Tuesday, September 25, 2012

When one blog closes...

...another opens.

This is it for updates on 14th&You folks, unless the Mrs. and I happen to relocate near to this blog's eponymous intersection at some point in the future. Barring that unlikely event, we're considering this blog finito. But we're starting a new adventure: visit us in Montgomery County at our new online home, North FlintVille. Who knows, you just might learn something!

Anyway, we hope to see you around.

Cheers,
Mr. and Mrs. 14thandyou

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Suburban Town Centers: Friend or Faux?


It's 7:00 PM on a Monday evening, and I'm sitting in a chair in the middle of Rockville's "Town Square," situated along a few blocks just east of Rockville Pike and across the street from the Rockville Metro station. A father, his daughter and their dog play on the faux lawn at the center of the square, while a fountain spews water up from the ground behind me. The fountain is situated in front of a performance stage where, several nights a week, musical performances take place. The square hosts a farmer's market on Saturdays that is very popular in the community. Surrounding the square, and branching out along streets in every direction, is a dense cluster of restaurants, bars, shops and galleries, with new ones opening seemingly every week. (Both American Tap Room and Dawson's Market, an upscale grocery store from Ellwood Thompson, are set to open here next month.) A new library sits at a prominent corner in the neighborhood. And above it all are thousands of residents who are seeking the suburban life without forsaking the conveniences--or feel--of city living. Perhaps most surprising of all, there are people walking about in what once was a deader-than-a-doornail suburban government center off of a strip mall-dominated suburban highway. It's a scene that was difficult to imagine as recently as five years ago.

Has Georgetown come to Rockville?

 It's a question posed by Washington Post reporter Jonathan O'Connell in his recent piece for the Post's Outlook section. O'Connell looks at the spurt of "town center"-type developments that have sprung up across the region and the country over the past 15 years and asks whether developers have been successful in exporting city life to the suburbs.

 As a transplanted city dweller who has found himself in the middle of that most suburban of suburbs, Rockville/North Bethesda/White Flint, it's a question I've pondered myself over the last year or so. After all, our immediate neighborhood is Ground Zero for Montgomery County's efforts to "urbanize" the stretch of Rockville Pike around the White Flint Metro Station. It's a neighborhood that, until very recently, was home mainly to an indoor shopping mall, row after row of nondescript strip malls, car dealerships and gas stations. However, with the opening last year of the first phase of the North Bethesda Market project, and several mega-developments currently under construction or about to break ground, Montgomery County is banking heavily on the "town center" model to attract and retain the young professionals and families that have found places like Bethesda, Silver Spring and Virginia's Orange Line corridor more attractive options. The term "urban" gets thrown around a lot by both developers and city officials when describing these developments.

But are these places really "urban"?


The scene I described in the opening paragraph above certainly sounds urban: people, shops and restaurants, density, community. So why do critics, as O'Connell notes, assail suburban town centers as soulless faux-cities, "no more real cities than Disney World's fairy-tale fiberglass-and-concrete showpiece is a real castle?"

A big part of it, I would argue, comes from where they are situated. Let's consider a neighborhood like Dupont Circle, a description of which wouldn't sound wholly far off from the scene I described above. What makes Dupont "feel" different than Rockville Town Center? There are obvious things like the age of the buildings, which predate those in central Rockville by a hundred years or more. The buildings have a history: what is now an upscale wine bar may at one time have been a mens clothing store that sold Duke Ellington his first suit, or a People's Drug. And there is the make-up of the crowd itself, which is something O'Connell gets into a bit. The people are more diverse, and the eccentricities are more pronounced. Dupont, and other urban neighborhoods, aren't quite so manicured; they look more "authentic." But do people really hop on the Metro in Rockville for a night out in Dupont primarily because they may see a woman with a tattoo?

 The problem with "town center" developments, as I see it, isn't the town centers themselves--it's what's around them. They don't feel like part of a cohesive urban fabric, and they don't mesh with their surroundings. They are the place one goes to feel like you've entered a city, before hopping back in your car and driving home somewhere that doesn't feel like that at all. They feel contrived because they exist apart from everything around them--like building an opulent Victorian mansion in the middle of a Toll Brothers community of by-the-numbers single family homes. When you're in Logan, or H Street, or Columbia Heights, or Dupont, there is a feeling of connected-ness, to go along with a volume of people and an energy and vibrancy that the sometimes admittedly-sterile "town centers" have difficulty delivering.


I drove up to Rockville Town Center this evening, which is situated several miles north of our White Flint home. I drove on a six-lane divided highway past countless strip malls, car dealerships and gas stations. I drove past a golf course, and a self-storage facility. I drove past stretches of road where the sidewalk was barely visible, and through intersections that even the most hardy of pedestrians fear to cross. Forget bike lanes; cyclists on the Pike are as rare as speakeasy cocktail lounges up here. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, I entered Rockville's own urban utopia, the Rockville Town Center, meant to show that central DC doesn't have a monopoly on enticing, dense urbanity. It doesn't help that the "town center" itself is not focused on or geared towards the area's main thoroughfare, Rockville Pike, making it feel even more cut-off.

