Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Parks

Budget


Cheh funds 11th Street Bridge Park, trees and recreation for Ivy City, and an Upper Northwest pool

Transportation chair Mary Cheh has released her serious budget proposals today, and has added funding to design and build a park on the piers of the old 11th Street Bridge, give the neglected Ivy City neighborhood new trees and a recreation center, and more.


Artist's rendering of the 11th Street Bridge Park.

Tomorrow, Cheh will propose that her committee amend Mayor Gray's proposed transportation capital budget to add $2 million to design the bridge park in Fiscal Year 2015, followed by $12.5 million across FY2016 and FY2017 to build it. That will cover half the cost; bridge supporters plan to raise the other half from private sources.

Under Cheh's plan, $300,000 will go to fix up streetscapes at Eastern Market, while $1 million over two years will pay to extend Ivy City's sidewalks and include treeboxes. That neighborhood, in an industrial part of the city, has no tree boxes on most of its streets, and therefore no street trees.

Instead of a tour bus parking lot, as the Gray administration proposed last year, Cheh's budget will fund a recreation center on that site (which costs almost $9 million). Rec centers in Chevy Chase, Edgewood, Hardy (in Foxhall Village) and Hillcrest get more money as well, as does the Therapeutic Recreation Center in Ward 7's Randle Circle.

The budget includes $500,000 to finish design for Franklin Square (but funding to actually help build the new park is yet to come in the future).

Roads will also get more money: repaving and repairs to roadways get a boost of $321,000 for each of the eight wards in FY2015. That's in addition to the mayor's capital budget which gave each ward's road projects about $5.2 million over six years. Ward 8 also got an extra $1.3 million from Gray, and Cheh's amendment moves it from the operating budget to the capital budget.

Finally, Cheh is funding a new outdoor pool to go somewhere in Ward 3, which residents have been campaigning for. Critics note that Ward 3 has one of the top public indoor swimming facilities in the city, at Wilson High School, but proponents say that indoor swimming isn't the same, and besides, the ward should have more pools.

Cheh's proposal also will fund some Ward 3 school and library projects: the Cleveland Park library, Palisades Library, Murch Elementary and Watkins Elementary renovations, and also the Capitol View library in Ward 7. It's not unusual for each ward councilmember to pop a few ward-based projects into their respective committees' budgets.

Where does this money come from?

A lot of the money comes from the South Capitol Street Bridge project. It current includes a swing span so that ships can access the Washington Navy Yard, but that was only opened 4 times in the last 8 years.

The Coast Guard has reportedly told DDOT that it is probably fine with not replacing the swing span. And, according to Cheh's committee director Drew Newman, they feel that if the federal government really wants a swing span anyway, then federal money should fund it. (DC is building the South Capitol bridge with local dollars, not federal transportation funds.) The change will save up to $140 million.

Cheh is also moving some streetcar money to later years, because DDOT has built up a surplus of almost $100 million in its streetcar accounts, and won't need some money in the capital plan until later on, according to Cheh's staff's analysis.

Circulator fares freeze, and commuter rail gets a plan

In the operating budget, not much is changing from Mayor Gray's very pro-transit budget. Cheh will freeze Circulator fares at their current level of $1 for at least one year, so that DDOT can engage with the public about whether the fares have to rise.

Another $500,000 will pay to create a Comprehensive Rail Plan. DC does not control MARC, VRE, Amtrak, or CSX, but there needs to be a unified plan about how to help grow commuter rail service in, out, and through DC. The tracks and stations at Union Station, L'Enfant Plaza, and the Long Bridge over the Potomac will need changes to make this possible, and since those facilities are in DC, the District can play a leadership role. The Committee of 100's Monte Edwards has been lobbying for planning around commuter rail, and he's absolutely right. Cheh agrees.

The Committee on Transportation and the Environment will hold its mark-up tomorrow. The other members, David Grosso, Kenyan McDuffie, Jim Graham, and Tommy Wells, could seek to introduce other amendments as well, though typically these budget proposals already reflect requests and negotiations between the councilmembers.

Public Spaces


Can NoMa turn dank underpasses into lively public spaces?

Can the mostly-empty space beneath the railroad tracks approaching Union Station become active spaces that enhance the NoMa neighborhood? The NoMa Business Improvement District (BID) hopes so. Some other cities have been able to activate underpasses; can these show the way?


