Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Local parks planning, the USDA's National Arboretum, and the Friends of the National Arbortetum

The National Arboretum in DC is located on the edge of the city, on the Anacostia River.  It's a bit hard to get to without a car, with an entrance off Bladensburg Road NW, not far from New York Avenue not quite one mile from the DC-Maryland border.

It's about 2/3 of a square mile and according to Tom Costello, director of the Friends of the National Arboretum, it's 2% of the city's land mass (part of the third of the city that is federal or campus lands) but provides 7% of the city's carbon capture and is an important "lung" for the city.

Image from FONA.

While the Arboretum functions as a park, with 500,000 visitors annually, the reality is that its primary function is as a research facility, part of the network of research facilities run by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.  Many plants and trees that we take for granted have been developed at this facility, which also studies plant diseases.

According to the unit's Strategic Plan, 2013-2017, the National Arboretum is one of the top 10 most visited public gardens in the US, but this reality is somewhat out of sorts with regard to its mission and organizational reporting relationships.

The ARS isn't in the business of funding parks, and as federal budgets have shrunk since the recession and "sequestership," the National Arboretum cut back its hours, closing three days/week.

That is another example of the need for contingency planning as an element of local parks master plans, when a community has parks installations within its borders over which it does not control.  Not to mention that the park has 500,000 visitors and there is potential to leverage this visitorship, using garden tourism principles.

-- Garden tourism (2013)
-- Garden Walk Buffalo (2013)
-- European Garden Festivals  as a model urban planning initiative
-- DC has a big "Garden Festival" opportunity in the Anacostia River

Back to a full schedule.  Recently it was announced that the Arboretum is back to a schedule of being open every day ("US National Arboretum To Re-Open to the Public Seven Days A Week," USDA press release).

But none of the articles mentioned how much this costs.

The move back to a full schedule has come about because of FONA, which through various fundraising efforts, has committed to paying the $100,000/year that the Arboretum needs to stay open to the public.

Think of it, $100,000!  That's not even a rounding error in DC's $10 billion annual budget.  But the lack of $100,000 meant that one of the nation's most visited public gardens has for the past few years, been closed three days each week.

If the city had a public parks master plan and if it would include contingency plans for the possibility of the closure of federal installations, then this situation could have been addressed a few years ago.

FONA and fundraising.  Thursday through Saturday is the organization's annual Garden Fair and Plant Sale.  Sales from the event help to fund the open hours program.  Members get exclusive access to sales today, while public hours are Friday and Saturday.  Six nurseries will be selling plants, a number of nonprofits will be exhibiting, and some food and other vendors round out the event.

And June 9th is the annual fundraiser, decidedly not black tie, the Great Arboretum Cookout also known as "Cookout Under the Stars."  Last year's event had 550 attendees.

Coordinated Garden Tourism as an opportunity for DC.  As I mentioned in the Earth Day entry, there is an opportunity to have a spring street festival in the city focused on green and sustainability issues, along with flower and garden elements.

Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival image from NBC4.

DC already has a major garden tourism event with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which has expanded its activities beyond the traditional cherry blossom walk by the Jefferson Memorial, sponsoring the new Anacostia River Festival, cherry tree plantings throughout the city, etc.

But like the Garden Festival and Garden Walk activities in Buffalo--the organizations are merging this year--the various garden tourism elements in the city, starting with the Cherry Blossom Festival, could be organized into a more purposeful "network" of events and programs throughout the year that are cross- and co-marketed.

-- National Garden Festival in Buffalo, June-August, 2015

Such activity would not only serve visitors, it would build the knowledge base of participating residents and in the long run, contribute positively to the beauty of the city.

I still remember the visual power of these stamps which came out in the late 1960s, associated with the beautification agenda pushed by then First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson.

-- Lady Bird Johnson Beautification Program, PBS
-- How the Highway Beautification Act Became a Law, Federal Highway Administration

Labels: , ,

National Park Week, April 18th-26th

The National Park Service launched National Park Week by offering free entry over the weekend to those parks where a fee is normally charged.

But almost 3/4 of national park sites are free anyway--only 128 of 407 installations charge fees.

While most people think of national parks as the big wilderness parks such as Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, a number of NPS parks and sites are in urban areas.

Yet for the most part, the urban parks are managed the same way as wilderness parks, at least in DC, and this creates issues around "activation."

Rules designed for the operation of a big national park are applied to the various parks of all sizes in DC, making it impossible to "sell food" in a park like Dupont Circle or to have a dog park in an otherwise under-used "neighborhood" park.

For DC, I've argued two things.  First, that local park and recreation master plans should provide guidance on "national parks" in the city to represent citizen interests for those parks which function as local parks regardless of federal (or state or county or other) ownership.  See "Federal shutdown as another example of why local jurisdictions should have more robust contingency and master planning processes."

Second, within DC there should be a typology of NPS and other federal "park" installations in the city, making determinations of what parks are truly "federal' and those parks which could be turned over to the city and managed as local parks.

... then again, the city doesn't want the financial responsibility.

Another example of the general point about local communities having parks plans which provide guidance for county, state, and national lands within their borders is important when financial circumstances change, and states consider closing parks.  Right now, this is an issue in Louisiana, as the state faces a deficit of more than $1 billion ("Louisiana parks will have layoffs, closures due to midyear budget cuts," New Orleans Times-Picayune) and is closing three historic sites as part of budget cuts.


City branding and the Las Vegas sign

Betty Willis, who designed the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign, died at the age of 91.  See "To Betty Willis, Las Vegas was forever 'Fabulous'" from the Las Vegas Sun.

Granted a sign isn't a brand, but that particular sign helped to capture the essence of what Vegas has to offer, presenting the brand and its message in a fun and clear manner... which she did also with other signs for hotel and entertainment properties.

-- Civic Tourism (2005)
-- Town-City branding or 'We are all destination managers now' (2005)
-- "Toronto: The brand," Toronto Star

Labels: ,

Earth Day

1.  Remember that denser cities are actually much more "green" than the suburbs.  See the book Green Metropolis.

2.  There are a bunch of interesting articles out there, including one by Jonathan Franzen in The New Yorker about climate change ("The Other Cost of Climate Change"), how individual action at the micro scale is seemingly meaningless, which makes it hard to engage people in "doing things to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

He mentions two small-scale projects in Peru and Costa Rica, to "save places" by actively engaging local residents in managing those places and reaping sustainable economic value from their activities, which incentivizes taking care of those places rather than abusing them.

Still, I suppose then that it is easier to go to a concert over the weekend than to take specific and meaningful actions at the household or community scale.

3.  WAMU-FM/NPR had a nice story on DC's capturing of hazardous wastes ("D.C.'s Last, Best Stop For Electronic Junk And Household Wastes").

And Marketplace reported on something that I have been meaning to write about, that glass bottle recycling is problematic.

