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.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Opportunity in adversity -- Eastern Market, DC

Originally uploaded by bwalsh.

(Photo of Eastern Market Metro Plaza by B Walsh.)

There is an opportunity to rethink the Greater Eastern Market area as a result of yesterday's disaster. One thing is the Eastern Market Metro Plaza, which is now under DC control, rather than that of the National Park Service.

In 2004, I participated in a training workshop conducted by the Project for Public Spaces for Scenic America. The field site was the Eastern Market Metro Plaza.

Having lived in DC for 17 years or so at that point, I figured I knew everything about how to fix that place.

How wrong I was....

In a few short hours, the various Scenic America staffers from around the country who came in for the training, starting with a presentation by PPS staffers, and then a sojourn out in the field, came up with many great ideas.

In my opinion the ideas we came up with in a couple hours (plus the pre-training) were for the most part far better than those suggested by Ohme Van Sweden, the landscape architecture firm that was retained by some organization to come up with improvement proposals.

I do think it made a difference that (1) Scenic America staffers were already experienced with planning and placemaking issues, (2) that there was at least one or two local people on the teams who could point out things like the fact the library is across the street, and provide historical background.

And there needed to be more time for ideas to gestate, such as during the session the recognition that the Hine Multipurpose Room could be repurposed and show movies at night, etc.

I came out of this training as a fervent convert to the PPS placemaking approach.

Below are the results from the session.
How to Turn A Place Around
Scenic America Affiliate Workshop
April 26, 2004
Finn McCool’s Restaurant, Capitol Hill

Led by
Fred Kent, President, Project for Public Spaces
Kathy Madden, Vice President, Project for Public Spaces


On April 26, 2004 the Project for Public Spaces, based in New York City, led 29 participants at Scenic America’s Affiliate Workshop in a six hour workshop to analyze public open space near Barrack’s Row on 8th Street, SE. We closely examined three areas: I. Eastern Market Metro Plaza including the 8th Street edge of the Metro Plaza; II. the transit stop on 8th Street at the neighborhood park between 8th and 9th Streets on Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, diagonally across the street from Metro Plaza (referred herein as “Neighborhood Park”) and the park’s interior; and III. the exterior area around the middle school between 7th and 8th Streets, SE on Pennsylvania Avenue, SE.

Participants included both staff and volunteer leaders from a number of Scenic America’s national affiliates and associates including Scenic California, Scenic Nevada, Scenic Texas, Scenic Missouri, Scenic North Carolina, Scenic Virginia, Scenic Maryland, Scenic Wisconsin, Scenic Michigan, SCRUB (Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight) in Philadelphia, and others; and various Scenic America board members and staff of Scenic America from Arkansas, Washington State, Massachusetts, etc.

While Scenic America organized the workshop to help affiliates and associates understand how they can demand citizen-driven, not expert-driven, public space process in their own communities it is our hope that some of the excellent ideas that that emerged from these national leaders might be useful to Capital Hill residents as they plan the future of these important neighborhood spaces along Pennsylvania Avenue, a prime gateway to the Nation’s Capital.

THE PROCESS: The system of parks along Pennsylvania Avenue, SE is an important community asset. The purpose of the training workshop was to critically examine these spaces, talk to users, and envision how they might better serve both the neighborhood and enliven the gateway to the Capitol.

To begin the workshop, Bill McLeod, Executive Director of Barracks Row Main Street, briefed the participants on the history and redevelopment of 8th Street and the open space issues at the intersection with 8th St. Fred Kent and Kathy Madden of Project for Public Spaces then instructed the group in the PPS methodology of place analysis. Participants broke into small groups and spent about 45 minutes on each of three sites, then returned to Finn McCool’s for lunch and to report their findings (detailed below).

I. A. Metro Plaza – Library Focus

The S.E. Library, one of two Carnegie libraries on Capital Hill (along with the NE Library on 7th St., NE), can be thought of as the “head” or focal point of the park and should be linked physically and visually to the Metro Plaza and the other parks. Workshop participants like the potential of pulling people into the Library as they are passing through the Metro area.

The space is currently barren and uninviting -- a thoroughfare with no place to sit, little shade and poor lighting. At present, trees separate the park from the library with no focus on this lovely and historically significant building that rises above the Plaza. The focus on Metro somehow relegates this to a pass-through.

One workshop participant suggested that this Metro plaza should be a surprising and wonderful place to emerge when coming out of the subway station. To make this a reality, changes could include alterations to the pedestrian circulation system to open up the corner and link to the library. Workshop participants suggested that there may be ways that Capitol Hill’s two Carnegie libraries could cooperate to promote reading through exhibits, lectures in the Metro Plaza.

