Greater Greater Washington

Public Spaces


Add a piano to make your city square sing

Here's a fun way to add vitality to a public space: Outdoor pianos.

In 2009, Denver started adding public pianos along its busy mile-long downtown pedestrian mall. The pianos have become a popular and noticeable part of that city's public realm. 5 years later, they're still there, and people are still playing them.


Photo by voteprime on flickr.

Even if weather or careless use ruins them after one season, upright pianos aren't particularly expensive. It would be completely practical for DC to buy one or two per year and put them in squares or circles around the central city. Roll them out in spring, and pack them back up around Thanksgiving.

The idea could work great in Farragut Square or along the Georgetown waterfront.

A potentially bigger holdup might be getting the National Park Service to allow it.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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Suburbs beat DC to it (again... see ethnic food, see bike highways, see BRT). In this case ee Mosaic District in merrifield. It's quite popular, I'd highly suggest DC get on board. :P

by Navid Roshan on Mar 28, 2014 12:22 pm • linkreport

The Mosaic District in Merrifield, VA has two of these along District Ave. Apparently the pianos used to be beautiful mahogany or something but then they were painted blue to the disappointment of the seller Christine's piano. Every once in a while there's someone playing them and I think Edens hired people to play them a couple times.

by Eric on Mar 28, 2014 12:30 pm • linkreport

If you go on a weekend to mosaic (more when shoppers are around) its more frequently played than during work hours. Last 3 times I've been it was being played, which was neat the last time because there was 4 inches of snow the day before so it was a bit surreal. I wish I had my DSLR.

by Navid Roshan on Mar 28, 2014 12:40 pm • linkreport

Well I see that people have already pointed out mosaic but I'll add that maybe we could set something up to give the drummer some? Surely, that wouldn't be annoying.

by drumz on Mar 28, 2014 12:50 pm • linkreport

London did this a couple of years ago when I was living there. I think the pianos came from what were basically junk dealers. They were in such bad shape to begin with it didn't matter if they were outside. It was really nice, they were everywhere, and even had music attached to them in laminated sheets so you could play. Would love to see this in DC.

by rindupont on Mar 28, 2014 12:51 pm • linkreport

Sounds like a great first step to get over stagefright: NObody's sitting, anyone can walk away, no microphone.

by KadeKo on Mar 28, 2014 12:51 pm • linkreport

Well I see that people have already pointed out mosaic but I'll add that maybe we could set something up to give the drummer some? Surely, that wouldn't be annoying.

As a drummer, I have to second giving the drummer some. It doesn't need to be a loud drum kit or even a bucket setup. You could bolt a cajon (box percussion hand drum made entirely of wood...no membrane to get damaged by weather) to the ground and that would work great. Really, any percussion played with your hands wouldn't be that loud. Also, it can be played by someone with zero experience in that instrument, unlike a piano, so would probably get a lot of use, particularly from kids. If you had like three cajons (you can get a cheap one for around $100) you could do some cool drum circle stuff.

by Falls Church on Mar 28, 2014 1:10 pm • linkreport

Reminds me of this:
http://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000001951138/solo-piano-nyc.html

by Bossi on Mar 28, 2014 1:26 pm • linkreport

That's fun. I think it's the kind of thing BIDs would excel at because they can work with the local community to figure out what they would like to see. Stuff like providing sidewalk chalk on the weekends or kiddie pools on nice days could be a nice way to welcome young families. I've noticed that our plaza fountain in columbia heights gets a lot of use by kids during the summer.

by BTA on Mar 28, 2014 4:49 pm • linkreport

No shortage of pianos in public spaces in Lancaster: http://keysforthecity.com/

by Shelby on Mar 29, 2014 10:32 am • linkreport

Public bagpipes or nothing. Even better - Capital Bagpipe Share.

by David C on Mar 30, 2014 10:53 pm • linkreport

you know why bagpipers always walk when they play?

--- to get a way from the noise ---

by Phibber Magee on Mar 31, 2014 1:59 am • linkreport

Nowadays, many run-of-the-mill, older pianos have little or no resale value, and are given away to anyone who can haul them away. If they have genuine antique (elephant) ivory keys, this can be re-used for jewelry or crafts. Both the N.Y. Times and the Economist magazine had recent articles about this. In today's mobile age, people prefer lightweight portable electronic keyboards.

by slowlane on Mar 31, 2014 11:50 pm • linkreport

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