An idea for the L Street underpass from the NoMa BID public realm design plan.

The BID launched a design competition to find "an artist, team of artists, designer or architect" to "beautify, enliven and activate" the spaces under the tracks on Florida Avenue and K, L, and M Streets NE with a "sensory experience."

"We want to turn those spaces into places that people want to come visit because they are so attractive and cool," says Robin Eve-Jasper, president of NoMa BID.

Funding comes from the $50 million Mayor Gray recently authorized to help NoMa combat its dearth of parks. The DC Council still must approve the spending, but Eve-Jasper says that she expects this to happen by the end of May. Responses from design teams are due by May 9, with a plan to present proposals to the public in September and select a final design in October.

Underpasses get little activity today

Pedestrians currently use the underpasses as little more than empty zones to cross from one side of the tracks to the other.

M Street is the most active of the four, as it is the main access route to the NoMa-Gallaudet Metro station and the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) for residents who live on the east side of the tracks. It also contains a Capital Bikeshare station on its northern sidewalk.

Neighborhood residents headed to NoMa's main activity center at the corner of M and First Street NE, where there is a Harris Teeter supermarket, other stores and offices, also use the M Street underpass.


M Street NE underpass looking west.

Cars dominate the Florida Ave and K Street underpasses, which dedicate six and four lanes to car traffic, respectively. Both streets have narrow sidewalks and see significantly less pedestrian traffic than M Street.


Florida Avenue underpass looking east.


K Street underpass looking west.

The L Street underpass is the least used of the four, according to my observations. It has wide sidewalks and only two lanes for carslike M Streetbut lacks easy access to the Metro or the MBT, and the activity center of its sibling a block north.


L Street underpass looking east. Photo by author.

Other cities have activated underpasses

Highway underpasses have become public space in a number of other cities. Many include basketball courts, bike trails, skate parks and play areas for children.

Underpass Park in Toronto, located under the western end of the Eastern Avenue overpass near the Don River, is a widely-cited example. A recent Architectural Record report found the park's basketball courts and skate park popular among area residents, but the children's area was less so.

The article also noted that an art installation called Mirage, which includes reflective panels that add light to the underpass, does provide some illumination but adds that more mirrors would have brightened the space.


Underpass Park, Toronto. Photo by Rick Harris on Flickr.

Other examples include Burnside Skatepark in Portland, Oregon and I-5 Colonnade Mountain Bike Park in Seattle, both of which are under overpasses.

The underpasses in NoMa lack the height and depth of many of these spaces. This makes it difficult to fit amenities like basketball courts or skate parks, though a linear children's play area could fit on either L or M Streets.

Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood may offer some of the closest examples to the spaces in NoMa. A number of underpasses under a Metra rail line through the neighborhood sport murals by local artists and some even have corner shops built into their corners.


Underpass mural in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. Photo by Marc Monaghan on Flickr.

Asked what NoMa BID envisions for the four spaces, Eve-Jasper says that she is leaving that up to the architects and designers to decide. What do you think would work best in the underpasses?

Public Spaces


NoMa BID gets green cash for green space

DC will spend some green to get some green in NoMa. Mayor Gray recently authorized $50 million for new parks in the fast-growing neighborhood.


Photo by Cristina Bejarano on Flickr.

Mayor Vincent Gray recently signed a measure to let the NoMa Business Improvement District (BID) spend $50 million in parks and public realm funds for the neighborhood.

The first of the parks is planned for the underpasses under the tracks approaching Union Station, on Florida Avenue and K, L, and M Streets NE. The NoMa Parks Foundation is evaluating at least four more sites for future green space in the area.

Green space is sorely needed in NoMa. Aside from the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT), the only available park lands are privately-owned lots that are sometimes available for popular neighborhood events.

For example, the NoMa Summer Screen outdoor movie screenings attracted up to 1,200 people per viewing in 2013. However, the screenings happen on an undeveloped lot on 2nd Street between K and L NE. Toll Brothers City Living owns the lot, and plans a mixed-use development there in the future.

Since there's no public land available for parks in the neighborhood, Mayor Gray's budget includes $25 million to buy land, and another $25 million for physical park construction.

