The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts about Parks

Development


Tenleytown won't get 50 units of housing and a park

50-100 people won't be able to live in Tenleytown, and a major intersection won't get a pocket park and become more walkable. That's because DC's Office of Planning and some local leaders got anxious about a mixed-use building from Georgetown Day School that's shorter than another one across the street.


Rendering of the proposed residential buildings along Wisconsin Avenue. All images from Georgetown Day School / Esocoff and Associates.

GDS proposes a transformative project for Tenleytown

In June 2014, after three unsucessful attempts to redevelop a Safeway grocery store at 42nd and Davenport Streets NW, the neighboring Georgetown Day School (GDS) bought the Safeway property, a WMATA chiller plant, and a car dealership across 42nd on Wisconsin Avenue.

Despite initial fears that this would mean no chance to add retail, build much-needed apartments, and link Tenleytown and Friendship Heights, after 20 months of public meetings, GDS proposed a design that would consolidate the school and build two mixed-use buildings on the dealership property.


Plan of the GDS proposal at Wisconsin Avenue's elevation.

Since the low-rise school was much lower density than zoning would allow, GDS wanted to use a process called a Planned Unit Development (PUD) to shift density from the school, closer to single-family homes, and over to the dealership site on Wisconsin Avenue.

The project would have added 270-290 housing units, 22-29 of which would have been permanently affordable. Plus, it offered 38,500 square feet of retail, a pocket park at Elliott Street, a spectacular public staircase, and a 42nd Street redesigned with state-of-the-art traffic calming features.


Traffic calming on 42nd Street. The school is at the left and the mixed-use buildings at right.

The only complication: The zoning would have to be changed from a lower-density commercial zone, C-2-A, to a slightly denser one, C-2-B. The same change was successfully made across the street in 1999, for a project called Tenley Hill. That project's penthouse is actually 7'6" higher than these buildings would have been.

You can read the full PUD submission and an amendment.

The project gets positive reviews but some "height-itis"

Reactions to the project among community members were mostly positive, but two groups of neighbors expressed concern about the scale of the project, "Neighbors of GDS" and the "Wisconsin Avenue Gateway Group," whose leaders live in the Tenley Hill building. Supporting GDS's project were the longstanding smart growth group Ward 3 Vision and a new group called "Revive 3E," which formed to specifically focus on what members felt was obstruction in the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, ANC 3E.

The ANC repeatedly expressed support for upzoning of the site, but dithered over whether the package of amenities and mitigation was adequate, demanding an detailed Transportation Management Plan, including a request that no new vehicle trips arrive at the site. The ANC's chair, Jon Bender, openly questioned whether alternative arrangements could fit more residential uses onto the school site.

The big sticking point, however, was the height of the buildings. The zoning change would have let both buildings rise 80 feet from Wisconsin Avenue. Because 42nd Street is down a steep hill, one would have been 86'3" on 42nd Street and the other maxed out at 97'4" adjacent to GDS's high school building.


Height of the school (left), north residential building (center), and across Wisconsin (right).

Office of Planning blocks the project

This week, there was a new surprise: DC's Office of Planning also took issue with the height.

To do a Planned Unit Development, a property owner first applies to the Office of Planning, which then recommends, or doesn't recommend, DC's Zoning Commission "set it down" for a hearing. As GDS's head wrote in a letter to the Northwest Current, OP expressed opposition to setting down the current proposal.

Why the Office of Planning opposed the project is not public knowledge. Once a project is set down, the Zoning Commission schedules a hearing and OP, as well as other city agencies, file public reports with their comments. But because of OP's opposition, the school withdrew this version of its plans.

Some housing and the park are gone

GDS now wants to go forward with fewer floor on the southern building and two fewer on the northern one. It's not even the first height reduction. Critics of the project had asked for a 65-foot nominal height and GDS compromised from the original height, cutting two stories off last fall. Now, the building will be as short as critics requested.

Because of the loss of revenue from three floors, GDS can't afford some of the big-ticket benefits that brought in community support: the pocket park at the north end, the special public space finishes, and the traffic calming measures on 42nd Street.

It's still a fine project, but had the first submitted design been accepted, it would have made Tenleytown one of the most complete urban designs in the city, crossing the work and play of multiple generations of Washingtonians in a single space.

