Greater Greater Washington

Public Spaces


How about Why Don't We Control Our Own Parks Day?

Park(ing) Day (which is today; go check out a pop-up parklet at 12th and G, 1350 Pennsylvania, or 1101 Wilson in Rosslyn) started out as a guerrilla performance art project to call attention to how little public space on streets goes to people. In DC, there's a different parks-related issue that needs attention: The obstacles to actually programming the parks we have.


Setting up the Wilson Building parklet. Photo by Anne Phelps on Twitter.

In San Francisco, where Park(ing) Day started, there are whole neighborhoods with very few places to sit. In New York the situation was even more acute, at least until a recent push under Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan to convert a lot of short, underused bits of street into plazas in places like the Meatpacking District and Fort Greene.

In DC, that's not our biggest park problem. The District actually has a lot of public spaces, especially in the L'Enfant city. The biggest problem is that not much happens in those public spaces, and the people of DC don't control them.

A lot of them mainly sit empty or accommodate homeless individuals, except maybe at lunch when office workers come out to patronize the food trucks and then sit on the sometimes awkwardly-placed benches. Lydia DePillis wrote last year:

Franklin Square and Mt. Vernon Square are unkempt and unwelcoming. Freedom Plaza is a desert, and Pershing Park a swampy thicket. Lafayette Park feels securitized and touristy, the National Mall more like an African savannah than your back yard. It's hard to even imagine a world where they could take on the character of London's Picadilly Circus or Rome's Piazza Navona, with their liveliness and 24-hour sensibility.
Not all parks are problematic. DePillis cites drum circles in McPherson Square, constant activity in Dupont Circle, and the great success of Columbia Heights' plaza.

The top, but not only, obstacle for these parks in the National Park Service. Most of the small circles, squares and triangles around DC, especially in the L'Enfant City, are federal parks. The Park Service's historic preservation rules prohibit changing the layout of parks, and burdensome concession rules restrict the potential to even have a little coffee kiosk.


Bryant Park. Photo by panduh on Flickr.
Shouldn't Franklin Square be DC's equivalent of New York's Bryant Park or Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square? There have been many discussions between the Downtown Business Improvement District, DC's Office of Planning, and the Park Service over the course of years about renovating Franklin, Chinatown Park and others. The projects move forward very slowly, and make at most very modest changes. That's better than nothing, but it's not a lot.

The best urban parks have things like moveable furniture, so that groups of people can sit and talk together instead of having to all face the same direction on a bolted-down bench along a path. They have concerts and other events in the evenings, often funded with some commercial sponsorship.

Jacqueline Dupree pointed out on Twitter that the amazing Yards Park in Near Southeast came about only after the federal government transferred the land to the District and private entities entered a partnership with the city to get the park built.

DC is talking about an 11th Street Recreation Bridge when there is a huge amount of parkland right by the bridge, on the banks of the Anacostia. But DC probably couldn't put the mix of recreation, vending, and arts, including commercial ventures like the trapeze school and establishments serving food and drink, on any of that land.

Food trucks have brought a lot of life to DC parks. Ironically, NPS rules don't allow the food trucks, but since they are in District parking spaces, they can operate. They can't operate on streets like 7th and 4th through the Mall, though. Peter May from NPS said at a National Capital Planning Commission meeting that the agency believes it has complete jurisdiction over streets with NPS property on both sides.

NPS has actually been making great strides lately. They ended some particularly restrictive concession contracts, and new contracts won't be as exclusive. They're building a relationship with Dupont Festival, the organization that brings soccer watching, theater, and community events to Dupont Circle. They're open to a downtown playground and put Capital Bikeshare on the Mall.

Nor are DC-controlled parks a panacea. The Department of Parks and Recreation isn't any better funded than the Park Service, and often under-maintains its parks while giving more attention to rec centers. The September 11 memorial grove in Langdon Park got funding from a number of organizations but little follow-up attention from those groups, says @Sept1GroveW5DC on Twitter.

