Posts in category history
Spring is here (or maybe it's just an early summer), and that means there's lots to do both inside and outside! Next week is an exciting Coalition for Smarter Growth forum on parking with guest Jeff Tumlin, and CSG has many great walking tours through June.
You can learn about DC's civil war forts, celebrate Earth Day on April 20 itself or at fairs before or after, go to happy hours and hear speakers on public space.
And if you can't wait to do something, tonight is a public meeting on the Union Station-Georgetown streetcar segment. DDOT will brief the public on its analysis of "premium transit" (i.e. streetcar) through downtown to Georgetown. DDOT director Terry Bellamy has also promised to update people on wireless technologies which can preserve clear viewsheds.
The meeting is tonight, Thursday, April 11 (or last night for those reading the daily email), 6-8 pm at the Carnegie Library in Mount Vernon Square, L'Enfant Map Room.
Learn about forts: BF Cooling and Gary Thompson, founders of an effort to preserve DC's civil war circle of forts, will give a talk about the forts and their history on Monday, April 15, 7-8:45 pm at the Tenley-Friendship Library.
Get parking right: Next Wednesday, the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG) is hosting national parking expert Jeff Tumlin to talk about ways cities are fix parking policy to match supply and demand and build a system that works better for everyone. Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT planning head, will talk about how DC might use Tumlin's ideas.
The forum is April 17 at the Center for American Progress, 1333 H St. NW. There are refreshments at 6 and then the program from 6:30-8:30. RSVP here before it fills up!
Be green around Earth Day: Saturday, April 20 is Earth Day, and there are a lot of great events to celebrate and learn more about how to help the environment. The Anacostia Watershed Society is having a cleanup and celebration, first helping clean up the river at 20 sites from 9 am to noon, followed by a celebration at Bladensburg Waterfront Park.
Be happy in Arlington: CSG and the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization are cosponsoring a happy hour in Arlington on Monday, April 22 from 6:30-8:30 pm at William Jeffrey's Tavern, 2301 Columbia Pike. Ask questions about what's going on down the Pike or just meet people and have fun!
Improve the public realm: That same day, NCPC is hosting a speaker from London, Helen Marriage, to discuss ways that city is making its public spaces better. A panel afterward will talk about how some of the ideas could come to DC. That's also 6:30-8:30 pm on Monday, April 22 at NCPC, 401 9th Street NW, Suite 500 North.
The RAC is listening: The WMATA Riders' Advisory Council wants to hear from more riders, especially about how upcoming Silver Line service and changes to buses and trains will affect riders. To that end, they're holding listening sessions outside WMATA HQ, starting with one on April 24, 6:30 pm in the Charles Houston Rec Center, 901 Wythe Street in Alexandria near Braddock Road Metro.
Walk and tour: CSG's spring walking tour series kicks off April 27 with a tour of White Flint, followed by 14th Street, Fairfax's Route 1, Wheaton, and Fort Totten in May and June. Space is limited, so RSVP for your favorite tour now!
As the FBI searches for a new headquarters location, most of the options have focused on the suburbs or Poplar Point, but Washingtonian reports on another proposal: Keep it downtown, at H Street and North Capitol Street, NW. But that location has serious downsides.
The proposal would repurpose the existing Government Printing Office buildings on North Capitol Street and add a new extension to the west. The new building would be over 2 million square feet, and would cover multiple blocks from New Jersey Avenue to North Capitol.
Ideally an employer as large as the FBI should have its offices downtown, but the FBI isn't just any employer. Its building is likely to be a security fortress, which means it won't be very good for pedestrians, or have ground floor retail. H Street is an important pedestrian and retail spine. Giving up a long stretch of it to the FBI would be just as bad there as it is on E Street, where the FBI is a sidewalk dead zone.
Actually, a dead zone on H Street might be even worse. Walmart is building an urban format store directly across the street from this site. And love Walmart or hate it, it's going to be one of downtown's biggest retail draws. That means this exact block of H Street is about to become one of the busiest retail main streets in the city. It should have retail on both sides.
