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, October 20, 2011

The Reeves Center Myth re-revisited

In honor of the City Paper article, "14th and Blue," about the Reeves Center I am reprinting this entry from January 2006, in response to this section of the City Paper article:

When Barry’s administration pushed to construct the building in the 1980s, the goal was to help spur the redevelopment of U Street, which had been devastated in riots in 1968, then left mostly ignored for more than a decade. The Reeves Center, and the opening of Metro’s Green Line, helped do the trick. The neighborhood is booming, with condos, fancy bars and restaurants, and boutique shops galore. Now, 25 years after it opened, the District’s own parcel of real estate feels like it’s been left behind.

(Although one could argue that the Reeves Center was a key element in the revitalization process of that area, if you look at it as a process over many years--decades.

I would argue that the area improved despite the Reeves Center, not unlike how I make similar arguments about the H Street CDC constructed office buildings on the 600 block of H Street NE.)

Also see these two pieces from 2005, "(Why aren't people) Learning from Jane Jacobs" and "Office buildings won't 'save' Anacostia."

I was going through some of the archives and I came across something I wrote in response to suggestions that WMATA move to Anacostia (hmm, why Dan Tangherlini is now the director of WMATA might have other dimensions).

It's worth reprinting because City Council Chairman and Mayoral candidate Linda Cropp was at a community meeting recently where she talked about the Reeves Center as a perfect example of city-initiated and city-sparked development. This has been bugging me since I read it, but I didn't get around to writing about it. See this article "In Ward 8, Anger Over Stadium Deal," and this quote (of course Councilmember Barry was in the audience, so she must have felt obligated):

"Our visionary mayor, Marion Barry, put the Reeves [Municipal] Center up on 14th and U streets because it acted as an incentive to bring about economic development that changed the area," Cropp said.

From August 2005 but expanded slightly:

Re-reading the Post article ("Williams Proposes Moving Metro Offices to Anacostia") it quotes Mayor Williams as saying he was inspired to suggest this development at the Anacostia Metro Station by the actions of Mayor Barry's building of the Reeves Center.
Reeves Center
The Reeves Center is pretty typical of the urban brutalist DC urban renewal projects from the mid-1970s onwards.

IT IS A MYTH that the Reeves Center sparked the revitalization of U Street. It is an urban brutalist monster that sucks the life off of the street. Many of the retail businesses in the Reeves Center have failed--most leaving lease debts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars--debts that the District government had to eat.

Note: the building is just bulky, it's not really an example of urban brutalist design.

The other three corners of the intersection have fast food places or a vacancy. AND, it took more than 10 years after the Reeves Center before "revitalization" started happening--much of it being sparked by the opening of the Green line subway stations. (Granted, the construction of the Metro on U Street contributed to the problems.)

And still, the area around Reeves Center is a vacuum. What life around it has it engendered?

Why is learning from Jane Jacobs and other practitioners of urban vitality so difficult?
Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland, OR
Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland, Oregon. Photo by PPS.

Carytown uncropped (Richmond)
People on the street in Carytown, Richmond. Photo by Steve Pinkus.

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