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Posts about Chinatown

Development


Laurel nearly became a pro sports metropolis. Here’s how it dodged the Bullets (and some other teams).

The city of Laurel prides itself on its small town charm and historic areas, but during the 1980s and 1990s, multiple sports owners made plans to build stadiums there. Fortunately for Laurel—and the region—it didn't become home to all of the region's professional sports teams.


Baltimore's Memorial Stadium during its eventual demolition. Photo by Mark Plummer on Flickr.

Early 1980's: Three teams, one dome

In 1981 the Baltimore Colts and Orioles were playing in an outdated Memorial Stadium. Originally constructed in 1922 and later renovated in the 1950's, the stadium had outlived its useful life and both teams were looking for a new home.

Forty miles south was RFK Stadium where the Washington Football Team was locked into one of the worst leases in the league, at least from the team's perspective, as almost all of the money that now goes to teams was going to the DC government.

Team owners hatched an idea to build a $125 million domed stadium halfway between Baltimore and DC, adjacent to the Laurel Park Race Track. Combining the two cities would create the 4th-largest TV market in the country.

The proposal, however, came at a time when the trend of shared professional stadiums was about to start being replaced by more lucrative single sport stadiums throughout the country. In Minnesota, for example, a similar stadium (the Metrodome) was built to house professional baseball and football teams. Within a decade of opening the baseball team was suing to get out of their lease based on the lack of profitability by the shared stadium.

Plans for the shared stadium were halted when the Colts owner, Robert Irsay, reached an agreement with the City of Indianapolis for a dome of his own. Fearing they would lose their last professional team, Baltimore began negotiations with the Orioles that would lead to the construction of their current stadium, Camden Yards.

Early 1990's: Capitals and Bullets (Wizards) look at Laurel

Abe Pollin, the owner of the Washington Bullets (now the Wizards) and Capitals, also had toyed with the notion of putting a team in Laurel when he was looking for a site for the Capital Centre in the 1970's. He ultimately chose Landover for his arena to house his NHL and NBA team that opened in 1973, but in the 1990's he began to look again at the idea of placing a team in Laurel.

The Bullets had a built-in Baltimore fan base since they had played in the city for a decade prior to the opening of the Capital Centre. But the flaw in Pollin's plan is that it came at a time when sports stadiums were being moved from the suburbs into city centers to spur economic growth and revitalization.

The proposed arena would be located in a largely suburban area and only served by MARC. Fortunately for DC, nothing came from the flirtation with Laurel, and the MCI Center (now Verizon Center) served as the catalyst for revitalizing Chinatown neighborhood.


The MCI Center, which is now the Verizon Center. Photo by Wally Gobetz on Flickr.

In 2002, the Capital Centre was demolished and replaced with a new mall called the Boulevard at Capital Centre.

1993: The Washington Football Team tries to unite two cities

In 1993, the Washington Football Team's billionaire owner, Jack Kent Cooke, began looking at Laurel again as a possible stadium site. With the Colts in Indianapolis, Washington's team would have two markets' worth of fans if it were closer to Baltimore.

The challenge the team faced was that in the decade since it last looked at Laurel, the area around the proposed stadium location had been developed, leaving less than 100 acres for the new stadium. In order to cram as many cars onto the site as possible. the team proposed making spaces smaller and removing most of the greenery around the stadium.


Laurel's stadium would have gone here, between the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and I-95. Image from Google Maps.

The stadium site was also located outside of the reach of Metro and only served by MARC. As a result this would lead to massive congestion at the site on gameday, a problem that would have taken $186 million in infrastructure improvements to solve.

Despite these drastic measures, the team still fell well short of the number of parking spaces the county required, and neither the team nor the state was willing to pick up the transit costs. Despite the project having the backing of the governor, County Zoning Official Robert Wilcox effectively killed the project calling the team's data "high selective and self-serving" while the impact of traffic was "vastly understated".

In this case, Laurel escaped a would-be traffic nightmare.

Without a stadium, Laurel emerged victorious

Stadiums represent massive expenditures from both public and private funds. While they can mean the opportunity for teams owners, municipalities, and states to be successful, it's good that none of these ideas came to fruition.

The three team stadium would have failed because it would have been built at the tail end of the era of shared stadiums, dooming it to a fate similar to that of the Metrodome: a relic financed with state funds looking to be replaced shortly after opening.