One advantage of this FBI proposal is that the federal government already owns the land. That does mean it's already less likely to get retail on it, but putting the FBI building on it would cement that, literally.
There are other questions. DDOT's proposed crosstown streetcar would run along H Street. The FBI has never weighed in on streetcars, but would they throw up security-related roadblocks? It's unknown.
According to Washingtonian, the FBI would close G Street entirely to traffic, as well as obliterating a block of 1st Street. That further cripples the L'Enfant grid at a time when other projects are trying to restore the grid nearby. And would the FBI forbid pedestrians and cyclists on G Street as well as motor vehicles?
Finally, the existing GPO buildings are among Washington's most prominent historic red brick buildings, and were designed by a prominent architect at the time. The FBI concept renderings show a courtyard in the middle of the GPO building, but aerials show no such courtyard currently exists. That suggests the buildings will have to be completely gutted to fit the FBI. Is that a worthy tradeoff?
Any proposal that keeps the FBI downtown merits serious consideration, but given the FBI's security requirements, and given the potential for this location to be redeveloped with something even better, it may be preferable to let the FBI go. Putting the FBI on this block might be better than having it remain a parking lot, but almost any other building would be more ideal.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
We hope you enjoyed yesterday's April Fool joke posts on Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. Our April 1 edition was a true team effort, with significant writing, editing, and image creating by Andrew Bossi, Jessica Christy, Tim Krepp, Dan Reed, Miriam Schoenbaum, Jim Titus, and Steven Yates.
Many, many more contributors and volunteers also assisted with ideas to flesh out the articles, concepts for breakfast links, or even helpful submissions we weren't able end up using. Thanks go to Agnès Artemel, Matt Caywood, Shree Chauhan, Neil Flanagan, Steve Glazerman, April January, Matt Johnson, Tracey Johnstone, Sarah Lewis, Dan Malouff, Michael Perkins, Alex Posorske, Ben Ross, Matthew Rumsey, Mitch Wander, Abigail Zenner, and anyone else I've forgotten.
A lot of other local writers had some excellent April Fool articles. John Kelly wrote a fantastic fake history article about a subway in the mid-1800s, called the "Mole Way," which had "stops near the Capitol, the White House, each of the city's markets and an adults-only nude beach near the Tidal Basin" as well as Georgetown and Tysons Corner.
Instead of escalators, people used rotating spiral "spinners" to get down to the stations. But trains entering the station blew off people's hats, which made people stop riding and the system was ultimately abandoned.
UrbanTurf broke the news of Donald Trump's planned design for the Old Post Office. New Columbia Heights reported that DC USA would place a curling rink in the underutilized parking garage. (Hey, maybe not a bad idea!)
Kaid Benfield announced that sprawl will no longer happen, Southwest TLQTC posted plans to redevelop Greenleaf Gardens, a public housing complex, and Alan Suderman discovered Marion Barry is running for mayor.
Finally, DC's elections board sent out a postcard telling residents they can only vote on April 23 at One Judiciary Square, nowhere else. Oh, wait, that last one wasn't a joke; it was just a really poorly-written note that conflated early voting and regular voting and will confuse residents.
What other local and regional April Fool posts did you especially like?
This 5 story pop-up rowhouse at 11th and V Streets, NW has gotten a lot of negative press. DCist and PoPville had nothing kind to say about it. And while it's undeniably a silly-looking thing, it's not actually bad. In fact, from an urbanist perspective, it's good for the city.
First, a bigger building will allow more people to live in a core city neighborhood. That will help the neighborhood support more stores and services, and reduce car traffic everywhere. Density in the core of the city is a good thing, and a 5 story building is a very reasonable amount of density.
Second, this preserves the narrow lot pattern of its block, versus having one developer buy up multiple row houses and then put in a much wider building.
All other things being equal, a street with several narrow buildings is preferable to a street with a single long building of the same square footage. A streetscape with constantly-changing narrow buildings is more interesting to look at than one with a single long building. Small local property owners, instead of big development chains, are also more likely to own narrower buildings.
