've worked very had to reverse this trajectory. I have the vision and the values to make that happen.

It's a combination of record and experience coupled with the items I helped champion in my 17 years, and in our vision statement, which you can find at cataniaplatform.com, people can see the specifics of what I'd like to do to secure our city's future.

David Alpert: What initiatives from other cities do you admire and which you would like to bring to DC?

David Catania: During this campaign I've been talking a lot about what Mayor Bloomberg has done at Roosevelt Island. Specifically, the partnership between the city and Cornell and Israel Institute of Technology. It's a very ambitious $2 billion program to double the number of engineers and people with Ph.Ds in engineering in New York City. Mayor Bloomberg understood that financial services is a sector of the economy that's shrinking in New York. Doubling the number of engineers and individuals with PhDs in engineering is critical.

In 2000, I authored the New Economy Transformation Act, which included a host of incentives to bring tech companies to the city. We've been successful under this program. There were financial incentives, and other incentives. We've brought over 200 companies to the city. These companies, in order to grow, have to have a work force that permits them to grow, and that means more engineers than we are producing here locally.

Engineers are incredible job multipliers. Every engineer produces 4.2 jobs. In our city, our two largest industries are government and legal services, and these are not growing industries, in fact they're shrinking. The next mayor has to be consumed with how we'll continue to grow our economy, and I propose an increase in new economy companies.

I'd like to see this growth located on the St. Elizabeth's campus, the same campus as Homeland Security. Successful innovation is often the function of a partnership between government, education, and private sector. I see the St. Elizabeth's campus as a focal point for opportunity in our city.

David Alpert: OK, let's talk about transit for a bit. Andrew asked: In the several years that I've been a resident of DC, late-night, off-peak, and weekend Metrorail service has slowed to a trickle, while WMATA's much-touted bus investments have had little tangible benefit for riders. What will you do to encourage Metro to provide services that are more useful to DC residents?

David Catania: Many of the issues surrounding late night service with Metro is a function of our underinvestment in maintenance in the past. The system is really under a great deal of duress because of that lack of investment, which means it's often harder for us to keep the system in service.

Some of the ideas that are proposed under the Metro Momentum plan, which include additional pocket tracks and investments, will help with reliability but over the next 25 years will cost quite a bit.

I think there's quite a lot we can do about late night service for public transit across the city. It means greater investments in dedicated bus lanes and extended hours, and it means increasing our maintenance budget for Metro through a dedicated funding service so we're not constantly putting band-aids on a system with a legacy of underinvestment.

David Alpert: You mentioned the streetcar program. Earlier this year, the DC Council diverted much of the funding for the streetcar program to tax cuts. What's your plan to fund the streetcar program, and how soon would you enact it once mayor?

David Catania: I'd like to first explain, I have a long history with the streetcars. It started with Dan Tangherlini in 2002 who was with WMATA and I was a WMATA alternate.

In 2004, the very first streetcar proposed was the Anacostia light rail program. It was budgeted, and shepherded it through not only the Council but also WMATA, and I was there ten years ago for the groundbreaking.

The complications associated with the right of way meant that line was moved to H Street. I think it's important to explain this. When it came time to purchase the first three cars, I was instrumental in identifying the first ten million dollars for the first three cars.

In 2004, Dan Tangherlini and I took a leap of faith and bought the cars before we had a system. I believe that created a momentum for the light rail system that has seen it to fruition.

The council during the six-year capital improvement plan did reduce the nine million dollar investment not by half, but significantly. I'm still dedicated to the entire North-South and East-West lines. It may take a few more years to accomplish than proposed but we have to be flexible with it.

When I'm elected mayor, I'm going to look at ways at capturing increased property values and increased assessments of light rail, so the system can be funded by the virtue of increased property taxes created by the increase in property investment.

At the end of the day, its not about whether we'll build East-West versus North-South. I plan to be a part of completing that commitment.