 Of course the juxtaposition was jarring.

But it's not necessarily an indictment of the town center itself. As it happens, I think Rockville Town Center, and others like it, are several tremendous steps in the right direction for suburban development. What's bad about building pedestrian-focused, dense, vibrant, walkable communities? Particularly ones directly across the street from Metro stations? Not much, I'd argue. There is a reason town centers are popular: they deliver a slice of what people say they want. And judging by their commercial success, the people do indeed want it. And clustering people, services and amenities near each other and near transit hubs makes tremendous sense. And yet, something feels missing.

 Dan Reed, who runs the Just Up the Pike blog, tweeted: "Calling new suburban town centers "fake" is lazy. Everything was new once! If done well, they'll get better with time." I agree with this, but I'd go a step further: not only will these town center developments likely improve with age, but as more suburban developers latch on to the "town center" model, I'd argue that these bastions of supposedly faux-urbanity will begin to feel slightly less "faux" and slightly more "legitimate". Consider what close-in suburbs such as Arlington and Bethesda have been able to achieve along their commercial corridors, and imagine that spread out among father-afield locales such as Rockville and Reston. That, to me, is the future of suburban development. It may not feel particularly "real" to someone used to bar-hopping along Barrack's Row or Adams Morgan, but there was a time when those places were new, too. Just give it some time.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Dispatch From the MoCo Hinterlands

Over the last nine months or so since Mrs. 14thandyou and I packed up our belongings and decamped from one of the nation's top neighborhoods for childless adults to, as WCP scribe Alex Baca once tweeted "some place called North Bethesda," we've been getting the occasional email and comment asking us what life has been like for us in the land of the strip mall: Have we forgotten how to walk? What does a front lawn look like? And are we suffering from a lack of small plate restaurants serving modern adaptations of casual comfort food?

To that last question, the answer is yes. Sadly, small plates haven't so much found their way up to this section of Rockville Pike that, given the number of names people have given it (North Bethesda, South Rockville, White Flint, That Place With the Mall Where They Drive the Choo-Choo Train Around), seems to be suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. But to other questions regarding our general well-being, I'm pleased to report that we're getting along quite well.

First, it should be noted that, despite the tremendous differences in character between the Logan/U Street area and our current neighborhood, many aspects of our lives really haven't changed all that drastically. We're a 10 minute walk from the White Flint Metro station--a place within walking distance to a Metro station being my primary requirement when we moved--so although my commute to my Dupont Circle employer is (considerably) longer, it remains car-free and mostly predictable. We're also well-served by several bus lines just steps from our front door, which gives me a somewhat lazy alternative to schlepping across the strip mall parking lot and gravel-strewn sidewalks of Rockville Pike.

Mrs. 14thandyou still drives to her place of employment (transit not being an option for her), although her commute time has plummeted by about 2/3 of what it was before. We also have considerably more space than we could have afforded in any neighborhoods in DC that wouldn't have made the daily commute a living hell for Mrs. 14thandyou, making our day-to-day lives more enjoyable. Our third floor deck that overlooks a nicely landscaped courtyard is also a pleasant place to enjoy a beer and hang out with the cat. And although our home is adjacent to one of the region's busiest thoroughfares and commercial corridors, it is a remarkably quiet place, which is something we have increasingly come to appreciate.


Food and entertainment is a mixed-bag. The nightlife, it must be said, is wholly inadequate, but whether replacing the likes of Masa 14, Estadio and Bar Bilar with Joe's Noodles, Yekta Kabobi and Ambrosia Greek Diner is an overall step down is certainly up for debate. There is something to be said for an abundance of cheap, casual, flavorful ethnic restaurants, which our new neighborhood has in droves. We have not one, but two Jewish bagelrys within a short walk of our home--something that, at least according to most PoP commenters, many in central DC would sell their firstborn (or, as it were, their first dog) for. Tucked away in seemingly every forlorn-looking strip mall is a market, restaurant or store that merits attention. Nine months in, and we still haven't come close to trying all of the new places up here. And it is nice to be able to drop $20 on a meal, rather than simply on your appetizer or first round of drinks. Still, on that occasion when we're looking for a place to sit back and sip a couple of pints, it's basically Matchbox, Gilly's or Ruby Tuesday's for us. Admittedly not the most exciting options. (There is also the notorious Dietl's, which satisfies my occasional urge to drink watery canned beer.)

As to our physical environment, there's no question that we traded aesthetic beauty and urban vitality for a neighborhood that has substantially less of both. Gone are the stunning, ornamented Victorians of Logan and Dupont, replaced by architecturally bland and uninspired apartments, townhomes and shopping centers that represent the architectural dark ages of the 60s-80s. The streets have little life or energy, storefronts are set back hundreds of feet from the sidewalks and roadways, and to state that the car remains king here would so obvious an observation so as to not warrant a mention. Indeed, some of the pedestrian infrastructure is so poorly designed that it can only be described as either tremendously ill-planned or downright hostile.

