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

Posts about Planning


National links: How the highways happened

The US highway system is around partly because of a road trip Dwight Eisenhower took right after WWI, and if our leaders don't invest in our transit infrastructure, we'll have to sit back and hope for the best until they change their minds. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!

Photo by Ken Lund on Flickr.

Interstate prelude: On July 7, 1919, Dwight Eisenhower struck out on a road trip across the country. His military convoy, the first to cross the US by car, was partly a WWI celebration and partly an effort to gather info on the state of American roads at the time. It averaged 52 miles per day. This road trip and a view of the German autobahns would plant the seeds of the future US Interstate Highway System (History)

Alphabet soup: Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet (which is basically Google), has offered a suite of tools to Columbus Ohio, the winner of a contest for city design. It includes a program called "Flow," which would help the city modernize its parking system and coordinate ride sharing for low income residents. Though some worry the program will take away from standard transit services. (Guardian Cities)

Surviving the storm: Transit in the United States is often set back by ideological rigidity and under-investment. Laws that keep tax money from going toward infrastructure, for example, make it impossible to get the support needed to repair and expand transit, and they'll stay in place unless leaders change them. The real question is whether transit can survive until those changes happen. (The Hill)

Try something new!: The developers behind a Harris Teeter in Carrboro, North Carolina, want to build something familiar: a grocery store in a tired strip mall. The design has remained very suburban and auto-oriented despite the city's multiple efforts to make it more urban and increase its potential tax base. It's an example of what happens when bean counters at the home office believe what they've always done (strip malls) is the only way to make money. (City Beautiful 21)

No Mickey Mouse ride: Disney has been pushing for a streetcar line from a commuter rail station in Anaheim to the theme park, and local officials were going along with the plan until now. The streetcar has been cancelled by the Orange Country Transit Authority board, with opponents citing low demand for the existing commuter rail and a high speed rail station that's coming in the future as reasons. (Voice of the OC)

Geek city:This week bay area tech incubator Y Combinator has put out a request for applications for its city research endeavor. The agency hopes that in the future, it might be able to find out the best way to build a city from scratch in a way that's better than what exists now. Good luck with that.(Treehugger)

Quote of the Week

"Drive-ins shifted the film industry's focus to the teenage demographic, a tactic that still informs studio decisions in 2016. And drive-ins unwittingly became both cause and casualty of urban sprawl."

- Urban planning expert Ryan Baker on the heyday of the drive in theater.


Ten years ago, predictions for DC today were pretty spot on, except for a few key things

A lot has changed in DC in the last ten years ago. Planners knew it would, back then. But they had to make some predictions about the future as part of DC's then-new Comprehensive Plan. How did they do?

Crystal ball and city photo from Shutterstock.

Overall, the plan got a lot right. It predicted the 2010 population and the number of jobs in 2015 quite well. But DC started growing faster, and was in even higher demand as a place to live, than looked likely in 2005.

These and other predictions are part of the Framework chapter of the Comprehensive Plan, which we're reading in an online book club.

The group identified some predictions and then pulled current numbers to compare 2005 forecasts to reality.

Population: Even forecasting significant growth for DC was a big change in 2005, when the Comprehensive Plan was written. DC had lost population every Census from 1950 to 2000, but the trend had already started to turn around—and fast.

The plan's forecasts estimate 600,000 people by 2010. That was an amazing guess: the Census counted 601,721.

After that, the plan anticipated more growth, but reality far outstripped it. The Comp Plan predicted DC would reach 630,000 by 2015. Instead, the Census's estimate was 672,228. The plan forecast the population to hit 698,000 by 2025. We're surely going to get there much sooner; the mayor now talks about 800,000, not 700,000.

What happened? DC had started growing much faster than the forecasts, but the recession took a bite out and brought the growth numbers back down for 2010. Since then, people have continued coming to DC faster than the planners of 2005 imagined.

