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

Posts by M.V. Jantzen

M.V. Jantzen is a resident of DC who bikes the region with his camera, documenting streetscapes, events, parks, and people. He posts his photos primarily to


I Wish This Were... in Dupont Circle, part 3

This is the last in a series reflecting on parts of Dupont Circle that are ripe for improvements.

I can't figure out why there's a parking lot right next to one of the city's busiest Metro stations, in a neighborhood with some of the city's highest rents. I envision a glamorous building matching the height of the hotel across the circle instead; it would add so much to the neighborhood.

The buildings on the left belong to PNC Bank, which recently started subleasing the old Connecticut Avenue storefronts to other businesses.

The parking lot is a small space, but a signature tower against 20th Street and Massachusetts Avenue facing Dupont Circle would look great here. As either residential or office use, it would add density and more people to contribute to the neighborhood.

The Q Street entrance of the Dupont Circle Metro station is one of the more unusual in the system, and leads to one of the city's best neighborhoods. That entrance would make a great perch for a signature rooftop café.

Photo by the author.
The entrance sits in a wide circle between Connecticut Avenue and 20th Street,with one of the system's longest escalators placed next to a sloped surface with sickly plants. It makes for a dramatic (albeit overly slow) entry to the neighborhood. Metro has already decided to cover their outdoor escalators, but the standard design won't fit here, so we need to think big.

This corner deserves more activity. Why not build a café over the round entrance, with a circular patio on the perimeter that would give folks a view of comings and goings?

The model for this cafe would be Café Kranzler, Berlin´s most famous café. Flickr users paula soler-moya, photos4dreamz, phototram, and bfranca33 can show you what this café looks like.

The Dupont Circle fountain should have underwater lights under each of its three cascades. It would make the park beautiful at night. Currently, the only lights are the lamp posts circling the plaza.

Photo by the author.
This is among the city's better fountains, and one of the most prominent ones off the Mall. It is an anchor to Embassy Row, and sits at the nexus of five streets. The plaza is filled with people at night. The fountain deserves to be lit.

Compare it with other cities' great fountains: the Trevi Fountain (lit!), the Fontaines de la Concorde (lit!), the Buckingham Fountain (lit!), and the Magic Fountain of Montjuďc (lit!). If I had one wish for my neighborhood, it would be to add underwater lights to the Dupont Circle fountain.

I Wish This Were... is a series where contributors imagine a better use for vacant properties and poorly-conceived public spaces in the DC area.

Public Spaces

I Wish This Were... in Dupont Circle, part 2

On Monday I started this series with the first three spaces in Dupont Circle that I'd like to see improved. Three more proposals follow.

Scattered around Dupont Circle are the remains the old stairwells that led to the now-abandoned trolley station. There are a total of 9 stairways, now all boarded up. What's the best use for these spaces?

Whatever happens to the underground space, it seems unlikely all stairwells will be needed. I would like to see these 8'x16' footprints used to house kiosks.

Dupont gets enough foot traffic to support small businesses, and if managed well, these spaces could enhance the commercial landscape. The city's new food trucks have proven that good things often do come in small packages. These spaces are the right size for selling coffee, gelato, frozen custard, hot pretzels, or the now-ubiquitous cupcakes. A flower shop might work as well. (In another era, I'd suggest newspapers.)

A skilled architect could come up with a good simple design. My own version is depicted here. For the entrances used as stairwells, a similar structure could be used as a cover.

I've already gone on record stating that Shake Shack should consider a park location. The old comfort station west of Dupont Circle remains my favorite spot for a burger joint, though with Shake Shack now open just two blocks south, it seems unlikely we'll get to recreate the magic they brought to Madison Square Park in New York.

This little triangle deserves to have a more public use for this charming little building.

The Dupont Circle neighborhood is bordered by Rock Creek park, yet somehow barely manages to connect to it at all.

The main entrance to the park is via a pathetic set of stairs by 23rd & P. It leads to a section lovingly nicknamed P Street Beach. The clearing will be used by a few sunbathers in warm weather, but is sadly underutilized. Francis Junior High abuts the park, and offers a basketball court, three tennis courts and an outdoor pool.

There is an old outlet to Rock Creek in the park; I wonder if it's an old buried feeder creek that could be daylighted.

What could be done to make the park more inviting, to make the park feel more connected to the neighborhood? How do we help people enjoy their proximity to Rock Creek? Volleyball courts? Picnic tables? A dog park? Can a bike/ped bridge be built to connect to the trail on the other side of the creek? I vote for all of the above.

I Wish This Were... is a series where contributors imagine a better use for vacant properties and poorly-conceived public spaces in the DC area.

Public Spaces

I Wish This Were... in Dupont Circle, part 1

Dupont Circle is considered to be a fully-developed neighborhood, and certainly during the District's tough years it was ahead of other areas. Yet there are still parts that are ripe for improvements.

Dupont Circle is surrounded by shops, cafes, and hotels, but the park itself is difficult to get in and out of. Its four lanes of counter-clockwise traffic are divided into two parts, with the inner part serving as Massachusetts Ave, and the outer part working as a typical traffic circle for the other four streets intersecting the park.

Pedestrians can connect from the three avenues (Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire) but not the two streets (19th and P). At the Connecticut and New Hampshire crossings, pedestrians have to wade through two levels of traffic signals, waiting for the second on a narrow concrete median, not wide enough for bikes, and without room for more than a single wheelchair.