As but one example, consider the case of the parking lot located at Montrose and Rockville Pike, which was (ostensibly) built to encourage individuals to park their vehicles and walk to the Metro or nearby businesses. Except, there is no sidewalk or other pedestrian access that connects the parking lot to the sidewalk on Rockville Pike. Pedestrians, myself included, have instead created a so-called "desire path" (pictured below) where a sidewalk should be. This makes no sense, and the neighborhood is littered with these poorly thought-out examples of pedestrian hosility.


And despite Capital Bikeshare's plans to expand the system into Montgomery County, a ride along Rockville Pike is such a harrowing and frightful thought that I can't envision myself doing it, in spite of years spent biking throughout central DC. Helmet or no, it strikes me as particularly unpleasant for a number of reasons. More on that will likely come in a future post.

And yet, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that an environment that appears on its face to be quite sterile still has its charms. The nearby Montrose Parkway, with its wide jogging and biking path that leads into Tilden Stream Park is quite enjoyable, as are a number of MoCo's fantastic nearby parks. And as pedestrian unfriendly as the neighborhood may appear, our walkscore of 82 and abundance of nearby businesses does make the neighborhood more approachable on foot than many more "typical" suburban enclaves.

So, what to make of all this? It would be untrue for me to state that there aren't things I enjoy about our new neigborhood--indeed, that there aren't things I enjoy *more* about our new neighborhood than the one we lived in before. I touched on several of them above. And Mrs. 14thandyou and I have established some patterns and rituals that we've come to greatly enjoy. Spend a Saturday morning with us sipping coffee and eating freshly baked scones while wandering Kensington's antique market and you'd get part of the picture.

But the thing I miss the most about living where we did before is the loss of a sense of community. Dense, people-packed neighborhoods, through various means, encourage--and in some ways force--one to interact with ones neighbors. Whether through my writings on this blog, meeting with local business owners, running into familiar people on the street and in local parks, or sitting in on the local ANC meeting, the fact is that I got to know a lot of people while living in DC. Many I consider friends, and even those who are merely acquaintences helped me to establish a connection with my old neighborhood that I have found to establish in my new one.

For all of the talk of DC being a rather unfriendly place where everyone is career-driven, I found the opposite story to be true. It's not that people hin our new neighborhood are unfriendly--it's that we simply don't interact with each other. There is a noticeably different mindset and approach to living in a suburban neighborhood--even one that is relatively dense (and about to become much denser) by suburban standards--than living in a Logan Circle, Shaw, Columbia Heights or any one of DC's numerous hoods. It's true that we haven't found ourselves engaging in local politics and community affairs nearly to the extent that we did while living in DC. Part of that is time demands, but part of that is a lack thus far is establishing a real connection or sense of ownership of where we live to help us get to the point where we want to participate in such things. I had that when we lived in Logan; I haven't yet found it here.

Perhaps we will get there, and a year from now I will feel differently and will be running for a seat on the Western Montgomery Council Citizen's Advisory Board. And when people ask me how two ex-urbanites are getting along up in the MoCo hinterlands, the answer is: we're doing fine, but there are certainly things we miss. The bars, nightclubs, restaurants, galleries, parks and other physical attributes are lacking but in many ways replaced; however, the human and emotional connection we had with our previous home hasn't been. And perhaps that is the true loss of suburban living.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Adios, Amigos...For Now

Since we've received some questions about the lack of updates to the blog (because goodness knows there has been plenty going on around the neighborhood to keep updated on), we wanted to share a bit of bittersweet news to explain the lack of new posts.

In short: no, we weren't kidnapped, we just moved. A couple of weeks ago, the 14thandyous packed up and moved north to Montgomery County. And before we get the questions, yes, we are well-aware of the juxtapositions between a neighborhood like Logan and our new suburban stomping grounds. We have a number of reasons for making the move (and no, mom and dad, a forthcoming little 14thandyou is NOT among them), but thus far the move hasn't been as painful as we initially expected it to be. Being within walking distance to a Metro station helps, as does our proximity to two bagel shops and some fantastic Chinese food. (Sichuan Pavillion, anyone?)

But I digress.

We've certainly had a lot of fun on here over the past four years. When we started the blog back in 2007, there were surprisingly few bloggers covering all the issues, developments and day-to-day life around 14th Street and Logan Circle. I don't know how much we succeeded in that, but it was certainly enjoyable and rewarding--and we got to meet many wonderful, engaging people in the process, many of whom I consider friends today. And today, there are terrific blogs like Borderstan, U Street Girl and U Street Dirt that are providing all of the neighborhood news, analysis and snark one could hope for.