Population change from 1980-2000 (left) and 2000-2010 (right, by Corey Holman).The darkest shade of red represents the steepest decline, while the darkest green is the steepest increase.

Jobs: The 2005 Comprehensive Plan estimated 819,600 jobs in DC by 2015. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists May 2016 employment as 784,700. James Denney said:

It's a pretty close miss for the 2005 plan. Considering just how hard the economic downturn hit the nation in the late '00s, and accounting for the 2013 sequestration, the fact that DC is only 35,000 jobs away from the 2005 projection is actually rather admirable. Even ignoring the recession, the sequestration of 2013 accounts for nearly all of the projection gap.

Persons 25 and over without a college degree, 2000 (left) and 2010-2014 5-year ACS (right, map by Corey Holman).

Corey Holman looked at some other predictions in the Comp Plan and how they turned out.

Families are back. Prediction: "In fact, the average household in Washington contained 2.16 persons in 2000, down from 2.72 in 1970. Middle-class families left the city in large numbers during this period and the number of school-aged children dropped dramatically. Looking forward, the city expects household size to continue falling through 2010, and then stabilize."

Reality: Average household size in the 2010 census did continue to fall to 2.11, but the 2005-2009 (2.21 persons) and 2010-2014 5-Year ACS (2.22 persons) showed much larger household size.

Baby boomer boom? Prediction: "According to the US Census, the percentage of seniors is expected to increase as 'baby-boomers' retire."

Reality: The number of seniors is lower now that it was at the time the Comp Plan was written. In 2000 the 65+ percentage was 14.3%. In the 2010 Census it was 13.0% and in the 2010-14 ACS is was 11.3%. The 18-64 age group percentage increase dramatically while 0-18 showed decreases as well.

Immigrants come, but not as many Latinos. Prediction: "The percentage of foreign-born residents, particularly those of Hispanic origin, is expected to rise."

Reality: Foreign-born population did increase slightly from 12.9% in 2000 to 14.0% in the 2010-14 ACS. However, the percentage of people of Hispanic origin is actually lower now that it was in 2000.

Poverty rate in 2000 (left) and 2010-2014 5-year ACS (right, map by Corey Holman)

So what?

The Comprehensive Plan governs DC government decisions, particularly land use and zoning. Many provisions suggest adding more housing while other provisions talk about "protecting" neighborhoods.

The way the plan underestimated population growth means other provisions may also be inapt for DC's current needs if they are predicated on lower housing demand than there really turned out to be.

We'll delve into more specific policy statements in the Comp Plan as the book club gets to those chapters. Want to be a part of the book club? Sign up with the form below!


Is DC "growing inclusively"? In 2005, it set out to.

Greater Greater Washington readers are reading DC's Comprehensive Plan, a document that lays out how we build our city, and discussing it as we go. Each week, we'll post a summary of the chapter we most recently read, along with some highlights of what our book club participants think about how the plan could change in the upcoming amendment process.

In 2005, DC's Comprehensive Plan was 20 years old and woefully out of date. The District undertook a major effort to rewrite the plan for DC's needs. This new plan opens with an encouraging vision: a growing, inclusive city. Has the plan actually helped DC grow inclusively?

Our book club discussed these questions as it read the first chapter, the Introduction.

DC Comprehensive Plan - Chapter 1

A big vision: planning to grow for all people

The opening statement of the Comprehensive Plan reads:

Growing inclusively means that individuals and families are not confined to particular economic and geographic boundaries but are able to make important choices—choices about where they live, how and where they earn a living, how they get around the city, and where their children go to school.
Growing inclusively also means that every resident can make these choices—regardless of whether they have lived here for generations or moved here last week, and regardless of their race, income, or age.
The emphasis on growing inclusively is important. This Comprehensive Plan was developed in the early 2000s, when DC's population had declined for 50 years and that trend was just ending. Since that time, DC's population has grown quickly, with more growth predicted for the coming decades. The language in this Introduction highlights the need to allow for this growth.