More importantly, this second reduction means a loss of another 50 potential apartments. On a micro-level, that's unfortunate in an area that has a large student population but few small apartments, leading many students to live in group houses that could otherwise hold families with kids. It also reduced the density that can support small businesses and restaurants. On a macro scale it's just another opportunity increase the aggregate amount of housing in the city, lost to the tastes of a vocal minority.

Sure it's only 50 here, but 50 at the next one, and so on, contributing to a deficit across the city. If the 2006 Comprehensive Plan is what's keeping this site from an appropriate level of density, then it's failing. If OP is talking of the need to build shelter for a growing city and reduce automobile use, but disqualifies GDS' modest mixed used density, then the talk of two biggest issues the city faces is just a gesture devoid of substance.

Public Spaces


Check out what’s new with NoMa’s park plans

A lot of change is on the way in NoMa. Work on two underpasses is expected to finally begin this year while designs for a new Third Street park, and the search for a designer for the NoMa Green are underway.


The NoMa parks plan, including planned public and private spaces and existing space. Image by NoMa Parks.

Over the past two years, the NoMa Parks Foundation has firmed plans to build two new parks, partner with private developers to create a mid-block meander, and brighten four underpasses so they're more inviting to use. In addition, private developers have committed to building at least three more public spaces in the neighborhood.

Now, NoMa is ready to put shovels in the ground for the lighting installations in the L Street and M Street underpasses, and it has hired design firm Lee and Associates for the Third Street park at L Street NE.

Underpasses have been delayed, but they're on the way

More attractive underpasses on L Street and M Street where they pass under the railroad tracks into Union Station were supposed to be the first public realm projects completed in the neighborhood. NoMa anticipated installing "Rain"—LED light rods hung from ceiling that reacted to movement through the space—in the M Street underpass by the fall of 2015, officials said at a neighborhood meeting that April.


Rain by Thurlow Small Architecture + NIO architects. Image by NoMa BID.

However, NoMa attempted to "value engineer" the M Street project by cutting the number of rods from the 4,000 that design team Thurlow Small Architecture + NIO architects planned, said Robin-Eve Jasper, president of the NoMa Business Improvement District (BID), at a community meeting on parks on March 29. This resulted in a less than satisfactory result.

"We're late because we said we didn't do it right," she said. Installation of the full 4,000 rods is expected later in 2016.

Work on "Lightweave," a series of undulating, cloud-like lights hung from the ceiling in the L Street underpass, is also expected to begin later this year.


Lightweave by Future Cities Lab. Image by NoMa BID.

Plans for the K Street and Florida Avenue NE underpasses are on hold for the time being, with NoMa waiting for the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) to move forward with its plans to redesign the Florida Avenue streetscape before beginning the latter project.

What will go in at Third Street?

Lee and Associates is early in its planning of the new 8,000 square foot park. Early site analysis has found that the lot, which is adjacent to the Loree Grand apartments, is shady most of the day and includes a roughly six-foot change in elevation.

"We love topography… these are all elements of design opportunity," said Jeff Lee, founding principal of Lee and Associates, at the meeting.


Site of the Third Street park in NoMa. Image by Google Maps.

The firm will continue its site analysis and collect resident feedback before the next public meeting on the space, when Lee said they hope to present two or three potential designs for the park.

Meeting attendees had a variety of opinions on how the space should be used. Many want a dog park while some ask for a space where children could play, to which Lee responded that the two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Others ask for passive space to be outdoors.

"We will do our very best to think outside the box," said Lee in response to the myriad of resident requests.

Lee and Associates is well placed to design an interesting park. The firm has worked on a number of parks around DC, including Stead Park near the corner of P Street and 17th Street NW and Gage-Eckington dog park in LeDroit Park.

NoMa Green could get more funds

NoMa is on track to hire a designer for the NoMa Green, the temporary name for the two acres adjacent to the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) it purchased from Pepco in December, this spring, said Stacie West, the director of parks projects at the NoMa Parks Foundation.

The design process is expected to continue through 2017 with construction beginning towards the end of the year, she added.


Site of the future NoMa Green. Image by the author.

Also, NoMa may have secured more funds for the park. The developers of the Eckington Yards project JBG and The Boundary Companies have offered $25,000 to the foundation to go towards the green, as well as install a new bikeshare dock and new public art installation in its promenade across Harry Thomas Way from the park, said Jasper.


Eckington Yards in relation to the new NoMa Green. Image by Boundary Companies + JBG.

"We knew from the beginning that $50 million was not a lot of money to buy land and build parks in a neighborhood where land is as valuable as" it is in NoMa, she said.