The would-be Capitals and WIzards arena, which would have gone up in the early 1990's, would have come at a time when suburban arenas fell out of favor in comparison to those that were reinvigorating downtowns throughout the county.

And the Washington Football Team's proposed stadium in 1993 would have been a nightmare for local traffic as the team would try to cram a stadium on half of the needed land.

Not building any of these proposed stadiums was a win for Laurel.

History


Not everyone agrees on where DC's Chinatown is

While DC's Chinatown officially spans roughly two square blocks in the city's central downtown area, a number of long-time residents have different ideas of the neighborhood's boundaries. This map shows how "Chinatown" means different things to different people.


The lines on the map represent 17 different definitions of where Chinatown begins and ends, along with DC's official boundaries. Map by Molly Carpenter, Pranita Rahbhise, Katy June-Friesen, and Dr. Willow Lung-Amam.

The map is part of a larger recent project by graduate students at the University of Maryland who wanted to better understand the rapid changes to the neighborhood and what they have meant for those in the Chinese American community with long term connections to it.

The researchers conducted 16 interviews with people who have long-term connections to Chinatown, either because they live there or are involved in the neighborhood through business and cultural organizations. They also interviewed eight people they met on the street or in restaurants or coffee shops. They asked those they spoke with to draw their own map of Chinatown and identify the places that were important to them.

While some identified Chinatown as a narrow strip of shops and restaurants along H Street, others saw the neighborhood as stretching from E Street to M Street. Meanwhile, others saw Chinatown as part of the larger Gallery Place or Penn Quarter neighborhoods.

Those more familiar with the neighborhood tended to see Chinatown as a shrinking span of restaurants along H Street NW, while newcomers or visitors tended to point to the Verizon Center and Gallery Place as the defining features of the neighborhood. And while many interviewed acknowledged that Chinatown has been shrinking, others recognized that the community has also spread out to the suburbs and is not dying.

Katy June-Friesen, one of the researchers, offered her take on why the people she interviewed had such varying definitions of Chinatown:

I think the way people understand the space, the neighborhood, depends on how they use and experience it. So for some elderly residents of Wah Luck House who speak little English, the neighborhood feels like it is shrinking, because there are fewer services and shops for them, such as a Chinese-speaking doctor or Chinese grocery store. Others (of Chinese background) who have long-term connections to Chinatown but don't live there may feel the place is more symbolic of history, culture, and traditions, but the boundaries or size of the neighborhood itself don't matter as much. A restaurant worker might think of Chinatown as just the strip of Chinese restaurants on H Street, while a non-Chinese newcomer to the area might not frequent those restaurants and might think of the neighborhood as "Gallery Place" or something other than "Chinatown."
Chinatown used to be in a different place, and it has seen a lot of change

First established in the 1880s at Pennsylvania Avenue and 5th Street NW, DC's first Chinatown was displaced in the 1930s by the Federal Triangle complex. As a result, Chinese immigrants began to settle in today's location.

In this new location, the community continued to grow through the mid-1960s, establishing schools, clubs, and other community organizations. However, by the mid-1960s, the population of the community began to decline, with many residents moving to the suburbs. Despite this decline, the population of Chinatown was 3,000 in 1970.

In subsequent years, the neighborhood has been the site of a number of revitalization efforts, including the construction of the Gallery Place Metro station and a new convention center (not to be confused with the current convention center), the establishment of a downtown historic zone, which includes Chinatown, as well as the later construction of the Verizon Center.

Recent years have seen changes to the neighborhood accelerate with the continued loss of Chinese residents and businesses. Much of this has been attributed to neighborhood affordability and buyout offers for local residents and business owners as part of a broader trend of redevelopment in the city.

Today, most of Chinatown's approximately 300 Chinese-American residents live in Wah Luck House and Museum Square, two subsidized housing complexes in the neighborhood.

Despite the diverse views of what constitutes Chinatown, all those interviewed expressed concern about keeping alive what the neighborhood means to them, namely Chinese culture and traditions.

Architecture


Building of the Week: Calvary Baptist Church

The name Adolf Cluss may not ring a bell for you, but you probably know his work: he designed Eastern Market and Smithsonian's Art and Industries Building. One of his lesser-known red brick creations, typical of late 19th century architecture in the region, is the Calvary Baptist Church in Chinatown.