Many blame zoning for the lack of parks, as the city failed to buy property for future green space in NoMa before it upzoned the territory. This significantly raised property values, making a park far more expensive.

But the lack of parks hasn't detracted new residents or businesses. More than 3,000 people live in NoMa, with 714 additional residential units scheduled to open in the 2M and Elevation developments this summer, according to Doug Firstenberg, chair of the NoMa BID Board of Directors.

"NoMa as a residential neighborhood continues to grow," Firstenberg said at the neighborhood meeting. "It's really delivering on our goals to become a mixed-use neighborhood."

On the commercial front, NPR moved into a new headquarters building on North Capitol Street last year, and Google is scheduled to move into new offices at 25 Massachusetts Ave NW later this month.

NoMa BID data shows that 49% of planned square footage is undeveloped property. This includes about 6,247 residential units, roughly 548,349 square feet of retail space, and 9.32 million square feet of commercial space.

"It's absolutely phenomenal what is happening right now in the District of Columbia," said Gray, who said that NoMa is the largest part of the city's overall growth. "We're adding 1,100 to 1,200 people a month here in the city."

Other progress in NoMa

First Street NE is on schedule to reopen with a new separated bike lane in May, says NoMa BID President Robin Eve-Jasper. The opening will conclude a year of construction work that turned arguably the neighborhood's main street into a maze of potholes and construction barriers. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has repaved the street, begun striping, and is adding the bike lane. A block party is planned for the street's reopening next month.

However, major road construction in NoMa is far from over. DDOT is evaluating options for a significant redesign of Florida Ave through NoMa's northern section, to make it a more pedestrian and bike-friendly thoroughfare. No timeline for the project has been set.

NoMa BID also unveiled a free outdoor wi-fi system on select blocks earlier this month. The system can handle up to 1,000 users at a time and will continue to be expanded and improved, according to Eve-Jasper.

Public Spaces


Arlington looks at a town square for Courthouse

Can Courthouse, the area around Arlington's county seat, become a vibrant civic center? One solution may be a new town square, which Arlington County will consider as part of a new planning effort for the area.


Photo by Arlington County on Flickr.

Envision Courthouse Square will update a 1993 plan which envisioned this area as a state-of-the-art government center with a signature public open space for everyone. Arlington hopes to retain that vision while updating the details to better promote multiple transportation options, smart growth, energy efficiency, and placemaking.

This effort centers around the county-owned parking lot one block from the Court House Metro station. Arlington County will consider creating a public open space, like a town square, that will be an "integral component" of the government center.


The study area boundaries. Aerial photo by Arlington County.

The study will also look at the privately-owned AMC Courthouse movie theater, the county-owned Court Square West building, and the "Landmark Block," a group of small, low-rise buildings (some of historic importance) which a single owner has recently consolidated. That recent consolidation, as well as the impending expiration of the county's lease on their current office space in 2018, provide significant opportunities for a public-private partnership to reshape this area of Courthouse.

Envision Courthouse Square will look at how to use public and private buildings in Courthouse, including what types of public amenities other than government offices would be a good fit there. It will make recommendations about building location, height, and density, including a future county office building in the area.

Planners will consider improving the overall pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular circulation network between Courthouse and surrounding neighborhoods. They'll consider valuable cultural resources, like historic buildings, the well-known "Memorial" and "Mother's" trees, public arts, and a potential cultural facility. All parts of the plan will emphasize sustainability, from building and landscape technologies to an energy master plan for the whole community.

If you're interested in helping craft an updated vision for Courthouse, the first community workshop is this Wednesday, March 26th from 7-9 pm at Key Elementary School, 2300 Key Boulevard.

Architecture


Design could make or break the 11th Street Bridge Park

Washington has long turned its back on the Anacostia River, and in turn the neighborhoods east of the river. The 11th Street Bridge Park could become one of the city's most distinctive places, turning disused bridge structures into a connector and destination. With a design competition now underway, all that's left to do is design and build it.


An early park rendering by Ed Estes.

That's a tall order, but the project was born out of ingenuity. The proposed park takes advantage of foundations left over from one of the 1960s highway bridges. Rather than connect Capitol Hill to Anacostia, the highways isolated both.

Originally intended to feed the inner loop freeway, the old bridges were great for driving through the riverfront neighborhoods on the way to something else. When the city rebuilt the bridges in 2012, the city was left with an obsolete, but not totally useless, bridge next to the new local span.