But will the city translate this vision into practice and actually grow in a way that welcomes people of all incomes?

The Comp Plan is a piece of a larger puzzle

The Comprehensive Plan is not the same as a prescriptive law. Its purpose is to guide the city's agencies and policies when making planning decisions. But it is not the only plan to do so.

The federal government (through the National Capital Planning Commission) creates its own "Federal Elements" about government land and property. DC also has many topical plans, like Sustainable DC, Move DC (for transportation), and Play DC (for parks). Finally, the Office of Planning is charged with periodically developing Small Area Plans, which address individual neighborhoods in more detail.

All of these other plans become part of the Comp Plan, and its more general policy statements are supposed to guide those plans. Theoretically then, growing inclusively should become a guiding principle for every planning decision that gets made in the city.

A plan within a plan... within a plan...

This 2006 plan was a big change from past plans

This version of the Comprehensive Plan was adopted in December of 2006. It was created because the previous version created in the 1980s was out of touch with the realities of the city.

Among some of the important changes was an entirely new way to organize the city. Previously, the Comprehensive Plan described the city based on ward boundaries, but because these boundaries shift over time due to population changes and politics, this plan delineates its own sections of the city, called Area Elements, to keep things consistent.

Area Elements Map of DC Comprehensive Plan

Another change was the high level of community input and engagement that took place to create the plan. Book club member Jane Dembner was a part of the consulting team for the Comp Pan, and shared that "this process was unprecedented in DC at that time" and was more strategic about engaging diverse stakeholders than ever before.

Will this plan fulfill its promise?

Many book club members were enthusiastic about the plan's bold vision. Peter Casey said, "too often, organizations and governments move forward without a vision of what they want to move towards. It heartens me to see the city so intentional in its development and choosing inclusion as its guiding principle."

But, he continued, "talking about inclusion is one thing, actually achieving it is another… In my mind, inclusion, more than anything else is the major challenge facing the District today."

David Alpert, too, reflected particularly about how this vision statement uses the language of "choices" and asked whether today we have the choices the plan calls for:

"In some ways, choices have really expanded in 10 years - people have more transportation mode choices, and there are more better schools including charter school choices, etc. ... But other choices have not expanded or have [even] contracted, like where to live. While many neighborhoods have gotten safer, more of the city is also out of reach of many people than was 10 years ago, and I don't think we are doing enough to ensure people still have those choices."
Yuki Kato wondered about "how this concept [of inclusivity] gets executed in the remainder of the [Comp] Plan… It is possible that in some of the elements inclusivity is more easily conceptualized and executed."

Cheryl Cort, who was part of the task force that created the plan, noted it includes good concepts about "building an inclusive city, but now seems to lack urgency to address rising demand to live in the city, since the city grew much faster, and sustained its growth."

In summary, readers who shared their thoughts support the vision of growing an inclusive city, but wonder how it will be implemented. The problems we are facing today are generally magnified and more acutely felt than they were in 2006, especially in terms of housing. This amendment process is the opportunity to update the Comp Plan and make sure it reflects our city's current and future needs.

Can you be a part of the book club?

This week and next we are reading Chapter 2: Framework, and will report our thoughts soon. After that we move on to Chapter 3: Land Use.

Want to join us? We are 85+ and counting! Fill out the form below.


Let's read the book on DC... then re-write it

What if you could shape DC's master plan that guides the future of the city? You can. The District is about to update its Comprehensive Plan, and we're starting an online book club to read it and provide feedback on how it should change. Join us!

DC's Comprehensive Plan.

DC's Comprehensive Plan is one of the most important documents our leaders use to guide decisions on what the city will be like today and in the coming decades. You probably haven't read it—it's over 600 pages long. But if we're going to ensure that more people of all income levels can live and work in this great city, we need to pay attention to the Comp Plan.