David Alpert: Years ago, you argued that it was important for the streetcar to start in Ward 8. But a lot of people in Ward 8, including the councilmember, don't support it. Do you still think we should build the streetcar there, and if you're mayor, how will you work with Ward 8 to build support for it?

David Catania: I don't think there was ever any accurate polling to suggest a lot of people don't support it. To the contrary, I think there's a lot of evidence people do support it. And that Ward 8 is one of the most transit-dependent communities in the city.

I stand by that view and I hope we can reengage CSX regarding the right-of-way along the Anacostia. National Harbor is essentially the downtown of Prince George's County and I'd like to be able to connect people to opportunities there.

David Catania: Absolutely. I think we're going to learn some lessons the hard way with how we're approaching light rail on H Street. I think it would have been smarter for us to have designated rights of way down the street rather than on the sides. I think that's going to create safety traffic, transportation, and delivery issues.

We're expecting 170,000 additional residents over the next 25 years. We have to find a way to efficiently and safely and economically transport individuals around the city. I'm a fan of dedicated bus service as light rail, but when I look at he capacity of light rail cars than buses, light rail has double the capacity of buses. There's a great case for efficiency in dedicated lanes for light rail and for the expansion of the system.

David Catania: This is a more than $20 billion expenditure over the next 25 years. I've been very vocal about themed to have a designated funding source for wmata. For all jurisdictions that participate, I think there's great value in certainty. For some that might mean an additional funding source. Before we talk about funding Momentum, we have to talk about our existing capital improvement plans.

I'm sure your readers appreciate that, for instance, when were purchasing the additional cars to fund a eight car service, because we don't have a dedicated funding source, Metro isn't always able to exercise options on procurements. We have to start from scratch.

That's an incredibly inefficient way to purchase cars or other materials for our system. So a dedicated funding source will rationalize our funding with respect to our existing needs. Going forward, I'd hope that dedicated source would lead to additional resources.

I for one would lead that as the mayor of the District of Columbia. Metro is the tie that binds us, and if we don't take care of it, it will lead to our undoing. I'd look at gas tax, I'd look at regional sales tax, and I'd look at capturing value from the properties that are immediately adjacent to Metro stations that bear the greatest benefit from proximity to Metro.

David Alpert: Let's move to housing and development for a bit.

David Catania: The city doesn't have a housing plan, period. And I appreciate the often narrow self interest, but as a mayor, you have to house the whole family. That means there's a focus on individuals below 30% AMIwe need to have a focus on them. We have individuals who require partial assistance, and then we have those who make very good livings but there's still a lack of affordability.

We need to look at a couple of things, one, the city owned land that's in our possession and how we make that available. We look at easing and improving the regulatory ability to get licenses issued and plans approved and that means sitting down with planners and developers about what they're facing. I think we have quite a lot of unallocated federal resources$110 million for affordable housing that went unused.

Simply put, we lack a plan, and it's one of our biggest challenges. We used to have a really robust HPAP program, a housing purchasing plan. In 2008, we spent nearly $30 million helping individuals purchase their own homes, with up to $70,000 per family in down payment and closing cost assistance.

So, NYC provides a great example on how to provide mixed income housing opportunities. They merge federal resources with local support. In New York, they take their tax-exempt bonds, which we presently don't use all of ours, and we marry them with 30-year exemptions on property tax in exchange for 20% of the units in the building being available to low-income individuals.

So it gives you the opportunity to have mixed income in what are otherwise, higher income buildings. The city's been able to produce thousands of units that aren't strictly market based.

David Alpert: You mentioned city-owned land. The council is now debating whether to require a certain amount of affordable housing in any project built on public land. What do you think about such a requirement?

David Catania: On its face, it's very compelling. But having hard and fast percentages can play mischief in advancing housing generally. For example, when we try to do mixed-income development. It's illustrated in our New Communities projects. We try to create mixed income in communities where there's no demand for middle income, so the entire project stalls because we have these artificial expectations.

In theory, I absolutely support the requirement of low and moderate incomes in housing developments. But we have to look project by project and at the end of the day the financials have to work.

