Posts about Poplar Point
The District has been fortunate to receive a "once in a lifetime" gift from the federal government to build a whole new neighborhood on empty, unused land. Poplar Point lies just across the Anacostia River from the Nationals ballpark and a ten minute walk from the Anacostia Metro. A successful Poplar Point development, possibly with a soccer stadium for DC United, would create a mixed-use neighborhood and regional attraction in Ward 8, ending its long stint as the forgotten part of the region. If developed according to DC's current criteria, it will also contain too much contiguous parkland. That's right, too much.
The original RFP from the Mayor's Office required all proposals to contain extremely generous amounts of "open space." The winning proposal, submitted by Clark Realty of Bethesda, contained a 70 acre park out of 110 total acres on the whole site. That's large by any measure. In contrast, Dupont Circle's park is under one acre. It is also one of our region's most beloved urban parks. When it comes to urban parks, bigger is clearly not necessarily better.
Now that Clark Realty pulled out of the project, citing economic concerns, the Mayor's Office must go back to the drawing board and re-solicit bids. They should focus on proposals that better integrate small parks into the neighborhood urban fabric. Well-designed parkland would create a sense of place and interact with its surroundings.
The current "open space" at Poplar Point is in a state of disrepair and is underused as a park. There's as much seedy activity there as there is walking, socializing, or recreational sports. Part of the reason is the Anacostia Freeway, which separates Poplar Point from its surroundings. Another reason is that it is too big to have enough "eyes on the street" to discourage undesirable activities. Any 70 acre super-park is very unlikely to have enough "eyes on the street" to dissuade seedy activity.
In her classic book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs wrote,
In orthodox [modernist] city planning, neighborhood open spaces are venerated in an amazingly uncritical fashion, much as savages venerate magical fetishes [sic]. Ask a houser how his planned neighborhood improves on the old city and he will cite, as a self-evident virtue, More Open Space. Ask a zoner about the improvements in progressive codes and he will cite, again as a self-evident virtue, their incentives toward leaving More Open Space. Walk with a planner through a dispirited neighborhood and though it be already scabby with deserted parks and tired landscaping festooned with an old Kleenex, he will envision a future of More Open Space.An urban park is not the same as a suburban park, or a wilderness nature preserve park. No one drives for miles to visit Dupont Circle or McPherson Square. No one would drive for miles to visit a park in any new Poplar Point development. The park is there for the people in the immediate walking area. That is the beauty of DC's existing small neighborhood parks. They contain nice benches with a nice centerpiece. Their design facilitates human social activities. They interact with their surroundings, rather than overshadow them. They are centers of place. In the L'Enfant City, they anchor beautiful sightlines along the diagonal state avenues. People use them to eat lunch on a nice day, read a book, use their laptop or iPhone, meet with a friend, or relax on an enjoyable date.
More Open Space for what? For muggings? For bleak vacuums between buildings? Or for ordinary people to use and enjoy? But people do not use city open space just because it is there and because city planners wish they would.
Parks like Dupont Circle and McPherson Square are the right size to enhance their surroundings. On the other hand, Franklin Square is much less popular because of its scale. Even though it is clearly more visually appealing, its size makes it harder to walk in, find a place to sit, and relax. It is too big to truly interact with its surroundings, yet too small to be an attraction itself. Consequently, it is neither fish nor fowl. Rather than enhancing the surrounding urban fabric like neighboring McPherson Square, it acts as a hole.
How can we avoid the failures of Franklin Square in a future Poplar Point? First, Franklin Square is 4.8 acres. Imagine if it were 70 acres. Few would venture in it. The only parks that even partially work on that scale are suburban parks. Like most of suburbia, those parks devote a large fraction of their land area to roads and parking lots. Even still, those parks often grapple with seedy activities under the cover of darkness.
Poplar Point won't have surface parking lots. A 70-acre park won't interact with an urban environment. Rather than "open space", Poplar's park will be "dead space." In fact, the term "open space" is a complete misnomer. It implies a feeling of freedom and escape. It markets suburbia and its central axiom that more is always better. In parks as with romantic relationships, quality is far more important that quantity. Quality depends on the activity surrounding the park and how the park interacts with its surroundings. I would like to see a moratorium on the term "open space" and its uglier, more misleading cousin, "green space". I once heard a very educated, well-meaning transit advocate refer to the trees on the sidewalk in Bethesda as "green space". Let's return to the time-honored term "park".
The next proposals for developing Poplar Point should split up the parkland into more, smaller parks rather than a 70 acre megapark that will be doomed to misuse and neglect. Residents will need public athletic fields. Those needn't be part of a megapark. Athletic fields can bring use and a sense of place to even a one-acre park. When mixed in within a walkable urban context, they draw users to the park at more times of the day, between office workers, residents, and local leagues. They add "eyes on the street." (Unfortunately, they also need to use field turf so they don't become dust bowls.)