The Comprehensive Plan is truly that. Its chapters include everything from housing to arts and culture. Inside each chapter are guidelines, goals, and recommendations that spell out a vision for what DC is supposed to look like and how it is supposed to function.

The plan is meant to guide everyday decisions and act as a measurement tool to see if we are building and growing in the right way based on the city's and region's needs. While the plan doesn't dictate specific buildings, roads, schools, or rec centers, it's the framework that agencies must follow when making their own decisions.

Does the Comp Plan really matter?


As we wrote about recently, having goals matters, even if enforcing them or reaching them is difficult. Without clear, measurable and attainable goals, our growth and development as a city will move forward without our values to shape it.

What is more, an unclear or contradictory Comprehensive Plan can be used to stop needed new housing and jobs. The recent case in Brookland showed this, where a plan for 200 apartments was rejected by a court because of statements (some contradictory) in the Comprehensive Plan. The plan can be a powerful tool for the city, but if not done well it can cause harm as well.

The first Comprehensive Plan was adopted back in 1985. In 2006, DC re-wrote the plan and set a schedule for ongoing amendments every five years. There was a minor update in 2011-2012. Now, it's time again. The Office of Planning, the stewards and interpreters of the plan, will soon kick off a process to collect public input on the plan and propose revisions.

You can shape the new plan

This is a big chance for residents to set the direction for to what the city should look like tomorrow and 20 years from now.

One thing to do first though—you need to read it. And before you run off, wait! We'll read it with you!

Greater Greater Washington is organizing an online DC Comprehensive Plan Book Club. Each week for the next six months, a group of us will read one chapter at a time and discuss it over email. Volunteers will moderate each chapter's discussion, and then we'll publish a summary of our collective thoughts about each section on the blog.

If you want to be part of our book club, fill out this form and we'll get in touch with more details. If you have any questions about it, leave a comment below.

This is a big opportunity to share in the vision of our city. Time to crack open the cover.


Use this map to make Fairfax more bike-friendly

Little River Turnpike, a major road that runs across Fairfax, is difficult to bike along. The county is looking to change that, though, and a new interactive map lets you make suggestions for how it can.

Click this map for a version that you can comment on. Image from Fairfax County.

Stretching from Fairfax City to Alexandria, Little River Turnpike has been a major road since the 1800s and its interchanges with both 495 and 395 mean the road sees a lot of traffic today.

Right now, there are no bike lanes on Little River Turnpike, and sidewalks are hit and miss. Fairfax wants to make it easy to bike between the many neighborhoods and businesses up and down the road.

Riding a bike here could be a whole lot easier. Image from Google Maps.

While there is a master bike plan for Fairfax, some of its roads need a more detailed and focused approach. Little River Turnpike is one of them (the county has deemed it a "policy road"), so planners in Fairfax are conducting the Little River Turnpike Bicycle Study to determine the best way to improve bike riding options there. They're starting with the interactive map above.

One challenge for bike projects along the road is a narrow right of way, which means there isn't much space for bike lanes (and it'd be expensive for the county to buy the space). Also, there some places along the road do have ample space for a stretch, but then it ends abruptly.

The hope with the map is that planners will be able to identify quick fixes in some of the road's trouble spots. The entire study could lead to broader-sweeping changes, but those would be further down the line.

This isn't the only bicycle project coming to Annandale. A number of bike lanes will go in when Ravensworth Road, Guinea Road, John Marr Drive, and Heritage Drive get repaved this summer (all of these roads connect to or run near Little River Turnpike).

Fairfax did this last year as well, when it used an interactive map to crowdsource ideas for bike projects across the county.


National links: The robots can't see the road!

When robots are driving cars, faded line markings become bigger problems than usual. Also, Phoenix gets a bad rap among urbanists but maybe we should consider it differently, and airports can be pretty miserable places to be in. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!

Photo by Ali Eminov on Flickr.