Recommended Changes:

• Link library to park both physically and visually.
• Focus the plaza on books and learning. Hold used book fairs and market new products for children. Celebrate local writers.
• Build a diagonal path through the space since that is how it is used to get to bus and Metro.
• Install better lighting – not just more – that is well-designed and inviting.
• Provide a place to sit -- a must.
• Shade is required, perhaps through trellises and even some forms of bamboo (?).
• Provide a gazebo, carousel or a bandstand for music – John P. Souza is from this neighborhood and perhaps the plaza is a place to celebrate that part of DC’s heritage.
• Place classy-looking book themed benches throughout the plaza.
• Install a playground to meet needs of the local daycare group and many young families on Hill (there was some disagreement about this since the plaza has a travel function as well). Many of the same elements appeal to people of all ages.
• Install a water feature – perhaps a fountain with a literary theme. (An issue with the subway below...)
• Invite vendors, perhaps from the Eastern Market area, to have kiosks here to sell food. Provide tables and chairs.
• Work with the Newseum on some special events to be held in this plaza.
• The newspaper boxes are a jumble and need some organizing design.
• The signage for the area at the Metro needs improving.
• Because of the number of buses, there needs to be very clear information on bus routes, etc.
• Screen Pennsylvania Avenue with trees to give some sense of enclosure to the plaza.
• Work with B.I.D. on litter control and frequent trash removal.
• Local stores surrounding the park should somehow be linked to its future use – Kinko’s; Radio Shack, Starbucks, CVS, etc.

B. Metro Plaza – 8th Street Edge

Participants liked the openness and the opportunity to encounter “uncanny” people. But the area is more of a “pass through” than a real place. While the current sidewalks along 8th Street are serving as cafes, there is no extension of this activity into the park.

Recommended Changes:

• Treat this as a gateway entry to Barracks Row as well as to the Capitol.
• Install a marker to point to the Marine Barracks and the Navy Yard.
• Provide a map of businesses and some history of the area. • Introduce any banners or other decorative features that become emblematic of 8th Street.

II. A. Neighborhood Park - 8th Street Northbound Bus Stop

The bus stop is uncomfortable; however, it is accessible and has good visibility and a nice view of the flowering tree at the corner of the school yard.

Recommended Changes:

• Create more shade.
• Do a better job of maintenance and litter control.
• Demark the area with flower pots.
• Locate historic markers, banners, etc. as recommended above to link area to 8th Street and Barracks Row.
• Install more comfortable benches.

Neighborhood Park – Interior

The Park offers good access and link to Metro through the park. While it is desirable to have benches, but they are not well maintained. The place looks seedy on closer look. Nothing invites one to use it.

Recommended Changes:

• Needs a clear tie with the surrounding neighborhood.
• Needs a playground to attract children and serve many young families now on Hill.
• A sculpture (similar to that at Lincoln Park) or water fountain could make this place a real standout.
• Are the plantings here appropriate? The roses look nice but are they the most kid-friendly plants?

Hines Middle School. Hine Middle School looks like a fortress. The banner citing the school for educational achievement has been up there for many years and is faded. The red door needs painting. It is used as an exit, but it looks very uninviting. The main entrance on 8th St. is equally unattractive. There is an evident lack of maintenance with many weeds. The windows, with their extensive wire coverings, contribute to a fortress-like quality. Team members felt it looked more like a prison than a neighborhood school.

Recommended Changes:

• Spruce up the exterior with paint. There may be a wall suitable for a really fine mural that the kids could paint.
• Get a new banner or get rid of the old one. It detracts rather than adds to the neighborhood.
• Draw the school into the adjoining open spaces with art displays.
• Repave the sidewalk around the school. It now feels like pedestrians are passing a wasteland, not a special place.
• Remove the chain-link fence. It is one way to open up access to the school.
• Involve the school in some community gardening, both on school grounds and potentially in the neighborhood park across the street.


The interrelated set of open spaces, institutions, and functions in this particular location – near the Market, the Metro and bus lines – should be viewed as a tremendous local asset -- an opportunity waiting to happen.

The school should be viewed as a major institution and user of the spaces rather than as the source of problems.

Pennsylvania Avenue is currently a speedway and needs major traffic calming around the Eastern Market area, beginning at 9th Street. Cars need to slow down and the driver’s expectations need to change as cars approach the Capitol. This could help with the hazardous conditions now in front of the school where kids routinely dart in front of on-coming traffic.

As plans proceed to redevelop these areas, there should be a formal neighborhood involvement process providing opportunities for place analysis and recommendations (as in this workshop) to develop an innovation and integrated plan that both reflects neighborhood needs and values and also solves problems with the existing spaces.

Respectfully submitted,

Meg Maguire, President
Scenic America



At 10:50 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Current plans:


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