The Bridge Park site. Image by the author using base from Google Maps.

The possibility of doing something with the remnants stuck in the mind of Scott Kratz, who at the time worked at the National Building Museum. At a meeting with then-Office of Planning director Harriet Tregoning, he brought up the concept of reusing the bridge. To his surprise, she immediately thought it was a great idea.

Since then, Kratz has been figuring out the details and building support for the Bridge Park, now working full-time on this project at THEARC in Congress Heights. That organization has held 195 meetings on both sides of the river to find out what the bridge would need to be, with a focus on reaching out to residents who often feel ignored in efforts to improve the city.

Now, THEARC and its appropriately named parent organization, Building Bridges Across the River, are looking to open the dialogue to everyone who benefits from the Anacostia. Since the park will likely be privately funded but publicly owned, raising the $35 million required to build and endow the bridge park will be a major goal. The other key part will be a design competition.

The Bridge Park must be more than a park

Given the precarious site and high cost, this project is risky. Getting the design right can make all of the difference between a world-class park and a white elephant, as Dan Malouff has previously noted.

Rather than stage an ostentatious open competition where flashy, iconic images predominate, Kratz went to the communities first. Some of those 195 meetings were charrettes, design meetings where stakeholders identified what was missing from their neighborhoods and how the bridge could fix them. When professionals do get involved later this month, they'll be screened based on their experience working with communities as much as design skill.


An early park rendering by Ed Estes.

Participants in the outreach meetings have focused on a few ideas for the park again and again. Because the East of the River neighborhoods face high obesity and hypertension rates, active recreation figures prominently in visions for the park. This includes playgrounds, as well as conventional sports areas, since there isn't one in Anacostia proper. In a similar vein, the Bridge Park staff are interested in introducing urban agriculture to the bridge, possibly fruit trees.

Encouraging residents to interact with the river is another goal. This might mean a dock as much as a environmental education center. Artistic output forms the final side: an outdoor performance space, or even a facility for an arts nonprofit could be part of the project. In general, Kratz sees art as crucial to letting the community take ownership of the park when it opens.

Turning the site's challenges into opportunities

I would like to see programs that take advantage of the elevated site. Since it's not an automobile bridge, the Bridge Park doesn't need to be flat, symmetrical, or even the same width all the way across. A skate park might suit the site perfectly. It's a loud activity that needs uneven terrain to play up its acrobatic elements.

Urban agriculture, on the other hand, seems counterintuitive. Planting beds would require importing large volumes of dirt and building a heavy-duty structure to support it. There are sites in Anacostia on actual land that seem more obvious for a farm.


The site boasts incredible views. How can the park make them even better? Photo by the author.

The main challenge the site faces is its isolation from busy streets. The first piers of the Bridge Park are ¼ mile from Good Hope Road on one side. On the other side, M Street SE is a long walk along the Navy Yard's fences and a highway viaduct.

Kratz realizes this problem, so he worked with students from Virginia Tech to find every possible connection, especially to the Anacostia Riverfront Trail. They proposed lighting and community art to enliven the sidewalks to M Street and Good Hope Road. Arriving with a gym bag might still present an obstacle, so Kratz is working with DDOT to install a stop for the Anacostia streetcar, which will run over the new bridge.

Streetcar access will be the most important factor in drawing residents to the active recreation sites. For casual recreation, how the designers locate activity areas could make those walks easier. With major attractions at either abutment of the bridge, visitors would come to pick up their kid from an event and kill time by talking a walk down to see the great view downriver.

Bridge Park needs to feel like a place to succeed

These designers will face a site pretty much unlike any other. Journalists frequently compare the Bridge Park to New York's High Line, but there are several crucial differences. For one, the High Line runs for 1.45 miles through dense neighborhoods, well connected to the streets below.

Reusing the entire structure of an old railroad viaduct, the High Line was stuck with relatively tight dimensions, ranging from 30 to 88 feet. That's about size of a tennis court. The 11th Street Bridge Park has the potential to stand 160 feet wide and 800 feet long, around the size of three professional football fields end-to-end.