New York activated its parks with substantial private money and public-private partnerships. It's been willing to bring a little commerce into the parks in exchange for making them truly great places. Working with the BIDs is the best hope for DC public spaces.

None of this is to say Park(ing) Day isn't still quite valuable here. It's a great opportunity for councilmembers to try giving up their prime parking spaces for something better, and one very tiny reminder that this space they get for free isn't entirely free. It's also a great chance for organizations like Casey Trees and Washington Parks and People to show off what they do.


Bike parking in the street at the Wilson Building parklet. Photo by WABA.

Ironically, Tommy Wells can do more in his park in the Pennsylvania Avenue roadway than the District could on the adjacent sidewalk. NPS controls those sidewalks, too, which is why there are very few cafes and no Capital Bikeshare stations along the avenue. Wells put bicycle parking in the street, but DDOT wouldn't be able to put it on the (very wide) sidewalk.

A lot of people don't know that Dupont, McPherson, Franklin, Stanton, and the Pennsylvania Avenue sidewalks are federal, or the little triangle by Dupont Circle Metro, or the triangle that will now be the Ukranian Manmade Famine memorial. Many federal employees and hill staffers don't know (though many do).

Could we use some sort of guerrilla activity to call attention to these issues? Any ideas?

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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People can be weirdly protective of the sanctity of the NPS on some of these, too. I was at an ANC 2B meeting last year where the commissioners were discussing how they might ensure that there's enough space for disabled users of the sidewalk around a bus shelter and public trash can at that triangle by the Dupont Circle north exit. Some guy from Dupont Main Streets angrily objected about how "you don't just alter a national park!" as though they were talking about putting neon billboards on top of Half Dome or something, and threw a tape measure down in front of one of the commissioners. It was bizarre.

by iana on Sep 21, 2012 12:20 pm • linkreport

NPS having jurisdiction "over streets with NPS property on both sides" Is this true?I understand some street are NPS property (Constitution Ave) but not sure if the adjacent property is the controlling factor.

by charlie on Sep 21, 2012 12:27 pm • linkreport

By "people" you mean pedestrians, right? There's plenty of room for "people" qua drivers.

by onelasttime on Sep 21, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

charlie: This is what May said at the NCPC meeting. I can try to dig up the video but not right now. Harriet Tregoning was asking if there can be food trucks. I think it might have been when they were reviewing the National Museum of African-American History and Culture the most recent time.

by David Alpert on Sep 21, 2012 12:35 pm • linkreport

@dalpert; no need to go digging. I'd be curious just to get to the bottom of who owns which roads. Getting NPS out of the road business would seem to be a first step.

by charlie on Sep 21, 2012 12:39 pm • linkreport

Bryant Park and Rittenhouse Square are city parks. DC's attitude toward parks is "Let the Feds Do It" to save money. We can't have it both ways.

Let's see what we do with McMillan Park which is ours. Sounds like we'll just concrete over it.

by Tom Coumaris on Sep 21, 2012 1:08 pm • linkreport

Bryant park - about 9 acres. Franklin square park - about 4 or 5 acres? Not sure.

There is no comparison (none) between the job DPR and NPS do maintaining the parks (design integrity, plants, trees). Hands down, it's not even close - NPS.

Until DPS and UFA can more effectively prove themselves, they should not be given any more property to "manage."

I wonder if the people who throw out "Bryant Park" as a solution to all Dc's supposed park problems actually know the amount of work (paid labor, unpaid labor), complex managing structure, and most especially the phenomenal amount of money that has gone in to its restoration.

But, alas, to compare NYC and DC is also kind of useless.

by Jazzy on Sep 21, 2012 1:14 pm • linkreport

Jazzy,
I wonder if the people who throw out "Bryant Park" as a solution to all Dc's supposed park problems actually know the amount of work (paid labor, unpaid labor), complex managing structure, and most especially the phenomenal amount of money that has gone in to its restoration.
Though I haven't worked on Bryant Park, I did attend a lecture by its founder Daniel Biederman and he explained all the hard work, money, and politicking that made it happen.