Also, plastics recycling is becoming less viable economically because the drop in oil prices means that the cost of new plastic is much cheaper than it had been.

4.  Problems with glass recycling support the concept of bottle deposit laws.  It's not that there isn't any substantial market for recycled glass, but that people put so much stuff in with glass that isn't recyclable, making the cost of sorting astronomical ("High Costs Put Cracks in Glass Recycling Programs," Wall Street Journal). From the article:
Curt Bucey, an executive vice president at the company, said that when used glass arrived at its plants 20 years ago, it was 98% glass and 2% other castoffs, such as paper labels and bottle caps. These days, some truckloads can include up to 50% garbage, he said.

“Now what comes with the glass are rocks, shredded paper, chicken bones people left in their takeout containers, and hypodermic needles,” Mr. Bucey said. The company has had to invest in expensive machinery to separate the glass from the trash, then has to dispose of the garbage, making recycling a much costlier equation.
By contrast, in those states, like Michigan or California, where there are "bottle deposit" laws, so most glass is recycled through collection points rather than through curbside recycling, there is much less contamination of the bottle waste stream.  (Although it's still expensive to ship glass because of the weight.)

5.  Yesterday there was a conference on toward a zero waste agenda for DC, which I forgot about, caught up in the massive rewrite of my transportation wish list for 2015.  I hope that it was recorded.

6.  And DC also released the 2015 Sustainable DC Progress Report.  A couple of weeks ago the City of Los Angeles released it's first sustainability plan.  But I learned at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference in February, that Santa Monica was one of the first cities to adopt a sustainability type plan, in the mid-1990s.
7.  On Sunday, the City of Takoma Park--sponsored by Main Street Takoma and the Takoma Park Food Co-op, had a very good small "Earth Day" Festival, with a mix of for profit vendors, activities for kids, and nonprofit and government agency exhibitors.

I was impressed that one of the exhibitors was Communities for Transit, the advocacy group formed to support Montgomery County's bus rapid transit program.   (Note that there is a disconnect with their logo.  The organization promotes BRT, but the logo is designed around fixed rail transit.)

One of the for profit vendors, Razar Sharp, had a micro-electric lawn mower and an electric-powered chipper-shredder, which I have my eye on.

8.  It's the kind of community outreach and capacity building event that I wish DC would do more often.

The closest DC gets to these kinds of events is a street festival.  Leesburg had their Flower and Garden Festival the weekend of April 18th, but we weren't able to get to it.

So--except for the vagaries of the weather--there is a "hole in the market" for a spring street festival around Earth Day to early May, focusing on green, environment, home and garden type activities.

By co-branding a flower-garden-home festival as a "green" and "Earth Day" type event, I think it could become quite successful.  (I aimed to create a home type event in Brookland when I was the Main Street manager there, but didn't think about the potential for a green-Earth Day tie-in.)

9.  Takoma Park is a semi-finalist participating with 49 other cities in the Georgetown University Energy Prize contest.   They have a variety of neighborhood and citizen engaging programs underway as part of the competition, and as a way to implement sustainability programming.

-- Takoma Park sustainability program

For example, the Takoma Park Library allows people to check out energy use meters, to gather information on their appliances and electronic devices.

One of the programs is modeled in a way after the Certified Wildlife Habitat program of the National Wildlife Foundation.

There are two levels, and participants can get a sign to put in their yard.  It's a Green Home Certification program, which has three levels of certification: light; medium; and dark green; and two categories, for multifamily and single family housing.

I like how Takoma Park uses their city logo as the design foundation for logo designs for initiatives and agencies.  It brings a consistency and reiteration to their communication efforts that other communities often lack.

Serious behavior changes, financial outlays, and outreach to neighbors have to be made in order to get the highest level of certification.

DC does have the RiverSmart Homes program, but this Green Home certification program in Takoma Park is even more impressive.

10  I wish that the US would adopt some best practice promotion practices of the European Union.

One relevant to Earth Day is the "European Green Capital" program, where cities compete for the designation based on their sustainability and environmental practices.

Each year, one city is selected to present a year-long festival of green related actions and activities.   This year the Green Capital is Bristol, England--which is a fascinating city beyond this year's Green Capital event.

11.  Voting day for the UK election is about three weeks away and there is a good chance that Bristol may elect the nation's second Green Party Member of Parliament ("Bristol West: Painting the Town Green," New Statesman).  Candidate Darren Hall ran the application process for the city's candidacy as Green Capital. The city has 6 Green Party Councillors as well.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Historic preservation journal access through April 26th from Maney Publishing

From Maney Publishing:

Over 20,000 articles free to read

All online content, including all 2015 issues, for all of the journals we publish in archaeology, conservation and heritage is free to read and download for two weeks, between 13 - 26 April 2015. No sign up required!

This includes content in 18 different subject areas spanning over 100 years, from 1869–2014.

-- Archaeology, Conservation & Heritage Journals, Maney Publishing


Transportation Wish List, 2015: part two, new ideas

Thanks to Will Handsfield for touching off this thread.

Center City, Metropolitan and Regional Transportation Vision and Planning

This is a new category, separate from items concerning basic city transportation planning at the end of this entry.

1.  It is time to rebuild and re-codify the regional and metropolitan consensus on the delivery of transit.  I have been writing about this since 2009 in great detail.  These two recent entries bring the argument up to date, and in terms of funding issues:

-- WMATA and two types of public relations programs
-- What it will take to get WMATA out of crisis

2016 is the 40th anniversary of the opening of the first leg of the Metrorail system and anniversaries can be good hooks for both looking back and planning for the future.

2. My thinking on metropolitan scale planning and the federally designated "Metropolitan Planning Organization," the Transportation Policy Board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments took a new turn after the original list.

Responsibility for metropolitan transportation planning should be placed within the MPO, rather than within "WMATA", laying out network breadth and depth preferences, and Level of Service (LOS) and Level of Quality (LOQ) standards, with a separate contracting for services.

-- King County, Washington Metro (Bus) Service Guidelines

Because WMATA only plans for subway and regional bus service, there are significant gaps in metropolitan transportation planning.  Plus network breadth and depth and standards of service often are satisficed for budget reasons.

Hamburg Germany offers a better model, where HVV integrates transit service planning and operation across multiple modes (subway, commuter rail, bus, regional rail, ferry) operated by 35 different operators, serving the city-state of Hamburg and a number of the districts in the neighboring states of Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein.

Transport for London and San Francisco's MTA operate similarly, although SFMTA doesn't do any contracting of transit service. TfL contracts out bus service, runs the underground, and coordinates rail planning within the region, even if it doesn't run the service.  The London Overground suburban railroad service has reorganized railroad service comparable to how the Underground runs, which has resulted in significant ridership increases.  Unlike HVV, TfL and SFMTA are responsible for roads and have oversight authority for taxi service.

-- Metropolitan Mass Transit Planning presentation

The MPO as currently configured doesn't have the capacity to pull this off.