As for this blog, we'll keep it up for the time being. I've given thought to continuing to post here from time to time, to offer some perspectives on our new home as compared to a place like Logan, as well as to share some thoughts about the ongoing changes and developments occuring in our old neighborhood. (Just 'cause we don't live there anymore doesn't mean we stopped paying attention...) And we hope to move back to the city someday; both Mr. and Mrs. 14thandyou enjoy the trappings of urban life far too much to permanently replace it with picket fences, two-car garages and cul-de-sacs. So who knows where things will lead?

But for now, we're considering this blog on extended hiatus. Thanks to all of the followers, commenters, fellow bloggers, community activists, business owners, neighbors, developers and others who made this such a fun hobby for us over the past few years. So, till we meet again...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

You down with RPP?

(Yes, we're all about the puns here. And perhaps the earthquake added to my naturally loopy nature.)

Readers, prepare yourselves for a Mrs. 14th & You rant. Having recently celebrated my eight-year Logan Circle anniversary, here are my long-marinating thoughts on our dysfunctional parking system.

Residential parking restrictions protect parking at times when it least needs protecting.
Residential parking restrictions presumably function to preserve parking for residents. In most neighborhoods (including ours), these restrictions exist only during the business day. During regular business hours, most employed DC residents have either left their cars parked near home or driven their cars to work. In neither case do residents need the protection that residential parking restrictions provide.

Yet, during times when floods of out-of-ward drivers do park on residential streets, there are no parking restrictions. The most frequent challenges are created by out-of-ward and out-of-state restaurant, bar, and club patrons. (I always kick myself for working late on Thursday and Friday nights only to end my day by fighting for parking.) Other challenges to residential parking, such as weekend shopping or religious services, also typically fall outside of the days and times when residential parking restrictions are in effect.


RPP is ward-based.
With my RPP I can park in any legal street space in Ward 2 for an unlimited length of time. Indeed, I have used residential parking in Georgetown, and I once left my car in Kalorama for a few days following a breakdown. Not only may residents of other Ward 2 neighborhoods dish it right back by parking in Logan Circle, Ward 1 residents can also park in much of Logan: Parking within a few blocks of the ward boundaries at S and 11th Streets NW is zoned for both 1 and 2 permit holders. Such flexibility in parking takes the “residential” out of RPP.

Evening enforcement is lacking.
In Logan Circle residential parking restrictions are in place until 8:30 p.m. on weeknights. A casual stroll around 14th or U Streets early on a Thursday or Friday evening will reveal plenty of Maryland and Virginia license plates as well asa lot of out-of-ward registration stickers on vehicles parked well before 6:30. And why not take the risk of parking illegally on a residential street? Presence of parking enforcement officers on residential streets is exceedingly rare after 8:30 p.m. Besides, if one is ticketed, the cost is not prohibitive; it’s comparable to two evenings of paid parking in one of the lots along 14th and U Streets. As well, with all sorts of lore about whether or not parking fines follow one across state lines, some out-of-state drivers feel free to ignore non-moving violations.

RPP creates hassles for residents.
Though evening enforcement may be rare, daytime parking enforcement is efficient. Though it is not very common, I do sometimes have weekday daytime guests who drive to my home. They range from out-of-state family members coming to visit to contractors making repairs to our apartment. In such instances, I hate having to think about parking on behalf on my guests. It’s particularly crummy when my husband or I are taking time from work to see friends or family. Are we really going to use this time to go the police station to get a visitor’s parking permit? No. Are we still going to be bummed out if our loved ones are fined? Yes. On one particularly memorable day, my mother drove from Woodbridge to care for me after a surgery. I wasn’t really feeling like accompanying her to the police station to get a parking permit, nor did I really want her to go home after two hours, but a $25 ticket also seemed like a bad option. We ended up just rolling the dice on that one.

[Edit: In an earlier draft I stated that one needed a valid vehicle registration in order to obtain a visitor permit. While cleaning up some gnarly HTML gone wrong, I double-checked that. My eyes had skipped the words "one of" prior the the list of documents accepted as proof of DC residency.]

Issuing RPPs creates an expectation of parking availability.
When one has paid extra money at the time of registration for the privilege of parking on residential streets near his home, it implies that one be able to park on those streets. This is particularly true since the entire purpose of RPPs is to “increase access to on-street parking for residents in their neighborhoods”. The RPP brochure available online states further:
Our neighborhoods are the city’s greatest asset. That is why we developed the Residential Parking Permit (RPP) to help protect them. In the mid-1970s citizens were concerned about the increasing number of out-of-state cars parked on residential streets. Residents could not park on their own block. Commuters were turning our neighborhoods into parking lots. I would argue that it’s no longer commuters turning neighborhoods into parking lots, but the residents themselves. I also imagine that many RPP holders have given up on the 1970s dream of guaranteed parking on their own block. (I have.)