And pedestrian bridges sometimes have places to rest, but they rarely are destinations by themselves. There are a few unbuilt parallels, like Thomas Heatherwick's Garden Bridge in London, or OMA's Jean-Jacques Bosc bridge in Bordeaux, but those still function primarily as transportation infrastructure.

There is one project that has actually gets beyond the transportation deck: a pedestrian bridge in Providence. Reusing the piers of what had been a highway bridge right through the center of town, the new bridge connects two sections of a greenway.


Providence Bridge Park, a glimpse of our possible future. Image from PVD Planning.

Architect inForm and engineer Buro Happold created a structure that varies width and height: In one place, a delicate bridge, while on the other, it's grassy steps down to the river. With all of this three-dimensional variation, the designers were able to put a café in the middle.


The Providence Bridge Park is landscaped, not flat. Section drawings from PVD Planning.

What's nice about the Providence project is that it looks a lot like a street: it has the multi-layered activity that happens when people are passing by, relaxing, working, and working out. To be successful, the Anacostia Bridge Park needs to sustain this kind of activity. The design of the project, from how the activities are arranged to the way it interprets the river artistically is what will do that.

The designers' test will be to take the communities' desires and layer them within architecture that connects the mundane to something bigger in the context. In other words, the park should make a basketball game feel as connected to MLK Boulevard as to the flow of water underneath. The players should sense that they're playing 20 feet in the air and a mile from the Capitol.

The bridge park can't solve that many problems. But it can create a place of confluence between the city's different constituencies. If everyone feels they own this park, it can be part of a more inclusive revitalization of Washington.

To find out more about the Bridge Park, please visit bridgepark.org. The design competition will be announced on March 20th.

Public Spaces


It takes more than open space to make a great urban park

The Silver Spring Transit Center isn't finished yet, but there's already support for turning vacant land next to it into a big park. However, this really isn't a good place for a park. There are also lots of small, underused parks nearby, and with some alterations, they could help quench the demand for open space.


The unfinished Silver Spring Transit Center. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

County Councilmember Hans Riemer recently proposed building a two-acre park next to the Transit Center instead of an originally planned hotel. On his blog, he talks about the many "green urban parks" in downtown DC, like Dupont Circle. "Silver Spring deserves one too," he writes.

What makes a great urban park like Dupont Circle, or Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, or Union Square in New York? They all have grassy areas and trees, and are nice places to enjoy the outdoors. But they don't exist in isolation. What happens on the edges of great urban parks is what makes them successful.

Great urban parks need people and buildings, too

Parks like Dupont and Rittenhouse sit in the middle of very dense, busy neighborhoods with thousands of people living and working nearby. The surrounding buildings also create a frame around the space, making it an outdoor room. Most of the buildings that face Dupont Circle have a store or restaurant on the ground floor. On Rittenhouse Square, there are apartment building entrances and restaurants with dining terraces opening to the square.


What happens on the edges of Rittenhouse Square make it a great park. Photo from Google Street View.

Together, these things make a space that people are constantly using throughout the day, eating lunch, playing chess, making music, holding demonstrations, getting exercise, or just passing through.

Compare that to the Transit Center. Most of the surrounding buildings don't face the space Hans Riemer would like to be a park. At the street level, all you'll find are fast-food places, lots of blank walls, and loading docks, none of which do much to generate life on the sidewalk. Putting a park here wouldn't change that context.

We know that because there used to be a park next to the Metro station before the Transit Center was built. It was a popular skate spot, but it was also run-down and empty. It wasn't a good park.


A site plan of the proposed Transit Center park. Image from Montgomery County.

It would be different if we could build a park with shops and restaurants directly facing it, and lots of people in very, very close proximity to use it and pass through it all the time. In fact, that's what the Transit Center plans already call for: a smaller park, less than an acre in size but with some green areas, directly adjacent to an apartment building, an office building, and a hotel.

Unfortunately, those plans are on hold due to a breakdown in negotiations between developer Foulger-Pratt, which also built the Transit Center, and Metro, which owns the land. But that doesn't mean we should throw them away.

Silver Spring has lots of open space, but we don't use it

People complain that Silver Spring doesn't have enough parks, but we might actually have too many. In downtown Silver Spring, there are literally dozens of small pocket parks, the result of a requirement that new development include an open space that's accessible to the public.

Many of those spaces are poorly designed and go unused. County planners and residents have already been working to fix this problem.