3.  Last year, Councilmember Cheh suggested that the city's transportation functions be split across three different agencies, some new, some old.

While it doesn't seem as if that proposal is going anywhere, it's still a bad idea and shouldn't be supported.  It's important enough to mention here.

-- Proposed changes to DC's transportation agency structure as another example of acting without solid planning: Part 1, the problem
-- Proposed changes to DC's transportation agency structure as another example of acting without solid planning: Part 2, what should happen to DDOT
-- How other cities deliver transportation functions (Part 3 of the series, Proposed changes to DC's transportation agency structure as another example of acting without solid planning)

4.  Despite the fact that the city's competitive advantage within the region rests on Metrorail and other transit services, for the most part, the city's elected officials and other stakeholders fail to acknowledge this, even though development around transit is one of the main drivers of the local economy.  The city needs to become a national leader in urban transportation and transit policy and practice in reality, not merely by default.

The recent wacked discourse about the value of streetcar service in the city--and note that streetcar service isn't even one of my top priorities--is an example of a massive intellectual and policy failure.  How can leaders of the city question the value of transit to the city and its current success.

While this entry from 2006 is about development at the Takoma Metrorail station, the opening discussion within the piece is probably my most succinct sum up of the link between transportation, land use and urban success:

-- Comments on Proposed EYA Development at Takoma Metro Station.

Transit First planning policy is a part of San Francisco's City Charter.  Here it waxes and wanes depending on who is mayor.  Since most of the city's mayors and Ward Councilmembers have come from the Outer City (see "DC as a suburban agenda dominated city"), they tend to be automobile-centric, even if they've served on the WMATA Board of Directors.

Funding/Land Use

Increased property taxes and other revenues from development adjacent to transit is one of the returns on investment from investing in transportation infrastructure, so funding and land use policy are linked in this section.

5.  Increase the height limit, primarily downtown, where the demand and best transit connections are located. Use the increased property value-bonding authority to pay for transportation (and certain other) infrastructure expansion in the city -- in addition to the transit withholding tax,

-- DC Height Study Public Meetings This Week and the long term implications for transit expansion in DC

6.  There should be a density bonus for development at transit stations, beyond what is available within the planned unit development process (a 20% boost).  Outside of the core of the city, transit station adjacency isn't being fully realized.

Good examples of reasonable size are at Brookland, Petworth, and Columbia Heights Metrorail stations, while developments at Fort Totten and Rhode Island Metrorail stations are good examples of leaving density opportunity off the table.

7.  I don't think it's worth pursuing a congestion charge, independent of participation by the surrounding jurisdictions.  Otherwise, other jurisdictions will recruit DC-based businesses and organizations, using a congestion charge as a club.

But the Virginia Secretary of Transportation is proposing tolls for I-66, so maybe this could be in our future.

-- "On I-66 Inside The Beltway, Tolls First, More Lanes Later," WAMU-FM/NPR

Fixed Rail Transit (Was: Subway, Streetcar, and Railroad Expansion)

If ferries/water taxis were a significant element of the region's transportation system, the section would be titled Fixed Rail Transit and Ferries.

8.  Since the discussion about the separated blue line in the 2008 entry, in the WMATA Momentum plan, they have introduced a hybrid additional line that combines part of a separated blue line with part of a separated yellow line (pictured at right).

I favor the previous separated blue line proposal and not the Momentum plan proposal. 

However, maybe besides connecting to the blue line around Oklahoma Avenue NE ("Bring back the Oklahoma Avenue Metro Station: infill transit"), have another leg that goes up Bladensburg Road to Fort Lincoln and maybe beyond (if Prince George's County wants to pay for it).

9. I wrote about tunnelizing the Metropolitan Branch. It's not realistic so it should be dropped.  However, if the area had the kind of density of New York, London, or Paris, it would be worth pursuing, as a way to double railroad and subway capacity on a goodly portion of the red line subway as well as the MARC Brunswick line.

10. Add a separated yellow line with two legs, one goes up Georgia Ave., another could split from Fort Totten going out New Hampshire way into Montgomery County, at least to White Oak. The latter would be more for MoCo, so they should pay for it.

But both would interdict commuter traffic, which should be one of the primary planning principles of DC's transportation system, to improve neighborhoods by reducing the negative impact through traffic on streets that serve as both neighborhood and regional arterials.

11. I didn't discuss the Purple Line light rail program in the original list, which is mostly suburban-supportive, but still will provide benefit city residents by providing inter-links between various legs of the subway system.

Purple Line Map  DC MetroHowever, the original concept for the Purple Line is as a circumferential line, and the current Purple Line project will provide routing only between Bethesda and New Carrollton.

Planning for extensions west from Bethesda to Tysons, and west from New Carrollton to Alexandria need to go into the planning phase now.

I do think that the implementation of the Purple Line could be accompanied by an unprecedented economic development, urban design, and equitable development initiative, were they to take the initiative on ideas I've discussed here, which call for the creation of a TIF funded bi-county development authority for the Purple Line transit shed:

-- Quick follow up to the Purple Line piece about creating a Transportation Renewal District and selling bonds to fund equitable development
-- Purple line planning in suburban Maryland as an opportunity

12.  WRT creating an integrated passenger railroad service for the region, I stand by the RACER concept, but think that Union Station could play an outsize role in facilitating merger of the local services.

-- Dual powered diesel electric locomotive and implications for long range regional railroad planning in DC, Maryland, and Virginia

13.  Since the original list, MARC has added weekend service to the Penn Line, which is a bonus, and more recently, added bicycle accommodation to the weekend service.

MARC should offer reverse commuting service on the Brunswick Line from DC to Germantown, and maybe to Frederick.  Apparently this was offered in the 1990s, but ceased after a train crash that was the fault of an inadequate signaling system.

Note that separately, VRE is expanding also, with an extension to Spotsylvania and a proposed branch line to Haymarket.  However, VRE doesn't offer much in the way of reverse commuting services and no weekend service.  This should be explored.

-- "VRE kicks off major expansion plan with new Spotsylvania station," Washington Post
-- "VRE proposes fare hikes, outlines long, long-term expansion," WTOP Radio

14.  The discussion on transit networks and subnetworks at the metropolitan, suburban, and center city scales should include focused discussion on "intra-district" vs. "inter-city" transit.

-- Making the case for intra-city (vs. inter-city) transit planning
-- STREETCARS ARE ABOUT TRANSIT, just in a different way from how people are used to thinking about it
-- The argument that streetcars are "imperfect transit" but "good enough" is flawed

which is particularly relevant to the current discussion on streetcars, including Arlington's cancellation of their streetcar plans.

Visitor transportation services 

This is a new category, and combines some transit expansion with visitor services.