NoMa Parks has already spent $17.2 million of its budget on just land acquisition for the green and the Third Street park.

A meander is in the works

Construction of the first section of the NoMa Meander, a mid-block pedestrian corridor between North Capital Street and First Street NE, has begun from N Street to Patterson Street, said Jasper. The section is being built by JBG as part of its mixed-use Capitol Point development.

Skanska will build the next section of the meander on the block between M Street and Patterson Street.


Site plan for Skanska's development on the NoMa Meander. Image by Skanska.

The meander will anchor the developer's new mixed-use development for the site, including locating the entrances to its planned residential and commercial buildings as well as new retail space, on the corridor, said Kelly Nagle, a development executive for Skanska USA, at the meeting.

When fully built out, the meander will stretch from New York Avenue to Pierce Street in NoMa.

Pedestrians


Annandale residents just wanted a pedestrian bridge fixed or replaced. Now it's gone.

Residents in Annandale's Broyhill Crest neighborhood have been complaining for years about a dilapidated pedestrian bridge over a small creek, urging Fairfax County officials to fix or replace it. As of March 23rd, the bridge is gone, but there's no money for a new one.


This is where the bridge used to be. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

The bridge connects is in Broyhill Crest Park, a neglected bit of green space with a former ball field that Fairfax County no longer maintains. The bridge is used mostly by dog walkers and people using the nearby community garden plots, and provides a shortcut to children walking to Mason Crest Elementary School.


Image from Google Maps.

People attempting to cross the creek between Murray Lane and Lockwood Lane are now confronted with plywood boards and ropes blocking access to the creek, a sign stating "the damaged bridge has been removed for safety reasons," and an explanatory note from Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross.


The old bridge needed repairs. Photo by Rick Carlstrom.

Gross sent an email to residents March 25th saying that she and Frank Vajda, the Mason District representative on Fairfax's Park Authority Board, had asked the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) to repair or replace the bridge and were told "the bridge could not meet today's standards and could not be repaired."

Replacement cost would be $80,000, she estimates. "No source of funding has yet been identified but we are continuing the search."

"While we had hoped that the old bridge could be shored up and used until replaced, the old bridge simply was unsafe, and collapsing, due to embankment erosion," the email from Gross continues. It was removed "in an abundance of caution and concern for the safety of Broyhill Crest [residents]."


The Park Authority posted this notice for pedestrians.

Members of the Broyhill Crest Community Association (BCCA) met with Gross and Mark Plourde, FCPA Area 2 manager, in December 2015 to discuss the bridge. Their goal was to have it fixed, not torn down.

The BCCA members were told if the bridge had to be replaced there were two options. The bridge could be replaced with a similar structure that would be cheaper but more expensive in the long run, as it would be subject to the same erosion problems. The other option, preferred by the FCPA, would be a more expensive bridge with a longer span, which would be less costly to install as it wouldn't require as much work on the bank.

The BCCA has requested another meeting with Gross to discuss alternative funding solutions.

Broyhill Crest resident Rick Carlstrom has spoken to county officials several times about the bridge over the years. In 2005, county officials told him they agreed the bridge was in "bad shape" but said it would be at least five years before it could be replaced. He got the same answer from FCPA in 2014, and that time was told a replacement bridge would cost $20,000.


The old bridge was deemed unsafe and in danger of collapse. Photo by Rick Carlstrom.

Last May, Carlstrom contacted Gross about the bridge and she came to take a look. At that time, she told Carlstrom in an email that "all of the 2012 parks bond money has been spent and we do not have the $40,000 needed to replace the bridge."

When he again complained to Gross and the FCPA in February 2016, he was told the schedule to replace he bridge had changed from at least five years to "a very long time" and that the cost was now $80,000 for a 40 x 6-foot fiberglass pedestrian bridge. (That estimate might include installation and work on the stream banks to stem erosion.)

Carlstrom then contacted a bridge company on his own, E.T. Techtonics, and received a written estimate of $24,800 for a 40 x 6-foot fiberglass pedestrian bridge, including delivery. These bridges come in pieces and can easily be assembled by two people, he says.

According to Carlstrom, the bridge was severely damaged when a tree-trimming crew hired by the county dropped a tree on it a year ago. He suggested the tree company's insurance policy could pay for the repairs.

