Posts about UDC
Residents around UDC got 6 of their elected officials to push for parking that city agencies and their own ANC don't think is necessary, and further pressure on the university to keep students away from other people in the neighborhood.
Greater Greater Washington has obtained a copy of a letter sent to UDC President Alan Sessoms on September 29 by Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, Chairman Kwame Brown, and at-large members Michael Brown, David Catania, Phil Mendelson, and Vincent Orange.
The Zoning Commission approved UDC's campus plan back in June. Among other things, the plan calls for making UDC more of a residential campus, adding dorms and a student center. This will help DC's public university become a better school. However, neighbors still aren't satisfied, and got Cheh, Brown and the 4 at-large councilmembers to send a letter to UDC reiterating some of their demands.
The letter's first request is for UDC to add additional parking. During the campus plan process, the Zoning Commission and DDOT already decided that more parking was not necessary. And even the ANC voted to approve the plan without asking for more parking. The letter reads:
Traffic and parking are already a problem, and no new parking is envisioned in the University's campus plan. Notwithstanding the fact that the Zoning Commission and the District Department of Transportation concluded that additional parking is not required, the residents request that the University consider providing more parking in the ratios suggested by the Zoning Regulations, which is I space for every 5 beds. This additional parking would serve not only students but also those visiting the campus.As Lydia DePillis explained, UDC is serious about getting students not to bring cars. They will use market pricing on their parking lots, push Zipcar and transit, and more.
The councilmembers seem oblivious to this in their letter, however. I spoke to Cheh, who pointed out that UDC will continue to have large numbers of commuters, some of whom will drive. Surely some will, but surrounding residential streets are already restricted by Residential Permit Parking (RPP), so it shouldn't harm neighbors. The councilmembers seem to have bought into the residents' assumption that, a priori, more people requires more parking.
There are many policy tools to manage transportation demand that encourage more use of walking, biking, transit, and carpooling. Meanwhile, building parking is expensive, and it will surely induce more car trips. It's disappointing that the members chose to ask UDC to spend scarce public dollars on parking rather than any other, better measures.
Or, perhaps many of them simply didn't think very hard about it. Some of the at-large councilmembers, in particular, seem willing to sign on to virtually any letter by angry neighbors asking for restrictions on a local institution. Given the many benefits universities bring to DC, they should apply more of the careful scrutiny they bring to legislation to cases like this as well.
Some of the provisions of the letter make sense. Asking UDC to work with the community on construction impacts is a good idea. Also, the letter refers to a door from the new student center to the Metro which will let nearby residents pass through to get to and from trains.
The councilmembers ask UDC to consider both reducing the size of the dormitory and also signing no new leases for off-campus student housing. This is contradictory, unless the real goal is to keep the numbers of students low. UDC could build more dorms, or have more off-campus housing, but if it adds a certain number of residential students, it has to be one or the other.
Cheh said she strongly supports making DC universities more like many others around the country where most or all students live on campus. I went to such a school, and the residential experience was indeed a valuable part of college, though many who go to schools with more off-campus housing praise elements of that experience as well.
If DC's public policy is to promote on-campus living, however, we need to realistically provide a path for these campuses to increase on-campus living options. Residents near campuses, and their councilmembers, seem to simultaneously want no students living near campus, no buses traveling to and from campus, no new large buildings, and no expansion of the bounds of the campus.
That is just a recipe for stagnation in a city whose educational options are already more limited than in most other large northeast cities. It'll also just push educational institutions to build sprawling suburban campuses that take intellectual and cultural capital away from the walkable core of the region and induce far more driving.
The University of the District of Columbia wants to build a student center on what's now an empty plaza creating a hole in the Connecticut Avenue streetscape right at the Van Ness Metro station. An active building here would be a big improvement over dead space.
The plan calls for landscaping and some cafe seating along the Connecticut Avenue frontage. The building will also have a green roof as well as a rain garden between it and the existing buildings. The remaining plaza area will also get a small lawn as well as some other landscaping.
Here's the new building:
The design happens to look quite a bit like DC's new libraries, for better or worse:
Left: Benning library architectural sketch. Image from DC Public Libraries.
Right: Anacostia library. Photo from And Now, Anacostia.
These new libraries have gotten some architectural praise, and since both are institutions devoted to learning, it makes some sense for UDC to look somewhat library-like. Certainly this is far better than the concrete bunker architecture of the buildings behind it.
On the other hand, this still seems a bit boring. It would be nice for the building to have a more defined top.
and the current urban design thinking discourages arcades along the ground floor like this building appears to have.
What do you think?