Robocars are befuddled: As roads age, their lane markings fade and signs become harder to read. Most humans can adjust alright, but nationwide, roads in disrepair are confusing self-driving cars. (Reuters)

Phoenix is just misunderstood: Phoenix gets a bad rap among urbanists because it's not very dense and virtually everyone there drives. But is that what it deserves? It's true that Phoenix, and similar places like Houston and Las Vegas, have sprawling designs. But maybe we should evaluate them based on how effective today's decision makers are while working within those parameters. (Urban Edge)

Airport agony Do designs for airports accommodate passengers? The New York Times' Chris Holbrook argues that changes in building priorities, from security concerns to more specialists who need to sign off on small details, has made airports feel more like prisons than places of comfort and service. (New York Times)

The US is lagging behind: When compared to airports in Seoul or trains in Switzerland, America's infrastructure falls short. Possible explanations include that we're dependent on cars, that the private sector abandoned mass transit, that we won't pay for maintenence, and that more people are focused on their own success but not that of society at large. (The Conversation US)

Housing hyperbole: Joel Kotkin is one of urban thinking's most outspoken contrarians, and a review from the California Planning and Development Report says his recent book is so off-base that it's questionable whether he has ever actually met a planner. Just because a city is getting denser doesn't mean it will get as dense as humanly possible, and just because a lot young and wealthy people live in cities doesn't mean there's a "war against suburbia." (CPDR)

Quote of the Day

"As we've grown in recent decades in our knowledge of urban economies, street-level planning, city design, the value of diversity, government finance and management, we've lost an essential leadership skill—the craft of city politics." Otis White, a renowned writer on government and cities, on why planners should think like politicians.


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.


How smart urban planning gave Medellín a facelift

A generation ago, Medellín, Colombia was one of most violent cities in the world. Now, it's a true gem for urban planners. I was born in Medellín, was raised in Montgomery County and then moved back, and I recently returned to the DC area. The pictures from my last visit home help show how Medellín has changed since I first lived there.

Medellín's tram line in the San Antonio sector of downtown. All photos by the author.

Most of the positive attention that has gone Medellín's way in recent years has stemmed from the impact generated by Social Urbanism, a concept where the people living in Medellín, a city of extreme inequality, gained a heightened sense of inclusion and engagement through high-profile infrastructure and transportation projects.

Efforts to use urban planning to create social inclusion and engagement led to Medellín's Metro system (it's Colombia's only city with an urban train system), the Metrocable gondolas, library parks and sports infrastructure in some of the city's most forgotten neighborhoods, and other social programs, such as universal head-start programs.

Walking path below the Metro line in the Estadio neighborhood.

I recently travelled back to Medellín for a few days, where I snapped a few pictures of new developments in transportation and urban planning that made me proud of my city and my people.

Between the pool and the soccer stadium at the Atanasio Girardot sports complex.

Medellín has rail, a streetcar, buses, and a gondola

Medellín has a public Metro system that's made up of two train lines that run perpendicular to one another, along the central parts of the Aburra valley. The Metro is fed by a BRT system, a network of small bus routes, and MetroCable, the renown gondola system that has two lines that shoot up into the mountain sides of the valley and serve some of the most impoverished neighborhoods of the city. One of the gondolas even extends out of the valley to connect with one of the regional parks, which is outside of city limits.

I should mention that the biggest mode of transportation for Medellín's working class continues to be the private bus system, which the city government is currently phasing out to make way for the publicly-managed and environmentally-friendlier network of Metro buses, trains, and gondolas.

Image from MapaMetro.

Another Medellin sunset waiting for the Metro on the B line.

Rush hour on the Metro.

Medellín also just opened a new electric tram, a revival of the one that ran in Medellín during the 20s and 30s. Once cars became popular near the middle of the century, interest in maintaining the tram waned. But the new tram is giving parts of downtown a Medellín a facelift, cutting commute times for many residents in the eastern part of the city.

Old-school vs. new-school: Tram models from 1920s and today.