"That is not a viable option in this case," because the felled tree didn't cause the problem, Plourde responded in an email to Carlstrom. Plourde conntinued by saying the bridge has been collapsing for years due to severe erosion of the stream banks, causing the concrete abutments to fail.

"I realize that this decision will have a negative impact on your community and I apologize for that, but the safety of park users must be our first priority," Plourde wrote to Carlstrom. "While I understand that schoolchildren use this bridge daily as a shortcut to and from Mason Crest Elementary, please recognize that cutting through a trail in the park is not considered an approved school walking route. Approved routes are public sidewalks and easements."


Debris from the old bridge.

"I have lived in Broyhill Crest for over 20 years and have witnessed a shocking downward spiral in the maintenance of the parks in our older established neighborhoods," Carlstrom wrote in an email to Gross March 14th. He cited the neglect of a large field in Broyhill Crest Park that has become overgrown and unusable, as well as the poor state of the pedestrian bridge nearby.

"Fairfax spends 0.7 percent of its budget on parks, Carlstrom says. "The largest portion of that goes to golf courses and the installation of artificial turf fields. I find it extremely unfortunate that the county makes the installation of artificial turf fields, which cost millions, a higher priority than maintaining our existing park infrastructure."

A version of this post originally appeared on Annandale VA.

Bicycling


A bridge from Eckington to Union Market? It could happen.

In exchange for support to build retail and housing in Eckington, developer JBG has offered to fund a study of what it'd take to build a bridge that connects the Metropolitan Branch Trail and Union Market. That'd be a big step in joining Eckington and NoMa.


Map of potential MBT-Union Market aerial connection. Image from Google Maps.

JBG would fund a "viability and design study for an aerial pedestrian and bicycle connection between R Street NE and 4th Street/Penn Street at Union Market," a draft community benefits agreement with the Eckington Civic Association states. The developer would pay for the study in exchange for the civic association's support of the proposed three-acre Eckington Yards development.

The potential MBT-Union Market connection could use a unused tunnel under New York Avenue to link it with Union Market and connect to a future multi-use trail to Ivy City.

Union Market, an increasingly popular shopping spot, is separated from much of the District's cycling network and many of its booming neighborhoods by two main physical barriers: New York Avenue NE and the throat tracks into Union Station.

The NoMa Business Improvement District (BID) identified the area as needing a better connection in the MBT Safety and Access Study that the NoMa Parks Foundation this month.


NoMa identified a potential MBT-Union Market connection in its MBT Safety and Access Study. Image by NoMa BID.

A new footbridge might not be the way to go

However, according to Robin-Eve Jasper, president of NoMa BID, Nelson\Nygaard advised the parks foundation that an aerial connection similar to the one JBG describes in the benefits agreement as unlikely to be feasible. The distance across the railroad tracks at R Street NE and the need for Amtrak approval of an aerial structure are limiting factors, she says.

One possible option to improve the connection could be new ramps on both sides of the tracks to the New York Avenue bridge and a better sidewalk along the actual road. This would likely require fewer approvals and be more cost effective than a new multi-use bridge.

Improvements are coming to Florida Avenue

Right now, the easiest way to walk to Union Market from any neighborhood west of the trail and tracks is via the narrow sidewalks along Florida Avenue NE.


The narrow sidewalks along the underpass on Florida Avenue NE in NoMa. Image by the author.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is in the process of redesigning this section of Florida Avenue with pedestrian and streetscape improvements, says Sam Zimbabwe, the agency's associate director of policy, planning and sustainability administration. DDOT is pursuing a revised version of the proposed second alternative, which includes a wider sidewalk, some bike lanes, and a road diet to two lanes in each direction from three.


DDOT's initial alternative two concept for Florida Avenue NE from 2014. Image from DDOT.

While he does not provide a timeline, Zimbabwe says DDOT is seeking preliminary engineering services for the project.

A coming park could lead to more JBG and NoMa partnerships

JBG has a vested interest in improving pedestrian and bike access to its new development. The walk to the NoMa-Gallaudet U Metro station from Eckington Yards, which will be built on the site of the Washington Flower Center between Eckington Place and Harry Thomas Way NE, takes more than 10 minutes due to the detour north to R Street NE to access the MBT.

This walk could go down to about five minutes with a Q Street NE connection to the MBT, something that the NoMa Parks Foundation plans to build as part of its new two-acre park across Harry Thomas Way from Eckington Yards.


Eckington Yards in relation to the planned NoMa park. Image by JBG.