Yes, this property looks silly now. But think about the future. Assuming we can't (and don't want to) freeze the city in time, densifying infill on small properties is exactly the kind of development we want. If it's eventually going to be 5 stories anyway, it's better that this block redevelop property-by-property than all at once.
Pop-ups are the first step towards a street like this one in Amsterdam, which really isn't such a bad thing.
Will this particular building look as good as that picture? It's hard to tell at this point. It might, but it could just as easily become the ugliest building in DC. Buildings that size aren't inherently pretty or ugly. There are lots of good ones, and lots of bad ones. What it looks like is not ultimately the same issue as its mass and scale.
The point is, narrow 5-story buildings are a great physical form for city streets. That's the form of some of the best parts of Paris, London, and New York. Although this will look weird with 2-story neighbors, it pushes the evolution of the block in a good direction.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Spring in Washington brings budding cherry blossoms, Word Series optimism for the Nationals, and a collection of history-themed events: a DC Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, a new book on Civil War Washington, call for papers for the DC Historical Studies Conference, and more.
The moveDC project is also in the midst of four public workshops to collect public input for a long-term transportation plan for the District. The meetings are Tuesday, March 26 on Capitol Hill (Ludlow-Taylor Elementary, 659 G St. NE) and Thursday, March 28 at Wilson High (3950 Chesapeake St. NW), 6-8 pm.
DC History Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon
For Wikipedia-philes like GGW contributor Adam Lewis, this Saturday, March 23rd, from 10 am to 4 pm, the Historical Society of Washington (HSW) at 801 K Street NW is the place to be to add information on DC history to the collaborative encyclopedia.
"The Historical Society is excited to partner with Wikimedia DC, the George Washington University, and Special Collections at DC Public Library to offer both experienced editors and those new to Wikipedia access to all the valuable resources that document the city's history," says Jennifer Krafchik, Director of HSW's Kiplinger Research Library. "This is a part of our ongoing effort to be the community's portal to Washington history and we are delighted to make more of our unique resources available to the public."
Prior editing experience is not required to participate. A few spots remain. RSVP to email@example.com and come with your own WiFi-enabled laptop computer.
DC by the Book launch party
On Wednesday, March 27th from 6-8 pm, "DC By the Book" will be unveiled at the 5th & K Streets Busboys & Poets. It is an interactive literary map of the District, which allows users to explore the landscape of Washington, DC as it has been represented in fiction.
The launch event will feature readings from fictional works written in and about Washington, DC Guests will inclide Thomas Mallon (Watergate), Adam McKible (EC Williams' When Washington Was in Vogue), Ann McLaughlin (The House on Q Street), and Mark Athitakis will serve as the master of ceremonies. Laptop "exploration stations" will let people try out "DC By the Book" and upload content from their own reads. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
New book on Civil War Washington
In 2003, Washington Post book critic, Jonathan Yardley, wrote, "The best 'Washington novel' isn't a novel at all. Published six decades ago, Margaret Leech's Reveille in Washington: 1860-1865 is what academic historians condescendingly call "popular history," written with the novelist's eye for character and telling detail as well as the novelist's command of narrative. The story of the District of Columbia during the Civil War, Reveille in Washington is still authoritative as history and is something of a masterpiece of storytelling."
Whether you're familiar with "Reveille" or not, if there was ever a time to read up on Washington's Civil War history it is now, in the throes of the conflict's sesquicentennial. A new book, A Guide to Civil War Washington, DC: The Capital of the Union, by Lucinda Prout Janke, arrives like clock work.
On DC's Emancipation Day, Tuesday, April 16th from 11 am to 2 pm, HSW will host a book talk and reception for the first such guide issued in over a decade. On the 151st anniversary of the signing of the DC Compensated Emancipation Act, Janke will discuss its effects on the city's demographics and how the law got its own local holiday.