The tram opened at the end of 2015 to a lot of fanfare, and while it was not quite operating at full capacity while I was there, as of mid-March it was running during the whole day. Here's the downtown station, which also was not finished during my visit:

The gondolas connect the Metro's B line to social housing projects which have been built on a massive scale in the outskirts of town. These projects have been a source of controversy due to the quality of construction and the way which people have been relocated from other risk zones in the city into these buildings.

Vallejuelos Metrocable station in western Medellín.

Medellín also has a free public bike share program, which has been approved for massive expansion in the city's most recent master plan.

This bike station serves sports facilities in Belen, a large neighborhood in western Medellín. It is a 15 minute ride away from the closest Metro station but only one block away from the closest station in the MetroPlus, a BRT-system that aims to fill the Metro's service gaps around the city.

EnCicla station at Belen's sports complex.

Sports and arts have helped shape a new city

Panoramic view of the pools at the Atanasio Girardot sports complex.

When I'm in Medellín, I spend a lot of time in sports facilities around the city. I see sports as having done an extraordinary amount of good for the city's youth. INDER, the city's sports and recreation department has engaged youth in some of Medellín's most remote areas.

In 2010, Medellín hosted the South American games which overhauled some of the most dated facilities in the city, including most of the city's official venues for soccer, track and field, swimming, baseball, softball, all types of skating, chess, tennis, and others.

Below is Medellín's "coliseum" as seen from the Estadio Metro station. Within the green domes you can find different arenas that host basketball, volleyball, futsal, gymnastics, martial arts, and Olympic weight training among others.

View of the sports complex from the Estadio station.

The soccer fields pictured below are just some of many of the city's main sports complex, which hosts local, national, and international competitions in several sports (including ultimate Frisbee!)

The sports complex has been remodeled to include larger stands, a roof and offices on the upper level.

It's also increasingly common to see pockets of urban space that have received the touch of local artistic talent. Many see painting murals as an alternative to violence and criminal activities for the city's youth.

Street art is not only prevalent but high-quality murals are actively promoted by many city programs.


Arlington's Lee Highway will transform into an urban main street, if vision becomes reality

Community leaders in north Arlington are hoping to achieve a new vision for Lee Highway. If vision becomes reality, significant stretches of the largest commercial highway between I-66 and the Potomac River will become a walkable urban main street.

An illustrative concept for part of Lee Highway. Image from Arlington County.

Lee Highway is the main commercial road through north Arlington. Unlike other parts of Arlington, it's still mostly a car-oriented, suburban-style place. But it's so close to the region's core that development pressure is mounting, and rather than let that happen haphazardly, the community wants a plan.

That makes a lot of sense, so the community worked with an internationally recognized consultant team led by Dover Kohl and Partners to provide their perspective on what the vision for Lee Highway should be. They quickly discovered that most Lee Highway residents seem to want the kind of walkable, urban amenities that much of the rest of Arlington enjoys.

Now the draft vision is online, and it clearly reflects that theme. If the vision becomes reality, Lee Highway will see a string of neighborhood centers between Rosslyn and East Falls Church, along with new transportation options, better public spaces, and more.

What's in the vision

A series of unique neighborhoods will emerge where there are large commercial nodes today. Rather than an extended strip of retail land as exists today, Lee Highway will become a collection of distinct, walkable, mixed use neighborhood centers, surrounding the corners where other major roads intersect Lee Highway.

Each new node will have a carefully planned, unique scale and character. Some will be small village centers, others will be comparatively dense.

Proposed nodes showing higher and lower densities. Image from Arlington.

The biggest neighborhood centers would be where Lee Highway crosses Spout Run Parkway, and at Glebe Road.

The vision assumes bus and bike improvements along Lee Highway, potentially including bus lanes, but it doesn't include bigger transit investments like a new Metro line.

Thus, even the densest proposed neighborhood centers are less intense than what surrounds Arlington's Metro stations.

