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Art doesn't have to be intimidating or distant. Here are 5 great ways to see art besides in a museum.

We hear a lot about building new housing, retail, and offices, but space for artists to work is also a valuable part of neighborhoods. It's not just for the artists themselves. When artists have work spaces in our communities, it can make art more accessible to the regular person.

Lucinda Murphy discusses her art with open studio visitors. All photos from Mid City Artists.

Many artists open up their studios to the general public, either regularly or during special events, and May is a big time for these "open studios." The next few weekends are great times to look at art, meet artists, and see the kinds of spaces artists use for their creative work, with events in Dupont/Logan/U Street, Trinidad, and Mount Rainier/Hyattsville, plus regular opportunities in Brookland and Alexandria.

Open studios are also a chance to better understand art in a non-judgmental environment. Talking to local artists about their work is a great way to make art more approachable.

For many of us, art evokes images of revered masterpieces, mostly by long-dead people, chosen by unseen professional curators and placed in marble-lined grand and imposing halls of museums.

There's nothing wrong with that, for the purpose it serves—great works from the past should be on display in places that befit their significance. But there's a lot more to art. And visual art is not just paintings, but photography, sculpture, glasswork, quilts, furniture, and much more.

Some people make art as a hobby; a significant group of people, for their living. But the visual arts can often seem intimidating to those not steeped in that world.

Robert Wiener discusses his glass artwork with visitors during Mid City Artists' open studios.

I went to the open studios for the Mid City Artists, in the Dupont, Logan, and U Street area, last year, and found everyone to be very friendly and not at all haughty. They are proud of what they have created. And yes, they are potentially interested in selling something, though I never encountered any pressure.

In fact, according to Sondra Arkin, a founder of Mid City Artists (and a neighbor), many of the artists who participate feel it as a much a way to spread the word about the fact that living people make art in living spaces than purely as a commercial effort (though, still, they would be happy for some sales, too).

She writes,

Some established artists in the neighborhood ... don't find the activity of open studios fits with their practice. It is more difficult than one could imagine to disrupt your work for what amounts to a weekend party. [But] for the artist, it is a great opportunity to test the waters on new work, demonstrate techniques, and explain their passion to create visual art. It is worth the work, and ... makes the city more like the small town we envisioned.
Here are some ways to interact with art and artists this month:

Mid City Artists' open studios is May 17th and 18th, with 13 artists along and near 14th Street. Most studios are open from about 12-5. There are guided tours by experts at select times each afternoon, but it's also fun to just wander around and pop in, including to see the studio spaces for the artists in residential buildings.

Gateway Arts District, around Rhode Island Avenue in Mount Rainier and Hyattsville just over the DC line, is having open studios this Saturday, May 10, also from 12-5.

Art in the Alley in Trinidad showcases artists' work in an alley off Florida Avenue, between Montello and Trinidad Avenues (near 12th Street NE). That's also this Saturday, May 10, from 6-10 pm.

Other artist spaces with seasonal open studios include 52 O Street (whose website hasn't been updated with 2014 open studios information) (update: but which is having its open studios this weekend as well), and the Jackson Art Center in Georgetown (which had its open studios in late April).

Plus, many art spaces have open studios on a regular basis, or all the time.

Arts Walk at Monroe Street Market is a promenade in a new building by the Brookland Metro lined with artist studios. The artists each have their own open hours, and the studios coordinate to all be open on the third Thursday of each month.

The Torpedo Factory, at the waterfront end of King Street in Alexandria, is a sort of permanent open studio, where participating artists have work space in a building where anyone can stop by when they are there.

And the occasional Artomatic event brings together local artists to all show off their work, at least when its organizers can find a temporarily vacant office building and a willing landlord.

Brian Petro discusses his work with open studio visitors. Photo by Colin Winterbottom.


DC has too few dedicated east-west bike pathways

While DC's bicycling network has grown, there still aren't a lot of crosstown connections. In fact, there are no protected east-west bicycle routes in the whole third of the District north of Florida Avenue. Cyclists need more of these, as well as north-south routes to form a grid of dedicated paths.

Bike lanes around a northern section of DC. Image from Google Maps.

Much of DC's bicycle infrastructure, like trails, dedicated bikeways, and bike lanes concentrates in the downtown core, primarily south of Florida Avenue. DDOT's official bicycle map, last updated in 2011, shows that outside of downtown, most bicycle facilities run north-south.

Unless they are willing to ride on six-lane, shoulder-free roads with fast-moving traffic, cyclists have no way to traverse the northern part of Rock Creek Park, where only a freeway-like portion of Military Road crosses the park.