DC Library's "Know Your Neighborhood" lecture series
On Wednesday, April 3rd, as part of the DC Public Library's ongoing "Know Your Neighborhood" lecture series, local history polymath Brian Kraft will present on the past and present of Columbia Heights in the broader context of the history of urban America and the neighborhood impact of landmark court decisions and 1968 riots.
Kraft will use maps and photos and other images to illustrate the neighborhood's beginnings, physical development, demographic upheavals, and recent resurgence. The presentation will start at 6:30 pm at the Mt. Pleasant Branch Library (3160 16th Street NW).
On Wednesday, April 17th at 6:30 pm, John DeFerrari will present a lecture on the Historic Bridges of Rock Creek Park, and on Saturday, April 20th at 2 pm Mara Cherkasky will present on the history of Mt. Pleasant.
Call for Papers for the DC Historical Studies Conference
The DC Historical Studies Conference has been an annual contact zone since the 1970's for scholars, students, and neighborhood leaders to discuss, share, and analyze all matters, persons, places, and things related to the history of the Washington metropolitan area.
The theme for this year's conference, the 40th, is "Marching on Washington," which covers a diverse range of anniversaries: the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, 1973 initiation of modern Home Rule, the centennial of the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession, and the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Conference themes are not exclusive; people are welcome to presentat any new historical research about DC. Past presentations have considered art, archaeology, architecture, biography, DC governance, demography, geography, law, military, music, neighborhoods, race relations, schools, as well as oral history techniques and archival collection reviews.
The deadline for submissions is May 1st. More information here (PDF).
Martin Austermuhle made a whimsical point on Twitter about this picture, a 1992 historical photograph DCist featured to celebrate the convention center's 10th birthday:
Martin wrote, "D.C., pre-war on cars. The place was motorist heaven."
This makes a real point. We've been hearing a lot about the "war on cars" lately as AAA, the car lobby organization, has been really pushing the theme hard in the press and outlets eager for controversy lap up the destructive rhetoric.
But let's not forget where we were. Not that long ago, much of DC had been shaped by a multi-decade "war on the city." Well-meaning urban renewal efforts tore out large swaths of the urban fabric to build things like the Southeast-Southwest Freeway and big parking lots, like the ones in the picture.
The 1958 zoning code that DC is currently trying to replace was a weapon in that war. Its author, Harold Lewis, wrote that the city's form was unable to adapt to a more car-oriented form and zoning must therefore compel it "for the salvation of the downtown area."
In 1950, the federal government decreed that places like Shaw, Southwest DC, and more were "obsolete" and had to be replaced with more car-oriented development patterns. The "obsolete" zones include the area in this picture; this was the result.
It's also worth remembering this era to understand the time when, as we discussed yesterday, very strong historic preservation protection was not only clearly necessary but absolutely urgent. The preservation plan quotes one resident saying "The next generation of preservation leaders is not there; where are the future activists?" Commenter drumz pointed out that there isn't really "an example in DC today of the same sort of large scale clearing that inspired the first preservation movement."
Nobody is trying to wage a war on cars. AAA is just pushing the idea because after their long and successful war on urban places, the trend is moving in the other direction. And anyone who lives in the Mount Vernon Triangle today instead of that 1992 wasteland is pretty glad it is.
The latest historic preservation plan essentially concludes that people don't trust historic preservation in DC because they don't know enough about it, and recommends that staff and advocates push harder to persuade people of preservation's positive effects.
As I argued yesterday, that's not preservation's primary problem. Rather, it awkwardly absorbed many resident desires to shape development, from laudatory ones like wanting buildings to engage the street and eschew vinyl pop-ups to the too-common impulse to simply block any buildings that are even slightly tall.
Preservation needs to confront these questions of what it should and shouldn't restrict and what kinds of outcomes it's looking for. Meanwhile, it can take some immediate steps to define much clearer rules, make preservation decisions more predictable, and let people to see how projects have evolved through the process.
We need pictures!
The Historic Preservation Office (HPO) is right that people aren't aware of all of the positive effects of their review on development. One big step they could take to improve transparency (or, after using a thesaurus to find a word starting with 'p,' pellucidity) is to put images of the proposed buildings online.