I ran a quick test of parking availability on my block and the four contiguous blocks. I estimate that there are about 0.67 parking spaces per existing household.* The current rate of parking availability is probably about right, particularly considering the number of condos with off-street parking. Yet, with residential density increasing within a two-block radius, parking will likely get tighter, even if vehicle ownership rates decrease.I make this point because DDOT is working with Glover Park residents to ease parking congestion in their neighborhood. The blunt instrument that seems most favored by residents is increasing restrictions on out-of-neighborhood vehicles. As Glover Park households are quite affluent and probably more likely to have children than Logan Circle households, their rates of car ownership are probably higher than our neighborhood's. Yet, Glover Park does not enjoy the same level of access to CaBi and Metro as we do, so I don't foresee anyone dumping those cars anytime soon. I don't think this story has a happy ending.

It's time to create a new system.
If we're going to insist on keeping RPPs, then I wish that DDOT and the DMV would take steps the make it more likely that the residents with RPP stickers can get parking. We'd need to look the the hours that the restrictions are in place and at the ways we enforce the restrictions. If spaces are tight, maybe residents who own off-street parking wouldn't be issued RPP stickers for their vehicles or would be limited in the number of vehicles per household that could get an RPP sticker. If residents would rather not have such restrictions put on vehicle ownership or where they can park, then I'd argue we need to consider going the other direction -- eliminating RPP altogether. After all, for as little good as it does in keeping parking spaces available for the few of us who drive during the weekdays, it causes some headaches.

*Admittedly, this is a rough estimate: I measured the block lengths using Google maps, subtracted alley entrances, parking meters, hydrants, and the areas near intersections to obtain the parkable street lengths (using both sides of the street, of course). I then divided that distance by 13.5 feet, my estimate of an “average” parking space. To count the number of households, I consulted the real property database.

Friday, August 5, 2011

MPD enforcement priority: Dupont Circle jaywalking?

Snapped this photo this morning of an MPD officer writing jaywalking tickets to pedestrians crossing against the light at Dupont Circle and New Hampshire Ave. During the 45-or-so seconds I stood there, I witnessed the officer write no fewer than four tickets to unsuspecting jaywalkers. (Not to worry: this blogger escaped the wrath of the vigilant MPD officer by crossing legally.)



Periodically, it seems that MPD goes on a jaywalking ticket spree, posting officers at "high incident" intersections and generating some serious revenue for the city in the form of $20 tickets. But it does beg the question: is this part of a larger effort to clamp down on "minor" crimes like jaywalking throughout the city, or is this nothing more than a one-day spurt that will bring in a few thousand dollars to the city's coffers and annoy a number of pedestrians--most of whom will go right back to jaywalking on Monday morning, when the MPD officer is gone?

This isn't to completely excuse jaywalkers, but one does have to wonder what ends are being achieved by haphazardly ticketing a handful of pedestrians one or two days a year in a location where tens of thousands of people jaywalk every day? This episode also brought to mind the time several years ago when MPD officers started ticketing bicyclists who were riding the wrong way on New Hampshire Ave., just south of 16th Street. of course, we know how that ended.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Abdo to build apartments on vacant Logan Circle site; McDonalds and ChiDogO to return @ 14th and U

DC Urban Turf and DC Mud report that local developer Jim Abdo is seeking to construct an apartment building on one of the last remaining vacant parcels in Logan Circle. The developer is seeking to construct 70 apartment units at 1427 Rhode Island Ave. NW, along with an underground parking garage.



Why is the site vacant, you ask? Abdo acquired the property, along with the adjacent lots, in 2001. The adjacent lots have since been redevelped, while the currently vacant lot housed two 19th century romanesque townhouses. Abdo's team originally removed the roof from the townhomes after they were found to be hazardous; in 2007, the entire structures were demolished.

According to DC Mud: "Design of the building will mirror the adjacent buildings, designed by William Harris in 1929 and 1930. The new addition will add "a classical tripartite organization, with a two-story stone base, a five-story midsection clad in brick, and a brick attic story with a cornice." Abdo Development is seeking a zoning variance for reduced parking, and will share the existing driveway to a planned underground garage."

The project has received the support of the Historic Preservation Office, but must still receive approvals from both HPRB and BZA.

* * * * * *

In other development-related news, as reported here and in the Business Journal reported last week, JBG Cos. and Georgetown Strategic Capital announced plans to commence work on the unnamed project formerly dubbed the "Utopia Project" in the 4th quarter of 2011.



According to JBG, at least two tenants for the project are already known: McDonalds will return at its 14th and U location becaus eit has a longterm lease there, and recnet arrival ChiDogO will return as well. In addition, the developer also announced that they would work to retain as many of the existing tenants along the U Street-side of the project as possible. These tenants, which inhabit the series of rowhouses that will be preserved and incorporated into the project, include Coppi's Organic, DC Noodles and restaurant and jazz lounge Utopia.

The massive project will rise nine stories above the 14th and U intersection and include 267 apartment units.

"Local Color" at Gallery Plan B

This past thursdy, July 28, Gallery Plan B opened their most recent show, "Local Color," which features works from a number of artists in and around the Logan Circle, Shaw and Dupont Circle neighborhoods.