One of the things I want to focus on is that we spend a lot of time talking about new construction and at the same time we're ignoring the avalanche we're facing in the world of preserving existing affordable housing. There are more than 50 buildings under affordability covenants that in the next give years will be released from those covenants.

These are buildings that were financed with federal low income housing tax credits and federal tax-exempt bonds. These buildings lose any limitations on increases in rent, we're facing an avalanche of thousands of units that will lose affordability in the next five years.

I appreciate that we should be focused on building new units but as much attention must be focused on preserving existing units. Up until now, I've seen no plan of this. Recently, I was able to intervene and help the residents of Museum Square keep their apartments, but we need a global solution to these affordability challenges.

David Alpert: AC asks: You've talked a little about existing supply, but a lot of affordable housing advocates in the city are curious to hear you on record about Inclusionary Zoning. Can you tell us where you stand on that program?

David Catania: I supported inclusionary zoning in 2006. Inclusionary zoning is a fantastic principle, but it has yet to produce any meaningful supply. In the first five, six, seven years of inclusionary zoning, fewer than 100 units were created, and I think the real number is closer to 50.

We need to understand more deeply why inclusionary zoning is not producing the supply that we were anticipating and hoping for. So often we can have really terrific ideas that fail in execution, and we need to circle back and examine why that is. Sometimes you need mid-stream corrections.

Utilize a provision in the bill that I authored in 2002, which gives the District the opportunity to purchase when Section 8s are coming out. The reality is that individuals who are in building-based Section 8 apartments are not able to purchase the units, so giving those tenants the opportunity to purchase is to give them something that isn't real. That's what lead me to the district opportunity to purchase so that we can, as a city, manage these purchases. I think it's an indispensable tool and one that's never been used in maintaining affordability.

David Catania: To be clear, in the old city, I don't favor any change to the height requirement. In the rest of the city, I think these issues should be decided by our local legislature and local mayor with input from the population.

I personally am not keen on the notion of raising the height limit in our city. I believe there's plenty of infill capacity in our city to meet needs, but you can never say never. At this point, I don't support it though.

David Alpert: Especially when the height limit restricts the amount of housing near existing transit.

David Catania: One of the things that we can do is expand the quantity of transit. Light rail provides that opportunity. I agree if we were holding steady in our current infrastructure, it does really push greater density around those locations. But if through dedicated bus lanes and an expansion of light rain, we could extend the transit capacity throughout the city, it diminishes the need for intense density around a few locations.

David Catania: I think the community has done an excellent job in putting together this 25-year plan. One of our biggest challenges, if I'm not mistaken, that it's a nearly $50 billion investment and only half the funds have been procured, so we're going to have to get creative in terms of financing.

Financing aside, I think there are a lot of exciting components. The two-year plan has some elements I'd like to move forward with immediately, from Klingle to Anacostia trails. Sidewalk safety and dedicated bus lanes are important. The continued focus on pedestrian safety is important. There are many elements in the two-year plan and the 25-year plan that are exciting.

The challenge is for us to make the investments today and begin planning today for that transition. I'm eager to get started with this execution. We're going to have 140,000 new residents over the next quarter century.

In terms of an organizing philosophy around transportation, there are issues with ethics, engineering, education, and enforcement. Each of them plays a role in building a balanced, community-centric transportation system.

David Alpert: You mentioned a few elements like buses and sidewalks but we haven't gotten to talk yet about bicycles. ChrisRHamilton asked in the last chat: Progressive mayors across the country have started to compete for businesses and the best and the brightest young folks by making their cities the most bike-friendly. While the District is making good incremental progress on becoming more bike-friendly, largely following the initiatives started under Mayor Fenty, do you envision ramping up the pace of change in installing protected bike lanes, bike parking and bikeshare so that it is more transformative or do you think the current pace of change is good enough?

David Catania: There are many core elements of moveDC that I embrace, including 200 miles of bike lanes. When I go back to the issues of education and enforcement, I think we've done a really terrible job of educating the public on what bikes contribute to our community. Obviously, there are huge environmental benefits from cycling. It also helps dramatically reduce demand for existing roadwayswe're up to 14,000 cyclists.