Right now, you can access staff reports online, which go into ornate detail about the building. Take this paragraph about the project at 13th and U:
The composition has been organized with three vertically-oriented towers so that it doesn't look squat or horizontal; the corner balconies and paired windows help reinforce the vertical emphasis. The rhythm and proportions of fenestration on the residential floors is consistent with historic apartment buildings, while the first floor is designed and articulated to reinforce the street's pedestrian scale and retail character.That's great, but can you really picture the building based on that description? As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and in the case of architecture, maybe many thousands. It's really almost impossible to understand what they're talking about without a picture:
I was able to post that picture because this developer put renderings online when they presented them to ANC 1B, but many don't. The preservation office isn't making their decisions based on prose, but on sketches.
Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) members get many pages of drawings before their meetings. These are almost always, if not always, just print-outs from the architect's computers. It shouldn't be hard to have the architect submit electronic files and put them online.
The DC Office of Zoning recently deployed a nice system that lets you search for a zoning case and see all of the submissions, both textual and graphical, as PDFs. Why not the same for historic preservation, or even work with OZ and use the same system?
Often, I hear about buildings where the board seemed to make the right decision, or where a project improved based on staff review. It would be great to run posts about those. With pictures, it would become far more feasible.
This should be a top priority for the office. I didn't see it in the plan.
We need information earlier!
When a project appears on the HPRB agenda, it's actually fairly late in the design review process. The property owner has usually shown the design to the staff and gotten considerable feedback already.
Often the staff makes designs better through this consultation. (Sometimes they make it worse.) If they want people to see the positive effects of preservation review, the next step should be to peel back the curtain on this somewhat.
It starts with a property owner submitting a permit application. Post those online, and then post the designs at each step along the way. Residents could see a slideshow of how a project has evolved, hopefully for the better, through the process from start to finish.
Maybe property owners don't want people to know about their plans until they are farther along, though it's not clear the government should be in the business of catering to that desire for secrecy. If there is a reason to maintain some silence, then perhaps the office can post all of the original and intermediate renderings once a project reaches the point of becoming public, such as going on the HPRB agenda or having a zoning hearing.
Create clear guidelines to define "compatibility"
The other major direction for the preservation office to pursue is making its decisions less apparently subjective. Right now, staff reports seem to pull aesthetic judgments out of thin air, and then the board either agrees or disagrees.
Since it's made up of architects, historians, and archaeologists rather than lawyers, most of the comments on the board involve statements like "I like the detailing" or "I think it's too tall."
Preservation should not be about what people "like." It's technically about what is "compatible," and an important, yet mostly absent, step is to define, ahead of time and clearly, what "compatible" means.
a contrasting rear addition may be acceptable if it is not visible from a public street or alley and when it does not destroy existing character-defining details, ornamentation and materials of a rear elevation. A new rear addition that can be seen from a public street or alley should be compatible with the design of the rear elevation of the existing building. If the new addition is not visible from the street or alley, a less compatibly designed addition may be acceptable.That's fairly clear, but isn't the preservation office's practice in much of the city. I live in the Dupont Circle historic district and am a member of the Dupont Circle Conservancy. We discuss many rear additions, and at least in Dupont, the Conservancy's policy, and HPO's policy, has been that rear additions of any type are fine as long as they're not visible directly from the street. You wouldn't know that from reading the guidelines.
If the rules are different among historic districts, then the guidelines need to say so.
The guidelines on new construction in historic districts say:
Typically, if a new building is more than one story higher or lower than existing buildings that are all the same height, it will be out of character. On the other hand, a new building built in a street of existing buildings of varied heights may be more than one story higher or lower than its immediate neighbors and still be compatible.Sounds like on a street like U Street, a building like that 8-story apartment building should have been a no-brainer. Anyone on the board saying it was too tall was clearly ignoring the written guidelines
The answer is simple. Write newer, much clearer guidelines. That would let property owners figure out for themselves fairly well what is likely to get approved or rejected. What you can build on your property shouldn't depend on the whims of the preservation official, but rather have a firm basis in the code with officials only interpreting the guidelines and applying them to the specifics of a case.
