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.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Rare example of community activism getting a positive change from the government: Brookland Green

This cartoon and the one below are from Flashbacks Volume 2: District of Columbia Neighborhoods, by Patrick M. Reynolds of Red Rose Studio.  (This cartoon appears weekly in the Sunday Washington Post comic section.)

In 2007-2008, the DC Office of Planning developed a "Small Area Plan" for the Brookland neighborhood, in response to development opportunities on land owned by Catholic University located south of Michigan Avenue adjacent to their main campus (at the time they had a gnarly dormitory and another building on one of the four blocks of the property), at the Brookland Metro Station, and on other industrially zoned properties adjacent to the railroad tracks or near to the station.

My criticism of the small area planning process is that it isn't a form of comprehensive neighborhood planning but is more of a "build out opportunity analysis and management plan."  That means that generally many elements of what would be in a comprehensive plan get left out.

Google Map image of the Brookland Metro Station in Washington, with the "Brookland Green" outlined in oval.  The caption "Brookland Green" is just above the Brooks Mansion.

The plan proposed maximum development of the parcels closest to the Metrorail station, including the land controlled by the transit authority, to maximize the economic return and development capacity, to take advantage of transit proximity (which is in concert with the city's Comprehensive Plan, which stresses development by transit).

Many residents objected to an element of this recommendation, calling for the preservation of one block that is currently undeveloped.  The land functions as a kind of under-planned and under-managed extension of the grounds of the DC Government-owned Brooks Mansion, which is adjacent to the Metro station and used by the DCTV cable access programming organization, as an open space.  But it's land owned by WMATA.

At the time, I testified in favor of preserving that block as open space, although it was only later that I termed the developments around the Metro station as a repositioning into Brookland's new "Town Center," supplanting the various blots of commercial space along 12th Street NE.

Saving the Green, but still probably repurposing it somewhat, is necessary because it provides for open space as a key element of the community's public realm framework in a re-centered neighborhood.

Without planning for this at the outset, no space will be available to serve that purpose, as has been the product of other small area plans in the city, including for H Street and NoMA, because it wasn't addressed as an element of the planning process. 

In NoMA, the business improvement district has addressed this gap by creating a supplemental public realm framework plan, and the city is providing millions of dollars in funding to create spaces ("Case for Parks"). 

But the Office of Planning didn't change the recommendation and the community continued to agitate about it (e.g., the GGW post "Brookland neighbors ask Metro for development with a side of green").

The City Paper reports, "City Plans Land Swap to Preserve Brookland Green," that DC Government has worked out a deal to trade land with WMATA so that the "Brookland Green" can be preserved without WMATA losing money from the loss of development capacity, by making them whole with other property.

But it is amazing to see that the city has responded.  It likely happened because of the support for the idea by Ward 5 Councilember, Kenyan McDuffie.

It does prove that a reasoned argument, even if delivered unreasonably, can sometimes make headway and be successful.

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At 1:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love this! It is great.
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At 9:56 PM, Blogger Douglas Andrew Willinger said...

This planning to chock the sole main transport corridor is senseless. CUA's karma regarding the scuttling, dictates that it becomes a truck stop.


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