You're right that it's a big task, but it's certainly possible. The most important part is finding a way to pay for full-time management and maintenance. Bryant Park has employees who, among other things, move chairs to different parts of the park if they notice a shortage!

The Bryant Park Corporation does this for Bryant Park mostly through sponsorships and donations these days, but the Downtown BID could possible provide a similar management service here. They already employ people to sweep sidewalks and direct visitors to various destinations in the BID.

by Eric Fidler on Sep 21, 2012 1:45 pm • linkreport

For the heck of it, here's the bill that the city passed laying out the funding of the Yards Park:

http://dcclims1.dccouncil.us/lims/legislation.aspx?LegNo=B18-0299

And here's what I wrote back in 2009 about the hearing on the bill:
http://www.jdland.com/dc/index.cfm?id=3004

by JD on Sep 21, 2012 2:01 pm • linkreport

"Let's see what we do with McMillan Park which is ours. Sounds like we'll just concrete over it."

what is this mcmillan park of which you speak - you mean the place that hasn't been a park in a couple of generations?

by confused on Sep 21, 2012 3:03 pm • linkreport

Regarding "guerrilla activity": just start scheduling events in the "national" parks, without getting NPS approval, and at the events, hand out leaflets about giving park authority back to the local communities. That would count as peaceable assembly with the intent of seeking redress from the government, and therefore get you 1st Amendment protection. Then, when the Park Rangers inevitably hassle you, comes the hard part: find a DC law firm with not enough billable work to go around, and get them to represent you pro bono.

by Tom Veil on Sep 21, 2012 3:25 pm • linkreport

@Tom; if you're looking to pick a fight with NPS by protesting in the parks, you're probably bound for disappointment. Protests or other events involving fewer than 25 people can already happen without permission, and in all likelihood nobody will hassle you as long as you aren't breaking any laws like littering (a concern with leaflets). If it's more than 25 people you need a permit, but they'll give one to anyone who asks provided, again, that you don't plan to do anything illegal. They might make you pay for it if it's enough people that they need to send park police to secure it, but that's about it, and there's plenty of case law in support of their ability to require protest permits as long as they don't hand them out in a discriminatory fashion. Having been through the process myself, it's slightly annoying, but the NPS folks in DC handle more of these permits than, I'd imagine, any other park service office in the country, and are pretty used to dealing with it.

by Andrew Pendleton on Sep 21, 2012 3:49 pm • linkreport

Thanks Eric. Yes, I certainly do hope it is possible. But it certainly takes a greaaaat deal more thoughtfulness than what is implied in the likes of daily blog posts such as this one. It's a massive massive task, and not to be too negative, I'm just not sure if DC has the - for lack of a better word - groundedness not to mention the 'committed (to DC) money' to make it happen. Is there a deep enough well to make this happen and to see it through? These sorts of projects are typically undertaken by wealthy people with a tremendous depth of knowledge of both the city and the project, and an equal commitment to the city in which they have lived. Does DC have a large enough stock of those people? (I am not even getting into the diceyness of public private partnerships. Again, NYC is probably unique among cities to be able to pull that off, and sustain it. Sustaining things is where DC is not so good.)

If a BID or some private entity is to be involved, best not to turn it over to DPR. To expect DPR to pull off a Bryant Park? It is, as the French say, to laugh.

I trust NPS so very much more to preserve the design integrity of parks and of the city as a whole. The poor people at DPR are afraid of their own shadows.

There is a way to do it, but I see no signs of it, so far, on the horizon, not in DC.

But at least you get to the heart of the matter: The most important part is finding a way to pay for full-time management and maintenance.

But Eric, really are you comparing the $ the BPC has with what the downtown DC BID has? Well if that is even remotely possible, there's obviously something I don't know about the downtown BID!