In 2008, the Planning Board recommended eliminating the pocket park requirement and build big parks instead. Two such projects have already been approved. The redevelopment of the Blairs will include a big park, while the Studio Plaza development on Fenton Street will have one as well.

And last year, the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board suggested looking at ways to repurpose existing parks and county-owned properties. Evan Glass, chair of the board and a candidate for County Council, has proposed reusing the current Silver Spring Library as a recreation center and park space once the new library is built.


There's a big, grassy park a block from the Transit Center, but it goes unused. Photo by the author.

Some of downtown's pocket parks could be repurposed as well. There's already a big, grassy park exists a block from the Transit Center at the Discovery Channel headquarters. But it isn't really used and was closed for months after a gunman attacked the building in 2010. Across from the Transit Center, Montgomery County will turn a bus turnaround into another small park with trees and landscaping.

These spaces aren't perfect. But they exist, and if any community member or elected official is serious about improving open space in downtown Silver Spring, they should start here.

There's a better use for the Transit Center site

It may sound counterintuitive, but sometimes, creating great parks in urban areas means more buildings. Silver Spring needs a critical mass of people and stuff to generate the activity needed to give our streets and parks life. Meanwhile, too many bad parks have instead created big, gaping holes in our downtown, sucking out activity and life.


The park we could have at the Transit Center. Image from Montgomery County.

The Transit Center is a bad place for a big park. But it's a good place for buildings.

Montgomery County and Maryland taxpayers have already spent upwards of $120 million on the Transit Center, on top of money spent decades ago to build the Metro station, and money we will soon spend to build the Purple Line. Where they converge will be one of the most valuable development sites in the region, and a significant opportunity to encourage transit use and generate tax revenue.

Not taking advantage of this would be a colossal waste. So would ignoring all of the open spaces Silver Spring already has, as well as the opportunities we do have to create new and better ones.

Events


Events roundup: Streetcars and parks and buses and zoning

This week, help plan a streetcar line along DC's north-south axis and a park in the heart of downtown. Next week, learn about rapid transit in Silver Spring and weigh in at the last zoning update meeting.


Photo by IntangibleArts on Flickr.

Planning a new streetcar route: The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is holding a series of meetings about the north-south streetcar line. Where should "premium transit" go? Should it be a streetcar or bus? How many stops? Dedicated lanes? There are 4 public meetings:

  • Tuesday, February 18 from 3:30-8:00 pm (presentations at 4:00 and 7:00 pm), Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 1100 4th Street SW.
  • Wednesday, February 19 from 10 am-12 pm, MLK Library, 901 G Street NW.
  • Wednesday, February 19 from 3:30-8:00 pm (presentations at 4:00 and 7:00 pm), Banneker Recreation Center, 2500 Georgia Avenue NW.
  • Thursday, February 20 from 3:30-8:00 pm (presentations at 4:00 and 7:00 pm), Emery Recreation Center, 5701 Georgia Avenue NW.

Redesigning Franklin Park: The National Park Service, DC government, and Downtown Business Improvement District have teamed up to design the future of Franklin Park. The park currently offers little usable space for area residents and workers, so the agencies devised three alternatives that add a playground, move walking paths, and add various amounts of plaza space.

The meeting is Wednesday, February 19 from 6-8 pm at the Hilton Garden Inn, 815 14th Street, NW. You can RSVP here.

Rapid transit in Silver Spring: Montgomery County is planning a Bus Rapid Transit system across the county, and Communities for Transit and the Coalition for Smarter Growth are holding an open house about the plan in Silver Spring on February 26 from 6:30-8 pm. It's at the Silver Spring Civic Center, 1 Veterans Place. You can learn more and RSVP here.

The last zoning update meeting: If you live in DC wards 1 or 2 (Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant south to the Mall, west to Georgetown and east to Logan Circle and Penn Quarter) the DC Zoning Commission wants to hear your opinion on the zoning update. This final meeting (hopefully) was rescheduled due to the snow and is now on Wednesday, February 26 at the DC Housing Finance Authority, 815 Florida Avenue, NW.

A lot of Ward 1 residents heard a one-sided pitch against the zoning update at a forum sponsored by Councilmember Jim Graham, so it's important for residents who are well-informed to attend and speak up. Sign up here to get on the list.