The show features works in various media depicting scenes of local DC neighborhoods by Chad Andrews, Michael Crossett, Ron Donoughe, Charlie Gaynor, Isabella Spicer, David Ballinger, David Kalamar, Joey Manlapaz, Luis Gomez, Steven Stichter and more.

The 14thandyous attended the opening party on Thursday (invited by fellow blogger and area photographer Luis Gomez, of One Photograph a Day and Borderstan), and came away thinking that it was one of the best exhibitions put on by a local gallery in some time. Of particular note were Gomez's stark photographs, the mixed-media collages of Crossett, and Ballinger's negative prints.



All artists featured unique and interesting perspectives of day-to-day life in central DC--buildings, houses, people and intersections. (Don't miss Crossett's "Wonder Collage," which captures in an erratic and disjointed way the beauty of Shaw's abandoned Wonderbread Factory. Catch it now before Douglas Jemal finally makes good on his threat to redevelop the property.)

The show will be up until August 28 at Gallery Plan B, 1530 14th Street NW. For more information, check out Gallery Plan B's website at galleryplanb.com.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tonight: U Street Movie Series Continues with "930 F Street"

With the temperature a practically balmy 92 degrees (hey, it's better than 102), it seems like a great night to head out to catch the next installment of the U Street outdoor movie series.

Tonight's feature is "930 F Street," the 2004 movie about our neighborhood's own 930 Club (the title, of course, pays homage to the club's original downtown location). The feature will be preceeded by "Howard Theater: A Century in Song."

For more information about the U Street Movie Series, check out movies.ustreet-dc.org.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Utopia project set to get going as businesses, Freemasons move out

Last week, we snapped the photo below of employees from local Tex-Mex restaurant El Paraiso packing up their belongings for greener pastures. (In this case, their sister restaurant, El Paraiso II in Alexandria.)



Soon after, the City Paper's Lydia DePillis reported on the sale of the United Supreme Council National Headquarters and Archioves building, located next door to El Paraiso at 1924 14th Street NW, to JBG for $5 million. With the recent exodus of the fast food restaurants further up the block, that moves things a step closer for JBG's groundbreaking of the Utopia project, which is anticipated this fall.



The Utopia project will bring 220 rental units and over 20,000 sf of retail to the intersection that serves as the inspiration of this blog's name, which is also one of the busiest in DC. Originally announced back in 2008, the financial market calamity took its toll on JBG's ability to finance the project. However, financing is now on track, and the recent departures pave the way for the commencement of construction of the 90 foot high, Eric Colbert-designed building.

Utopia will be JBG's second large construction project along that stretch of 14th Street, with their District Condos project in full swing two blocks south at 14th and S. And it will be one of many projects currently ongoing in and around 14th Street, all set to deliver at some time during the next one to three years. (Not included in that post, BTW, are Giorgio Furioso's office project near 14th and P, and the recently announced--and HPRB rejected--Level 2 development at 14th and Wallach Place.)

In other words: get used to seeing a lot of upturned dirt along 14th Street over the next few years.

Friday, July 15, 2011

City Development and Business Ethics Issues Come Calling

I usually participate in telephone polls unless I truly do not have the time to do so. A research geek, I think valid surveys are important. I see little harm in answering a few questions when I’m otherwise free, and I always have the option of ending the call if the questions seem inappropriate or drag on too long. That said, I was infuriated by a telephone survey call I received two days ago. Despite my misgivings, my curiosity motivated me to stay on the line. “Who is behind this survey and what do they want?” I thought. Then, as the answers to those questions became clear, I continued to respond to survey items so as to learn what data being collected.

The survey began with questions about my opinions of politicians. Do I view Barack Obama very unfavorably, unfavorably, favorably, or very favorably? What about Vincent Gray, Kwame Brown, Marion Barry, Yvette Alexander, Harry Thomas Jr., Michael Brown, Vincent Orange, and Tommy Wells? Oddly, the titles mayor and council member were not included as the names were read. Also strange was the list of politicians itself; why were some CMs omitted? I was asked only one more question about DC politics. What single DC political issue, from a list of more than ten items, was most important to me? As the long list was read and my working memory struggled to keep up, I was initially frustrated that I could choose only issue. Then I was struck by the omission of important issues and inclusion of other issues. Where was transportation? Why was illegal immigration on the list, particularly since it so rarely features in city politics? My discomfort rose: Either this poll was incompetently written or the organization behind it designed the questions to support an agenda. After a brief shift into questions about my shopping habits and opinions of locally operating retail chains all of the remaining questions were about …Walmart. Ah, this call was related to Walmart’s plans to open four stores in DC.