The popular Lee Heights shopping center in Waverly Hills is one place there's a hint of walkability already. This vision would preserve the best parts of the existing shopping center and add development nearby to make it a strong center.

Illustrative concept for Lee Heights shopping center, before and after. Image from Arlington.

Overall, the vision hopes to transform Lee Highway into more than just a through road, into a place for people and community.

It will preserve and create more affordable housing, help protect existing businesses, and provide new community gathering spaces, complete streets, and better streetscapes. There will be new parks and open spaces, and low-cost, temporary pop up parks and parklets.

Currently Arlington has a lot of high-rise apartments and detached single-family homes, but not much in the middle. The Lee Highway vision will focus on adding more of those "missing middle" housing types. Rowhouses, stacked flats, and small-scale apartment buildings will dot the corridor and bring new life to areas that are now strictly commercial.

Organizational efforts such as a unified network of Lee Highway businesses will foster the health of existing local businesses, while welcoming the new shops gravitating to the new neighborhood centers.

Affordable housing will increase. Image from Arlington.

What happens next

You can view the full draft vision online, and provide comments up until March 31.

After that, community groups will look over the comments and make changes this spring, then the Arlington County Board will review it in May.

But even then, this community-based vision is aspirational. It won't have the force of Arlington County law behind it, at least not yet. Nor are the proposals in the vision ready for construction. For now, it's food for thought to stir the imagination, and provide the framework for more formal county plans and studies that will come later.

Public Spaces

This map shows a very different East Capitol Street

In the 1940s, there was a proposal to make East Capitol Street into a wide, monumental avenue. This map shows what it would look like, and provides some other glimpses into what DC was like at the time.

1941 NCPC Plan for East Capitol Street. Image from Library of Congress.

I spotted the map in a recent Washington Post story about cartographer Pat Easton painting it on his dining room wall via a projector. I took one glance and saw how different the DC it depicts is from how DC looks today.

Today, East Capitol Street is a typical Capitol Hill street: It isn't very wide, and most of the buildings along the street are small. The map shows an East Capitol that looks like the National Mall continuing east past the Capitol building and stretching to the Anacostia River.

It turns out the map was drawn up by the National Capital Park and Planning Commission (NCPC) in 1941. It details proposals that would have incorporated much of the land between Constitution Avenue NE and Independence Avenue SE into new space for federal and District government buildings. The Library of Congress has a copy of the map on their website, where you can zoom in and see many of the details.

One of the most notable things is how many of the (now historic) buildings along East Capitol Street today would have been razed to make room for wider streets and office buildings. The corners of Lincoln Park in Capitol Hill would have been rounded off to make the space shaped more like an oval, and Independence and Constitution Avenues would have been widened to include some freeway-like sections along with tunnels underneath the Capitol Building itself. That would have meant that the roads stayed very wide for their entire length across the city.

Had all of this this happened, East Capitol would probably look similar to today's Independence Avenue SW near the USDA Complex.

East Capitol Street (top) today compared with Independence Avenue SW (bottom). Images from Google Streetview.

The map has lots of signs of the times

Other details I notice are that there is a stadium near where RFK stadium sits today, along with other athletic facilities, including tennis courts and an indoor swimming pool.

There's also no bridge across the Anacostia River. Instead, Consitution and Independence Avenues both veer off the map, traveling along the Anacostia's western shore. That's obviously different from today, as we now have the Whitney Young Memorial Bridge.

It also looks like there where plans for a new railroad bridge and tunnel that would cross the Anacostia closer to today's RFK site and, presumably, link up with the current right of way near L'Enfant Plaza.

And of course, since this map was drawn in 1941, there are no interstate highways cutting through the southwest and southeast quadrants of the city, and Constitution Avenue dead ends at the Potomac rather than leading to today's Roosevelt Bridge.

What do you notice in the map? What do you think of some of these ideas? Let us know in the comments.

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