Savannah: One of the Top 10 Walking Cities billboardNote that the Passaic County, NJ Transportation Plan raises the idea of treating historic transportation corridors as opportunities for historic interpretation and cultural tourism, and they have further developed the  concept as part of the county's Heritage Tourism Plan.

Relatedly, Savannah promotes its walking city urban design elements as a part of the city's tourism program.

The Federal Elements of the Comprehensive Plan have an element on Visitors, but while for many years I've suggested creating a tourism element in the local plan the city has not done so.

15.  In response to the National Coalition to Save Our Mall's proposal for a big parking garage for visitors under the National Mall, and comments I had submitted on the Visitor Element of the Federal Elements of the Comprehensive Plan, I wrote a piece on creating an integrated visitor transit and parking system centered around the National Mall, complemented by visitor centers at a new Jefferson Memorial Yellow Line station and Union Station.

-- A National Mall-focused heritage (replica) streetcar service to serve visitors is a way bigger idea than a parking garage under the Mall

16.  I have ideas on how Union Station could be a 21st century transportation and visitor center, beyond what "Amtrak" is thinking. (Amtrak, more than Union Station, is driving the master planning process.)  I would include a transportation-urbanism museum (at least an exhibit or two, and exhibit space) and a big visitors center.  New developments in airport terminal development are another source of ideas.

17. I'm fine with the Georgetown BID's proposal for an aerial tram.  It's complementary to streetcars, and tightly integrates Rosslyn's Metrorail station into Georgetown.

An aerial tram station at Key Bridge and M Street could also include a visitor center and community museum.

18.  Water taxi services should be moved to this category, recognizing that such services are more about tourism because the placement of activity centers-primary destinations relative to the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers and limited draft capacity on the Anacostia River east of the 11th Street bridges isn't conducive to adding water taxi or ferry services to the metropolitan area's transit system.

19.  Wayfinding systems need to be upgraded and expanded, including better use of transit stations to deliver wayfinding and visitor information.

20.  The Metropolitan Planning Organization needs to step up and shape better transportation planning and visitor services at the area's airports.

-- Night moves: the need for more night time (and weekend) transit service, especially when the subway is closed
-- More on airport-related transit/transit for visitors
-- More on transportation to the DC area airports

21.  This would be aided by the development of a comprehensive airports plan for the region.  The DC and Baltimore MPOs could work together to create such a plan for the region.  Dulles and National Airports are in the DC MPO while BWI Airport is in the Baltimore MPO.

Public Realm as an Interconnected system, Slide from presentation, Leadership and the Role of Parks and Recreation in the New Economy, David BarthConcept by David Barth.

Streetscapes and transportation infrastructure as an element of civic architecture (new category)

Note that as parklet programs have exploded across the country, DDOT is finalizing regulations to bring a similar program to DC.

22. To the discussion on placemaking, I would reshape the "streets as places" argument around my "Signature Streets" concept, which I need to round out as a full blown concept paper.

It would include discussion on transit and placemaking along the line of past writings, based on the same point, that transportation infrastructure has fundamental civic architecture and amenities qualities that need to be acknowledged and enhanced.

A key point is that transit stations are entrypoints to neighborhoods and districts and that the transit system needs to acknowledge this and plan and manage the function more directly.

HafenCity University subway station, Hamburg. 

Since I wrote the piece on transit and placemaking I've realized that design elements of European underground transit, e.g., the subway stations in Hamburg, or the art nouveau? influenced stations in Moscow and St. Petersburg, etc., are good models too.

My point about planning the bridges over the Anacostia in an integrated fashion could go in here as an example, that hideous "sculpture" on the NY Ave. bridge over the railyard as a counter-example, etc.

-- Anacostia River and considering the bridges as a unit
-- "Author Carves History Out of Sculptures," Washington Post
Gateway Wings, New York Avenue Bridge Gateway, designed by Kent Bloomer Studio
Considering the history of the city in terms of classical architecture and sculpture spearheaded by the City Beautiful Movement, this sculpture on the New York Avenue bridge is an embarrassment.

LA's People Streets and San Francisco's Livable Streets initiatives are good models too.

-- The Case for Parklets: Measuring the Impact on Sidewalk Vitality and Neighborhood Businesses, University City District BID, Philadelphia

23.  Transportation departments have chief (traffic) engineers,  Transportation departments should also have a chief placemaking architect (who could be either an architect or landscape architect, but probably not a civil engineer, although there are some exceptions), with co-equal authority to the chief engineer, in charge of assuring that quality of place elements are engineered into projects rather than value engineered out.

Mill Avenue Bridge at night, Tempe, Arizona. Photo: Studio Laurent.

24. I've been meaning to put out as a proposal, architectural lighting of the Metro canopies in a blog entry since the summer, as an element of neighborhood branding and placemaking.  But this concept can be extended to other forms of transportation infrastructure.
Corktown freeway underpass pylon murals, TorontoCorktown freeway underpass pylon murals, Toronto.  Toronto Star photo.

Roads, streets, parking

25.  This is partly a transportation infrastructure and quality of life point, but I do think we should interdict surface commuting traffic by constructing tunnels for certain arterials.  I wrote about this a few years ago, using an example of a tunnel project in Haifa that is tolled, but was done in order to address a major traffic problem posed by a mountain--the tunnels save drivers from 24 to 44 minutes over the previous situation.  Another way to think of it would be an RER--the suburban commuter railroad system for Paris that is underground--for roads.

These roads can have significant negative impacts on the abutting neighborhoods. Besides the proposal in the New York Avenue transportation study which proposed undergrounding the through traffic elements of that street, I'd do the same thing for North Capitol/Blair Road, and maybe 16th Street.  Such tunnels should be tolled.

-- Tunnelized road projects for DC and the Carmel Tunnel, Haifa, Israel example
-- Carmel Tunnel, Haifa

26.  DC should develop a public database for Pavement Condition of the city's streets, comparable to Los Angeles, and use this information to plan roadway improvements systematically.  More money should also be budgeted annually for road improvements.  The system is too ad-hoc now, and only $10 million per year is budgeted for local road improvements not part of "federal highway" agreements.

-- "Grading Los Angeles' streets," Los Angeles Times.  LA's road condition database provides A to F grades for 68,000 different road segments.

27.  Similarly, DC's self-heralded "Green Alleys" program isn't standard practice and isn't a normal part of the capital improvements planning and budgeting process.  The Green Alleys program should be systematized in a manner comparable to a renewed road improvement program.  Melbourne's "Love Your Laneway" program addresses five laneways (alleys) each year.

-- Another example of DC Government's failure to engage in sustainability practice
-- Living Alleys Toolkit, San Francisco
-- An Action Guide to Greening Austin’s Alleys, Austin, Texas
-- Alley Network Project, Pioneer Square Neighborhood, Seattle
-- Love Your Laneway Project, Melbourne, Australia
-- Laneway Project, Toronto

28.  The earlier list didn't discuss disabled parking issues. Industry analyses of disabled parking permit use find about 40% of passes are used illegally.  I propose replacing placards/permits with transponders comparable in function to those used for EZPass,

29.  Some jurisdictions, such as Miami Beach, charge for visitor parking passes in residential areas. Since DC's visitor parking pass system is abused likely at rates comparable to the abuse of handicapped parking permits, DC should move to a paid visitor parking pass system.

