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, May 07, 2014

Lies, damn lies, and obfuscations: placemaking, place qualities, historic preservation and transportation infrastructure

(...stealing from the line "lies, damn lies, and statistics."

WTOP Radio reports, in "D.C. streetcar won't open until late summer or fall," that the DC Streetcar (7 years behind the Seattle Streetcar even though planning for both started in 2003) is delayed partly because of historic preservation issues. From the article:
He says there are several causes to the delays.

The main reason is that Spingarn High School was declared a historic site in late 2012. The result was that DDOT spent several months in 2013 working with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office.

"That happened at a time when the streetcar project had left the station, so to speak. We lost 90 days right there. Then as a result of that, we lost nine months," says Jackson.
Many years ago I was talking with a DC developer about preservation related issues and he said that any good developer had "historic preservation" as one of the screens that they considered during the assessment process that is called "due diligence."

Anybody with the least bit of knowledge about Spingarn and when it was built and the city should have taken historic preservation into account when siting a streetcar maintenance facility.

Furthermore, the federal assessment process used by local authorities for transportation projects involving federal funds ("federal undertakings") is supposed to include Sec. 106 review anyway:

- FHWA/ACHP Partnership for Research and Innovation
- Federal Transit Administration - Planning & Environment/NEPA - Historic, Archeological, and Cultural Resources

Sounds like an excuse to me.

WRT the Spingarn issue, see past blog entries "I was wrong: a streetcar car barn probably shouldn't be built on the grounds of Spingarn High School" and "City Paper article on streetcars and historic preservation."

2.  Related to local transportation infrastructure, placemaking, and historic preservation issues, a couple days ago I took some photos to illustrate an often lack of concern about the intertwining of these issues and how sympathetic infrastructure improvements incorporating historic preservation elements could significantly maintain and improve place qualities instead of diminish it.

One example of course is alley pavements.  Brick alleys being replaced with asphalt or concrete diminish place qualities.

But another is stone retaining walls at the front of residential properties (pictured at left on the 200 block of K Street NE).

DC is known for stone retaining walls for rowhouse and single family properties all over the city.  Sadly, in a cost containment move, when such walls are repaired they are often replaced with concrete blocks or bricks because it's cheaper and harder to find artisans capable of doing quality work with stone.

The 200 block of K Street NE is one of many blocks where stones were originally used in retaining walls.  When DDOT did sidewalk work there many years ago--maybe 8 or more--I complained to the ward planner at the time that they used concrete instead of stone on a particular wall. Her response (and this person is lauded for transportation planning), "it's not designated historic."

The other day I noticed that quality stonework is an element of streetscape features on the 400 and 500 blocks of K Street NW, and those blocks aren't designated historic either.

Across the street is a section of the hyper-small Mount Vernon Triangle Historic District, but I imagine that had little to do with the use of the stone treatment in this "street furniture."

This is another example of why I think transportation agencies should have a "chief thoroughfare architect," comparable in authority to the "chief engineer" on the traffic engineering side of the agency, to enforce high quality urban design standards at the interface of transportation infrastructure and place.

Relatedly, see the post "Transit, stations, and placemaking."

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At 2:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

agree- another problem- the city allows utility companies to com ein and make facilities repairs and they absolutely vandalize the surfaces and sledom if ever return to restore them . On 11th & C streets SE we had an incident where an old stone wall was compromised by a sinkhole situation - the city actually got back and restored the wall and whoever did the work was incredibly good- it matched exactly the old work- so this CAN be done. Hats off to Brian Pate who stayed on this problem until it was fixed. Great fellow- he is a real neighborhood fellow and is concerned about these issues. He also cares about alley residents concerns. rare indeed..

At 4:09 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

There is a sinkhole in the brick sidewalk on the east side of the 100 block of 4th St. SE that has been unfixed for at least six weeks. (Although there are green paint markings along the sidewalk between manhole covers, so presumably it's in the works to fix it.)


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