"We would be willing to contribute to making that park as great as it can be," says Bryan Moll, a principal art JBG, on a possible contribution to the park at an Eckington Civic Association Meeting earlier in February.

NoMa has only asked JBG for a cash contribution to the planned park, he adds, referring to meetings the developer has had with the parks foundation.

"We would love to consider a variety of ways we could partner," says Jasper. "The reason we haven't asked them for anything in particular is because we haven't started the design process."

The park will go through public comment process before the final design is selected, she adds.

The NoMa Parks Foundation has a $50 million budget to parks, with more than $17 million already spent on just acquiring the land for the two-acre park from Pepco and buying a much smaller plot at the corner of L Street and 3rd Street NE.

By comparison, Navy Yard's 2.5-acre Canal Park cost $26.5 million to build.

Parking


Roll Call recently made a great point about the Capitol's parking problem

In a recent post about cleaning up after Snowzilla, Roll Call, a blog newspaper that covers Congress, published a graphic showing that if you combined all the parking lots on the Capitol Grounds in need of plowing, they'd cover the National Mall. That's a crazy amount of parking.


Imagine if some of Washington's best locations for parks or buildings were parking lots! You don't have to! It's like that today. Image by Roll Call's Sean McMinn and Jia You.

Acres of surface parking lots surround the Capitol and its accessory buildings, and the question of whether they should even be there has long been a sore spot for those paying attention to land use in the District.

That amount of parking is particularly disheartening when you consider that all of these lots used to be blocks of apartments and offices that were very welcoming to people. The McMillan Commission imagined monumental office buildings surrounding the Capitol. In the 1920s, Congress expanded that vision dramatically, adding the open spaces to the north and buying up the lots to the south for future office buildings.

Now, they're parking lots, or parks on top of parking lots. Here's a map of all the surface parking on the Capitol Grounds:


The Capitol Grounds and the surface parking lots. Graphic by the author, with a map from DC GIS.

Congress gets a lot more parking than the rest of the government

The branch of the government that manages the land, the Architect of the Capitol is holding onto the land for now. It likes providing ample parking spaces for legislators, staff, and employees. The AOC won't say exactly how much parking, but a 2005 master plan allotted 5,800 spaces to the House of Representatives alone. Depending on how much the Senate, Supreme Court, Library of Congress, and support staff get, the number is probably far higher.


There are federal rules about how much parking there can be for federal employees. Image from NCPC.

Because Congress writes the rules, they've never been subject to review by the National Capital Planning Commission, which sets the parking regulations. The AOC's independence and access to funding has led to a bad reputation, from architecture critics to Congress itself.

To be fair, the AOC does plan to eventually spruce up their properties. Their 2011 Master Plan aims to eliminate all surface parking lots by 2026. But that master plan is short on details for how they'd do that, and it's not clear whether they'd bring the amount of parking in line with the rest of the Federal Government's limits on parking.

Given the sheer volume of parking at the Capitol complex, along with the possibilities for how we could otherwise use the land, the matter of how to scale it back deserves more thought.

Correction: This post originally referred to Roll Call as 'a blog that covers Congress.' While the article at hand was filed on Roll Call's blog, it's more accurate to call the publication a newspaper. Also, it has been clarified to note that the 5,800 figure for parking spaces is only for people who work at the House of Representatives.

Public Spaces


The National Park Service turns 100 this year

2016 is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, which oversees lots of outdoor space in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. All year, there will be special events throughout our region to celebrate.


The Korean War Memorial. All images from the NPS.

The NPS is celebrating its milestone birthday with events and fee-free days all across the country. During National Park Week, which is April 16th-24th, admission to all NPS sites will be free.

In May, an exhibit celebrating biodiversity in the US will come to the DC, with an accompanying festival on the National Mall. There are battlefield and garden tours scheduled in Virginia throughout the spring, and a few chances to learn about Maryland's roads and trails are coming up soon.

Since its establishment in 1916, 44 years after Congress designated Yellowstone National Park as the country's first national park, the NPS has come to oversee 400 unique places, ranging from national parks and monuments to battlefields and parkways.

The DC region has a unique relationship with the NPS. In the city alone, NPS manages 23 places, notably Rock Creek Park, National Mall, and its surrounding monuments. These parks represent a significant portion of our green space, generating more than $600 million in economic activity, supporting physical and mental health, and providing cultural resources.


The National Mall and its monuments are among the most popular places in the NPS system.