Guidelines would also give residents and leaders a chance to actually debate what kinds of restrictions there should be. Each historic restriction also has a consequent impact on the city's ability to house more people, economic growth, the tax base and more.
We need a balance, but right now that balancing happens almost entirely behind the scenes, in the minds of HPO staff, who then crank out a report that recommends for or against a project purely on historical grounds. Let people debate whether or not a historic guideline is a good idea, not just on the basis of "compatibility" but on its total effect on the city.
Cite the guidelines in reports and decisions
Then, when crafting staff reports on projects, cite each recommendation to a guideline. Say that the building needs to have more of a setback? Then refer to a guideline that says this. If there's no guideline to that effect, then it's not incompatible. Write a new guideline that defines the incompatibility, and use it for future cases.
Likewise, if HPRB goes against the staff recommendation, it should have to quote guidelines that form the basis for that decision. Don't simply declare that a building ought to look different; point to a written document that other people besides the board would likely interpret as meaning the same thing.
This would make decisions seem less arbitrary. Instead of reading like an aesthetic judgment, a staff report would be interpreting the guidelines in a clear way. Others might disagree with the interpretations at times, but it's not just coming from nowhere.
The Mayor's Agent can also hold HPRB to a more rigorous standard. When the Board of Zoning Adjustment grants a variance or a special exception, it writes a detailed, legalistic set of factual findings and conclusions of law based on the regulations.
HPRB doesn't need to be quite so meticulous, but nor does it get carte blanche to make any judgment unquestioned. In the law, it's actually technically only an advisory body. But it's usually not treated as an advisory body; the staff follows HPRB's rulings as if it's the official arbiter of "compatibility."
In the law, the mayor, who acts through an official known as the Mayor's Agent, can override any HPRB decision. The Mayor's Agent could declare that if HPRB votes to deny a permit, they need to point to some guidelines that justify it, or not have its "advice" given much weight.
A few steps can make a difference
Preservation has many beneficial effects on our built environment. However, it's too opaque and decisions often seem capricious. The preservation office can work to repair preservation's reputation by tackling two problem areas:
First, make sure that people can see what property owners propose and what changes came out of the preservation process. Post online renderings of projects when they first come to HPO, as they evolve through consultation with staff, when they go to HPRB, and the final outcomes.
Second, make sure people can see why those changes came about. Develop detailed and specific guidelines that any property owner could read and understand generally what would and wouldn't go forward. When a case is controversial and goes to the board, make sure staff reports and board decisions then cite these guidelines to ground the decisions in something other than flighty opinion.
The DC Historic Preservation Office (HPO) has released a new plan for preservation through 2016. From conversations with preservationists and the public, HPO concluded that "preservation has a perception problem," which it wants to combat. However, perception isn't the only problem.
Most of the challenges the preservation office says they heard are about communication:
- "Preservation has a perception problem"
- "Many residents have no understanding or misperceptions of preservation"
- "There is a perception problem with historic district designation
— we need to address it"
- "The next generation of preservation leaders is not there; where are the future activists?"
- "We're not communicating well about what preservation is, especially to the younger generation"
- "The next generation of preservation leaders is not there; where are the future activists?"
The participants, and HPO, appear to assume or conclude that the problem with preservation is that people don't understand it and all of the wonderful things it does.
And preservation has had a valuable impact on DC in a number of ways. Many proposals gain better architectural harmony with surrounding neighborhoods, more interesting ground-level detailing, and more interesting rooflines as a result of the design review from the preservation process.
But there's a deeper issue than just perception. Preservation is often addressing the wrong problems for today. As Richard Layman often says, the preservation system arose during the era of the shrinking city, when people wanted to tear down beautifully detailed apartment buildings to create parking lots. Then, it was inherently a good thing to place more of the city under historic protection.