The third area which is rarely talked about is how cycling contributes to the economic development of our city. Many people bike out of economic necessity. But for othersthe cost of operating an average medium size sedan in our country is between $8,000 and 9,000 per year. If we can convince more of our residents to forgo that investment and instead use bicycles, they'll spend those thousands of dollars here locally in housing, retail and supporting our local economy. This may be overly simplistic but if you look at 14k cyclists forgoing that 8k a year, there's over $100 million in economic opportunity for our city when we're not buying cars and fighting wars overseas but instead investing in our communities. It's a very powerful economic development tool and we've never communicated that importance to the population.

Long story short, count me in. There are very important tools for our city. The better opportunity is to educate our city as to where they're located.

We can get really into the weeds about how some of our streets are better for bike lanes than others. Our one-way streets that are 30-feet wide provide great opportunities for one lane of traffic, one lane of bikes, and one for parked cars.

I prefer to look at things where we can have win-win instead of zero sum. The bike plan isn't taking anything away from drivers but is in fact is a traffic calming device.

David Alpert: You talked about a win-win and not zero sum, but bike planners have concluded that not everywhere is it possible to build a bike lane without taking away any parking or any travel lane. How do you balance the need to get community input with the fact that at some point, not everyone is going to be on board with everything?

David Catania: It's really a challenge to make generalized answers to hypotheticals. I've made it a practice to cast a wide net and bring people together, and it doesn't mean everyone gets exactly what they want, but that there's a give and take and sometimes you lose in some items and lose in others. I know tough decisions have to be made. But you have to make them.

David Alpert: You've talked in your platform about Vision Zero, the idea that no loss of life or serious injury is acceptable within a given area's transportation system. How, specifically, would you start taking action on Vision Zero?

David Catania: Sweden has figured out how to reduce their deaths by more than 40% by a combination of engineering and values. I commend both the mayors of San Francisco and New York for executing elements of Vision Zero. I think education is an incredibly important element.

One of the things I like about the Swedish model is the emphasis on simple things. When you open the car door, you open it by using your right hand rather than your left. It actually physically forces a person to turn and get accustomed to looking for a cyclist. That's a simple example.

Through engineering roads that are safer, establishing consistent speed limits depending on the likelihood of pedestrian use, issues of concentration at the most dangerous intersections. The use of engineering and evidence and education to lower incidents. There are ways for us to take elements and execute it right away.

So creating an infrastructure that accommodates those with an underpinning of the value of human life is something I don't think we do here, and we should. Respect for human life and understanding human frailties.

It's looking at educating our population, at re-engaging a traffic enforcement division. The enforcement in our own city is a missing component as well as the underlying respect for human life. Educating pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers is critical. And having an enforcement mechanism.

David Alpert: And that's all the time we have. Thank you so much for joining us for the chat!

David Catania: I just really appreciate the five of you coming over and going through this trouble. And I appreciate people weighing in with their questions.

We're a growing, vibrant city. For that to continue, we have to pay attention to the fundamentals of not just transportation and housing, but also issues of crime, economic development education, and at the same time we have to be prepared for crises as they come whether they be Ebola or it be changing economics.

And I really appreciate everyone coming today and the opportunity to share with your readers.

David Alpert: Thank you so much to David Catania, to all of you who submitted questions on Twitter, to our super tweeter Abigail, and to our tireless and lightning-fast typists Aimee, Ashley, and Jonathan.

Please post your thoughts on Mr. Catania's statements in the comments on the post. And thank you all for joining us today!

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Landover is not the place for the FBI

The owners of the Prince George's County land where Landover Mall used to sit are lobbying to locate the FBI headquarters there rather than near the Greenbelt or Franconia-Springfield Metro stations. But a site not easily accessible by Metro isn't the best location for the FBI.


Photo by Jonathan on Flickr.