PS: Aren't there already food trucks around at least one block of the park? Or am I thinking of some place else?

by Jazzy on Sep 21, 2012 4:12 pm • linkreport

well, i am a fan of advocacy and protest, but I think that a comprehensive parks plan is probably a start and more productive. Look at Congressman Issa's response to the Occupy movement to get a sense about how Congress is likely to respond to such an initiative.

In any case, learn from the Occupy movement and have a very well defined program, agenda, argument, etc.

2. I laid out a way to redefine the parks in the city, so that the "federal interest" parks can be more carefully and closely defined, and as a result the NPS would have a way to release more park land back to the city.

But that would require a top notch parks plan for the city, which I don't know if we are capable of producing. In any case, a "DC" parks plan should still make recommendations about federal lands, if only to more fully represent the interests of DC citizens in their every day use of those parks and lands.

3. I used to be very very critical of NPS, but now I have more sympathy and empathy for them, because I think the problem is that anything they do in DC is subject to hyper scrutiny from Congress, the President and EB leadership, all the top DOI officials. That has to make them pretty conservative.

In other cities which aren't DC, NPS is more open to doing more stuff. I've written about it from time to time.

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/12/19/her_quest_bringing_the_national_parks_to_the_people/

But they aren't perfect:

http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/inga_saffron/20101226_For_tourists_and_city__not_re-created_equal.html

3. Yes, the NYC parks initiatives are possible because of all the money floating around NYC. DC does not have the same kind of opportunity and philanthropic community although there is no question that BIDs can be more involved in this, like in the Canal Park/Yards Park example.

4. I do agree that DC has generally relied on NPS to provide park land and operations without having to pay for it. This issue would have to be addressed going forward (and as part of a parks planning initiative).

5. Relatedly is the NoMA BID effort to create a public realm plan. I think the NoMA plan while wildly successful is a failure in part because it didn't include this kind of creation as part of it. I take some responsibility for it, 'cause one of the very first proponents for a NoMA plan was me, via ANC6C, back in 2003 coming out of the effort to landmark the Uline Arena. I didn't know enough about planning then to fully understand the big gaps in how DC does planning, and how this problem would result.

Therefore it's an illustration of the failure to not have a parks plan and to not to comprehensive neighborhood/sector planning more generally in the city. Small area plans are build out management plans more or less, they aren't neighborhood plans.

6. Anyway, now NoMA BID is doing a parks plan. I was very critical of their earliest efforts and I was shocked that they have responded to that criticism by retaining the planning firm I recommended and broadening the focus on public realm from a previous focus only on green space.

I guess since the BID just got a big planning grant from the city that they'll go ahead and do a comprehensive plan.

Anyway, the model plan I suggested to them is from Buckhead, Atlanta.

http://livablebuckhead.com/sustainability/greenspace-2/buckhead-collection/

The firm they've retained is capable of great work (the lead in their parks practice, David Barth, is one of the best parks planners in the US and I've learned a lot from his work).

But greatness in planning is dependent on the client, the scope of work, and how visionary the client is willing to be.

by Richard Layman on Sep 22, 2012 7:44 am • linkreport

It's hard to even imagine a world where they could take on the character of London's Picadilly Circus or Rome's Piazza Navona, with their liveliness and 24-hour sensibility.

Just wanna point out that some of the world famous squares that Washingtonians are jealous of are hundreds of years old. Picadilly Circus itself was built in 1819, but the place has a much longer history. Nevertheless, barely younger than DC. Piazza Navona is from just after the middle ages and had a circus in the first century AD.

These places have had ups and downs, and generally a function in city life. And that is something that DC often misses. A 24/7 city life. DC still dies at night, except for a few well-designed pockets of late-night fun.

by Jasper on Sep 22, 2012 7:55 am • linkreport

Jasper -- interesting point. Yesterday I went to Baltimore to meet some people doing Parking Day stuff and other things, partly because it's relevant to some business stuff I'm doing.