The same goes for Irving Street and Michigan Avenue, the only direct paths from Columbia Heights to Brookland across the vast acreage of McMillan Reservoir and Sand Filtration Site, the Washington Hospital Center, and the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

"East-west mobility for bicyclists in the northern neighborhoods of DC can be a significant challenge," said Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) Advocacy Coordinator Greg Billing. "Large campuses, parks, hospitals and cemeteries limit the available east-west connections. The MoveDC plan calls for high quality bicycle facilities from neighborhoods to downtown and better connections between the neighborhoods."

That plan recommends some form of dedicated bikeway along Irving Street, as well as for a cycletrack on Military Road.

A route between Columbia Heights and Brookland would connect two vibrant neighborhoods and serve an area that will gain population as the McMillan site and part of the Armed Forces Retirement Home property redevelop.

Google Maps' bicycle directions from the Columbia Heights Metro to the Brookland-CUA Metro. Image from Google Maps. Click for interactive version.

Currently, both the DDOT map and Google Maps advise cyclists to use Irving Street between Brookland and Columbia Heights. However, between Park Place NW and the Catholic University campus, Irving Street is a busy six-lane near-freeway with no shoulder. Cyclists have to navigate among drivers merging on and off at the massive cloverleaf intersection with North Capitol Street.

However, the right-of-way through this section seems wide enough for DDOT to add a protected cycle track or trail. One possibility is a cycle track in a protected median down the middle of Irving Street, which would avoid dangerous crossings of the off-ramps at the Irving and North Capitol cloverleaf. Another is to have a trail parallel the existing sidewalk on the south side of Irving Street.

Google Maps street view of Irving Street between First and North Capitol Streets NW.

Worsening traffic congestion is a major concern at the McMillan site. The area has infrequent bus service and is far from a Metro station, but improving bicycle access could provide an important alternative to driving, reducing the traffic impact of new development.

Military Road NW across Rock Creek Park is a similar case. Tilden Street and Park Road to the south, and Wise Road, Beach Drive, and Kalmia Road to the north, are more bike-friendly ways to cross the park. But they're far out of the way for neighborhoods on either side.

According to DDOT Bicycle Program Coordinator Mike Goodno, DDOT controls the road itself and a handful of feet on either side. The National Park Service would have to okay any further widening. DDOT has not yet studied whether there is room to add a cycletrack on Military within the right-of-way it controls.

Google Maps Street View of Military Road NW through Rock Creek Park.

The only other connection through Rock Creek Park that is further along in the planning process is the Klingle Trail, which will connect the Rock Creek trail to Woodley Road NW. DDOT completed an Environmental Assessment in 2011.

As activity centers outside the downtown area grow and travel patterns become less centralized, we must enable cyclists and transit users to get across town as easily as drivers. A grid-like, interconnected network of bike routes would make that possible.


No carmageddon at McMillan, says a study

Redeveloping DC's McMillan Sand Filtration site will not choke neighbor­hoods in new traffic as long as the District follows through on transit plans, says a transportation study from the project team.

McMillan Sand Filtration Site. Photo by IntangibleArts on Flickr.

The most important element: better transit

The study says that it's quite possible to avoid burdening busy roads in the surrounding neighborhoods, as long as planned improvements to transit actually happen. The report says is transit is actually necessary regardless of whether the project goes forward or the site remains fenced off.

In the short run, improving the Metrobus 80 bus line on North Capitol Street, which WMATA has already designated a "bus priority corridor," will help the most. Other bus lines also need improvements that previous studies have identified.

The report also calls for building the proposed streetcar line along Michigan Avenue from Woodley Park to Brookland Metro. If these projects get delayed, he report recommends coordinated shuttles to the Brookland Metro station.

Along with some tweaks to surrounding roads, the traffic will be no worse with the McMillan project than if nothing gets built.

The report also calls for better bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, including completing the street grid through McMillan, multiple pedestrian access points in each building, ample bicycle storage, and space for three Capital Bikeshare stations.

Top: Transit today around McMillan. Bottom: Proposed transit. Images from the report (p. 92 and 97).

Pitfalls remain

While the study demonstrates the redevelopment can move forward without burdensome traffic impacts, it also points to potential problems that the project team will need to take care to address.

There needs to be ongoing pressure on the city and DDOT to move forward on transit. The city has moved slowly to upgrade transportation elsewhere, so project partners need to keep a close eye on progress.