While building the project in Landover might be cheaper to start, the long-term costs to local governments and regional workers, including added traffic and longer commutes, would be far, far higher.

Prince George's Metro stations are the least used in the system (averaging 4,716 daily boardings per station in 2012, compared with 8,478 systemwide). While other counties promoted walkable development around their stations to maximize their investment in Metro, most Prince George's stations remain isolated parking lots with little or nothing to attract activity and train rides.

Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

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Intelsat building gets a greener, but not more urban front

The former headquarters of Intelsat, a space-age building on Connecticut Avenue near the Van Ness Metro, will get a new entrance. The change will soften a harsh corner, but it won't fully repair this non-urban building's relationship to the street.


the new proposed entry. Bottom: the plaza today. Image from VOA via NCPC.


The existing plaza. Image from Capital City, yeah! on Flickr.

The current entrance on Connecticut Avenue is set back far from the street and up a huge flight of steps. It's not ADA compliant, and it's a pretty bleak, bricked-over expanse. The building's new owner will remove the plaza and replace it with a garden, fountains, and a more visible entrance.

How this building came to be

The building, rebranded "4000 Connecticut Avenue," is a product of DC's unique relationship with the federal government. The State Department owns the land as part of the International Center, a campus meant for embassies and governmental buildings. It leased it to Intelsat when that was still an international treaty organization.

After Intelsat went private, Congress changed the law in 2008 to legalize Intelsat's lease. That opened the door for the 601 Companies to acquire the lease and reposition the building as an office building.


The existing site plan with pedestrian improvements. The main entrance is at the right. Image from VOA via NCPC.

Opened in phases between 1984 and 1988, the building is one of the more notable modernist buildings in DC. Its architect, John Andrews, was an influential Australian architect who made his name designing dramatic brutalist buildings in Canada.

By the time Intelsat ran a competition to design its headquarters in 1979, the two energy crises had put the focus on efficiency. Architects worried that the new expectations would smother exciting design under layers of insulation. And so Andrews' building won heaps of praise for delivering the large, energy efficient buildings corporations wanted without losing any of the expressive geometry he was known for.


Sectional diagram showing the ideal air flow. Image from the October 1985 Architecture Record.

One thing that earned Andrews particular praise is the way he repeated the same three or four elements, like the octagonal blocks, round towers, and courtyards, to create different effects. The main entrance on International Drive looks like a Battlestar Galactica set. The south entrance is a quiet corporate park. And the north entrance, at Van Ness and Connecticut, closest to the Metro and points downtown, echoes the monumental entries of neoclassical federal buildings and their brutalist successors.


Section through the main entrance, showing the steep climb.

What didn't work, and what will get better

Unfortunately, like most grand entries of the period, the entry comes across as stark and intimidating. So it makes sense that 601 Companies wants to make it more welcoming and visible as it becomes the main entrance of the building.

The changes, designed by VOA Associates, will also improve pedestrian circulation around the building, especially the green area along Connecticut which is apparently called "Squirrel Park."


The new entryway will get rid of a large decrepit plaza. Image from VOA via NCPC.

More openness of the park areas is great. Like a suburban office park, the grassy areas around Intelsat are unwalkable or underused. These changes will make them more into an asset to the community. To me, new entry area is definitely an improvement, aesthetically, making it much more inviting. There are more places to sit, the high-end granite and marble will be nice additions, and the front door details are more humane than Andrews originally planned.

But it still feels like a more ambitious alteration would be appropriate. The accessible entrance is still separate from the main one, and the renovation does not fix the fundamental error of the building, one that goes back to when the site was the secluded campus of the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST).

Now, the site supports an office building that is part of the city. Andrews's building has a lot of value architecturally, but its value to creating a distinctive place around a Metro station is equally important. The site deserves a bolder adaptive reuse, one that will fill in some of the unusable green space, correcting its outdated disconnection from the neighborhood, even as it preserves the existing building. A good adaptation would make the geometry of original building even more powerful.

But for now, this is okay.

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