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Public Spaces


Rosslyn's sidewalks are getting a makeover

Sidewalks are critical parts of where we live. They connect us to restaurants and businesses, make for a safe environment, and foster a sense of community. A plan for Rosslyn's future is focusing on making its sidewalks easier and more pleasant to use.


All images from the Rosslyn BID.

Cities today are focused on sustainability and on developing mixed-use areas, with businesses and residential sharing the same space. Passed in 2015, "Realize Rosslyn" is Arlington County's long-term sector plan to transform the city into a "live-work-shop-play" urban center. To make access by foot, bike, or car easier, one element of the plan is a call for smarter street designs wider sidewalks.

The plan also prioritizes expanded parks and public spaces and better access to public transit, including Metro.

In a separate but connected project, the Rosslyn Business Improvement District (BID) launched the Streetscape Elements Master Plan. During the planning process in 2013, the BID collaborated with Arlington County and Ignacio Ciocchini, a New York-based industrial designer, to develop the streetscape initiative that would extend the benefits of the public sector improvements envisioned by the larger plan down to the sidewalk and pedestrian levels.

To do this, the BID carried out a comprehensive look at Rosslyn's sidewalks to determine what was missing and what could help create a unified and active streetscape. The BID also studied examples of other dense urban districts that had successfully transformed their pedestrian environments.

After researching, the BID decided on what to install as part of the streetscape. New benches, newspaper corrals, and planters will improve the pedestrian experience; way-finding signs and a mobile informational kiosk will make it easier for visitors to navigate; bike racks will encourage multimodal transportation; and the mobile curbside parklets will support retail and dining establishments. Many of these elements are mobile, meaning they can be moved to where they'll best support the community at a moment's notice.

Combining form and function, the sidewalk elements also complement the unique identity of the neighborhood and the business and residential development happening all around us. For example, the perforated design used in many of the street elements, including benches and chairs, is unique to Rosslyn and derived from the window lights of prominent buildings on our skyline that were simplified and digitally transferred to form the pattern.


Benches with etchings of the Rosslyn skyline.

Currently, the streetscape project is in a demonstration phase: the public can see many of the elements at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and Oak Street. The hope is to eventually roll out over 600 elements in all of Rosslyn's 17 blocks.

A key aspect of this project was the proactive communication and collaboration between all of the stakeholders, from city planners and policymakers to business leaders and the public. While the Rosslyn BID leads the streetscape initiative, it has received immense support from Arlington County. The BID will use private money to fund the project.

The guiding mantra behind the Rosslyn BID's efforts has been to ensure that all development is people-centric and a reflection of the community's identity. Much like the BID did with the mobile vending zone pilot, the BID will be actively gathering feedback from the community and using that input to guide the next phase of the project as it expands to the rest of Rosslyn.

We hope that everyone who lives or works in Rosslyn—or who visits from DC and elsewhere in northern Virginia—will come and experience our new streetscape elements and let us know what you like, what can be improved upon and what additional steps we can take to build a better Rosslyn.

Public Spaces


Mike Feldstein revived Dupont Circle. We'll miss him dearly.

Mike Feldstein, a Dupont Circle ANC 2B commissioner who pushed to make sure we get the most out of our public spaces, passed away on Wednesday. He was 73.


Mike Feldstein. Photo from ANC 2B.

Mike had a full and rewarding career long before he became active in civic affairs in Dupont Circle. A New York native, Mike was a Peace Corps volunteer. He worked for the US Agency for International Development and as a policy planning staff member for the State Department. He represented the US around the world, and served as a board member of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

He became involved in the ANC when another remarkable Commissioner, Curt Farrar, had to step down for health reasons. Mike's passion, from day one, was the Circle itself. He was determined to turn an urban park into a vibrant, exciting place once again.

In his quest, he became the Godfather of Dupont Circle.

When Mike was first elected, he told his fellow commissioners, "we should do more with the Circle. Seventy-five years ago, there used to be band concerts out there. There were events happening out there all the time. We should bring it back to life." Of course, we all agreed, but no one had any idea how to bring the Circle back to life.