The Calvary Baptist Church. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The red pressed brick church rises above the corner of 8th Street and H Street in northwest. A collaboration between Cluss and Joseph Wildrich von Kammerhueber, it was completed in 1866.

The church is best known for its iron spire. Likely inspired by the Freiburg Cathedral in Germany, the open design gives the elaborate metalwork a graphic quality. Cluss drew attention to the tower by giving the church asymmetrical massing.


The church with its iconic spire. Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

However, the interior of the church differs from what Cluss and Kammerhueber originally designed. A fire during a blizzard in 1867 destroyed the interior in 1867, and some people say that happened because Cluss designed a faulty heating system.

After the fire, alterations to the interior during reconstruction included balconies on he north and south sides of the sanctuary, and a new organ. These additions obstruct parts of the stained glass.


The interior of the Calvary Baptist Church with the balconies blocking the original windows. Image by StreetsofWashington on Flickr.

The church lacked its iconic spire for much of the 20th century. Removed after a lightning strike in 1914, it was only reconstructed along with the belfry in 2005.


The Calvary Baptist Church without its spire in the 1940s. Photo by StreetsofWashington on Flickr.

Progressive history

The Calvary Baptist Church and its two connected sites are protected historic buildings, owing to the church's progressive mission and contributions to the downtown DC historic district. The Baptists supported the Union during the Civil War with a mission that was—and remains—welcoming to all races and ethnicities.

This progressive policy sets the church apart from the numerous other congregations that Cluss built churches for in the Washington region from 1884 to 1886. Such forward thinking mirrored Cluss's fearless architectural ideals.

Today, the Calvary Baptist Church continues to fulfill its mission by offering bilingual services in Spanish, including marriage equality activists in its congregation, and ordaining what may have the first transgender woman to the gospel ministry.

The structure is also considered a contributing building to the Downtown Historic District, which is considered the "heart of the old downtown, with an eclectic mixture of commercial, institutional, and residential buildings…" Such a description could easily be applied to the work of Cluss himself.

An architect and engineer, Cluss designed schools, government buildings, homes, museums, and churches around Washington DC during the last decades of the 19th century. He also oversaw major civic improvements, like pacing streets, construction of sewers and planting street trees, as city engineer to the capital.

Pedestrians


Dragons and zodiac symbols will decorate Chinatown's streets

Six years ago, the intersection of 7th and H Streets NW, in Chinatown, became a Barnes Dance—an intersection where the traffic lights in all directions turn red at the same time so people can cross the street at any angle they want. It continues to make walking in Chinatown a bit easier, and it's about to get an unusually decorative paint job.


New designs coming to the Barnes Dance in Chinatown. Image from Charles Bergen Studios.

The name "Barnes Dance" comes from Henry Barnes, a traffic engineer who popularized the concept in the USA in the 1940s. Also called Pedestrian Scrambles, Barnes Dances can be found all over the world. There were a number of them in DC until the late 1980s, when they were replaced with normal intersections. In 2010, the Barnes Dance returned to DC, at 7th and H.

Last year, the city decided to commission an artist to paint the diagonal lines that connect the four corners of intersection to be more distinct and unique. The city picked a design by Charles Bergen Studios that features dragons and lamps that allude to the neighborhood's history of hosting parades for Chinese New Year, along with the 12 animals used as symbols for the Chinese Zodiac. They'll go in on the crosswalk in the next few weeks.

All this got me thinking: Does work that will make the diagonal crossings more visible mean that the Barnes Dance hasn't been working like it should? Is our Barnes Dance unique? Who uses DC's Barnes Dance, and might we get another in the future?

According to District Department of Transportation Pedestrian Program Coordinator George Branyan, 7th and H itself sees a lot of pedestrians. Its busiest time is in the afternoon, when the 4000 or so pedestrians who cross each hour outnumber cars two to one.

According to Branyan, a key difference between DC's Barnes Dance and others around the world is that crossing the street on foot with a green light isn't prohibited. Restricting crossing like that, which he said is common, would overcrowd the sidewalks and lead to delays for pedestrians in Chinatown.

DDOT's pedestrian count data doesn't actually suss out who is crossing diagonally versus who is crossing purely north-south or east-west. Branyan said that his own observations made him think about 10-20% of people do cross diagonally when available.