Elsewhere in the Poplar Point neighborhood, mimic Dupont Circle or McPherson Square by creating small parks that act as central gathering places in busy restaurant and cultural districts. The developer will be happy to build fewer parks and more floor space they can collect rent on. The city will get more revenue from the additional taxable real estate. They will also save maintenance costs because the smaller parks will attract less vandalism. And all residents and visitors to Poplar Point can have the numerous small parks that Capitol Hill and Northwest already enjoy.
not going to develop Poplar Point. Clark could no longer afford to do the whole project amid the bad economic climate, and DC decided to end the partnership rather than pay a portion of the cost. The city will move forward with the land transfer and EIS for now, prepare the land itself, and then re-bid the development. DC United and the District have stopped talking about a new stadium on the site as well, according to the Post. Marion Barry blames the administration for this project's collapse. Meanwhile, another developer has backed out of a project at Wheaton's Metro Plaza.
Blocking the train: Virginia State Senator William Wampler of Bristol, in Virginia's far west where I-81 crosses into Tennessee, wants intercity rail to Washington. That's great, but less great is his budget amendment that would block the planned commuter rail service to Richmond and Lynchburg until the train goes all the way to Bristol. Rail advocates and the Chamber of Commerce guarantee the bill would kill any hope of new trains anytime soon. Tip: Daniel.
Record ridership, time for service cuts: Chris Zimmerman laments the folly of funding capital improvements in transit, as the stimulus does, while leaving operating expenses in the cold. Transit agencies around the nation will be buying new buses to run less service. Roger Lewis argues for more transit funding, and Steve Offutt agrees. Get There discusses some reader proposals for cutting Metro costs.
RIP Don Praisner: Montgomery County Councilmember Don Praisner has died just one year after his wife and less than a year after being elected to complete her Council term. Praisner has asked the County Council to appoint a caretaker to finish the term but who won't run again, to save the County the expense of another special election.
Rats vs. rates: Jack Evans proposes a tax credit for businesses that buy trash compactors, which help reduce rat infestations.
Benefits of open information: Wired profiles Mark Gorton, founder of New York's Open Planning Project (which publishes Streetsblog). The article focuses on TOPP's open source GeoServer, which enables many people to build GIS maps who never could before. Tip: Tom.
Evaluating the Significance of Modern Structures: The DCPL is sponsoring a panel discussion tonight about modern buildings. I'll be there. I'm hoping that when they say "evaluating the significance" they really mean "evaluating whether something is significant" instead of just "convincing people of the significance". Some modern structures are significant; others are not. Appropriately, the event takes place in one of my favorite modern buildings, the Pan American Health Organization at 525 23rd St, NW (at E Street). 6:30-8, $20.
Poplar Point Planning Powwow: Also tonight is a community meeting to discuss the Small Area Plan for Poplar Point. And Now, Anacostia strongly urges you to provide feedback for "the largest development in the city's history" (since it was first developed, of course). 6-9 at Birney Elementary School, 2501 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, SE.
Walk for Charlie's Place: Dupont Circle homeless services organization Charlie's Place desperately needs walkers for its Saturday walkathon. It's just
55 35 walkers short of qualifying for a big Fannie Mae grant. Marc Fisher writes today about the huge savings DC realized in emergency room visits from moving homeless people into their own housing. But that program's expansion met the sharp end of the Council's budget axe, making other homeless services all the more important. You can even walk for free and the Dupont Circle Citizens' Association will sponsor you, to get Charlie's Place to the 55 35< it needs.
One more Purple Line hearing: The last of the four is Saturday, at the Montgomery College Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus, Falcon Hall, 7600 Takoma Avenue. Open house 12:30, hearing 1:00.
Rapidly learn about rapid buses: Get home rapidly after Thanksgiving and come to the Coalition for Smarter Growth's rapid bus forum on Monday, December 1. The event will feature WMATA General Manager John Catoe, Maryland State Highway Administrator Neil Pedersen, and WMATA Chairman Chris Zimmerman of Arlington. They'll talk about WMATA's Priority Bus plan and try to get Pedersen to commit to signal priority and dedicated lanes for express buses. 6-8 pm, RSVP required.
According to the article (most of which is behind a pay wall):
[Jeff] Epperson and [Richard] Powell, the partners behind Urban-City Ventures LLC, are in the final stages of negotiations to bring big-box retail to private land on the southern end of Poplar Point, where they say have purchased about 200,000 square feet along both sides of Howard Road SE, northwest of the Anacostia Metro station.Howard Road northwest of the Anacostia Metro must refer to this area:
But the plans we've seen for Poplar Point seem to incorporate that area:
The Howard Road area lies directly between the Anacostia Metro and the rest of Poplar Point. If and when the area is developed into the mixed-use, walkable neighborhood Clark and the DC government envision, the path from Metro to the neighborhood is one of the most important sections.