Except Mike.

He assembled a group of volunteers who shared his vision. They came up with a name: Dupont Festival.

They spent many hours over many months convincing the National Park Service to let them sponsor and hold events in the Circle. This was no easy task, as the folks at NPS entrusted with the park were in no hurry to risk anything. If something went wrong, those bureaucrats would bear the blame. So getting permits for any event was a huge undertaking.

Mike used the World Cup to bring Dupont together

One of the earliest efforts was Soccer in the Circle. Two of his volunteers, Aaron DeNu and Michael Lipin, had the idea of hosting a giant viewing party for the opening of the World Cup in June, 2010. This would involve getting NPS permission to put up two giant screens in the park, and then—after securing permission—raising tens of thousands of dollars to pay for it, and then assembling the manpower to put on the event and clean up immediately afterwards.

Honestly, I don't think anyone on the ANC except Mike Feldstein thought it would ever happen, but we all went along with the idea. After countless meetings, they got NPS to agree to allow use of the park, and then convinced the Brazilian Sugar Cane Industry Association to donate something like fifteen-thousand dollars to help pay for equipment rentals and related expenses. They got FIFA and ESPN to give them the rights to stage an open air broadcast of the cable tv feed. The Screaming Eagles, DC United's booster club, would be volunteer marshals and would handle cleaning up.

On Saturday June 12, 2010, crowds began assembling at 6:30am to watch the first of three games. Because South Africa was the host country, the time difference meant a very, very early start. It was South Korea versus Greece, and the early crowd included large numbers of people from the Korean and Greek communities, including embassy staffs. With the 7 am kickoff, we were pleasantly surprised to see the park packed with people that early in the morning. We had no idea just how packed it would become.


Soccer in the Circle. Photo by David on Flickr.

By the time the third game began at 2pm, the park had been rocking for more than six hours. It was estimated as many as 15,000 people had attended at one time or another. CNN was doing live cut-ins, as was ESPN. All the local stations were there. We were seen literally all around the world on CNN International. The crowd was well-behaved. There was only one arrest, for public intoxication. Every restaurant within shouting distance of the circle ran out of beer and was scrambling for more in the intense heat of that June afternoon.

The US and Britain played to a 1-1 tie, and, immediately after the game ended, the Screaming Eagles began a clean-up blitz. Dozens of them filled plastic garbage bags with whatever trash was left over, even though the crowd had put most everything in trash cans. Within an hour, the park was cleaner than it had been the day before. Timing was crucial, because the match ended at 4:15 pm, and the annual Pride Parade kicked off at 6:30. So the soccer triple-header was only the start of a day-night doubleheader that brought a hundred thousand celebrants to our neighborhood: soccer in the morning and afternoon, and then the Capital Pride Parade. Wow! Just celebrating the day with more than 100,000 of our closest friends!

A finer day there never was.

Soccer was just the start

After the success of Soccer in the Circle, the NPS permits came easier. And, eventually, the Park Service even developed a separate policy for urban parks. Previously, NPS rules, regulations, and policy were pretty much one size fits all, whether we're talking about Yellowstone, Yosemite, or Dupont Circle. Whether the change was a direct result of what was happening at Dupont is not clear, but events like the soccer viewing certainly didn't hurt.

Mike and his Dupont Festival team—Will Stephens, Andy Klingenstein, and Aaron DeNu—made Groundhog Day great again, bringing it to Dupont Circle with the help of Potomac Phil. They found Phil in Miss Pixie's on 14th Street, brought him out of the closet and out of the shadows. We've had band concerts, Shakespeare, dance celebrations, Earth Day, science fairs, and more Soccer in the Circle viewings—both the US Mens and Womens teams—and so much more.

Mike believed strongly that parks and open urban spaces are to be celebrated, cherished, and used. He believed that free events, open to the public, are a way to build community. And he used his vast experience as a State Department official to navigate the bureaucracy and help achieve his goal of restoring Dupont Circle to its role as the center of our neighborhood life.

