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Wisconsin Ave Giant is a great project

I've been picking on bad projects a fair amount lately, so it's time to highlight a good project: the proposed redevelopment of the Wisconsin Avenue Giant in western Cleveland Park. This project will replace bland, single-story buildings and large surface parking lots along Wisconsin Ave and Idaho Ave with an appropriately scaled mixed-use project that will engage the street with many individual stores and residences.

The north parcel, in the triangle made by Wisconsin, Idaho, and Newark Street, has small stores all around on the ground floor and residences above. There is also an opportunity for businesses on the second story (of the types that prefer the lower rent and lower visibility of an upstairs location, like yoga studios).

South of Newark Street, the Giant will occupy most of the site. However, the project places several smaller stores in front of the store on both the Wisconsin Ave and Newark Street sides. On the Idaho Ave side, which is more residential, there will be townhouses fronting on the street.

This is a great solution to the problem of blank walls around big supermarkets. A supermarket usually wants to put full-height shelves around all its walls, blocking any windows. Therefore, when we build a supermarket right on the street, we end up with long blank walls. Here, the Giant gets to have a nice entrance on the street, but the rest of the store is inside the block, allowing it to have no windows without hurting the streetscape.

The project does have two levels of underground parking. While I usually complain about excessive parking, I don't think this is excessive. Supermarkets do generate more vehicle trips because people do indeed buy a lot of food at once and make frequent trips to the supermarket. Until we have lots of corner stores allowing people to walk to the corner to buy some fresh produce, that's going to continue. Also, this area isn't very close to any Metro stations. Wisconsin has bus service, but there's less potential for complete transit-oriented living than right at Columbia Heights, Eastern Market, or Georgetown.

My favorite part of this project is the treatment of Newark Street. Too often, traffic engineers either design the road entirely for cars and try to keep people off while maximizing vehicle speed, or close a road completely which is great for pedestrians but can create "superblocks" and dead space that is less safe. Instead, this project paves the center section of Newark Street with something like cobblestones, creating a wide plaza that's open to cars but also more pedestrian friendly, using subtle visual cues to show that this isn't a rapid driving space.

Why can't these folks design all the development projects in DC?

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. 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 now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Thanks for posting this, I was unaware of these improvements. This type of development is in keeping with the "whirpool" diagram you posted the other day. Hopefully, this type of development will attract more transit. And if we can do this in the wealthier parts of the city, it will help set the trend faster.

by David Murphy on Jun 3, 2008 9:35 pm • linkreport

Do you have a link to more information on this project -- perhaps something with a site plan diagram?

by doug on Jun 3, 2008 10:05 pm • linkreport

doug - click on the rendering above to go to the project website.

My favorite part of the project is the ground floor liner shops along Wisconsin Ave. and Newark St. What a contrast to the existing, pedestrian-hostile blank walls. A less talented firm would have designed brand spanking new blank walls, or at best, a row of useless display windows. I also like the second floor "flex space" above the Wisconsin Avenue liner shops.

The proposed 56,000 square foot grocery store is vast compared to other grocery stores in DC. They even show a Wild Oats natural food section -- what, is there some partnership with Whole Foods I've never heard of? Anyhow, it illustrates how large floor plates can be accommodated in a medium density, pedestrian oriented context. DC USA also has liner shops around large floor plates, but those store fronts are dull, flat and repetitive compared to Wisc. Ave Giant's more varied, engaging, and human scale design.

by Laurence Aurbach on Jun 3, 2008 11:43 pm • linkreport

Doug: I've also put in a regular link to the project in addition to the clickable image. Thanks for pointing that out.

by David Alpert on Jun 4, 2008 7:41 am • linkreport

Great project! I used to live near here at McLean Gardens and this area was way underutilized. This will really bringe that part of the Avenue to its full potential and serve as a much-needed neighborhood center for that part of town.

by Steve P on Jun 4, 2008 8:52 am • linkreport

Streetworks is really great. When I learned about this project a couple weeks ago, I was glad to see them back on the DC scene -- or maybe this is their last remnant project. They proposed an idea for the Falls Church City Center about 5-6 years ago, and that is when I really grew to respect their vision.

by DG-rad on Jun 4, 2008 10:08 am • linkreport

an even better way to deal with walls is to put various supermarket store functions on the street and open up the building to the sidewalk. I've written about that quite extensively.

by Richard Layman on Jun 4, 2008 4:23 pm • linkreport

I like Richard's idea about opening up the supermarket to the street.

What really impresses me is ... with some notable exceptions ... DC is mostly replacing auto-oriented shopping strips with pedestrian and street oriented mixed-use projects that strengthen the urban fabric and encourage walking, bicycling, and transit access.

While imperfect, Columbia Heights is still extremely impressive. Particularly since I come from a city .... Philadelphia .... where strip shopping centers were being built next to close-in subway stations as recently as a few years ago.

by Steve P on Jun 5, 2008 6:06 am • linkreport

Richard, Giant wants to hear your ideas. Please contact them.

Let Us Hear from You:

Giant is eager to hear from local residents about the development plans. You

can communicate directly with us by going to our website at or by calling XXX-XXX-XXXX [Note on 11/5/2014: This number no longer reaches people connected with the Giant project and has been getting calls, so it has been deleted.]

Community Meetings:

We want to continue our ongoing dialogue with the local community and keep

residents informed of development plans. To this end, we are meeting with

various community, neighborhood and civic groups. The Giant development team

will present at these meetings.

* June 9 - 6:30 PM, ANC Commissioner Richard Rothblum meeting for the Idaho

Street and near neighbors.

* Wednesday, June 11, 6:30-9 PM, Washington Hebrew Congregation, 3935 Macomb


by Bianchi on Jun 5, 2008 12:41 pm • linkreport

Yes, the square footage is impressive, but keep in mind that it includes the 6000 (approx?) Giant Pharmacy across the street, so while the space it large, it is also consolidating current uses on that strip.

Overall, this is a vast improvement and a long time in coming.

by William on Jun 5, 2008 9:18 pm • linkreport

Thanks for bringing up one of my newest pet peeves of urban design: grocery stores and drug stores that block all their street-facing windows with shelves or even walls. What can we do to change the zoning/building code to prevent this? It's ugly, decreases neighborhood walk-ability and increases the potential for crime. Why can't we have windows into stores? "There outta be a law..."

by michael on Nov 10, 2009 11:57 am • linkreport

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