When the cars had won the war
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.
- Congress gives itself more free parking than its own rules allow
- Montgomery throws more money at unneeded parking
- "Road Code" bill will make Montgomery County's urban streets more ped and bike friendly
- How well do you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 30
- Without a streetcar, what's next for Columbia Pike, technically and politically?
- ART keeps graduating to bigger and bigger buses
- To a pedestrian, a road's a tiny space with danger just beside