Mike strongly supported new housing, but wanted to make sure it was done right. "If we delay someone for a few months or a year, that's not always good," he said. "But if we tear something down, it's gone forever. And if we put up something bad, it may last for a hundred years."

Mike strongly supported walkable neighborhoods, bike lanes, and mass transit options. His New York background made him a dedicated urbanist.

We loved Mike dearly and grieve the loss of a true friend. He was a pleasure just to be with. Kibitzing with Mike was one of life's joys. He leaves behind countless friends, and a legacy of making our neighborhood a better place. He had a vision and made it reality. He was the Godfather of Dupont Circle and he really did bring the Circle back to life.

There will be a celebration of Mike's life later on May 1st, with the location to be determined.

Development


Meet RFK Stadium's two master plan candidates

Two potential master plans for the RFK Stadium site, whose overhaul is underway, would quickly build new playgrounds and community green space, with a new professional sports venue potentially coming down the road. On Monday night, the public got a glimpse at each plan and their different details, and had a chance to give feedback.


One of the potential designs for RFK. Photo by David Whitehead.

While most residents are familiar with RFK Stadium, the size of the entire RFK Stadium-Armory Complex, all of which the master plan will encompass, is worth emphasizing: it's roughly as long as New York's High Line (1.45 miles) and, at its widest point, is as wide as Central Park (half a mile).

But as Jason Long, a partner at OMA New York, the firm that's advising on the master plan, pointed out, nearly 41% of the RFK site is covered with surface parking lots, serving as a de facto "blockade between the city and riverfront."

Along with all that parking, the site is currently dominated by a half century old multi-use stadium. Its age, along with its circular shape that made for odd field dimensions and awkward spectator sightlines, has rendered it functionally obsolete. Currently, RFK is only used a handful of times a year for DC United games, and once the team moves into it's new soccer arena on Buzzard Point, RFK will have no permanent tenants.

At a meeting on Monday night, Events DC, the District government's sports authority in charge of operating the site, hosted a meeting to unveil and discuss potential plans for how to use the land. Over 400 people turned out to the Convention Center to join in.


Over 400 people attended Events DC's meeting to discuss RFK plans.

Before a new stadium, low-hanging fruit

The grand vision for RFK is a new waterfront area that has space for cultural activities, recreation, sports, and park land. More specifically, the plans include space for a market, skate park, dog park, community gardens, urban farm, water park, multipurpose fields.

Max Brown, the co-chair of Events DC's Development Committee, emphasized that the organization is looking to complete these smaller projects within the next five years (and as early as the next two), with longer-term "anchor projects" to follow.

During his presentation, Long said there are three options for "anchor" facilities: a 20,000 seat indoor arena, an NFL stadium, and a "no anchor" option that would allow for additional cultural or recreational facilities.

How to actually lay out the new facilities is a more detailed question. One reason why is that DC leases the land from the federal government, which currently only allows it to be used for a stadium, recreation, and parking. Officials presented two potential plans for using the land, both contingent on new lease terms.

One plan would redesign the surrounding street grid


Image from Events DC.

Option 1 is known as the "North-South Axis." In this plan, the major recreation and sports buildings would be built in a north-south line along a "plinth" overlooking the Anacostia River.

A covered pedestrian promenade and retail strip would wrap along the eastern front of the buildings, with new green space and paths sloping down to the waterfront. To the west, cultural components like a bandshell and Robert F. Kennedy Memorial would surround a new "flex zone" open area.

Approximately 6,800 parking spaces would be housed underneath the sports buildings, using the area's natural topography to help hide the parking levels.

Perhaps most strikingly, the entire network of streets surrounding the complex would be completely redesigned. The current circular connections to the Whitney Young Memorial Bridge would be demolished and replaced with a singular connection.

An expanded street grid more in line with the original L'Enfant plan for the city would also go in.

Another would leave it as it is, and new buildings would be more spread out

Option 2, called the "Stitch," is a bit more focused on keeping the neighborhood's existing layout intact.


Image from Events DC.