As always, if you have any events for future roundups, email us at events@ggwash.org!

Public Spaces


Beach volleyball in the Inner Harbor? Not for much longer

For 11 years, Baltimore's Inner Harbor has played host to a beach volleyball league, which helps present a healthy, active image of the city to the 13 million people who visit the harbor each year. But instead of being celebrated, the league's getting kicked off-stage.


Baltimore Beach Volleyball's home in the Inner Harbor. Photo from BBV.

Baltimore Beach Volleyball (BBV) has 2500 weekly participants and plays games seven days a week from May to September. 87% of its players are millennials, or adults between 20 and 34, 88% are single (in case you're looking), and 37% come from outside of Baltimore City, according to Todd Webster, who runs the league. BBV has been touted as the largest inner-city metropolitan league on the East Coast, hosted games for the International Olympic Committee, and become a permanent stop on the Toyota Pro Beach Volleyball tour.

Baltimore ought to give BBV the proverbial keys to the harbor. Instead there are plans to boot the volleyballers from the Inner Harbor to Swann Park, an out-of-site, out-of-mind location two miles to the south in the shadow of Interstate 95.

The city of Baltimore, Waterfront Partnership, and Greater Baltimore Committee recently released the Inner Harbor II plan, which looks at ways to improve and expand open space around the harbor. It proposes replacing BBV's field and an existing park as well as the Pride of Baltimore memorial with a subterranean parking garage topped by an oval grass lawn and a small, sand "destination." How this lawn will be programmed is unclear.

The plan will cost $40 million, though parking revenues will offset some of these costs.


The Inner Harbor 2 plan would displace Baltimore Beach Volleyball, as well as the Pride of Baltimore memorial. Image from the plan.

Baltimore leaders have concluded that the Inner Harbor and Rash Field need a refresher. But the results of a citizen survey about the area suggest that residents prefer more local retail in the area and want to address the lack of activity in some parts of the harbor. The plan doesn't ignore those concerns, but its bigger proposals do overshadow them.

There are good ideas in the plan, like a pool barge. But unfortunately, leaders are rushing to start with Rash Field, a controversial and expensive part of the plan. How did the architects choose a grass oval lawn and sand lot for the top the garage? How is the proposed lawn not redundant with the similar West Shore Park and grassy feel of Federal Hill?

Baltimore and the Inner Harbor planners would benefit if they mixed in some of the affordable ingenuity demonstrated by Janette Sadik-Khan's New York City project portfolio. Her mantra: "Do bold experiments that are cheap to try out." She loves to talk about how Times Square was successfully transformed with lawn chairs and paint. All urbanists should view her TED Talk.

Instead of replicating amenities that already exist, there are ways to provide things that citizens actually want and retain an existing draw, all at much lower cost. Beach volleyball could become an anchor and destination for the area with the addition of local food and beverage vendors, water features, specialty kiosks, and tables overlooking the volleyball courts. The space could also accommodate other activities, like bocce, ping pong, yoga, Zumba, stationary bikes, and kayaks.

Meanwhile, the Rash Field garage is not only expensive, but unnecessary with the existing 45,000 parking spaces in downtown Baltimore. Has the city studied the possibility of valet parking service operating from the visitors' center as an alternative?

A valet service might make better use of existing parking capacity, be more convenient for visitors, and provide jobs. To increase access, extend Charm City Circulator coverage. Creating a safe network of cycle tracks to serve bicycles and bikeshare, which will launch this July, on the bike-unfriendly roads ringing the Inner Harbor would help.

In addition, building the parking garage will disrupt an important public space for up to two years of construction. The view from Federal Hill is a very photogenic spot, and a popular site for tourists and visitors. An unnecessary parking facility isn't enough of a compelling reason to take this space away when smaller changes would have a much shorter and less disruptive effect on the area.

This plan also would have an impact on the city's millennial community. Many young professionals seek healthy and active social amenities. The data shows clearly that millennials are driving Baltimore's growth more than any other generation. For young professionals, Baltimore Beach Volleyball is arguably the Inner Harbor's top draw. Unceremoniously kicking them out will not be viewed charmingly by this opinionated generation.

Millennials heavily populate nearby neighborhoods and have brought new life to the city. Why not ask them to help program the harbor?

A version of this post appeared at Comeback City.

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