Parking signage, Essen, Germany. 

30.  DC should integrate privately owned parking facilities into the parking planning process and implement an integrated parking information signage system in major business districts and activity centers comparable to that in many cities in North America and Europe.

Digital applications aren't enough, as people need multiple information touchpoints.

Biking, walking and traffic safety (new category separated out from Roads, streets, and parking)

31. Vision Zero traffic/safety recommendations should be incorporated into this category.  These recommendations cover most of the gaps concerning pedestrian matters.

-- DC and Vision Zero revisited

32. Because the original list started out focused on transit, it didn't discuss biking very much.  There are many needs, including the creation of an integrated bikeway network at two scales, within jurisdictions, in this case within DC, and at the metropolitan scale as well as planning to achieve bike mode split to 20% of all trips.

But rather than delineate "everything" that needs to be done (and the city is doing a lot and should be commended for it), it's probably time for me to update separately the 2008 piece, Ideas for making bicycling irresistible in Washington DC, which was written after the original wish list.

When I did the pedestrian and biking plan for Western Baltimore County (2009-2010), I came up with six scale typology for planning sustainable transportation infrastructure:

- one mile radii from schools and transit stops
- three mile radii from activity centers
- 3-9 miles along corridors, connecting activity centers (there, they are "town centers")
- between corridors
- intra-jurisdictional trails network
- connections between jurisdictions

Note that Smart Growth America considers the Baltimore County ordinance on biking and walking to be among the strongest in the country.  The ordinance is based on my plan.

Relevant writings on expanding biking as transportation include:

-- Best practice bicycle planning for suburban settings using the action planning method
-- What should a US national bike strategy plan look like?
-- Are developers missing the point on eliminating parking minimums?: it's to promote sustainable transportation modes
-- Best (or at least better) practices bike parking and bicycle facilities
-- Revisiting bicycle (and pedestrian) planning and the 6th 'E': equity

33.  DC should develop better practice for safe routes planning for schools, parks, commercial districts, transit stations and stops, and other civic assets.  In other words, the concepts of "safe routes to schools" need to be extended to neighborhoods and to different times of day, especially night-time.

-- Night-time safety: rethinking lighting in the context of a walking community

Potomac Yard Transitway
The Metroway bus line includes dedicated transitways.  Photo by BeyondDC.

Surface Transit System Improvements

34. The failure to include a recommendation for a transitway network for buses in the city was a big omission on the previous list.  (I haven't yet ridden on the "Metroway" transitway in Arlington.)

It turns out 40 years ago, there was a network of dedicated busways in DC and Virginia, but for the most part these lanes were given over to cars.

-- "We had bus lanes a half century ago and we can again," PlanIt Metro.

Busway map, 1976.  Busways were recommended in the 1950 Comprehensive Plan.

35.   The new bus arrival information boards provided at certain bus shelters aren't very impressive.  A digital screen based information system would be a useful upgrade. (The screens used at Metrorail station kiosks are a good example of what should have been done.)  They are an example of how slow procurement practices within WMATA make true innovation difficult.

Transit Marketing

36.  I stand by the recommendations in the previous wish list, although they were expanded and better codified in two later entries:

-- Making bus service sexy and more equitable (2012)
-- Transit, stations and placemaking (2013)

Other Transportation Planning Issues

37.  DC should integrate taxi planning into DDOT. Taxi planning and oversight, car sharing, ride hailing could be incorporated into one functional area.  Note that the city's comprehensive plan doesn't even mention taxis.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Transportation Wish List: 2015 edition, part one, the original list

In 2007 and 2008 I produced long "transit/transportation/mobility" wish lists, focused on DC. Someone who happened onto the 2008 list, commented that it's still pretty good, and wondered if I had other ideas.

Here is the 2008 list, edited somewhat, with new items in a follow on entry.


1. Creation of a transit withholding tax assessed on DC-based workers (70% of DC based workers do not live in the city). Depending on the rate, this could generate up to $250 million annually. Such a tax is assessed in certain counties in Oregon to support transit there. It would have to be used solely for transportation system improvements, and yes, that includes roads, but in the interim would likely be focused on transit improvements.

2. Dedicated funding stream for WMATA/transit. Note that this proposal for a transit withholding tax is separate from the Tom Davis initiative to match a $1.5 billion federal contribution to the WMATA system, in return for each of the jurisdictions creating a dedicated funding stream. A dedicated funding stream would merely protect the funding stream for current operations. The idea of a withholding tax is to fund system expansion and significant improvement.

3. Increase the gasoline excise tax at the national level, as well as at the state level in DC, MD, and VA. Regionally, excise taxes have to be increased together, otherwise on the borders, people will cherrypick and buy gas at the place with the lowest prices. Use these funds to support transportation improvements to streets and transit.

Subway, Streetcar, and Railroad Expansion

Transit expansion in the Washington region. Conceptual map produced by David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington. Recognize that heavy rail is expensive. It can pay off when it helps intensify development and density in significant ways, and adds amenities to neighborhoods. DC's core has revitalized in large part because of the presence of transit. By adding more high capacity service at the core, DC will strengthen its competitive advantages vis-a-vis the suburbs in terms of efficient mobility that is not dependent on the automobile.

4. Commitment to the creation of the separated blue line subway, now colored Silver, in the center core of DC should be the number one priority for the use of this money including adding another NoVA tunnel crossing (which Virginia should help pay for).

5. Develop the Brown line as suggested originally by Michael S. Although, this line has changed quite a bit from Michael's original proposal. Instead of putting the line on the already congested red line, we suggest an alternate routing down North Capitol Street, which can provide service to the city's number one destination without high capacity transit, the Washington Hospital Center, as well as to the Armed Forces Retirement Home, which is going to develop a portion of their campus, and other locations.

6. As can be seen from the map, additional infill stations and extensions are included such as those suggested by Alexandria for Potomac Yards (see "Alexandria officials tie development to new stations" from the Examiner) and a Yellow Line station for the Jefferson Memorial. It also adds service on the blue line to Fort Belvoir, and includes an extension of the green line out to BWI Airport and beyond.

7. In building these lines, consider double tunneling or adding a third track so that there can be express service and greater capacity than on the lines currently. (I don't understand why the WMATA system can't run trains as frequently as NYC subways can.)

8. Add those walkway connections between Farragut North and Farragut West, and between Metro Center and Gallery Place (and elsewhere as appropriate with the extended system). David's map shows these.