Chinatown is it for now

When I asked Branyan whether DDOT has any plans for future Barnes Dance intersections, he said his agency has looked at a few other possible locations, but that there aren't any specific plans. He said the reason was that for a Barnes Dance to work properly, conditions have to be "just right," like an intersection that doesn't have all that many cars that want to make turns and enough people on foot who want to go in different directions, for example. Otherwise, you run the risk of delaying things for everyone.


DC Barnes Dance intersection. Screenshot from Google Maps by author.

It looks like the Barnes Dance in Chinatown is working like it's supposed to, but that's it for now. If you have any good candidates for where the Washington area's next Barnes Dance should, list them in the comments!

Parking


DDOT's newest performance parking program will be its best

In May, DDOT will launch its most robust performance parking experiment to date. The program, called ParkDC, will significantly change how people park in Gallery Place: the cost to park a car on some of downtown's most in-demand blocks will rise or drop according to demand.


Photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

ParkDC's boundaries will stretch from 11th to 3rd and from E to H Streets Northwest.

Under the performance parking program, DDOT will use cameras and sensors to measure when parking spaces in the designated area are occupied and when they're empty.

Each quarter, the agency will measure that data against a target occupancy rate of 80-90% (or about one empty spot per block) and adjust how much it costs to park in a given spot accordingly. It's possible that prices will change more frequently after the first few quarters, and DDOT will assess ParkDC's overall impact sometime before the end of 2016.


A map of where ParkDC will go into effect. Image from DDOT.

Charging market rate for parking will make sure there are enough empty spots for people who need them while also eliminating an oversupply. That, in turn, will cut down on the congestion that comes from people driving around looking for somewhere to park.

ParkDC is based in part on the success of SFpark, which was introduced to several busy areas in central San Francisco in 2011. An evaluation of SFpark showed that the program made streets better for everyone, with 30% fewer miles driven, 23% fewer parking tickets, 22% less double parking, and 43% less time wasted looking for parking. The average price for parking even fell by 4%. Compared to control areas, buses ran faster and retail sales grew more.

The local business improvement district supports ParkDC: in its press release, businesses touted the project's ability to make parking "easier to locate" and cut down on double parking and drivers circling for spaces.

ParkDC will be DDOT's best parking effort to date

DDOT has tried pilots on Capitol Hill, H Street, and Columbia Heights. They were less successful than supporters hoped because DDOT did not have a cost-effective way to measure occupancy. It also didn't put forth a schedule for updating the meter rates, nor a timeframe for evaluating effectiveness.

For each of these pilot areas, DDOT only reported occupancy data publicly twice, and it hasn't changed prices in some places even when the data show they're either too crowded or empty.

ParkDC's real-time cameras and occupancy sensors, along with a pre-announced schedule, make the program smarter and more responsive.

According to Soumya Dey, DDOT's director of research and technology transfer, ParkDC will use a number of methods to gather occupancy data. A traditional "hockey puck," transaction data from the meters, historical data, cameras, and law enforcement data are all among the ways DDOT will know how many people park, and when, on each block. Dey said the hope is to use fewer embedded sensors, and to evaluate which method is most cost-effective.

Dey said that once the program is up and running, the public will be able to view spot occupancy in real time on DDOT's website or its app.

Transit


Ticket scofflaw drivers with bus-mounted cameras

How do you stop car drivers from blocking bus lanes? Put cameras on buses, of course.


SF Muni bus. Photo by BeyondDC on flickr.

Unfortunately, transit lanes are often clogged by car drivers who either don't know or don't care that cars are not allowed in them. Enforcement is difficult, because violation is often so rampant that it's not practical for the police to pull over every violating car.

DC's 7th Street bus lane through Chinatown is a prime example.

But there is a solution. San Francisco is installing cameras on all its city buses, specifically to enforce the prohibition on cars in transit lanes. Human officers will review footage from the cameras and mail tickets to the owners of any cars illegally blocking the lane.

Bus cameras in San Francisco will not be used to ticket other types of moving violations such as speeding or running red lights. For now they won't even be used to ticket car drivers that block bus stops. Current law prohibits any use other than ticketing transit lane violations.

Even that limited application will make a big difference, though. San Francisco has 17 miles of transit lanes, but without enforcement they're no better at actually moving buses through traffic than 7th Street in DC.