Today, the city is growing, and the challenge is to shape that growth. It should concentrate in areas with good transit. New buildings need to engage the street as old buildings do, and include some interesting architectural details to avoid a monotony of glass boxes. Designs should avoid leaving large dead spaces at the pedestrian level.
In many cases, design review is helpful. And the preservation office is right when it says in the plan that they could do more to communicate the ways projects get better through the process. However, the preservation movement is also full of people who just plain don't want change.
With housing prices rising rapidly, the fact that there isn't enough housing is a bigger problem than the fact that some residents have to look at new buildings that might be a little taller than some other buildings nearby. But when preservation is beholden to the anti-height set, it's not solving the problem that many younger (and many older) residents see with development.
There's one quotation on the list that gets at the real issue:
- "Anti-development preservation gives preservation a bad name"
Unfortunately, the rest of the document doesn't really follow up on this issue.
Individual goals focus more on salesmanship than fixing problems
The plan seems to assume, but not directly argue, that giving the preservation office control over more of what happens in the city is the ideal goal.
The chapter on "why preservation works in DC," for instance, almost entirely focuses on the numbers of historic districts and numbers of landmarked properties, as well as extolling the support for preservation from the federal government, DC's local laws, advocacy organizations, and developers.
In several recent cases, people have opposed historic districts. That's not because they don't understand what preservation means. Rather, residents are often very concerned that preservation staff and the Historic Preservation Review Board will arbitrarily allow or block elements simply based on personal whim, subjective, aesthetic judgment, or an agenda to repel growth. That's not imaginary; that is indeed what often happens.
The office needs to find ways to design the preservation process so residents can get the positive effects of historic designation and fewer of the negative ones. This report, however, doesn't explore that. Instead, it focuses on how to convince people to support preservation as is.
For example, one of the specific goals seems tailor-made to address the concerns of urbanist critics, goal D1, "Practice sustainable urbanism." It even has a picture of Capital Bikeshare. Aha! Here, HPO can clearly state that it should try to make preservation decisions that also support sustainable urbanism.
It does not take the opportunity. Instead, the goal is:
Make a stronger case for the connection between preservation, sustainability, and economic growth, and adopt supportive public incentives.In other words, instead of actually practicing more sustainable urbanism, the office's approach is to try to convince people that it's already practicing it. None of the supporting goals call for any change to the "take off a floor" default stance from many preservation groups. Two of the supporting goals are:
Develop sustainability guidelines to educate residents about the resource investment in historic buildings, and ways to adapt them as energy-efficient, renewable resources.
Publicize the sustainability benefits of preservation on websites and through award presentations, publications, educational programs, and professional networks.
Goal B2, "Speak out about preservation," basically outlines a plan to try to sell more preservation to communities. The objective is:
Strengthen mutual support systems needed for an effective community voice for preservation, and use that voice to advocate for preservation in all modes of public dialogue.Supporting actions include "revitalize the Historic Districts Coalition" to encourage new local preservation groups and "establish and develop an advocacy group for DC Modernism," a phase of building that was particularly destructive to our city's livable neighborhoods. Mismatches between preservation and good urbanism often come most of the surface when dealing with modernist buildings.
While the plan doesn't call for the preservation office itself to take these steps, it's astounding to see an official document from an office call for people to form advocacy groups to lobby for more influence for that office.
The preservation system has a tremendous amount of power over DC's growth, more than in most cities. Preservation staff must be sure they are using that power wisely, not just put out plans which call for increasing their power and convincing residents to like it.
Instead of going into sales mode, the preservation movement, both inside and outside the government, needs to better confront the substantive critiques of its decisions. Next, I'll look at some steps that the preservation office could prioritize that would both educate residents and also make the process better address the needs of today.
- Latest Metro map drafts add Anacostia parks and other tweaks
- Bikeshare is a gateway to private biking, not competition
- DC Council makes major policy changes overnight
- Short-term Washingtonians deserve a voice, too
- Public land deals have both benefits and pitfalls
- Parklets give every block a little park
- Judge denies injunction against closing schools