The Independence Avenue and C Street NE bridge connections would remain, but new pedestrian walkways and surface streets would be added to the surrounding area as needed.

Rather than a singular line of buildings like in the N/S Axis plan, new amenities would be spread throughout the area, often at a smaller scale; this would be part of the effort to make the project fit in with the neighborhood.

Because this plan would be less concentrated around a single set of buildings, parking would be dispersed around the area, much of it going in above-ground garages that would have sidewalk facing retail. A handful of surface parking lots would go in as well.

Both options feature the same plan to revitalize and activate the Anacostia River's Kingman and Heritage Islands. New pedestrian bridges would connect these islands to the new waterfront park, as well as provide more connections across the river to Ward 7.

Features like a new amphitheater, environmental center, and a picnic area would attempt to turn a somewhat neglected park area into a more welcoming space.

Resident concerns range from a lack of housing to traffic and pollution

At the meeting, groups between 15 and 20 people gave Events DC feedback. These were some of the big points:

  • A number of groups lamented that neither option looked at more varied land uses, such as housing, hotels, or other mixed use. The most that Events DC officials would say was that the current lease would need to be restructured before any housing or other uses could be incorporated.
  • Some groups felt the green space areas could use more playing fields, playgrounds, or educational areas. A number of attendees were particularly perplexed by the "urban beach," an area of sand meant to mimic a beach along the Anacostia. Many felt it would be unusable during the winter and an unattractive, mosquito-ridden area during the summer.

    People also wondered whether the new amenities would be public or private and whether they'd require dues or user fees.

  • Others voiced concerns about potential traffic changes and dangers for pedestrians, particularly with the first plan's street grid. Others said the plan needed to incorporate more new transit options, for example by renovating the Stadium-Armory Metro station or extending the DC Streetcar closer to the site.

    There were also calls to do more than just build two pedestrian bridges to connect the site to Ward 7 communities east of the Anacostia.

  • Attendees also voiced environmental concerns, ranging from those about water quality and habitats for native species to noise and light pollution. Additionally, while both plans factor in the floodplain and tidal nature of the Anacostia, participants still had reservations about flooding concerns.
  • There was opposition to building an NFL stadium on the site, but it was difficult to tell how widespread it might be.
Last night's discussion did not include any budget specifics. Officials stressed that the presentation was a "vision exercise" meant to convey an overall concept of what the site could be.

Going forward, Events DC will do a budgetary analysis, along with environmental studies and more detailed renderings and plans. The agency hopes to have preliminary results on those in about three months, with another public meeting to follow to discuss those findings.

You can find additional pictures and details about the potential plans for RFK here.

Correction: The original version of this post noted two possible pedestrian bridges to connect the RFK site to Ward 7. RFK is already in Ward 7, but unlike the vast majority of the ward, it's on the western side of the Anacostia River. The bridges would connect to the eastern side.

Architecture


A future football stadium may have a moat. Is that a symbol of a sustainable future or an exclusionary past?

We don't know where a stadium for Washington's football team will go, but now there's a design. Bjarke Ingels Group, the architects engaged by Dan Snyder to design a stadium, showed a rendering to 60 Minutes, and it includes a moat. We asked our contributors what they think.


Rendering by Bjarke Ingels Group via CBS/60 Minutes.

While there has been no decision about where a stadium would go, and the National Park Service has said that (at least under the current presidential administration) the team can't locate at the RFK Stadium site unless it changes its racist name, the moat is likely designed to relate to the Anacostia River. (Though the future Loudoun Gateway Metro station, where Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe wants the team to go, also is next to a small river, Broad Run.)

Ingels is clearly thinking about the fundamental problem that a typical pro football stadium occupies acres and acres of space, mostly for parking, which sit empty up to 357 days a year (a team plays eight home games, and sometimes stadiums attract a few very large concerts or other events).

According to the Post's Jonathan O'Connell, Ingels told 60 Minutes, "Is it waste of resources to have giant facilities that are only active 10 times a year. Obviously. Therefore we have worked with our team to imagine a facility that can be active both inside and outside all year and all week—not just on a game day."

He therefore designed a park around the aforementioned moat and envisions the tailgating to happen there, rather than in parking lots. "Tailgating literally becomes a picnic in a park. It can actually make the stadium a more lively destination throughout the year without ruining the turf for the football game."

However, this still leaves open the question of where people who drive would park. Would this stadium sit among mixed-use buildings with garages that serve the occasional football game? The rendering doesn't show the larger context.

Ned Russell wrote:

I like the design. I tend to like BIG's work and I really like designs that break out of DC's somewhat sterile and overused mold. But I really want to know about how they're going to do development around the stadium.
Canaan Merchant agreed:
It's not the stadium design itself I'm worried about. It's the twin issues of what is the best use of the land where it's probably going to be built and whether or not the city (or locality where it ends up) should be expected to pay for significant part of it. Architecture is nice, but we are too early for that discussion yet.
As for the design itself, which looks a lot like my Crate and Barrel fruit bowl, Tracey Johnstone worried that it appears to be much shallower than RFK.
Why do stadium architects think EVERYONE at an event wants to sit out in full sun for hours? NO cover at all. The shallow bowl is great for people with close seats and completely sucks for those who do not.

RFK was a great venue because of the upper deck overlapped part of the lower deck and there was a VERY narrow luxury level. This stadium has the upper deck up much higher and farther back than was the case at RFK. Might as well stay home and watch the game on television. And, at least there was some cover at RFK in both levels.

Many people will (perhaps rightly) remain suspicious of anything that comes from the team, given Dan Snyder's long record of anti-fan behavior and clear incentive to squeeze a sweetheart deal out of local leaders eager to give one. To Nick Keenan, the moat is a perfect symbol of Snyder's past deeds:
When I see the moat of think of Snyder's long-running effort to put up obstacles to pedestrians walking to Fedex Field so that people are forced to pay for parking.
But Steve Seelig sounded an optimistic note:
Truly a beautiful stadium design, and one that seems to evoke some of what made RFK a great venue. Going to FedEx is akin to what it must have been like at the Altamont Rolling Stones concert. I am hopeful there is a way to preserve the tailgating has become such a large part of football, but without acres and acres of surface parking.

Newer stadiums like Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara have severely curtailed places where tailgating is permitted, but still have a huge parking footprint. Let's see if Snyder's desire to have a stadium in DC that will serve as a de facto national monument can outweigh his historical desire to make everyone pay to park.

What do you think of the design?

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]."

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.

Public Spaces


The National Zoo will be open for 1,000 fewer hours in 2016

Starting in 2016, the National Zoo's grounds will be open for three fewer hours per day. Beyond not having as many chances to see the animals, the change means people who use the Zoo to walk and exercise early in the morning or late in the afternoon won't be able to anymore.


Photo by m01229 on Flickr.

Year-round, the Zoo will open two hours later and close one hour earlier than it does now. That means it will open at 8 am instead of 6, and close at 5 pm in winter and 7 pm the rest of the year rather than the current 6 pm in winter and 8 pm otherwise. The later opening will allow the animal house buildings to open at 9 am, one hour earlier each day than they are now.

The changed hours are the equivalent of the Zoo shutting its doors 7.5 days a month compared to the current winter schedule.

There's more to the Zoo than animals in buildings. When it's open, residents walk through the grounds for fitness or relaxation before and after work or school. The Zoo grounds provide a direct east-west connection, especially for pedestrians. Also, a section of the Rock Creek Trail runs though the Zoo.

In an email to members earlier this month, the Zoo cited visitor and animal safety as the primary reason for this change, particularly when it gets dark on shorter fall and winter days. Not having the public on the grounds will also allow Zoo staff and vendors "to move freely around the park during early morning hours."

What's unclear, however, is the degree to which new safety measures are actually needed.

The Zoo is great in the early morning and late afternoon

Congress chartered the Zoo for "the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people," and some of its wonderful sights and sounds only happen outside during early morning hours. Visitors can watch the Zoo staff introduce new orangutans to the overhead "O Line" when there aren't many people around, or hear sea lions bark or lions roar.

Nearby resident and Zoo member, Sheila Harrington, describes the value for her family of accessing the grounds prior to the Zoo's planned 8 am opening.

I've been walking in the Zoo early in the morning, before starting work, often 2-3 times a week (unless it's freezing or pouring), for decades. My husband used to visit the gibbons with each of our babies in a Snugli, and bonded with the mother gibbons similarly burdened. When the children were in strollers they rode along on my walks—up and down those hills pushing a stroller is a great workout. It's quiet, mostly without vehicles, and the animals are lively and fascinating. Sometimes I stop to sketch. The Zoo staff are usually working on some interesting tasks. Opening at 8 am would be too late because I need to get to work!

The Zoo is a useful travel route across Rock Creek

The paths and roads that the Zoo maintains also fulfill transportation needs, intended or not. The Zoo's 163 acres are directly adjacent to Rock Creek Park, an area with somewhat limited routes through the parkland.

When the Zoo closes its grounds in the evening, there are two big negative impacts to transportation. First, four Zoo entrance gates close across walking paths and roads that normally allow direct east-west (or west-east) routes into and through the Zoo for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers (yellow marks on the map below). Second, two gates close at the two ends of the north-south Rock Creek Trail within Zoo boundaries (green marks).


The yellow dots are entrances to east-west paths that cut through the Zoo, and the green dots are entrances to those that run north-south. Base image from Google Maps, with labels from the author.

Whether the four Zoo entrance gates are open affects anyone who wants to travel across the Zoo and Rock Creek at this point. Pedestrians can walk just 0.8 miles to get from the Harvard Street NW bridge through the Zoo to Connecticut Avenue NW. But the walk doubles to 1.5-1.6 miles when the Zoo is closed when they have to walk around to Porter Street NW or Calvert Street NW. The distance similarly doubles for cyclists and drivers when they have to use Calvert or Porter instead of North Road.

When the two trail gates close, pedestrians and cyclists instead need to traverse the Beach Drive tunnel on a narrow sidewalk. (This area will be widened in late 2016 and early 2017 by planned NPS construction.) DDOT, NPS and the Zoo explored closing Rock Creek Trail at night during the Rock Creek Park Multi-Use Trail Environmental Assessment. Trail users want to see it open 24/7, but Zoo insists this is infeasible "in order to maintain ... accreditation by the American Zoological and Aquarium Association (AZA)."


The November Project DC, a "just show up" fitness group, did its Friday
6:30 am exercises on the Zoo grounds. Photo by tusabeslo on Flickr.

Safety issues? What safety issues?

Zoo users are both surprised and disappointed by the change to fewer open hours. They're also still unsure of what, exactly, the safety issue is because the Zoo did not release the crime or safety data used to support its decision or identify any potential alternatives.

Media coverage on crime at or near the National Zoo has focused on incidents that occurred on three separate Easter Monday events at the Zoo. A shooting in 2000, stabbing in 2011 and shooting in 2014 all occurred in late afternoon between 4 and 6 pm. These events were unfortunate, but they were isolated, and they happened in late April when even the new Zoo hours would mean it'd be open until 7.

Zoo management has historically been great about keeping up a dialog with members, visitors and nearby neighborhoods on an array of issues. But the Zoo hasn't shared any details with the public regarding this decision. Even the announcement only went to members by email and on the public website, not appearing on any of the Zoo's active social media accounts.

Warren Gorlick, a nearby resident, said he wants to know the exact safety concerns that warrant the hours changes.

There is not much we know, however, because the [letter] ... was carefully worded to provide almost no details as to the underlying rationale. It simply mentioned "safety" issues repeatedly, without stating what they were or whether the zoo had considered methods other than restricting public access to the zoo. We have to wonder what is causing this sudden concern about "safety" right now that would result in such a major cutback in public access to this space.
Can Zoo users prompt a change of course?

Zoo users want to understand whether closing the Zoo is the best solution to keep visitors, staff and animals safe, but the Zoo's email is correct in saying the change will "frustrate" some patrons. The closure of Zoo grounds three hours a day represents a significant change in public access to the animals and walking trails. The plan to add one hour of animal house access during hours when the grounds were open anyway doesn't outweigh the overall reduction to grounds access.

What remains to be seen is whether the Zoo will share details behind the safety concerns. There may be other options through sponsorships to support hiring more security staff, partnerships with other law enforcement agencies or even establishing community watch groups. Without more information, we only see the locked gates in the name of keeping visitors safely on the outside.


Photo by Tim Herrick on Flickr.

The Woodley Park Community Association will host Dennis Kelly, the Zoo's director, at its upcoming meeting for a discussion of the Zoo operating hours changes. The meeting is open to the public and will be held on Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 7:30 pm at Stanford University in the Washington Building (2661 Connecticut Ave NW).

Public Spaces


Ice cream: your doctor may hate it, but your city loves it

Sunday is National Ice Cream Day, which is great for fans of cold desserts. But it's even better for urban places, because ice cream is a great tool for placemaking.


Moorenko's Ice Cream in Silver Spring. All photos by the author unless noted.

One of the best ways to create a busy, active sidewalk or plaza is by putting food there. Especially ice cream (or gelato, frozen custard, frozen yogurt, and so on). Why? People of all ages can enjoy it, and it's generally cheap enough that most people can afford to eat it.

Most importantly, ice cream melts. You have to consume your ice cream soon after buying it, meaning that people tend to linger outside of ice cream shops.

Of course, ice cream doesn't automatically make a place great. But it definitely helps. Here are a few tips from great ice cream stores and great places around the DC area and beyond.


Getting some frozen yogurt at FrozenYo.

Provide outdoor seating.

"Make your own" frozen yogurt places are a dime a dozen these days. But you'll always see people hanging out in front of FrozenYo in Columbia Heights. It's because there are lots of places to sit outside with your frozen yogurt, from tables and chairs to ledges and even a grassy lawn.

Have big windows.

Like any good storefront, ice cream shops benefit from big windows, which break down the barrier between inside and out. People inside still feel a connection to the street, while people on the street can see what's going on inside. And if there's ice cream inside, people are likely to come in.


Paleteria Fernandez in Port Chester, New York. I really want to go here now. Photo by June Marle on Flickr.

Dolcezza Gelato, which has locations in Logan Circle, Bethesda, and elsewhere does an especially great job of this. Their spin-off location in Fairfax's Mosaic District, Mom & Pop, is basically a glass box in a plaza, which makes for great people-watching whether you're inside or out.

Have a walk-up window.

I scooped my way through college working at Gifford's Ice Cream, the now-defunct local chain that began in Silver Spring in 1938. Customers could either come in through the door or at a walk-up window on the sidewalk. As Dan Malouff notes, walk-up windows give people walking by something to look at while putting more "eyes on the street," which deters crime. They're also great for people with dogs or strollers or anything that might be difficult to carry inside.

Keep it local.

Local shops like Gifford's, Dolcezza, or Moorenko's seem to be one of the few places a teenager can still get a summer job, which is a big deal for placemaking. Knowing the kids behind the counter gives their friends, parents, relatives, neighbors, teachers, and so on more reasons to visit, which builds community ties.

These rules work in suburban settings, too.

Creating street life can be challenging in suburban places where most people get around by car. But ice cream stands seem to be the exception.


Goodberry's in North Carolina. (Ask for the Carolina Concrete.

Goodberry's is a chain of frozen custard stands in Raleigh (and in Canberra, Australia) whose locations consist of walk-up windows in big parking lots. But there's also a little plaza closer to the street with some picnic tables. Even from a car, you can see the activity happening here, which draws people in.

Closer to home, Jimmie Cone in Damascus has a similar setup. As a result, fans call it "the closest you could get to having a local pub setting" in an otherwise dry town.

Together, these things can help to make a great place where people want to gather and have a good time. Ice cream isn't a necessity, but to mix food metaphors, you might call it the cherry on top. What's your favorite ice cream and placemaking experience?

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