At one of them, to hear how the people were describing DC as becoming so "cool," all the focus on biking, etc., was shocking, etc. (Although one guy had gone to the H St. Festival and complained that it was too crowded and uncomfortable and he was right actually...)

As a critic it's hard for me sometimes to just take in the good things. In any case there is no question that the way that incremental year by year improvements accrete and are at the point of hitting critical mass (and becoming significantly visible) is a positive.

So while we are moving maybe to an 18/6 hour city, yes we aren't a 24 hour city. But there are plenty of diamonds in the rough.

E.g., take Dupont Circle. Imagine if the roadways around the park were reconfigured and more road was given back to the park-- we all know as drivers that the inner lanes are pretty underused anyway.

Imagine something happening underground eventually. Imagine recapturing some of the air over the Massachusetts underpass so that the spaces between the west and east side of Connecticut Ave. between the north side of the Circle and Q Street (and just a little beyond) was recaptured into public space like space over 395 is captured (but not used successfully) by CCNV.

There are many more similar opportunities across the city, ranging from Herb Caudill's ideas about the sidewalks in teh Cleveland Park commercial district, to Dan Malouff's post about creating "Scott Square," or ideas for recreating Truxton Circle, etc.

by Richard Layman on Sep 22, 2012 8:28 am • linkreport

From the northeast, a bit of a tangent on parks and recreation on a city level behind a state capitol.

by KadeKo on Sep 22, 2012 11:19 am • linkreport

Having just been in Bryant Park yesterday, I'd say the comparison with Franklin is apples & oranges. Bryant Park is one avenue away from the most concentrated tourist zone/trap in New York and not far from a huge concentration of corporate headquarters, not to mention being on a subway line that ties together Grand Central & Port Authority. Tour buses park there sending tourists on their way to Times Square. It's also attached to a cultural crown jewel. There's always a lot of pedestrian traffic there and it encompasses a variety of users. Franklin has none of that maneuvering it away from NPS won't make it anything else. The better analogue to Bryant Park is DuPont Circle, which is alive with many uses and users, not far from many employers, astride one of the busiest Metro stations, etc. Even with all that, I suspect that doing something underground (a perennial enthusiasm here) will always fail--it's not part of the DNA of the place. Atlanta has an underground attraction which is probably the most successful of this type--it's much bigger, but has limped along for decades, gone bankrupt multiple times and constantly has been the target of schemes for "revival". And it's done that well because downtown Atlanta is utterly devoid of anything interesting, otherwise and it used to have "World of Coca Cola" as a neighbor.

The Mall is meant to be something different from Bryant Park or Dupont Circle and that seems to get lost. It's meant to be a place of both awe and contemplation, as well as ahuge but purposive public gathering place. NPS is more about that stuff than any municalpl parks department and with all its cautiousness about change, I'm kindof glad of that.

New York is not a great example for DC, at least not Manhattan. The densities are so great that the few parks that don't work, like one I visited in Harlem a couple years ago are mostlythat way because they are in the rougher sections of neighbors that are changing and fairly marginal users (drug dealers, men cruising for sex, etc.) easily keep other uses from achieving domination. New York also has a history of civic engagement and philanthropy that DC cannot really approximate.

Franklin Square would be in better shape if the suburban congregations that do their do-gooding there looked at the poverty in their own backyard (they all seem to come from places with plenty of their own problems) and other steps were taken to regionalize the problem of homelessness. The one bright spot is the proliferation of food trucks there. Given the relatively small number of decent eateries nearby, it's changed the composition of users at least during mid-day. Putting a playground there has been floated but frankly you can find nice well equipped inner area playgrounds like Kennedy Park which no one uses and the homelessness is going to keep the usual advocates for a kids park away. Adult athletic uses like those in Potomac Park would be much more promising. A hotel might help, but I don't know that hotels do much to contribute to the use of parks elsewhere.

