Summer Streets: Next year in Washington?
I was just in Savannah over Labor Day weekend. Savannah has great parks
Forsyth Park took its inspiration from Paris, but the U.S. city most inspired by Paris doesn't have a downtown park like it. Most of our squares, like those in Capitol Hill, are just huge intersections (like Seward Square), relatively barren, overly formal spaces (like Stanton Park), or a combination of both (like Mount Vernon Square). The same goes for Washington Circle or Logan Circle. Some outer neighborhoods have the fort circle parks, like Fort Reno and Fort Dupont, but there are few good spots for residents of closer-in neighborhoods to relax outdoors. And some outer areas, like upper Northeast, are remarkably barren of parks.
Ironically, despite having 24% of its land as parkland, much of DC lacks great public spaces. Rock Creek Park, a great park up in the north, is just an expressway with narrow bike paths as it passes through central Washington. Likewise, much of our "parkland" is really parking lots, highway ramps, or freeways. Of course, there's the Mall, which does contain ball fields and good places for running, but is also perenially underfunded and overrun with new memorials.
What to do? District and federal agencies created CapitalSpace, a collection of proposals to improve parks, from building a greenway linking the various Fort parks to better utilizing our existing urban parks. In the meantime, we can expand our public spaces without construction new parks by creating recreation space on roadways on weekends.
San Francisco, another city with large, urban residential areas undersupplied with parks, tried that this past Sunday. Sunday Streets converted one direction of its wide waterfront boulevards to recreational space for walking, dancing, yoga, biking, rollerblading, and more. They will repeat the program in mid-September. On three Saturdays in August, New York City devoted Park Avenue to non-automobile enjoyment from 72nd Street to the Brooklyn Bridge.
In addition to simply creating space for recreation, both New York and San Francisco programmed activities along the route, from dance classes and concerts to bicycle safety workshops to free asthma screenings and nutrition demonstrations.
DC should bring Summer Streets here in the summer of 2009. As in New York and San Francisco, local dance companies, merchants, and fitness groups can organize events and shows. It just takes the creativity to see at least one street, on low-traffic weekend days, as something more than a space for traffic. Other cities have shown the way. And as San Francisco showed, if you use a wide boulevard with a median, even half the road is better than none.
What street would you close? Rhode Island Avenue from Connecticut to the District line? New Hampshire to U to 14th and back to New Hampshire? 11th Street NE/SE, one of the two 11th Street bridges over the Anacostia, and Martin Luther King Ave SE? There are so many possibilities. Let's make it happen.
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