If this idea works it could have a huge effect on bus planning nationwide. Bus lanes could become much more effective, and therefore likely to become more widespread.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Sustainability


Landscape architects envision a greener Chinatown

How could Chinatown be a greener and more livable neighborhood? Designers from the American Society of Landscape Architects and Fuss & O'Neill created a vision for an inter-connected series of green "complete streets," with new, safer bicycle lanes, a pedestrian-friendly "festival street," and a central hub for new street-level sustainability education programs right in front of ASLA's door (and below its green roof) on I Street.


All images from ASLA.

There's no time to waste. The city's complete street and green infrastructure guidelines, which are in place, will soon mix with more stringent stormwater policies that impose higher fees on private property owners that create runoff.

To green this neighborhood, any plan has to start with the streets—all of them. Beginning a new green neighborhood means tackling all the alleyways running off I Street that contribute to stormwater runoff. Just as Chicago has done with its innovative green alleys program, the neighborhood could put in permeable pavements along with underground cisterns in key areas that would preserve car access while absorbing water into the ground.

Along I Street, the intersections at 9th, 8th, and 7th streets could become green, permeable ones. What is now a source of huge amounts of runoff in the center of the streets could become a central place for absorbing rainwater into the underlying soils. Additional layers of stone or sand underground could also help boost absorption rates.

Crisscrossing an east-west system of green streets along Eye street would be a new north-south green "festival street" running down 8th Street, transforming an underused, garage-heavy street into an active, pedestrian-friendly zone.

Designed to be like a Dutch woonerf or pedestrian mall, this "B or C street," which means it doesn't get that much car traffic, could be designed to slow down car traffic so that pedestrians could move more freely between the National Portrait Gallery and the commercial complex at K Street.

8th2

Throughout this new green boulevard, which could be a pedestrian "arboretum," different materials would designate different realms—those for people or for cars. There would be no curbs, creating a flat plane for pedestrians. For 8th and other streets, redesigning the street so it can evolve may be the way to go. Kent Schwendy, senior vice president at Fuss & O'Neill, said many engineers want to simply lock streets into one use, but he argued that "streets change and their uses evolve. We have to let that change happen."

Where 8th Street meets I, new open grates would feature prominently so that "people could actually see that water moves through this area, even when it doesn't rain. This will help educate people about stormwater," said ASLA President Tom Tavella. But the street-level stormwater management systems proposed for I Street wouldn't be "lipstick on a pig," said Chris Ferrero, who runs urban planning and landscape architecture at Fuss & O'Neill but represent an "integrated series of events, a system."

Some 6 additional feet would be added onto the sidewalks, giving 2-3 feet for "green gutters along the curbs" and another 2-3 feet for a step area to get to bridges that would take people across the new gutters. Intermixed among the new green gutters would be rain gardens, which all inter-connect with the existing tree pits and proposed permeable pavement systems.

On 9th Street, creating a new "two-way cycle track," a dual-direction bicycle lane, actually creates an opportunity to create yet more green infrastructure. The bicycle lanes would be protected by a 4-foot "physical separation filled with plants, not just paint and bollards," said Tavella. That physical separator would not only protect bicyclists from car traffic but also help create a sense of place and add greenery.

The street may certainly need it: Wade Walker, Jr, head of transportation planning at Fuss & O'Neill, said the bicyclists he saw on that street were "up on the sidewalks, showing that they didn't feel safe being there."

greenbike

Lastly, right in front of ASLA, there could be a new parklet, taking up 2 parking spaces, which would be designed to give people a place to sit and view the green roof education video and read signs about the new green features of the neighborhood. Throughout the district, "signage would show what a green street is about, what porous pavements do," said Tavella.

parklet

According to Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, CEO/Executive Vice President, ASLA, the next steps will include pitching Fuss & O'Neill's concepts to stakeholders in the neighborhood, starting the fundraising process, and further refining the plans to meet the approval of the many DC government departments involved. Hiring landscape architects to turn the concepts into real designs also sounds like a next step, given the positive early feedback from the DC planning office.

At the end of the intensive, two-day design charrette, Chris Shaheen, who manages the public space programs with the DC planning office, said "we've tested many of these ideas here and there, but this brings it all together. This is what the city wants to do." The city knows, just like ASLA does, that really ambitious proposals like this are needed if the city will reach its goals of making 1.5 million square feet of public right of way permeable by 2016.

A version of this article was originally posted on The Dirt.

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