Freedom Plaza gets relatively little use mostly because the redevelopment of Pennsylvania Avenue was basically a failure. It has wide sidewalks, great vistas, etc. but nothing to generate traffic on a consistent basis through the day. The few retail experiments came and went in the 90s. The work environments are 9 to 5 w/o generating foot traffic through the day (no doctor's offices and the like which do this). Some of the buildings are frankly ugly and bunker-like. It doesn't really move tourists where they want to go in the way they want to go. Penn Ave. is no longer the slum it was 50 years ago, but it now it's just pretty lifeless. The elites and plannerly types who redeveloped it near the burden, and having DC take over Freedom Park from NPS won't make much difference, although it would be nice if NPS planted some trees there.

by Rich on Sep 22, 2012 9:28 pm • linkreport

You got it, Rich.

Franklin Square is somewhat historic and there are a lot of people around lunch time, but as you said, DC is not NYC (a particular past time on this blog is to compare DC with other cities) culturally speaking, and after lunch time, ziiip, the population drastically decreases. We're still a very provincial city, and as you correctly point out, lack the numbers that NYC has. As for the underground, it was before my time, but I believe certain Metro stations, such as Dupont, used to have underground passageways or throughways (North South) and bathrooms. Not talking about the mini mall there in the 90s, but this would have been in the 80s and/or before. I'm not sure if this is correct, but I heard that Reagan closed it down. This passageway would have had bathrooms. Not sure why people allowed it to be closed down. Someone else would have to comment. But there are other metro stations that have successful undergrounds like Faragut west, though it is attached to a building above it. I'm not against an underground something or other getting going again, but why not start small, like re-open the throughways and yeah, the bathrooms too.

I don't get over to Freedom Plaza much, but it does seem to be pretty de-forested, I'd agree with you there.

by Jazzy on Sep 22, 2012 10:27 pm • linkreport

Rich, very good comments. I should have said that while I support something underground at Dupont, I agree with you that the vitality of the Circle is at street level and will always usurp the success of anything underground (comparable to the relative failures of the Georgetown Park Mall, which aimed to scoop people off the street).

Then again, the old Underground Club on M St. around 21st ? did well back in the 1990s.

Freedom Plaza is poorly designed and located too. And yes, PA Ave. proves many of the Jane Jacobs points, but in any case, it's not a central strip to daily Washington. When 7th St. was a shopping street (because of the original Centre Market at where the Nat. Archives was) it was different. At least when the FBI did tours, there were more people in that area.

WRT your comments about National Mall: exactly. My point in some other writings is that the parks that are truly "federal interest" like the National Mall should be delineated and NPS should run them and the parks that are really local serving could be redefined as local and a plan for local management and control be developed and executed.

E.g., Grant Circle or Sherman Circle really don't need to be federal. That's true for all of the Circles probably, e.g., what makes Lincoln Park, Stanton Park, Washington Circle, McPherson Square, Farragut Square, etc. "federal." Rock Creek Park could go either way. In any reasonable jurisdiction, it would be a locally controlled park. The Fort Circle Parks could be like a state park, therefore loca;, but if they wanted, NPS could make a case because of the Civil War and other national battlefields. Etc.

I mean National Mall and the parks along the Potomac yes. Lafayette Square yes. What else?

I argue that the city needs a comprehensive parks plan that addresses federal parks too, to address the possibility of catastrophic change and to have a plan to deal with it.

The best example is as state funding for parks has been cut back to the bone in many places, state parks have been closed, and local authorities had no standing plans to enable them to step up and move quickly when circumstances changed.

by Richard Layman on Sep 22, 2012 10:31 pm • linkreport

You and Jazzy of course are also right about Manhattan having so many people, that it makes successful public spaces much easier.

I remember the first month I lived here (Sept. 1987) reading a dumb op ed in the Post lamenting that unlike NYC there weren't Korean grocers on every corner.

Queens and Brooklyn have very large populations as well, which supports similar kinds of operations.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rllayman/5867754208/

During the day, Manhattan has upwards of 4-6 _Million_ people, maybe more today. Back then, during the daytime, DC maybe had 1 million, but most of them live in the suburbs and don't venture out in the city during the day (e.g., a recent study of federal worker behavior in the SW area found that about 65% bring their lunch).