Fortunately, despite the scary "big box" term the reporter uses, the developers don't seem to be completely oblivious. It sounds like the developers plan mixed-use development that's at least somewhat walkable. Until Poplar Point really gets going, though, big-box retail may be the only viable land use to draw people to what's now a very isolated area amid freeway ramps.
Epperson and Powell are also trying to build something that will gel with the long-term vision Clark and the District have for the rest of Poplar Point... Bereket Selassie, of Clark Realty Capital, said he had been working with Epperson and Powell toward a master plan "that hopefully increases the value of the land to be transferred to the city, as well as the surrounding properties." With a stalled housing market and a growing delay for the U.S. Department of Homeland Securityís anticipated move to St. Elizabeths Hospital, retail is the best option, Epperson said.DC hopes to replace the cloverleaf in the top picture above with a narrower urban diamond interchange, freeing up more land for the future neighborhood and shortening the dead space between the Metro station and Poplar Point. If these developers are serious about building a project which fronts onto a pedestrian-friendly street, with parking behind, the project could represent a first real step toward activity in this part of the city. A bad project, on the other hand, could impede the creation of a walkable neighborhood and pin the cloverleaf land between a freeway and a cluster of sprawl. We need to keep a close eye on the evolution of this project.
According to DC Wire, Council Chairman Gray found Dan Tangherlini parking in his spot, so he parked in Tangherlini's spot, and then the mayor's office threatened to tow Gray's car. Having a playground spat over parking spaces is unseemly enough, but when elected officials make parking space pecking orders a major perk (as they do in Congress), it warps their view of the world for those of us who don't have a reserved space everywhere we go.
LA is for lame: The LA Board of Supervisors voted not to place the proposed transit sales tax on the ballot. But it's still going to be voted on, just on a different ballot. Or something. LA is stuck in a cycle of car abuse dependence it doesn't know how to get out of. Ryan Avent talks more about LA's missed opportunities.
What's up in Ward 8: And Now, Anacostia attended community meetings for St. Elizabeth's and Poplar Point. Both seem to be on a good path, but with few details at this point.
feature on DC's neighborhoods, with cutesy names like "Sacramento" for CUA/Brookland or "Banana Republic Republic" for Georgetown. The accompanying essays for each neighborhood are much less superficial than I expected. The one for Subarubia (Tenleytown/AU Heights) gives a lot of ink to the smart growth debate on Wisconsin Avenue and to Ward 3 Vision.
Missing the forest: Some environmental groups are new to the idea that relatively dense, walkable and transit-oriented development is an important way to save the planet, by reducing development pressure on the countryside and reducing driving. Others are still a little unclear on the concept, like those planning to sue to block development at Poplar Point (which will still contain a large park). And Now, Anacostia defends the development on behalf of the neighbors, and Ryan Avent on behalf of smart policy.
And Now, Anacostia rebuts Marc Fisher's criticism of a soccer stadium at Poplar Point. ANA and my commenters make several points, including that the money would be for infrastructure like roads rather than for the stadium itself (unlike with the ballpark), or that Fisher simply prefers baseball to soccer. Ryan Avent, though, is still skeptical.
One of the most interesting issues to me is the question of open space. ANA writes, "Poplar Point is not parkland. It is vacant land, with a few buildings on it currently used by the National Park Service." Clark's plan for Poplar Point contains a park called "The Preserve" (as maintaining some parkland was a requirement for all bids).
Many debates over development include arguments between keeping a larger amount of less usable open space versus creating discrete parks within a developed area. In Takoma Park, opponents are decrying the loss of "open space" that's mainly WMATA parking lots and a few tree-covered berms, while the development plan would create a "village green" that's smaller, but more actually usable. Likewise, anti-development forces in Brookland are centering their complaints around open space, which others call a "trash-strewn chain-link blight."
The design for Poplar Point seems to do the best with what it has. Making the stadium stimulate activity in the neighborhood depends upon generating foot traffic to and from games rather than simply a lot of car trips to parking next to the stadium. The deck over the 295 freeway is a key piece, connecting the new neighborhood with the old one and the Metro station. The stadium is near the deck and from the drawing, I don't see any surface parking lots.
If the deck doesn't get cut for cost reasons and the stadium can in fact draw more events beyond the 33 professional soccer games a year, this will be good for the area. If the project morphs into something like NYC's Atlantic Yards, where one building after another gets "postponed" and acres of "temporary" surface parking will last for ten years or more, then we'll prove Fisher right. I hope not.
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