Walking and bicycling conditions on and off the site also need more attention. Busy driveways on Michigan Avenue pose potential new conflict points for pedestrians and bicyclists. As the city reviews this project, it should take every chance to improve access and safety in the area. Also, while it's great to leave space for three Capital Bikeshare stations, the development should pay for at least one.

The transportation plan specifically cites a proposed DC Circulator route from Brookland to Tenleytown, which covers the same ground as the current H buses. Instead of duplicating existing service, DC and Metro could work together to improve existing H bus service. In fact, Metro recently studied the H lines and made several recommendations to make service faster and more reliable through the area.

New traffic signals will help pedestrians and bicyclists, but the added turn lanes and driveways on Michigan Avenue and First Street NW could pose additional barriers and hazards.

The report also recommends incentives to reduce driving, lower vehicle parking ratios, and encourage transit use in later phases. Instead, these efforts should start now.

With a redevelopment as large and controversial as McMillan, it's important to push for the right policy decisions. To voice your support for the right policy decisions regarding the McMillan redevelopment, head over to the Coalition for Smarter Growth to sign up to speak at an upcoming hearing.


Brookland neighbors ask Metro for development with a side of green

As new investment rejuvenates Brookland, WMATA is seeking a developer to build at the Brookland Metro station. But neighbors and local nonprofit Casey Trees want to ensure that future development leaves room for green space as well.

The proposed development with amendments as envisioned by neighbors, including a preserved Brookland Green (in red). All images from Brookland Bridge.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) plans to seek a developer to build a mixed-use joint development on the property surrounding the Metro station, including the bus bays, a kiss-and-ride lot and a vacant lot along Michigan Avenue NE. Also slated for development is what residents call the Brookland Green, an approximately .75 acre green space adjacent to the Metro station entrance that boasts 20 mature trees.

Neighbors are asking WMATA to amend their joint development solicitation to preserve the Brookland Green. They have the support of Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie and Casey Trees, a nonprofit organization based in Brookland best known for planting trees. They feel that it is not only possible, but also more desirable to redevelop the Brookland Metro station while preserving this park space as a core asset for the growing number of DC residents that call Brookland home.

The "Brookland Green."

Building around Metro stations like Brookland, typically referred to as a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is more sustainable than traditional development because it puts people near public transportation, reducing their dependence on automobiles. While the presence of transit and density are two components of TOD, truly sustainable communities also provide access to green space and trees.

Preserving the Brookland Green fits with Mayor Gray's Vision for a Sustainable DC, which recognizes the benefits of trees. The plan sets goals to provide parks or natural space within a ten-minute walk of all residents, as well as to increase tree canopy coverage to 40% across the District.

Research indicates that the green spaces we experience everyday have a greater influence on our health and wellbeing than those that we visit occasionally. Our major national parks, such as the National Arboretum, the National Mall and Rock Creek Park, are wonderful places to visit. But the Brookland Green's proximity to the Metro provides a greater number of people with the daily access to nature and can improve the surrounding urban environment, by decreasing stormwater runoff, filtering our air and cooling the city.

Furthermore, the presence of trees near business districts can enhance sales: several studies have shown that people are willing to visit more frequently and travel farther to business districts with trees, and they are also willing to pay an average of 12% more for goods and services in these areas.

The Brookland Metro station is fortunate to have an existing amenity that provides both of these elements of green space and a lush tree canopy to its residents. So why should we not preserve that within the new development?


Events roundup: It's getting warmer

The federal government is still closed, but this week you can still talk about how climate change affects your health, get updates on the Purple Line, explore the changing character of Brookland, and help to make Florida Avenue safer at events across the region.

Update on the Purple Line: Tomorrow, the Action Committee for Transit hosts Mike Madden of the Maryland Transit Administration for the latest news on the Purple Line at its monthly meeting. Governor Martin O'Malley recently announced that the state will seek a public-private partnership to build and operate the line, which could start construction as early as 2015 if it gets federal approval this fall.

The meeting will be at 7:30pm on Tuesday, October 8 at the Silver Spring Civic Building, located at the corner of Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street, just a few blocks from the Silver Spring Metro. For more info, visit ACT's website.

Brookland: Old and New Again: Join CSG for a walking tour to learn about the changes happening around DC's Brookland neighborhood this Saturday, October 12th, starting at 10am outside the Brookland-CUA Metro station. Learn about the impact that new construction and renovation of vacant buildings is having on residents and visitors, and what other changes are coming soon. To stretch your legs and learn more about this evolving neighborhood, RSVP for the tour here.