In 2006 the Project for Public Spaces put Dupont Circle in its Hall of Shame, saying "the road around the Circle is two lanes too wide, and the connections from the interior park to the edges could be dramatically improved."

To make the park more accessible, Massachusetts Ave's inner roadway should be removed, with Massachusetts Ave traffic merging in a simpler two-lane circle.

This blog has already suggested we put a lid on Connecticut Avenue. The block of the underpass north of Dupont Circle and south of Q St should be decked over to give us a new park.

The new park would connect the two distant halves of Connecticut Ave, expand the circle's green space, and might even provide a better home for the farmers market.

The biggest missed opportunity is under our noses. Where planters fill the Connecticut Ave medians, we once had trolleys that dipped below the surface, and came to rest in two semi-circular (and unconnected) platforms. That underground space should be given a use that opens it to the public.

The space became vacant when the streetcars stopped running in 1962. In 1995 the western half was turned into a food court called Dupont Down Under, which soon failed, and tied up the space with lawsuits.

Last year a group called The Arts Coalition for Dupont Underground (ACDU) presented the only submission for the city's call for proposals. The underground space is so vast, their art space would use up only part of the tunnels, so their proposal included a restaurant and a winery.

It is a shame the city can't take the initiative to clean the space up, so it can at least be used for temporary events while ACDU gathers funding.

Nearby, another vacant government space is showing how commercial and artistic organizations can team up to revitalize a dormant space: a building at 14th & Florida is being used by BYT and Art Whino to host Vitaminwater® Uuncapped Live. Dupont's tunnels could foster similar events. Residents have proposed many other alternatives, but without investors this is wishful thinking. Ideas have included a dance club, a gym, a storage facility, and a pool hall. And even a sex club has been given serious consideration.

A clean, empty space will give rise to many creative temporary uses.

I Wish This Were... is a series where contributors imagine a better use for vacant properties and poorly-conceived public spaces in the DC area.


Baltimore's Kinetic Sculpture Race takes art for a ride

Baltimore's 13th annual Kinetic Sculpture Race took place this weekend. The race is the American Visionary Art Museum's "wacky display of art on wheels and in water."

The race took its participants on a 15-mile course through the city, including a dip into the outer harbor, and an obstacle course that includes sand and mud.

I had seen Fifi before on display inside the museum; she's the giant pink poodle powered by cyclists. I was determined to see her in action, and the Kinetic Sculpture Race is her big annual event.

The spirit among the participants and spectators was giddy and infectious. The moving sculptures made it through the city with a minimal fuss from officials (only a small section of road was closed to normal traffic).

The human-powered roving sculptures energized the city, delighting passers-by and bringing to life the AVAM's mission of supporting visionary art. Even the awards ceremony was fun, with trophies that were themselves pieces of art.

See more photos in my Kinetic Sculpture Race 2011 set (and more via the kinetic13 tag), and at the forum.


Scenes of Washington: Night under the Whitehurst Freeway



Scenes of Washington: Mount Pleasant storefronts



Scenes of Washington: Murals











Kennedy Center guard bullies patron for parking a bike

Last week, a guard at the Kennedy Center threatened to steal my bike if I dared to park it on the sidewalk.

The guard. Photo by the author.

I had arrived by bike to see a show, and found that the rack on F St was already crowded, and didn't look especially sturdy. I walked nearby to a sign post and began to lock it up.

A guard (pictured right) approached me, yelling at me that I could not park my bike there. I insisted that I could since it is a public sidewalk. I was ready to clasp my lock around the post when he shoved his hand against mine to prevent me from continuing. He insisted that the sidewalk was Kennedy Center property and no bikes could be locked there.

This is a common misconception. Street sidewalks in DC almost always fall within the public space that includes the roadway; in fact, many front yards of buildings also fall in public spaces instead of private property. The DC Atlas confirms that the sidewalks on F Street adjacent to the Kennedy Center are in public space outside the property lot lines.

Image from DC Atlas. The Kennedy Center is labeled 0806. F Street is to the north.

The guard said that if I left my bike attached to the street sign pole he would cut the lock and remove the bike as he said he had already done 3 or 4 times that day. I reluctantly relented and moved to a different rack up the hill and across from the main entrance.

The sidewalk along F St is public property and it would be a bad precedent to let anyone dictate how a public sidewalk may be used simply because their property fronts it. As anyone who has been to a sidewalk cafe knows, the District and other jurisdictions permit some private appropriation of public space with permits but there is no permit to allow private property owners to steal bikes attached to public sign posts.

Claiming that a public street sign between a public sidewalk and a public roadway is in fact private property is bullying. Furthermore, to physically menace someone by pushing them away is battery. If the Kennedy Center is in fact routinely destroying locks and confiscating bikes, they should first consult their legal counsel as they are probably destroying and stealing private property.

It was just a month ago that a similar event occurred. This time it was on the sidewalk of Lafayette Park, and I suspect the man in a black uniform was an actual law enforcement officer rather than a rent-a-cop.

I like to think that the legal authority that comes with a badge and a gun limits the officer to carefully enforcing actual laws, not their own made-up, capricious rules that have no basis in law.


Scenes of Washington: George Washington's birthday



Scenes of Washington: Georgetown corner stores

Jean Pierre Antiques, 26th & P

Griffin Market, 28th & P

Morgan's Pharmacy, 30th & P

Country Squire Valet, 34th & Prospect

Georgetown Wine, 27th & P

Scheele's Market, 29th & Dumbarton

Le Petite Corner Store, 34th & Dent

Saxby's Coffee, 35th & O

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