(It's the same reason why it's difficult to support local commercial districts and a wide array of retail at the neighborhood commercial district level. Hell, even NYC can't really do "a wide array of retail" except in regional serving districts, but they have lots of convenience retail--food mostly--in districts in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.

by Richard Layman on Sep 22, 2012 10:37 pm • linkreport

Jazzy -- I don't think there were underground walkways like you suggest, although there used to be some retail at one of the Farragut North underground areas and the International Square food court by Farragut West was designed to leverage station access.

I haven't been by the IS food court in years. The FN one died. There's a sports club in the space now.

The space under Dupont is a left over streetcar tunnel.

by Richard Layman on Sep 22, 2012 10:39 pm • linkreport

Yes, there were throughways at Dupont. You can still see the stairs Richard! Go to the old Riggs, now PNC, to the ATM on the circle. There's one there. A stairway that's been (criminally) boarded over. Then, head east around the circle. At P, on the circle - I believe - there's another. They are at several points around the circle.

Yes, I meant Farragut North. International Square is gone?? Really? I don't think so...

by Jazzy on Sep 22, 2012 10:45 pm • linkreport

It's late. No, I did mean Farragut West. I have no idea about the IS at Farragut North.

by Jazzy on Sep 22, 2012 10:46 pm • linkreport

those were/are for the streetcar tunnel not the Metro. In the 1990s, a guy named Geary Simon did Dupont Underground, an attempt to use the streetcar tunnel space. (Mr. Simon was one of the first people to work with DPR to rehab parklets. He did one on NH Ave. near the Circle, in honor of his friend, Sonny Bono.)

by Richard Layman on Sep 23, 2012 10:06 am • linkreport

Yes, they were street car tunnels, my mistake. As I had already mentioned, I'd known about the thing in the 90s. What I'm really trying to find out is if the tunnels were ever re-opened...(NOT FOR THE THING IN THE 90s WHICH I KNOW ABOUT) for passageway and they had bathrooms, and then closed some time in the **1980s**. It's looking like, no. But it would be good to hear from someone who remembers all this, who was here.

by Jazzy on Sep 23, 2012 10:20 am • linkreport

the yearning for dc public spaces to be more like Picadilly Circus or the Piazza Navona is really weird. Picadilly Circus is a huge, busy traffic roundabout surrounded by mega-stores. There is no place to sit outside at all, even if there were you'd be crushed by throngs of tourists and shoppers and deafened (and asphyxiated) by the busses, cabs, and cars. It's basically Dupont CIrcle mated to Times Square on steroids. The Piazza Navona is a big empty square where tourists ogle bad art and cluster around a crazy fountain while deciding where to visit next. Yes, there are sidewalk cafes around the edge, but come on. The square in front of the Pantheon is far more of the kind of relaxing, sittable space you are discussing. London also has actual sittable/useable parks, like Golden Square (a few blocks behind Picadilly in Soho).

by cereal on Sep 23, 2012 10:37 am • linkreport

DC never had any reason to "cut public park funding to the bone", like other places, as we have never had any real interest in having DC-owned public parks other than swimming pools and basketball courts.

And yet the DC Public Parks warehouse and bus parking lot continues to occupy half an entire city block between S and T behind the most active block of 14th NW. THAT facility could be relocated anywhere and the present grounds turned into an attraction and/or park much more successfully than the old Dupont streetcar passenger loading tunnels. The rears of the buildings facing 14th are original and have character.

Alas, the most common recommendation is to turn it into a parking lot for bar patrons.