It's finally Florida Avenue's time: The District Department of Transportation will hold the second of three meetings on the Florida Avenue Multimodal Transportation Study next Thursday from 7 to 9pm at the Jordan Student Academic Center at Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Avenue NE. The purpose of the study and plan is to ensure the corridor is safe for all users including people who walk, bicycle, drive, and use transit. For more information, visit DDOT's website.

Climate change and your health: Join award-winning science and health journalist Linda Marsa and Bob Deans, Director of Communications at the Natural Resources Defense Council, for a conversation about the public health implications of climate change. Marsa will discuss her new book, Fevered: Why a Hotter Planet Will Hurt Our Health - And How We Can Save Ourselves, along with topics including green infrastructure and setting limits on pollution.

The event will take place at 6:30pm tonight at Busboys and Poets, 1025 5th Street NW in Mount Vernon Square. For more information, visit the event's website.


Shops begin to open at Brookland Metro development

Monroe Street Market, the large multiblock development adjacent to Brookland Metro station, is making rapid progress. The first buildings are occupied, and shops are beginning to open.

The landmark Brookland sign at Monroe Street Market. Photo by the author.

The new town center will stitch together the residential neighborhood, Catholic University, and the Metro station like never before. Although it's a smaller scale than what's gone in at Columbia Heights, and will always be more of a local node than regional shopping mecca, it will be no less transformative to the livability of the neighborhood.

One of the first shops to open for business is Analog, a boutique and on-site crafting workshop selling, among other things, DC- and geography-themed paper goods. My wife is co-owner of Analog, and I couldn't be more proud of her.

More small shops and artist studios will open through September, with the larger retailers coming in spring 2014. The largest will be a new Barnes and Noble bookstore, which will include a section for Catholic University textbooks.

Here are a few more pictures of Monroe Street Market and Analog.

Monroe Street Market's Arts Walk (top), 2nd building (bottom left), and Analog (bottom center & right). All photos by the author.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


New middle schools could keep families in Ward 5

Faced with lacking middle and high school choices, many Ward 5 families choose to send their kids to schools west of Rock Creek Park. DCPS hopes to bring them back with three reorganized middle school programs, including a brand new Brookland Middle School.

McKinley Tech Middle School. Photo by the author.

My husband and I moved to the District in 2004 to start our professional careers after college, but we are staying in the city because it is evolving with our circumstances and continuing to meet our needs. Now, we are homeowners in Ward 5 and have started a family here.

Yes, it's wonderful to access the free museums and living in our nation's capital is extraordinary, but any parent will tell you that staying involves more than an appreciation for nightlife, fine dining, and the theatre. Educating our children in a place that we love is of the utmost priority.

While the supply of quality school spots has yet to meet the surge in demand, I feel the system is headed in the right direction. DC Public Schools is expanding popular programs and making new investments, while the DC Public Charter School Board is approving charters for new schools meant to fill niche needs and diversify educational offerings.

Successful schools offer a path from elementary through high school

Like many parents choosing to settle in the District and raise a family, I started attending open houses while pregnant with my first child. We actively researched school options, not just for elementary school, but for middle and high school as well. The most popular school programs in the city are those that have a viable path of instruction from elementary to high school.

However, in order to access these school programs many parents in Ward 5 are resolved to playing their odds in the DCPS out-of-bounds-lottery and the individual DCPCS lotteries. DCPS estimates that 1,326 students make the trek from Ward 5 to public schools west of Rock Creek Park, exacerbating the schools' overcrowding issues. Others take calculated risks on new charter schools that have no proven track record, but market promising expansion through middle school.

These parents don't make the decision to enroll in other wards to avoid participating in their community. They do it to avoid the inevitable reality that by 4th grade, you're going to have to reenter the lottery process to position your child to access top quality middle and high schools.

Ward 5 needs standalone middle schools

Ward 5 has several "education campuses" for students between preschool and 8th grade, but they do not sufficiently meet the needs of the middle school-aged population. They don't have the critical mass necessary to offer appropriate staff and instruction for important prerequisites like algebra and foreign language, which are required for many of the city's top application schools. They lack the support spaces, gyms, outdoor fields, and locker rooms necessary to hold music lessons, lab work, and team sports.

The Ward 5 Council on Education, a nonprofit of residents who advocate for better education in the ward, has been actively lobbying DCPS for a standalone middle school. They believe that establishing a competitive middle school with rich programming would improve the educational outcomes of current middle school children and "reclaim" Ward 5 children from other wards.

In response to lobbying from parents, DCPS officially unveiled its "Ward 5 Great Schools Initiative" in 2011, which focused on how to restructure Ward 5 schools. After outreach via community meetings, surveys, and online, DCPS released its final proposals for Ward 5 schools in March 2012.