This was not a simple survey of public opinion; it was a push poll. After establishing that I knew Walmart planned to open stores in DC and my level of support for these developments, it became immediately clear why I had been asked earlier in the survey to pick the one DC political issue that was most important. (Education is what I selected.) I was asked if I knew that Walmart had given hundreds of thousands of dollars to education efforts in DC and over $100,000 to a local non profit that provides jobs and training for city youths (an organization located in Logan Circle). Following this statement disguised as a question, I was asked If I was “strongly opposed to, opposed to, supportive, or strongly supportive of Walmart?” “Um, based on the information I just received?” I asked. “I can’t elaborate on the question,” the surveyor responded.

All of the remaining survey items began with preambles about the positive virtues of Walmart. Did I know that they employed many people? That they made fresh meat and produce available to areas lacking grocery stores? That DC residents spent millions last year at Maryland and Virginia Walmarts? This “survey” was a read-aloud of press releases and talking points. The only thing not qualifying this call as a one-on-one press conference is that I was asked after each glowing report of Walmart’s saintliness how I felt about the chain coming to my city. Of course, the survey designers did not provide for a “neutral” or “no opinion” response option for these questions.

This survey would be laughably bad if the results were not important. Though I cannot prove that Walmart is behind the call, I think it unlikely that a pro-Walmart citizen group would have the money to engage in such shenanigans or that any DC political group with such cash reserves would risk its credibility by push polling. I have a problem with any corporation calling from home to home to share slanted information about their business operations, but Walmart’s efforts cause me particular concern.

At best, I think that this call was being used to test which of Walmart’s talking points will be well received by DC consumers. At worst, the completely statistically invalid data gathered from these calls will be used to influence politician’s feelings about the proposed Walmart stores. I am vividly imagining a Walmart representative saying to a CM, “the vast majority of District residents support Walmart’s development plans. I have the survey data to prove it.” In fact, in response to Living Wages, Healthy Communities' request that Walmart sign a community benefit agreement, Steve Restivo, a Walmart spokesman said, “Unfortunately, some of the louder voices in this discussion just don't represent the majority opinion of D.C. residents" (The Washington Business Journal). I previously wondered how he could trot out the word “majority” with any confidence.

Commentariat: Have any of you received such calls? If so, how do you feel about it?

I believe that Walmart opening in DC is inevitable, and the point of this post is not to discuss the litany of issues at play there. What is within my control, though, is to draw attention to Walmart's unethical PR efforts. I can also ask the council members who represent me to negotiate with Walmart in a way that preserves the interests of the citizens of the District.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fire guts U Street wine shop, dance studio

DCist is reporting that a fire swept through the commercial building at 1351 U Street at around 5 AM this morning. The building houses the U Wine and Beer store, as well as a dance and martial arts studio.

While no official damage tally is yet available, DCist is reporting that it appears that the wine and beer store suffered "heavy losses" in inventory.

U Street had been closed between the 1300 and 1400 blocks this morning for approximately an hour, but has since been reopened.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Residential project at 15th and V adds to growing list of area projects

Last month, we noted the announcement of a forthcoming residential project at 14th and T set to bring new residents, retail, and some really staid architecture to the 14th Street corridor. Although, as recently launched blog U Street Dirt (welcome to the blogosphere, guys) reported, the Historic Preservation Review Board didn't look to fondly upon architect Eric Colbert's plan for the building, and basically sent him back to the drawing board.

Earlier this week, the Meridian Hill Neighborhood Association blog broke the news that yet another large (by DC standards) residential project is forthcoming, this one for the parking lot of the Paul Revere Dunbar Apartment complex at 15th and V streets.



The project, which is being developed by Jair Lynch Associates and was designed by WDG Architecture PLLC, is proposed to stand 9 stories tall and will contain 96 units. It does not appear that any ground level retail will be included as part of the plan, but two levels of underground parking will be included.

Pardon us, if you will, but the rendering for this project looks remarkably similar to a number of residential buildings that have either been proposed, are under construction, or have been built throughout the neighborhood in recent years. In fact, it doesn't look tremendously dissimilar to the Colbert-designed building that was just rejected by HPRB (although, it should be noted, HPRB personnel had other, specific reasons for rejecting the 14th and T building--namely, its size in relation to nearby structures.)



According to Jair Lynch, the senior citizen residents of the Dunbar building have given their full support to the project, which will also include a complete renovation of the existing Dunbar building.

The plans for the building are currently with HPRB, who could discuss and vote on the matter as soon as their July 28 hearing.

DDOT set to tackle U Street reconstruction project

Anyone who has ever driven, ridden or cycled along U Street NW knows that it can be a bone-jarring ride. And anyone who has tried to navigate U Street's crowded, narrow sidewalks, particularly during busy times of the day or night, knows that it can seem like an obstacle course. This fall, DDOT aims to fix that when it kicks-off its reconstruction project of U Street between 9th Street NW and Florida Ave NW.