If you're looking for a high-density, near to a Metro station public plaza in the middle of where people go, DC Public Parks already owns that one and is just misusing it in terms of present day.

by Tom Coumaris on Sep 23, 2012 11:06 am • linkreport

and why is the most public triangle in NOMA occupied by a Wendy's instead of a park and the most public triangle in LeDriot occupied by a suburban post office with parking lot? (not to mention the CVS center of Petworth).

by Tom Coumaris on Sep 23, 2012 11:21 am • linkreport

While National Park Service decisions may occasionally be frustrating, don't lose sight of the fact that Washington, DC is not Charlotte -- it's the nation's capital where stewarship is for the whole country, not just the locals.

There's a more practical consideration. How could DC (often short for Dysfunctional City) meet the financial and operational burdens of maintaining all that parkland? It's like the folks who would like to have a local prosecutor to supplant the US attorney without regard to the cost burden that such a move would put on the city's taxpayers. Oh, wait -- enact a commuter tax, that old panacea!

by Bob on Sep 23, 2012 1:28 pm • linkreport

Tom C -- fwiw, I can't think of a much worse potential "public park" space in the city than the Wendy's. It's surrounded by traffic. Lots and lots of it. Although if, now not likely in our lifetimes, the DDOT proposal to underground the through traffic aspect of New York Avenue through here to the I-395 underpass, then the amount of traffic above ground would significantly decrease and the conditions would change.

When I referred to screwing up wrt the NoMA plan, specifically I was referring to not thinking about creating a "square" at the northern entrance to the Metro or the southern entrance, and about recapturing the parking lot for the Woodies warehouse (I recommend doing that now, and building parking underneath, and trying to get a monetized easement to pay for it, but easements aren't monetizable in the same way that tax credits are.)

by Richard Layman on Sep 23, 2012 1:40 pm • linkreport

don't get me started on that damn Center Leg Freeway.

by Tom Coumaris on Sep 23, 2012 1:58 pm • linkreport

I just had a croquet game shut down by a cop in Meridian Hill Park because apparently you aren't allowed to stick anything into the ground on NPS land. Does anyone know if this is actually a rule?

by Ginger on Sep 23, 2012 4:58 pm • linkreport

While National Park Service decisions may occasionally be frustrating, don't lose sight of the fact that Washington, DC is not Charlotte -- it's the nation's capital where stewarship is for the whole country, not just the locals.

That's all nice and everything, but it doesn't explain why the NPS can't regularly empty the trash cans overflowing with dog shit from Lincoln Park. Is that some sort of special service that non-DC residents demand?

How could DC (often short for Dysfunctional City) meet the financial and operational burdens of maintaining all that parkland?

Ah, yes. "Dysfunctional City" (did you just make that up? clever!) ... Given the way the city is gentrifying, my guess is control of the parks could be a net money-maker for the city, not a drain.

by oboe on Sep 23, 2012 7:23 pm • linkreport

@Ginger
I have seen people playing croquet in Logan Circle. You also have to think about all the people who go camping in National Parks and the tent stakes that they hammer into the ground. If it is a real rule, it is only selectively enforced.

As for staging some kind of protest to reclaim parkland in DC, I think it would be much better to actually get some kind of autonomy over our own affairs. Until we can actually bring in money like every other state in the country, I think it is folly to saddle ourselves with more budgetary responsibility. I acknowledge that parks are important aspect of the city, but you can't improve what you can't pay for.

by Josh on Sep 24, 2012 8:33 am • linkreport

Everyone has been obsessing about the bigger parks, but what about the little triangles of grass that NPS nominally controls, but not very well? That's really frustrating for me as a resident.

by lou on Sep 24, 2012 5:06 pm • linkreport

"DePillis cites drum circles in McPherson Square..." Do you mean Meridian Hill / Malcolm X Park?

by Dave Banick on Sep 27, 2012 5:09 pm • linkreport

Dave Banick: Lydia said McPherson. I can't say if she meant Meridian Hill/Malcolm X, but it sounds like she's talking about McPherson.

by David Alpert on Sep 27, 2012 7:24 pm • linkreport

There is a drum circle that happens in McPherson Square as well.

by MLD on Sep 28, 2012 8:03 am • linkreport

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