Of course, the NPS' involvement in local land use decisions does have its downsides. NPS controls the open space within DC's L'Enfant City, subjecting urban parks to the same planning and permitting process as Yosemite National Park. In 2014, its representative to the DC Zoning Commission successfully led the push to keep the 1910 Height Act intact.

Maryland and Virginia have an additional 37 sites combined, including the George Washington Parkway, Mt. Vernon Trail, or Great Falls Park.


Great Falls Park on the Potomac River in both Maryland and Virginia

NPS sites generate nearly $250 million and $1 billion in economic activity in Maryland and Virginia, respectively.


Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, a Civil War battlefield.

What are your favorite NPS parks in the region, and why? Tell us in the comments!

Architecture


Here are some ideas for designing NoMa's new park

The NoMa Parks Foundation just bought two acres on the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) for a new large park. There are great examples of how to use the space all over DC and beyond.


The site of NoMa's new park next to the MBT. Image by the author.

"People want an area for informal recreation and relaxation," said Robin-Eve Jasper, president of the NoMa Business Improvement District (BID), on the initial ideas for the park when it announced the $14 million deal earlier in January. "Something beautiful, something that really integrates with the Metropolitan Branch Trail."

There are many features that the NoMa Green, as it is tentatively called, could include. A connection between Q Street NE and the trail will almost certainly be a part of the park. Also, a flexible space like a lawn that could be used for a variety of needs, like the NoMa Summer Screen and various seasonal festivals, could fit elsewhere in the park.

NoMa BID plans to hold a community design forum with residents for the green after it hires a design team, said Jasper. This process could begin as soon as the second quarter of the year.

Canal Park in Navy Yard could inspire the NoMa Green

The five-acre Canal Park in Navy Yard offers some ideas for the NoMa Green. Opened in 2012, the space mixes programming, including a café, water feature, and seasonal ice skating rink, with a flexible lawn space that is used for various activities throughout the year.


An overview of Canal Park. Image by OLIN.

Hallie Boyce, a partner at OLIN landscape architects, says every section of Canal Park serves multiple purposes that, in many cases, are not exactly what the design team had in mind.

"The public will use a space as they deem appropriate," she says, recalling an image she saw of a kid using a sculpture as a seat to watch a movie in Canal Park. "On the one hand, you want enough programming to attract people long-term and on the other hand there is a need to have flexibility."


Canal Park's fountains and rain garden. Image by Payton Chung on Flickr.

OLIN led the design team of Canal Park, which is built on the site of a former Washington Canal. The studio has also been selected for the 11th Street Bridge Park and the redesign of Franklin Park in downtown.

There are lots of other options too

Canal Park is just one example NoMa can look to as it begins the process of designing its new green. DC is dotted with many small parks that, while often designed during an earlier period of landscape architecture, offer templates of what works and what does not.

Folger Park in Capitol Hill and Meridian Hill Park in Columbia Heights are two examples of good small parks in DC that Greater Greater Washington contributors suggest. The former includes ample lawns and an iconic drinking fountain and bench.

Meridian Hill Park, while larger than the NoMa space, includes a popular lawn atop the hill and a cascade fountain down the hillside to W Street NW.


The cascade fountain in Meridian Hill Park. Image by Washingtonydc on Flickr.

Boyce points to Teardrop Park and Wagner Park in New York City when asked what she thinks are good examples of well-designed small parks outside DC. The former, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, is a 1.8-acre green space in lower Manhattan that includes a unique man-made rock outcropping and an open lawn nestled between residential high-rises.


Teardrop Park in New York. Image by Calvin C on Flickr.

"There's no solution you would slap down," says Boyce, emphasising the need to engage the community and take into account form, scale, and site when designing a park. "It's about context and engaging with the neighborhood and key stakeholders first to identify [what they want]."

Architecture


An NFL stadium in DC could be suitably urban, but it probably wouldn't be

Rumors are swirling once more that the Washington NFL team could be moving from its stadium in Landover, possibly to the District. A new stadium in DC is almost certainly a bad idea, though it's possible—just very unlikely—it could actually have positive effects.


RFK in the 1960s. Photo by DDOT DC on Flickr.

The most logical place for a stadium is the Anacostia riverfront site where there's an existing, unused, aging stadium already: RFK. But RFK occupies a massive amount of waterfront land that could be far better used for new housing, fields for community sports, monuments, or just about anything else.