Update: several commenters pointed out that the ground floor doesn't have an arcade, just a "structural reveal" where the ground floor has visibility into the structure.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is consolidating its 60-some-odd area offices to a centralized campus. Finally. This move is smart, as it will improve the organization's efficiency and bring it up to par with other executive branch defense organizations with their own headquarters like the CIA, the NSA, the Department of Defense, the DIA, and the FBI.
Unfortunately, the new headquarters will destroy a huge chunk of historical landscape. The National Planning Commission has given final approval to consolidate DHS's officees on the west campus of the Saint Elizabeths Hospital in Southwest DC.
Seriously? DHS is going to take over a National Historic Site? The feds will remake the site with new office buildings, acres of surface parking, and a cordon of security gates before the first terror suspect is ever questioned there. I'm all for DHS, and I think consolidating their offices is a very smart thing to do. But there are much better places to do it.
Here are some possibilities:
- The power plant at River Terrace. It's isolated enough to pass muster for security, near a highway, and a potential infill Metro station.
- DC General Hospital. Also centrally located and near a Metro station, this could repurpose existing buildings much like the St. E's site.
- Bolling AFB. Put it on a military base like NSA or DIA. Bolling would need to consolidate its land use, but the base ought to do that anyway.
- The warehouses near Van Dorn Street Metro. Highway, Metro station, relative isolation for security purposes.
- Lady Bird Johnson Park. It's near the Pentagon, near a Metro station, and it would be a great excuse to get rid of that highway spaghetti there. Plus, it's technically in the District.
Those are just a few places DHS could locate. Meanwhile, DC should repurpose St. E's west campus into a full public university. Expand (not relocate, as suggested in 1999 by the Mayor Williams) UDC to St. E's. Make the Van Ness campus the graduate school and give the students dorms and a historic campus. UDC at St. E's could hold public events and allow the entire city to take advantage of the views and historic atmosphere of the campus.
More importantly, this is Washington, DC's last shot at providing a traditional college campus for what ought to be its flagship public institution of higher learning. The site looks like a college campus. Not using it as one sends a very bad message to the city's residents: We're not interested in investing in your education, and we don't think you deserve the type of college campus enjoyed by every other state and territory in the US.
The amount of federal money it would take to make this happen is astronomically higher than what governments normally spend on public universities, I fear. But we must make a commitment to education in a city reknowned for bottom-feeding in education. DC will never reach its potential as a city if it is not willing to truly invest in the education of its citizens. DHS deserves a centralized campus, but UDC deserves dorms for its students, and they've been waiting a lot longer.
In mid-November, I attended the second St. Elizabeths West Campus walking tour hosted by the DC Preservation League (DCPL). Founded in 1852 as the Government Hospital for the Insane at the urging of social reformer Dorothea Dix and its first Superintendent, Charles H. Nichols, St. Elizabeths' entire campus was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990, named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's "Eleven Most Endangered" List in 2002, and placed on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites in 2005. In 2008, DCPL named the West Campus as one of DC's Most Endangered Places.
The East Campus, now under District control, continues to operate as a hospital, and DC recently finalized a framework plan for redeveloping the site. Meanwhile, the West Campus was essentially abandoned in 1987. In 1999, Mayor Anthony Williams suggested moving UDC to the West Campus. In hindsight, and in my opinion, this proposal would have proven beneficial to both UDC and Anacostia. After all, the Center Building was designed by Thomas Ustick Walter, the fourth Architect of the Capitol and designer of the Capitol Dome. The Main Building Outrage over the proposal, fostered primarily by accusations of racial insensitivity, killed the idea (at least on an official level) and the land was transferred to the federal government in 2004. Shortly after, GSA began shoring up the buildings with red plywood. GSA cut off public access to "The Point" DCPL and community members are pushing for "a re-use incorporating rehabilitation of historic structures and landscapes, sensitive new construction, and public access to The Point." Will future generations of residents get to enjoy this site, its buildings and its views, or will Saint Elizabeths West turn into another giant missed opportunity for DC?
Outrage over the proposal, fostered primarily by accusations of racial insensitivity, killed the idea (at least on an official level) and the land was transferred to the federal government in 2004. Shortly after, GSA began shoring up the buildings with red plywood. GSA cut off public access to "The Point" DCPL and community members are pushing for "a re-use incorporating rehabilitation of historic structures and landscapes, sensitive new construction, and public access to The Point." Will future generations of residents get to enjoy this site, its buildings and its views, or will Saint Elizabeths West turn into another giant missed opportunity for DC?
DCPL and community members are pushing for "a re-use incorporating rehabilitation of historic structures and landscapes, sensitive new construction, and public access to The Point." Will future generations of residents get to enjoy this site, its buildings and its views, or will Saint Elizabeths West turn into another giant missed opportunity for DC?
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