Eric Fidler over at Greater Greater Washington has done an excellent overview of the project, which I won't repeat here. But there are a few details of the project that are worth calling out.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the project is that DDOT is guaranteeing a four foot wide sidewalk minimum throughout the length of the street. Where less than four feet of sidewalk currently exists--such as along the 1300 block of U Street, where the stairs of several buildings make traversing that portion of the sidewalk a single-procession affair, DDOT will eliminate parking on that section of U Street and extend the sidewalk into what is currently the roadway.



Anyone who has ever been bounced into the roadway to avoid an oncoming group of pedestrians (or drunk, rowdy co-eds) will certainly appreciate the importance of this enhancement.

At the intersection of 16th, U and New Hampshire, a notoriously bad intersection for anyone who has to cross it, DDOT will be installing buildouts to reduce the distance that pedestrians must travel. Eric Fidler also notes the elimination of so-called "slip lanes" on New Hampshire, which will help cut down on speeding vehicles and provide additional pedestrian safety.



On the north side of the 1700 block (the residential block), an exceedingly narrow and choppy sidewalk will be replaced and extended outward, with the casualty being the loss of a number of parking spaces along that portion of the street.



This work is of course all in addition to repaving the the length of U Street, replacing gutters and, along the western portion, replacing the water main. This is not an official "streetscape" project, which means that many of the decorative flourishes found on recently completed streetscape projects such as H Street and 18th Street won't be found along U. Additionally, in spite of plans to eventually run a streetcar line along U Street, streetcar tracks will not be included as part of ths project.

The reconstruction project is set to commence this fall, and will begin with the eastern portion of the street between 9th and 14th street. This phase of the project is anticipated to last 9 months, followed by phase two between 14th and Florida Ave., which will commence at the completion of phase one of the U Street project as well as the 18th Street project currently ongoing in Adams Morgan.

For more details, check out the post on Greater Greater Washington, or head over to DDOT's website for the project, www.ustreetnwupgrade.com, where they have been kind enough to include a link to this blog.

ANC2F Meeting tonight: Tortilla Coast, Studio Theater banners on agenda

It's a pretty quiet agenda for ANC2F's monthly meeting tonight at the Washington Plaza Hotel at Thomas Circle. Highlights include a discussion related to California Tortilla's Tortilla Coast's liquor license (you may recall that the Capitol Hill tex-Mex restaurant is opening a second location in the former McCormick Paints space at 15th and P streets).

Other items of note include a discussion related to supporting another year of banner hanging for the Studio Theater (likely to be a no-brainer), and a discussion from the Community Development Committee related to a traffic mitigationplan for Pepco's O Street substation.

The full agenda is below. As with all ANC2F meetings, the meeting will begin at 7 PM. Also, the ANC will not be meeting in August, so this is your last chance for two months to air your grievances.

ADVISORY NEIGHBORHOOD COMMISSION 2F REGULAR MONTHLY PUBLIC
MEETING Wednesday, July 6, 2011 – 7:00 PM
WASHINGTON PLAZA HOTEL – 10 THOMAS CIRCLE, NW


AGENDA


COMMUNITY FORUM

Call to Order – 7:00
Commissioner Announcements – 7:00
Report from Executive Office of the Mayor – 7:00
Report from Office of Jack Evans, City Council Member, Ward 2-0 – 7:00
PSA 307 Report – Metropolitan Police Department, 3D – 7:10
DDOT Report – Ward 2 Transportation Planner – 7:25
Community Announcements – 7:30

-10 Minute Recess-

Business Meeting

Approval of Agenda – 7:40

Approval of Minutes of Meeting of June 1, 2011 – 7:40
DCHSEMA/Street Closures – 7:50

14th Annual Leukemia & Lymphoma Light the Night Walk
DC Road Runners and DVLEAP
ABRA – 8:00

Tortilla Coast Street, 1454 P Street NW- New License Petition Date: 7/11/11 Hearing Date: 7/25/11

DDOT – 8:15

Studio Theatre- Pole Banners
Crime and Public Safety Committee (Bryan Goodman) – 8:20
Arts Overlay Committee (Andrea Doughty) – 8:25

Community Development Committee (Mike Benardo, Chair) – 8:30

1211 10th Street, NW Condo Conversion
1427 Rhode Island Ave- Variance Relief
Pepco O Street Substation Traffic Control Plan
1309 Q Street- two unit condo conversion
Arts Overlay Committee – 8:40
New Business – 8:45

Department of Housing and Community Development’s proposed funding of 1417 N Street Northwest DC Tenants Association (A.K.A. Norwood Tenants Association)
Treasurer’s Report (Sam Goekjian, Treasurer) – 8:55

Approval of Expenditures
Adjournment – 9:00

NOTICE: The agenda attached to this notice of meeting is provided by ANC 2F in advance of its public meetings contains matters that are expected to come before the meeting. It is, however, subject to formal adoption by the ANC at the meeting, which may result in additions or deletions to the draft. Individuals who may have official business before the ANC or persons with interests in specific matters are advised to contact the Executive Director or a Commissioner in advance of the meeting. See www.ANC2F.org for contact information