The plan sought to restore the majority of the ward's education campuses back to elementary school models and create not one, but three improved middle school programs. Browne Education Campus would continue to serve preschool-8th grade students and get a new an International Baccalaureate (IB) program, while McKinley Technology High School would add a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) middle school. Finally, DCPS would build a brand new middle school with curriculum in arts and world languages at the former Brookland Elementary School site on Michigan Avenue NE.

DCPS chose these sites to serve the southeastern, central, and northern parts of the ward, respectively. Ward 5 has some neighborhoods where residents commute the longest distances for school, so residents were pleased with this more localized approach.

In addition, the proposal would expand the feeder high school options available to Ward 5 residents, allowing parents to select the best program for their child that complements their middle school studies.

Residents eagerly await the new schools

Many stakeholders applauded DCPS's plan and are eager to see the school offerings materialize. Currently, Browne Education Campus is beginning the application process to obtain IB accreditation, McKinley Technology Middle School is on schedule to open in August fully enrolled with a waitlist, and construction will begin this summer on Brookland Middle School, which should open in 2014.

I am particularly thrilled about Brookland Middle School, where my children will be assigned. DCPS promises rigorous arts instruction, integrating it into lesson plans and inviting professional artists to the school for performances and residencies. Brookland will also offer at least two world languages taught by specialized teachers where students will be able to earn high school credits.

Our kids will have a competitive middle school that prepares them for academic success in high school and beyond and our neighborhoods will benefit from access to shared spaces for community activities. However, that will only happen if DCPS delivers this school as promised, the neighborhood embraces this new facility as a valuable community asset, and all stakeholders commit to its success.

A centrally-located middle school in the heart of a neighborhood of engaged residents makes for a promising combination that can propel community camaraderie, enhance neighborhood activities, and attract great families to our ward. It's time to invest in our own community and allow our children to matriculate with their neighbors.


Gray budget funds school modernizations and more

All middle and high schools that still need modernizing will get done in the next 6 years, under the budget Mayor Gray is releasing today, and some of the most out-of-date elementary school buildings.

Ballou HS. Image from DCPS.

The capital plan has $465 million to modernize high schools, starting with $162 million in Fiscal Year 2014. The money will finish modernizations for the remaining high schools: Ballou, Dunbar, Ellington, and Roosevelt. It also funds the planning, design, and construction for a "Spingarn Career & Technical Education Center" which the administration plans to open in the fall of 2014 at Spingarn High School, which is the only high school closing in the current round.

Middle schools get $242 million over 6 years, with $69 million in FY 2014. That will fund building a middle school in Brookland and renovating the closed Shaw building, as well as modernizing all remaining middle schools such as Stuart-Hobson.

$920.5 million ($128 million in FY 2014) goes to elementary schools, to modernize more schools such as Janney and Langdon. Hearst and Mann, which don't have cafeterias, will get them as part of modernization projects. Shepherd Elementary gets funding for the extra recommendations that came up during its modernization process.

Libraries and librarians

As already announced, Gray's budget increases education funding by $80 million. It matches the level we already saw in the budget allocations, meaning that the threshold for small schools will indeed increase and some schools will see less funding for librarians and other positions.

However, Gray is expanding funding for DC Public Libraries so that every library can be open 7 days a week. Most will be open until 9 pm Monday to Thursday as well as afternoons on Saturday and Sunday. They also get $2 million for books and e-books.

Further, the budget provides $103 million to renovate and, as part of a public-private partnership, expand the MLK Library. There is $15.2 million to renovate the Cleveland Park library, $21.7 for the Palisades library, and $4.8 million for Woodridge's library.

Charter schools, special education, and more

DC will provide $7.4 million more for charter school facilities. Each charter gets $3,000 per student per year to pay for their buildings, but $200 of that is currently federal money; DC is bumping up its local contribution to the full $3,000.

In addition, the budget provides $4.3 million in FY 2013 and $6.4 million in FY 2014 for special education early intervention, which helps many children avoid developing ongoing special needs; $1.8 million for early learning centers; $1 million for truancy programs; and $1.7 million more for UDC.

Some of this funding comes from savings DC has enjoyed from reducing the number of special education children who are getting education outside of DC. If the District doesn't have educational facilities for special needs, it has to pay to send the students elsewhere, at great cost; according to Gray's chief of staff Chris Murphy, this has declined from $168 million per year when he took office to about $30 million, largely thanks to capacity at DCPS and charters to serve these children.

We will have more on the education budget in coming weeks.

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