It's not that a stadium is so noxious. But around it is 80 acres of parking lots. Not only are they almost always empty, they're damaging ecologically, pouring stormwater runoff directly into the river, absorbing heat, and depriving the District of other ways to use valuable land.

Could a stadium exist without such surface parking lots? In theory, sure. Since games are on weeknights and weekends, one could imagine a new district with office buildings, each with underground garages that serve workers by day and football fans during games.

That, however, would interfere with tailgating, a strong fan tradition outside football games. It also would mean yielding some control over the parking arrangements, something owner Dan Snyder is unlikely to do without strong incentives. He makes big bucks on parking charges at FedEx Field (and tried to charge fans for walking to the stadium instead).

The team recently made news by hiring Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), a highly-respected architecture firm, to design a potential new stadium. The team didn't announce where, but if that's DC, BIG is capable of creating something much more innovative than the typical bowl-in-sea-of-parking.

Citylab's Kriston Capps says that even if Snyder were willing to go with an urban design that doesn't involve massive surface parking, the NFL would not then let a Super Bowl be played there, and a Super Bowl represents massive revenue.

What else a DC stadium should have

If a stadium were to come to the District, a few other elements should be prerequisites for any deal:

Change the football team's name. It's offensive. This has already been discussed extensively and need not be rehashed here. But the team should change it.

No public money. Economist after economist has demonstrated that public subsidies for pro sports stadiums rarely come anywhere close to paying off for cities, and least of all for football, where teams play just eight regular home games a year.

No free tickets for public officials. The mayor and DC Councilmembers get free tickets to Nationals games. This is a big perk for top officials, who can enjoy the games and give out tickets to staff, constituents, and donors. It also means that everyone potentially voting on such a deal has a massive conflict of interest—they can spend taxpayer dollars and get a perfectly-legal kickback.

Some argue that a city-controlled box is a valuable tool for wooing economic development to DC. If that's true and not just a rationalization, perhaps there's a way to set up an independent body that gives out tickets only when there's a strong enough case, and sells or lotteries the tickets to residents the rest of the time. But it shouldn't be yet another perk of incumbency.

This probably won't happen

Unfortunately, there's little reason to believe DC would successfully push for such features or that Snyder would accept. There's too much political pressure on officials just to get the team to DC regardless of the cost, and a traditional parking lot-ringed stadium would serve Snyder's interests fine.

The chance of that got a little stronger thanks to a baffling Washington Post editorial that called a stadium at RFK "the logical and obvious move" because of its transportation access and "waterfront vistas that can't be beat." (Never mind that there are trees in the way of waterfront views from RFK; trees on federal parkland have not stopped Snyder before.)The editorial made no mention of the opportunity cost of foregoing ball fields, bucolic parks, and buildings.

If a football stadium won't be urban in nature, there's no reason to have it in DC. The District has scarce land and huge demand for housing and offices. For something that needs 80 acres of almost-always-empty land around it and gets used eight or so times a year, suburban areas are far more sensible.

Landover is a fine place for a stadium. A site in Loudoun County, near a future Silver Line stop, has been widely discussed as a likely contender, especially since Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has been wooing the team, and its practice facilities and headquarters are already in Ashburn.

DC might have once needed the kind of pride and reputation that comes from having a team inside its borders, but now it has plenty of other reasons for pride (and the team will still be called Washington, anyway). A stadium that truly anchors a new neighborhood could be great, though. It's just extremely unlikely. I'd love to be surprised, though.

Public Spaces


A new pocket park and safer street layout are coming to Florida Ave NW

Much of the discussion around a new development at 965 Florida Avenue NW has centered on disagreement about its affordable housing component. That aside, the project will add a lot to the neighborhood, including a new pocket park and a better layout for the intersection in front.


The new pocket park is the two green triangles on the left side of the image, with the building at 965 Florida on the right. All images from MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group unless otherwise noted.

Developers MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group will build a new 4,478 square foot pocket park on the west side of the reconfigured Florida Ave and Sherman Ave intersection. This will act as a "buffer" between traffic and the existing town houses, their application says.

To create the pocket park, the developers will reconfigure the intersection of Florida Avenue and Sherman Avenue, eliminating the continuous diagonal on Florida and a disused pedestrian island between the northbound and southbound lanes of Sherman.


The existing Florida Ave and Sherman Ave intersection. Image by Google Maps.

The sidewalk along Florida and Sherman will be widened by six feet to 14 feet and there will be a new "private street"—essentially an extension of Bryant Street that is part of DC's plans to reconnect Georgia Avenue and Sherman Avenue.