9. Create a single railroad system for DC-MD-VA. Rather than having two separate systems oriented to commuters, although Maryland is in the process of transforming the MARC system to a 7 day system, with more service later in the evening, the region would be best served by one system that is vastly expanded. (Think of the equivalent of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey but for the railroad system.) And connect MARC to SEPTA.  I suggest calling this system the RACER, standing for the Railroad Authority of the Chesapeake Region
Proposed map of a Washington-Baltimore regional rail system
BeyondDCs conceptual railroad map for one regional railroad system for DC, Maryland and Virginia, including service to parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

10. Yep, build out the streetcar network.

11. Emphasize the cultural heritage tourism aspects of streetcars. For example, the Market Street Railway in San Francisco runs streetcars from many systems around the world. Similarly, heritage streetcars (and/or replicas) can be integrated into the system to provide service at the sub-district level, such as in the H Street commercial district.

12. Tunnelize the Metropolitan Branch railroad line. This is a stretch. It would cost billions and would involve creating tunnels for both the railroad and the subway. But it would allow for adding capacity to that line, which is quickly moving to capacity, and given that the subway line is bracketed by CSX railroad tracks, it can't expand except by having double stacked trains, which we can't do because of the way the tunnels and bridges exist.... (Note that a railroad, maybe CSX, maybe Norfolk Southern, is making their line from Chicago to Richmond capable of carry double stacked containers the whole route. This means adjusting tunnels and bridges...)

Note that this isn't a priority for me, but I think it should be listed nonetheless. It should have been done in the late 1960s when the subway system was built. Now it's too expensive and it wouldn't really create much in the way of new developable land, which would have been able to help fund the change.

13. Water taxi service. David of Washcycle suggested adding Water taxi services between Georgetown and National Harbor, Alexandria, etc. I don't know about that. First, water taxis are different than ferries. I don't know if the distance between say Georgetown and National Harbor or Alexandria is short enough for water taxi service to make sense, and is there enough demand for year-round service? Would there be enough regular riders?  But it should still be explored. Shorter routes, say between National Airport and DC, along the Anacostia, between the Baseball Stadium and the other side of the river, might make sense.

Roads, streets, streetscape, parking

14. Streets as places. This is a major new initiative by the Project for Public Spaces, making streets for people as much as cars, the way it used to be (Streets as Places). Bill Schultheiss, an ANC6A Commissioner and a transportation engineer, has a presentation on "traffic calming" which really is more about "streets as places," although he doesn't term it as such. We need to get him out showing this presentation around the city.

15. Use pavement materials more selectively to manage driving speeds. Cars are engineered to go very fast. Roads are engineered to accommodate cars. Even though the posted speed on DC's major streets--the streets downtown and those through commercial districts and neighborhoods--is 25 mph, the actual pavement installed, concrete or asphalt, enables speeds of 50 mph to 100 mph, regardless of the surrounding context. Too often, people drive to the speed that streets and cars are capable, not to the speed that is appropriate for the context.

Change the road construction materials to match the desired speed conditions, particularly in neighborhoods. It would be the best traffic calming device there is. (I don't know if this can be done on roads that receive federal funding.)

Belgian block!
Belgian block, Monument Avenue, Richmond
Belgian block on Monument Avenue, Richmond

16. Intra-city HOV requirements.   Alexandria has HOV-2 requirements on Washington Blvd. and Rte. 1 during rush hours.  This should be done within DC on certain roads during rush hour periods as well, to reduce the number of single occupancy vehicle trips. Streets such as Rhode Island Avenue, New York Avenue, Constitution Avenue, Independence Avenue, etc., come to mind. (This idea was first proposed by Patrick Hare in an op-ed in the Washington Post in the early 1990s. Change takes a long time. And needs champions.)
HOV 2 Lane in Alexandria
Washington Boulevard, Alexandria.

17. DC is already rolling out new bus shelters and a bike rental system. Keep up the momentum, including more streetscape improvement projects, the creation of bicycle trails including the Metropolitan Branch Trail, etc. But do better signage. Include bike map trail signs and put up bicycle maps in Metro stations and in bus shelters.

18. Take on the parking mafia. Do a parking study of the entire city, comparable to what Seattle did, and change requirements accordingly, including a paradigm of shared parking systems in commercial districts. As a result, Seattle eliminated parking requirements in certain areas, including around transit stations, stating:

Lower parking requirements based on local demand and to support alternative transportation. In Urban Centers and high capacity transit station areas, allow the market rather than the code to determine appropriate parking supply.

19. Speaking of parking and curbside management, change the residential parking permit system in DC to one that emphasizes the privilege, rather than the right, to park. 40% of the people in DC do not own cars. Why should the 60% that do be privileged with practically free parking spaces?

a. Residential parking permits should cost a lot more generally. As you probably know, Prof. Shoup estimates that the value of the public space on the street is about $1800 annually.

b. There should be a limit on how many residential parking permits can be issued per household. Only one car can fit in front of a typical rowhouse. Multiple cars per household should be discouraged.

c. The rate for residential parking permits should go up considerably for each additional permit per household address.

d. Parking permit rates should be weighted according to how large a car is, and its carbon footprint (maybe). One of the big problems I'd say anecdotally is that people in the city may only be buying one car, but it is much much larger than it used to be (an SUV). This further reduces available parking inventory for residents.

Surface Transit System Improvements

20. Improve the bus service. I say do this before thinking about streetcars. We need to make bus service exciting and sexy, in order to boost transit use. I recommend better marketing and wayfinding systems, better bus shelters (coming) and waiting stations, and probably sexier buses, which to my way of thinking, would be double deckers, on routes that could accommodate them. Double deckers are 40 feet long, and more maneuverable than 60 foot articulated buses.

21. Create intra-neighborhood transit (bus) services so that people can get to and from local services, commercial districts, schools, libraries, and to and from transit stations without having to drive. This includes delivery services of "freight" such as groceries. In my transportation and land use paper, I call this "tertiary" service (based on the Arlington model of the primary and secondary transit network, see their transportation plan). And it's not like we don't have a form of this now, at least within the city. Most neighborhoods have access to some bus service, although many people may not use it because it is circutuitous or because they feel that the bus service is beneath them.

22. I don't believe that transit needs to be free, but make intra-neighborhood bus service free. Many clamor for such. But cost isn't the biggest barrier to using transit. And places like Portland have the Fareless Square--funded in part by their transit withholding tax. But I think that equity issues make a downtown oriented fareless square somewhat unfair as the biggest beneficiaries would be the people with jobs downtown, who tend to not be those with the greatest need.

23. Dump what I call political bus service. Many of the shuttles suggested have anemic ridership, and are offered in response to plaintive cries from businesspeople, but don't have an adequate justification from a transportation ridership perspective.

24. Improve all "transit waiting environments" in the city. (See the report from Ohio: Transit waiting environments.) DC's bus shelter program is only for bus shelters. It doesn't impact WMATA bus shelters, and it doesn't impact bus stops that don't have bus shelters.

Improving transit marketing

25. Improve marketing. For the most part transit in the region is promoted in a very stodgy way. Shake things up... Start by changing the graphic design scheme of the buses and Metro signage. Make the buses and signage pop graphically as much as the map already does.

26. DC needs to create "Mobility" stores to market walking, bicycling, and transit to DC residents and commuters, but as a lifestyle, not merely as mode shift for commuters. This extends Arlington's Commuter Store beyond the overwhelming focus on commuters towards encouraging residents (and commuters) to utilize transit, walking, bicycling as the preferred way to get around for all kinds of trips, not just to get to work.
Arlington County Commuter Store

27. Improve wayfinding and transit information. It's okay, but could be a lot better, and transit stations need to be better utilized as "touchpoints" for marketing the use of the transit system, especially for tourists. Bus shelters are a key place for this especial

Transportation Planning

28. Create a transportation plan for the city that isn't wimpy, that addresses parking and curbside management, makes transportation demand management and planning the baseline standard, that sets a goal of reducing the number of single occupancy vehicle trips in the city.

29. Link transportation and land use planning in DC by revising the approach of zoning to mobility-access-land use planning.

30. Make the Department of Transportation planning unit a part of the process in Board of Zoning Adjustment and Zoning Commission matters. Right now, BZA blows off reports from DDOT. They should be a required part of the process and considered just as important as the staff reports provided by the Development Review division of the Office of Planning.

31. Create transportation management districts centered around key commercial districts, and stressing transportation demand management planning, shared parking systems, time shifting freight delivery, shared delivery services for consumers, and include accommodations for bicyclists (lockers, showers, racks on the street, etc.), among other things. Have parking meter revenues go to the TMDs rather than the City's General Fund, for neighborhood-based mobility enhancement. This means encouraging car sharing systems.

Transportation System Management and Advocacy

32. Somehow, the composition of the WMATA board needs to be addressed. I am not sure that having a separately elected board is the right way to go, because since the system is funded by individual jurisdictions, you want those people participating. But the fact is that there isn't enough long range planning and advocacy going on, and many of the decisions made are very political, rather than being oriented to maintaining and extending the best possible transit system that the region can achieve.

33. Transit Advocacy Conference. I have suggested this for awhile. The idea is to push the transit agenda forward in citizen supportive ways. The debacle in Virginia over the Silver Line, contrasted with the success in Montgomery County especially, of getting the Purple Line light rail back on the agenda, shows the value of civic engagement and the occasional massive failure of government controlled processes.

Even bigger issues

34. Somehow, and this would be best done nationally, eliminate free parking. As long as people can park for free, it will be difficult for transit to compete, because people do not calculate the sunk cost of a car into their calculations for the cost of driving vs. transit. Still, for transit to be competitive it means that the system needs to be dense and efficient in order for trips to be quick.

What I am leaving out

35. Congestion charges, or putting tolls on the bridges, or related distractions.

36. And for the most part, this is a DC transportation plan, so it doesn't look at suburban transit expansion, except in certain ways as it impacts DC in very specific ways (i.e., the "new" Silver Line or the Brown Line).


Monday, April 20, 2015

In Dallas, streetcar service debuts

Tom Fox/AP. Guests get off the new DART Downtown-to-Oak Cliff Streetcar at the Greenbriar stop for the public transit debut ceremony.

I don't understand: why is it that streetcar service in Dallas starts about one month after taking delivery of the vehicles?

Meanwhile, DC's streetcar program staggers along, although the Mayor has committed to the opening and extension of the first and maybe only line ("Bowser's budget for D.C. streetcar project focuses on single line," Post).

Dallas’ new streetcar began service last week ("Downtown-Oak Cliff streetcar debuts with speeches, curious riders," Dallas Morning News), between Downtown and the Oak Cliff neighborhood, which is the home of Methodist Hospital.

Like streetcar service in Tucson, was put forward and inserted into the local transportation agenda as a result of citizen activism rather than as a top-down project initiated by transportation and planning officials  ("Once-skeptical Dallas city manager has a desire for streetcars," DMN).

There's a link between tactical urbanism and the Dallas Streetcar.  Jason Roberts, founder of the citizen-created Oak Cliff Transit Authority, which grew out of an initiative of the Oak Cliff neighborhood's chamber of commerce, is also a co-founder of the Dallas Better Block Project.

From the DMN:
Bravo to local and regional agencies for the launch of long-awaited, downtown-to-Oak Cliff streetcar service this week. Years and about $50 million in the making, the fare-free line runs from Union Station to near Methodist Dallas Medical Center. The idea was the brainchild of neighborhood activists who saw a grant opportunity to revive an old-fashioned link with the center city. The project has blossomed into efforts to extend the line farther, to the Bishop Arts District and to near the Omni Dallas Hotel. It’s exciting to see a good idea catch on and become reality.
Maybe the fact that the support of citizens moved the project from an idea to reality is the key difference in streetcar deployment between DC and Dallas (and Tucson).

In DC, while there has been a strong core of citizens in favor of streetcars all along, there has been an equally strong group of skeptics and pro-automobility shaped opponents that has been equally strong, and there hasn't been a strong pro-position articulated that could successfully vanquish the opposition.
Poster produced by the Utah Transit Authority in advance of the opening of the S-Line Streetcar to the Sugar House neighborhood.

Labels: , , , , ,

Historic Preservation: April 19th, the 50th anniversary of NYC's Landmark Preservation Law

Is being celebrated in a variety of ways by the Municipal Arts Society, New York City's leading civic organization addressing urban design in all its aspects.  According to the MAS "1,347 individual landmarks, 117 interior landmarks, and 10 scenic landmarks" have been protected because of the law.

The Jefferson Market building was saved by demolition by conversion to a public library.  It's an early example of a building saved as a result of historic preservation regulations in New York City.  Photographer unknown.

NYC's experience in landmarks preservation (an element distinct from but related to the creation and preservation of historic districts) is important nationally in how it has shaped the legality of local preservation law as one case, Penn Central Transportation Co. v. City of New York (1978) 438 U.S. 104., to the Supreme Court, which ruled that local jurisdictions had the authority to include aesthetic matters within building regulations, including strictures against the demolition of buildings deemed historic.

-- New York Preservation Archive Project

The proposal for a Marcel Breuer-designed office building on top of Grand Central Station including a demolition of the interior and its rejection by the City Landmarks Preservation Commission set the stage for the Supreme Court ruling cited above.

MAS has created a landmarks preservation historical timeline webpage, which is a good model for citywide preservation organizations in other cities (although I'd prefer that each milestone would be clickable for more information).  In order to better support historic preservation, it's important that the history of the movement and how it has improved communities be regularly presented.

Tomorrow night there is a short symposium, Redefining Preservation for the 21st Century: A Symposium, which will be webcasted.  (There are too many people on the agenda for the 90 minute time frame, but if each person makes but one worthwhile point, it'll be worth it.)

Here's the line up:

Introductory Remarks
Susan Henshaw Jones, Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York
Hon. Alicia Glen, NYC Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development
Hon. Meenakshi Srinivasan, Chair and Commissioner of the Landmarks Preservation Commission

Roberta Brandes Gratz, Urban Critic and Journalist
Michael Kimmelman, New York Times Architecture Critic
Vishaan Chakrabarti, AIA, Partner, SHoP Architects and Professor, Columbia University
Claudette Brady, Founder of the Bedford Stuyvesant Society for Historic Preservation
Robert A. M. Stern, FAIA, Dean, School of Architecture, Yale University
Steven Spinola, President, Real Estate Board of New York
Adele Chatfield-Taylor (moderator), Former President and CEO of the American Academy in Rome

The symposium launches an exhibit, Saving Place: 50 Years of New York City Landmarks, at the Museum of the City of New York, which will be up until September 13th.  (Separately, the Museum has a great exhibit on the history of protest and advocacy in the city, which includes a section on historic preservation.  See "Local history museums and critical analysis opportunities for communities.")

Other topics will be covered in other scheduled talks over the run of the exhibit.

Comparative analysis is of course useful, and won't really be a part of the presentations.  Note that a major difference between DC's local preservation law (passed in 1979) is that the final decisions (excepting in some situations judicial review) on what to protect are made not by political authorities (the Mayor/Executive Branch or the City Council/Legislative Branch) but by the Historic Preservation Review Board.

In most other cities, these decisions can become very political with decisions being made on non-historical grounds.  Or bodies, including NYC's Landmarks Preservation Commission, will chose to not designate buildings, knowing that economic and/or political factors would likely lead to the decision being overturned by the City Council.

DC is fortunate to not have such problems.

Labels: , ,

Friday, April 17, 2015

When historic preservation gets a bad name: Spring Valley edition

Parking Lot, Spring Valley Retail Center
Parking lot at the Spring Valley Retail Center. Google Street View image.

The Washington City Paper reports ("A Lot to Lose: Can a Parking Lot Be an Historic Landmark?") that Spring Valley residents fighting a development proposal that would replace a parking lot with a building at the Spring Valley Retail Center--once an outlying department store for the now defunct Garfinckel's chain but now best known for having an expanded Crate & Barrel furniture store, are arguing that the parking lot is fundamental to the form of the complex and should be protected as a historic landmark.

The article discusses the work of architectural historian/American Studies Professor Richard Longstreth, but not specifically his journal article on the development of parking-centric shopping centers in the region ("The Neighborhood Shopping Center in Washington, DC, 1930-1941").  The Park and Shop in Cleveland Park and the Silver Spring Shopping Center are the most prominent examples.  (Carytown in Richmond has a great example as well.)
Silver Spring Shopping Center
Silver Spring Shopping Center vintage postcard.

Interestingly, smart growth advocates have criticized historic preservationists for arguing that parking lots in the case of the Silver Spring or Connecticut Avenue park and shops are integral to the overall ensemble, and that without saving the parking lot, the site loses its relevance as an historic landmark and artifact.

Spring Valley Shopping Center. 

But all parking lots aren't equal or worth saving and a strong case can be made that the parking lot at the Spring Valley Retail Center doesn't possess architectural and cultural significance, even though the park and shop across the street, the Spring Valley Shopping Center, like the Cleveland Park and Silver Spring examples, does rise to the level of saving, were the issue to come up.

This effort is an example of nimbyism, of residents opposed to any development whatsoever seizing on historic preservation laws and regulations as a way to subvert the project.  In DC law, in most instances, only do historic preservation protections require citizen involvement and more focused review.

I was thinking about this the other day, seeing a building going up next to I-395 on 2nd Street NW, and remembering the rowhouses that had been there.  Years ago a tenant in one of the buildings contacted me, wanting to file a historic landmark nomination, not so much to save the buildings but as a negotiating tactic with the property owner.  I said a nomination wouldn't be approved and it's a lot of effort to engage in a sure-to-fail effort, and I didn't agree to help.

Instead of people seizing on historic preservation processes as a tool to try to stop any project, whether or not the site/building is of historic significance, there should be building regulation review processes that provide for citizen input while recognizing that opposing development as a matter of course shouldn't be privileged as part of the review process, that instead decision-making should be judicious.

In the meantime, people who aren't preservationists mis/using preservation tactics end up demeaning and diminishing the historic preservation movement and process more generally, which makes articulating a strong historic preservation message all the more important.

Labels: , , ,

Arlington's Artisphere, cultural planning and Arlington's identity

This book provides examples from 30 cultural centers that are members of the Trans-Europe Halles network.

The Post has an article, "Artisphere: 'Doomed from the start'," about the Rosslyn cultural center, Artisphere, which faces closure as Arlington County deals with budget problems.

To be honest, there isn't much for me to say or add, as the Post article is excellent in covering the issues around the story:

-- Rosslyn isn't particularly well-situated for a cultural facility as it isn't a night-time and weekend destination
-- it was unrealistic to expect the space to be revenue positive
-- that it should have been positioned as a cultural anchor contributing to the redefinition of Rosslyn as more than a center for office buildings and hotels
-- as well as to further Arlington's redefintion as a "city" as opposed to an "urban county."

Arlington has taken financial blows over the past couple years, between the Silver Line repositioning Greater Tysons in Fairfax County as transit-connected but a lower cost location for commercial space and the unwillingness of Congress to approve higher priced leases for federal agencies, which means that the National Science Foundation, an anchor of the county's science-technology sector, is moving to Alexandria to lower cost space.

-- "The state of Arlington County Virginia's commercial real estate market: 2012 and the future"
-- "Short term vs. long term thinking: transit, the Washington Examiner, Fairfax/ Loudoun Counties vs. DC"
-- "Silver line reshaping commercial office market in Fairfax County"

Not to mention reactions to the County's capital budgeting processes and projects--the "$1 million bus shelter," a proposed swimming facility in Crystal City, "the streetcar"--by the citizenry, culminating in the election of less growth oriented members of the County Board.

I see the unwillingness to fund Artisphere as one more result emanating from this narrative, but also Artisphere's "problems" are partly the result of timing.

Not just economic timing, but also a failure to recognize that it was probably too early to put a facility like Artisphere together in Rosslyn, given that the reshaping of the commercial district is in early stages, and hasn't reached velocity.

-- "Art, culture districts and revitalization"

In any case, it's another example of all communities needing more robust cultural planning and new models--one model being the cultural complexes that are present in many European cities.  The Trans-Europe Halles network of 56 cultural centers across Europe are a good place to start.

Examples I am particularly impressed with include Helsinki's Cable Factory, La Friche in Marseille, and the Center for the Book in Aix-en-Provence (not a member of TEH).

Labels: , , , , ,