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.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bring back the Oklahoma Avenue Metro Station: infill transit stations as augurs of revitalization

Map showing RFK and Oklahoma Avenue

In the development of the initial plan for the WMATA transit system, only one station was "successfully" taken off the plans, a station at Oklahoma Avenue, between the Stadium-Armory Station at RFK Stadium and the Minnesota Avenue Station.

According to Scrag's The Great Society Subway:

Local residents objected to a proposed 1,000-car commuter parking lot at that station and the traffic that it would generate in the neighborhood. In reaction to their lobbying, the DC government insisted that the station be removed and that the tunnel for the line be extended through the neighborhood.

In some respects, at that time, you can understand why the residents would have been against this, given that it has taken 34 years for the Rhode Island Metro Station to be reconfigured from car-commuter serving to a more urban setup, because the Oklahoma Station was intended to serve commuters.

In 2003, when I was involved in H St. Main Street, after exhibiting at the one and only City Living Expo, I wrote an internal communication laying out the justification for creating a housing policy for the organization, one focused on the Greater Trade Area that could be potentially served by H Street, because the more residents, and especially the more residents with higher disposable income, the more successful the H St. commercial district could be.

------------Extract from 11/2003 email--------------------

First, people kept asking about condominiums. I explained that this is coming but we are working on some zoning changes to make this happen. We need to work with the property owners on the 200 and 300 blocks of H Street to make sure this happens. It should also shape the development of the BP site. The land that we have available is too precious to waste. And as everyone knows we need more residents to strengthen the neighborhood ane more customers for the commercial district.

Second, it means that over the long term we (HSMS) really need to work on some of these broader housing issues as they relate to revitalization of the greater neighborhood and the strengthening of the H Street retail trade area.

We need to develop a position statement on housing issues in the broader neighborhood. We need to monitor developments that are in our trade area, developments that we might not ordinarily monitor, because they are in Wards 5 or 7. This should be linked to the encouragement of transit-oriented development associated with the proposed light rail developments along H Street/Benning Road and Florida Avenue.

(We probably need to develop a position statement about light rail as well. Personally I think it should be encouraged, and on an accelerated timetable. The paper on the www.apta.com website called "Bring Back the Streetcars" indicates that a 4-6 year timetable is not out of the question. It makes sense to coordinate this with the streetscape improvement program. Fixed-rail transit investments generate great economic returns. It will vastly benefit the H Street commercial district. It should be no surprise that the H Street commercial district began declining once streetcars were removed from the corridor...)

It means that we need to weigh in on projects such as the Clark Realty development on Bladensburg on the old Sears site. Maybe they need more density. It means we need to advocate for housing above Hechinger Mall (like Kevin and I have been saying for years.) It means we need to look at the northern parking lots of RFK (problematic because they are owned by the federal government? which are wasted. Condominiums could be developed here, along with maintaining quality public space so that the Open Air Farmers Market would not be displaced. Etc.

We also need to work on inclusionary zoning and related incentives to ensure that affordable housing is required, as well as to ensure quality design. (WRT design, don't think it doesn't matter. The Pritzker condominums at 300 Mass Ave. NW are much more attractive than the condos at 4th and Massachusetts by Paradigm, and that is because the latter development used office building style window glass instead of the residential style windows of the former. Similarly, the new apartment building on the 1000 block of New Jersey Avenue NW is pretty utilitarian. Incentives should have been provided to get them to include balconies and other design features that would have softwened the facade and made the building look more inviting.)

(Note that the newest housing in the greater neighborhood -- 800 block of 10th St., Wylie Court, and the development across from Hechinger Mall -- is all pretty utilitarian and cheap looking and really denigrates the overall aesthetic of the neighborhood's architectural style and sense of place.)
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Just as the infill "New York Avenue" metro station (it's really at 2nd and M Streets NE and at Florida Avenue NE) has driven the "creation" of the NoMA district on the west side of the Union Station Railyard between the railyard and North Capitol Street, imagine redeveloping the northern parking lots of RFK with mixed housing types, based on the rowhouse configuration, but as 5-6 buildings (plexes), and various sized multiunit housing buildings.

(Note that I also ascribe the creation of this station as one of the key steps to the revitalization of H Street as the presence of a subway station north of H Street led to a significant revaluing of the location because of transit access, increasing demand for housing there, and therefore prices, significantly.)

Plus, around 2003-2004 there was a new urbanist influenced proposal for revitalizing the Spingarn school campus ("Hill Campus"), done by the Urban Design Studio at the University of Michigan.

And eventually Hechinger Mall is likely to be redeveloped with housing added.

Add the streetcar to the mix, and doesn't it make sense to consider an "infill" station (like the New York Avenue station on the red line, and what is proposed for Potomac Yard in Alexandria) to serve this area, and further strengthen the Greater H Street neighborhood?

Although today I would suggest that the station be located at Benning Road. And this would have to be done as part of a wider ranging multifaceted revitalization program for this area.

For another take on routing, see "2003 WMATA Expansion Map" from Greater Greater Washington.

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