An eastern aerial perspective of the site.

The project, along with others proposed for the block of Florida Ave between V Street and Sherman Avenue, will create a nearly unified streetscape of mid-rise, mixed-use buildings.


Florida Ave street level elevation.

Affordable housing has been at the center of the controversy surrounding the 965 Florida development. While MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group have committed to setting aside 30% of its 428 residential units for households earning up to 30% or up to 50% of area median income, criticism has erupted over the District government's decision to sell the property for just $400,000 when it was reportedly worth $27.6 million.

Some argued DC coud build more affordable housing if it sold the plot outright, while others said the deal guaranteed that affordable housing would go up in DC's core.

Either way, 965 Florida is moving forward and will bring many attractive—and needed—improvements to the Shaw and U Street neighborhoods.

Note: If you read this post when it first published, your eyes aren't deceiving you! We re-ordered it to emphasize the key changes coming to the neighborhood.

Public Spaces


NoMa is going to get the large park it needs

A two-acre plot of land next to the Metropolitan Branch Trail will one day be NoMa's largest park. That's great news for an area that plans to add another 7,000 residential units and numerous new shops and amenities over the next few years.


The plot NoMa bought from Pepco along the MBT. Photo by the author.

The NoMa Parks Foundation bought the land between the MBT and Harry Thomas Way, just before the new year. There's a Pepco substation that will remain at the southern end of the plot adjacent to New York Avenue.

The Foundation is temporarily calling the land the NoMa Green.


The plot. The straight line that runs diagonally through the right half of the picture is the MBT. Image from NoMa BID.

"People want an area for informal recreation and relaxation," says Robin-Eve Jasper, president of the NoMa Business Improvement District (BID), which includes the parks foundation. "Something beautiful, something that really integrates with the Metropolitan Branch Trail."

The two-acre space is roughly comparable to Folger Park in Capitol Hill and slightly smaller than the 2.75-acre Canal Park in Navy Yard.

Designs for the space will take time. NoMa plans to hire a designer from among those who have "done the best work for these kinds of parks" and then hold a community design forum for the space before finalising any plans, says Jasper. This is unlikely to begin for at least three months, she adds.

Based on the speed of the underpass projects in NoMa, the first of which on M St NE was initially targeted for installation last fall, suggests a summer start for the NoMa Green design process.

NoMa has not finalised the design budget for the park since spending $14 million to buy the land from Pepco.

Connectivity will be part of the new park

The MBT will be the primary access route to the NoMa Green, says Jasper. Some of the improvements outlined in the BID's MBT Safety and Access Study, including a Q Street connection, will likely be included in the project, she continues.

The Q Street connection involves extending the street from its current terminus Harry Thomas Way across the green to the MBT.


The Q St connection. Image from NoMa's MBT Safety and Access Study.

Long-term NoMa envisions activating the underpass at New York Ave like what is planned for the L Street and M Street underpasses and connecting the trail to Union Market and eventually Ivy City.


An idea for a softened curve in the MBT at R Street. Image from NoMa's MBT Safety and Access Study.

'The most important thing we'll do'

The NoMa Green is big. It guarantees that the neighborhood, which is slated to become the densest in Washington DC when it is built out, and those around it, including Eckington and Bloomingdale, will have green space.

"It's huge for the neighborhood," says Jasper. "To be able to have two acres for the people of the neighborhood to use and play on — it's probably the most important thing we'll do."

With the purchase of the plot from Pepco and the deal for a lot at 3rd Street and L Street NE in October, NoMa will shift gears into a design and construction phase, after years of studies and conceptual plans, over the next few years.

Jasper anticipates the first parks—not including the L Street and M Street underpasses that she anticipates will be done later this year—will begin opening over the next couple of years.

The parks cannot come soon enough. NoMa estimates that 36,000 people live within a two sqaure mile radius of 1st Street and M Street and 1st and K Street NE—an area that stretches north to Rhode Island Avenue, south to Union Station, east to 10th Street NE and west to 6th Street NW—and anticipates another 7,000 residential units to open in its more immediate environs by 2018.

"What you're going to have here… you're going to get parks, shopping, retail and restaurants—it's going to be quite an amazing place," says Jasper.

Correction: The original version of this article said the plot extends north to R Street NE when it does not. In addition, it misstated the number of people living within a two-square mile radius of NoMa at 67,000. The correct number is 36,000.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC