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Public Spaces


Are public spaces really public when not everybody can use them?

All around DC there are structures designed for the public that aren't actually very pleasant or easy to use, like dog ears on ledges, third armrests through the middle of public benches, and ridges in common seating areas. These things are there for a reason, but do they actually limit people's ability to live in the environment around them?


All photos by the author.

In July, well-known radio producer Roman Mars invited authors Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic onto his podcast, 99% invisible. Savicic and Savic co-edited a book called Unpleasant Design, which looks at the idea that while some things are built with a purpose that might seem reasonable-- for example, third armrests on benches that keep people from sleeping on them and therefore giving more people space to sit-- accomplish a greater effect of shaping city environments and how citizens interact with them without those citizens' consent.

There are examples in cities across the world. For example, in Europe, some store owners deter teens from loitering out front by playing classical music or high-frequency sounds, or using pink lighting to make pimples on their face stand out (particularly cruel!).

Should our cities ban skateboarding? Should they ban homelessness?

In most instances, skateboarding is legal unless posted otherwise. But like many other cities, DC has incorporated "dog ears" to deter skaters from using public spaces. This is de facto prohibition, and even though it's subtle, it sends a clear message that skating is not particularly welcome.

Many people would argue that skateboarding is one of this country's longstanding forms of expressionit makes space more inviting, and it gives people a reason to come and sit and look. If you value skateboarding as a way of breathing life into a city, public design that bars people from doing it is problematic.


As you can see, this ledge restricts skating.

Beyond skateboarding, there are also designs that stop people from doing more basic, fundamental things. In fact, while DC is known for its expansive "public" spaces like the National Mall, Smithsonian Museums, and numerous parks and squares, some people might tell you that these places really aren't very public at all.

DC has a homeless crisis, with the homeless population having risen 30 percent in the last year. And while Mayor Muriel Bowser has stated that combating homelessness will be a staple of her tenure, those who are left out have to exist somewhere. More likely than not, the aforementioned public spaces make the most sense.

But check out these public benches and how they keep people—homeless or not&mdashl from comfortably and freely using them:


The two armrests on the end of the bench would only allow a very short person to lie down, but the third armrest through the middle makes it impossible for most.


The ridges on this one aren't conducive to lying down and it is curved.

Unpleasant design negates usable public space, which is the hallmark of a thriving city

To be fair, unpleasant design, as a whole, is well intentioned. The risk in any public space is that a few people acting out can make the space unusable to everybody.

When it comes to the dog ears on ledges, skateboarding can damage property and possibly put people in harm's way, and lying down uses up more park bench space so fewer people can sit. In those ways, unpleasant design can make public space more inviting.

But where is the line? Who decides what should be forbidden and what shouldn't? Why not tell someone that if they want to eat lunch, they need to go to a restaurant rather than sit and eat in the park? Or that if they want to read, they need to go to a library rather than sit and do it on a public bench?

Skateboarding is an art form and organic culture in its own right, and limiting skateboarders use of public space is counterintuitive to why public space exists—to bring people together and allow cultures to thrive.

And regarding the homeless, it is entirely unfair to restrict access to an individual who literally has nowhere else to go. It is especially unfair when design restricts access to the very harmless activity of lying down.

So at what point does restricting human activity take the "public" out of public space? I'd say that it's when something gets built into the environment; at that point, it becomes non-negotiable. Laws can restrict activities, but you can protest and repeal those.

We should be mindful of what we build, what effect it has, and on whom If you restrict people's ability to use public space too much, then nobody goes there at all. I would argue that if space is truly public, then people on skateboards or people without homes are as entitled to use it as anyone else.

Public Spaces


Student protests in Montgomery County show why public space matters

Suburban communities designed for cars don't always have obvious places for people to gather and assemble. So when students at several Montgomery County high schools and Montgomery College walked out of class in protest this week, they headed onto highways and into shopping malls—and their community supported them.

Suburban protesters make space to assemble where they can

Over five days last week, students in Montgomery County, Prince George's County, and the District protested the election of Donald Trump and his hateful rhetoric towards minorities and immigrants. In DC, student protesters marched downtown on Pennsylvania Avenue, a street lined with major buildings of both local and national significance. But as a large, mostly-suburban county, Montgomery County doesn't have an obvious "main street" or downtown for public assembly.

When people have a message or a cause, whether it's a religious meeting, a sports club, a writing workshop, or a huge protest, they need a place to gather. In Montgomery County, student protesters gravitated to whatever large, visible spaces they could find. That mostly meant big suburban highways not designed for lots of pedestrians; being there often put protesters on foot at odds with angry drivers.

In Germantown, students at Seneca Valley and Northwest high schools kept to the sidewalks of Great Seneca Highway, a 50-mile-an-hour road. In East County, students at Blake High School (where I went) marched down one lane of Norwood Road, a rural road with no sidewalks at all.


Blake High School students protest on Norwood Road. Photo from NBC4.

Some protests took place at malls and in town centers, which were built and conceived as places for shopping and entertainment, and maybe some public events like concerts and festivals. Though many of them are privately owned and the right to free speech there is murky, their prominence makes them good places to have political actions.

Student protesters at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville marched on Maryland Avenue through Rockville Town Square, a lifestyle center built in 2007. The town square is officially a public space, but it uses private security who haven't always respected First Amendment rights.

In downtown Silver Spring, protesters at Blair, Einstein, and Northwood High schools marched through Ellsworth Drive, a public street that the county leases to a private company who manages it. Ten years ago, photographer Chip Py was nearly arrested for taking a picture, and the protests that followed resulted in the county defending the right to free speech there.


Students protesting outside the old Montgomery County courthouse. Photo by Dan Hoffman.

Community leaders made the space for protests to happen

What made these student protests successful is that the "mental space" existed for them; community leaders trusted and supported students. School officials allowed the students to leave campus largely unsupervised (though MCPS superintendent Jack Smith says they won't be given excused absences) and county police provided escorts and blocked off roads. Other adults lent a hand to guide the protesters without dictating to them.

During the first protest on Monday, protesters at Montgomery Blair, Northwood, and Einstein high schools walked out of class and headed down University Boulevard, a state highway. Community organizer and MCPS parent Jeffrey Thames joined the group, estimated at a thousand protesters.

Montgomery County police blocked the road, allegedly worried for the students' safety after a driver flashed a gun at protesters and drove through the crowd. He asked the students where they wanted to go, and one of the leaders said, "Take us to Wheaton Plaza."


Student protesters in downtown Silver Spring. Photo by the author.

With a police escort, he led them to the mall, where students peacefully gathered on a parking garage, waving signs and yelling chants. Owner Westfield allowed the demonstration to proceed, and the police blocked Georgia Avenue to allow the protesters to march to Silver Spring. Some students wanted to go onto the Capital Beltway and block traffic, as protesters have done in several other cities, but Thames coaxed them away.

Instead, he led the marchers to Veterans Plaza in Silver Spring, a fully public space. It and the adjacent Silver Spring Civic Building is where county residents go to vote, for public meetings, and to meet with government officials. "That's my comfortable place. That's where we have the freedom to demonstrate," says Thames. "You show up in force, you make the officials making the decisions aware that you are there and you are participating."

What do these protests mean?

The teens who walked out of class this week were making a statement against bigotry and hate and for love and compassion, and with one unfortunate exception the five days of protest were peaceful. The students also made a statement about the importance of public space and free speech in their community, and the adults around them affirmed it.

Over the past few years, Americans across the political spectrum have confronted the social and economic inequality that persists in our country, which have often resulted in civil unrest. Now, more than ever, we need our streets, downtowns, and squares for people to speak out and be heard. In Montgomery County, teens and adults alike are working to make sure those spaces are there.

Public Spaces


Add a piano to make your city square sing

Here's a fun way to add vitality to a public space: Outdoor pianos.

In 2009, Denver started adding public pianos along its busy mile-long downtown pedestrian mall. The pianos have become a popular and noticeable part of that city's public realm. 5 years later, they're still there, and people are still playing them.


Photo by voteprime on flickr.

Even if weather or careless use ruins them after one season, upright pianos aren't particularly expensive. It would be completely practical for DC to buy one or two per year and put them in squares or circles around the central city. Roll them out in spring, and pack them back up around Thanksgiving.

The Mosaic District in Fairfax caught onto this idea a few years ago, and it could totally work great in Farragut Square or along the Georgetown waterfront.

A potentially bigger holdup might be getting the National Park Service to allow it.

We first ran this post in 2014, but since the idea is still great, we wanted to share it again!

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Public Spaces


National links: Hockey as a harbinger

What does outlawing street hockey in Canada say about public space? Germany is building super highways for bikes, and Oakland is getting its first Department of Transportation. Check out what's happening around the country (and beyond) in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Dave Kuehn on Flickr.

Game Off!!: Fewer people are playing street hockey in Canada. People playing have received tickets for doing so on neighborhood streets, and some kids say a lot of the hockey they play these days has so much supervision and structure that it's boring. Hockey is one thing, but the bigger issue is that kids feel less welcome in public spaces, like streets, than they used to. (Guardian Cities)

Bike super highways: Germany is building a series of bicycle super highways that will soon connect ten cities and is predicted to take 50,000 drivers off the road. The paths are 13 feet wide and fully separated from car traffic, even at intersections. There's a hope that this kind of infrastructure will usher in alternatives to crowded road and transit systems. (Guardian Cities)

New department in town: Oakland, California doesn't have a Department of Transportation, but it's starting one up this month. The interim director says the new agency will lead the way in answering questions about how to design transportation equitably and inclusively and how to design bike infrastructure without putting drivers on the defensive. (Next City)

Urban growth measures: We often compare cities by their population growth over time. Houston has overtaken Chicago as the third largest city in the US, but that's because counts include suburban growth and annexation, not just central city infill. Analysis by Yonah Freemark shows how central cities have changed since 1960, and that we should consider differences in how cities have grown when we talk about transportation policy. (Transport Politic)

A dense definition: The word "density" makes different people think of different things, and it's pretty unclear what it means relative to cities Are we talking about the density of buildings? People? Another quantifiable statistic? Perhaps the best kind of density is when the result is places where people want to go out and be around one another. (City Metric)

Quote of the week

"These are public streets, and navigation apps take advantage of them. Waze didn't invent cut-through traffic, it just propagates it."

Aarian Marshall in Wired Magazine discussing the neighborhood animosity towards the Waze App.

Public Spaces


Four wild ideas for memorials in DC

What if we re-thought how we commemorate important people and events? A federal competition is asking that question, and four finalists will now create memorials that answer it.


All images from NPS/NCPC.

The jurors for Memorials of the Future picked design teams whose proposals center on topical subjects: national parks, climate change, immigration, and personal subjects. Each of the designs envisions using space outside of the National Mall, and three put digital, interactive technology at the forefront. Two don't create new public places at all, but rather add to existing ones.

Each of the four finalists will get $15,000 to bring their concepts to life over the next three weeks, and they'll meet a few times along the way to get feedback from the competition's sponsors (the National Park Service, National Capital Planning Commission, and the Van Alen Institute). Then, in September, a jury will pick a winner.

What's most intriguing about this competition, though, isn't the question of whose design will be "the best"—at the end of the day, there aren't plans to actually build any of the memorials. It's all about the thoughts the designers are provoking.

These designs are saying something new about the concept of memorialization. They all push back on the 20th-century idea that you need a large, permanent commemorative site that tells a single side of an event. Even if nothing as radical as these ideas is realized, this kind of research is a great way of challenging conventional wisdom without much pressure.

Here are the finalists:


American Wild

American Wild: A Memorial

Washington, DC is a much bigger destination than any of our country's individual national parks. This project proposes bringing the sights and sounds from these parks into the capital.

The designers are Shelby Doyle, Justine Holzman, Forbes Lipschitz, Halina Steiner, and their ambition is to project a a monument onto Metro stations. Short of that, they'd build small theater pods across the city.

While regular WhichWMATA players will note the image shows the U Street station, the team proposes installing the first display at Anacostia.


Climate Chronograph

Climate Chronograph

Because climate change is a slow and invisible process, its impact is hard to visualize. Erik Jensen and Rebecca Sunter's entry tries to bring it to light with a grove of cherry trees standing on ground sloping into the river at Hains Point. As sea levels rise, the brackish water would submerge more and more of the trees, killing them.

The project includes a platform to observe the site. The designers hope it becomes a stark visualization for people as they return to DC multiple times over their lives and see fewer living trees.


THE IM(MIGRANT)'s primary site is Randle Circle.

THE IM(MIGRANT)

This design by Sahar Coston-Hardy, Janelle L. Johnson, Michelle Lin-Luse, and Radhika Mohan takes place along Minnesota Avenue, playing on the theme of moving (along a road, in this case). The team proposes scattering exhibits and audio presentations in existing infrastructure from the 11th Street Bridge Park to Randle Circle.

The exhibits would tell varying stories of migration, inside the United States as well as internationally. Randle Circle, now just a traffic island, would become a plaza for performances, rallies, and day-to-day use.


VOICEOVER

VOICEOVER

This project by Troy Hillman, Amy Catania Kulper, Anca Trandafirescu, and Yurong Wu records oral histories from local residents. Autonomous parrot-shaped drones would then visit parks, perch, and replay the stories. Hearing about how people relate to a place or event, the creators say, will enrich visitors' experiences.

I think five years ago, this would have seemed completely absurd. But drones have becoming increasingly autonomous as they become more common.

Plus, in contrast to some of the other smartphone apps where the user is in full control of understanding the content, the experience here would be far more public; users wouldn't be able to shut off parts of stories, be they uncomfortable or heartwarming.

Each of these are interesting provocations, even if I'm not sure I'd personally want them to come to fruition. But with people still clamoring for space in the city, hopefully some sponsors will pick out one or two ideas to put into their memorials.

Public Spaces


If you want more trails in Prince George's, you'll like this plan

Prince George's has a ton of trails, but they're not all well-connected to each other. The county's Department of Parks and Recreation recently released a draft of a plan for fixing that, as well as building hundreds of miles of new trails. It's looking for public input to make the plan as strong as possible.


Image Prince George's County's draft Trails Master Plan.

There are currently over 300 miles of trails in Prince George's. Many are loop or recreational trails, such as the Watkins Regional Park loop trail, and are located within M-NCPPC property. They provide excellent hiking, equestrian, and mountain biking opportunities. Other trails, such as the Anacostia Tributary trail system or the Henson Creek Trail are great trails that connect parks and neighborhoods.

But while Prince George's has excellent individual facilities, it's not all that easy to get from one county trail to another, which makes it challenging for people to get to various destinations on foot or bike.

That's where the Trails Master Plan, created by Prince George's Department of Parks and Recreation, comes in. The county will use the plan to create a trail network that "provides all residents and visitors with access to nature, recreation, and daily destinations; enriching the economy, promoting sustainability; and increasing opportunities for health." This plan will contribute to achieving Formula 2040, the county's general plan for completing 400 miles of new trails over the coming decades ("nine miles of trail per year over the next 30 years").

There's more than one type of trail

One of the plan's key roles is to make recommendations for which type of trail should go in which locations, depending on the type of use it will get.

Primary trails will form a nearly nearly-contiguous network of paths for walking and biking that not only connect M-NCPPC parks, but also link various activity centers identified in Prince George's Plan 2035 General Plan. There are currently 65.6 miles of primary trails in Prince George's, and the plan aims to get the number up to 293.


A primary trail. Image Prince George's County's draft Trails Master Plan.

Also part of the plan are secondary trails, which will include mostly paved paths that are designed to connect neighborhoods and other parts of the built environment with the primary network. These will be for shorter trips, and may not be used as heavily as the primary trails. Prince George's currently has 110.5 miles of secondary trails, and the plan calls for 399.

The third major trail type in the plan is the recreational trail, which is designed to meet fitness, nature-access, and recreational needs. Recreational trails are often made of soft surfaces, and are primarily for mountain biking, hiking, and equestrian trips. The plan recommends an additional 102 miles of recreational trails to expand on the existing 153.


Image Prince George's County's draft Trails Master Plan.

Where trails are going

Here are some of the plan's key recommendations:

  • A primary trail along Central Avenue, which would create a connection between DC's Marvin Gaye Trail and the Largo Town Center Metro

The Marvin Gaye Trail. Image from Google Maps.
  • An extension of the WB&A Trail along MD-704

The WB&A Trail. Image from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy/TrailLink.
  • A secondary trail connecting the Woodrow Wilson Bridge with Oxon Hill Farm National Park
  • A recreational trail linking Rosaryville State Park with Jug Bay
The plan also makes recommendations for how the Department of Parks and Recreation can best manage and maintain the county's growing network of trails. Although maintenance and operations may not be as exciting as building new facilities, keeping trails clean, safe, and comfortable are critical to keeping trail users happy.

Specifically, the plan suggests setting aside money specifically for trails so it can take care of needs like resurfacing, repairing bridges, and small construction projects. The plan also recommends a monitoring program to keep tabs on trail conditions so routine maintenance and furniture inspection is sure to get done.

What do you want in Prince George's trails plan?

The Department of Parks and Recreation is hosting a public meeting today, June 7, to share its draft and solicit comments and suggestions from Prince George's residents and other trail users. It's at 8pm at the Department of Parks and Recreation Auditorium, 6600 Kenilworth Avenue, Riverdale, MD 20737.

Also, the public comment window for the draft plan is open until June 23rd. You can view the draft plan and leave feedback here.

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.

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