Friday, January 30, 2009

Clark Realty to Poplar Point: Adios.

Hot off the presses is the news that Clark Realty has dropped out as master developer of the 110-acre Poplar Point, the hunk of land between I-295 and the Anacostia River. Chosen after a long and arduous selection process just two weeks shy of a year ago, Clark Realty was lauded for their plans to deck over the highway and connect the new development with Historic Anacostia, a bold move none of the other contenders had put forward. The firm was unwilling to invest the money necessary to prepare the massive amounts of unimproved land for development.

This news represents an unfortunate loss for the entire city, but especially the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the site. The community had embraced Clark's extraordinary team that included much-loved planners/architects Torti Gallas & Partners, sustainable design experts William McDonough & Partners, and landscape architects Wallace Roberts & Todd, to name a few, and was eager for and excited about the process finally moving forward.

According the Post's D.C. Wire,
...Neil O. Albert, the city's deputy mayor for economic development, said: "Clark is a great local company that will continue to do excellent work in this city. But in this extremely challenging economic environment it is no longer practical for Clark to pursue the deal structure we currently have in place.

"Our top priority is to make sure we fulfill the requirements of the federal land transfer, which transfers ownership of this site from the federal government to the District. Moving forward, the District will continue to lead, along with its federal partners at the National Park Service, the environmental impact study process and all ongoing remediation studies. This process is on track and we expect it to conclude on time without delaying the project."
We've always known that it would be years before Poplar Point came to be, but I certainly did not expect this latest twist. My hope is that the city continues to place as great an emphasis on this riverfront project as they are projects like the SW Waterfront and Hill East (both on the other side of the river), and that the vision we have spent hours, months, and years refining does not have to be started completely over.

Of course, everyone wants the pretty pictures to become reality - now. But we've been slapped with the cold hard reality that yes, this is a recession, nothing is perfect, and we can't expect for everything to work out exactly as planned. In their 2007 presentation to the community, original developer-contender Forest City put it well when they reminded the District to "pick a partner, not a plan. Plans change."

Spot on.

more details can be found here:
D.C., Clark part ways on Poplar Point, Washington Bizjournal
Poplar Point Developer Pulls Out Of Project, Washington Post

reminder: tonight at the Honfluer

don't forget tonight's closing reception for John K. Lawson's "Fragile", a display of works created out of salvaged mardi gras beads, illustrations - saved and reworked from the ruins of hurricane katrina, and snapshots under encaustic wax. The reception is from 6-8 PM, and light refreshments will be served.

this is also a great way to wish Honfleur a happy second birthday!

The Honfleur Gallery is located just across the 11th Street Bridges in historic anacostia, at 1241 Good Hope Road SE (Click for Map)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

sidewalk repair?

i am all in support of updating and repairing our old and broken fire hydrants. In many respects, having them fixed is a greater good than having good-looking sidewalks. But...

the two are not mutually exclusive. The above picture from atop the hill on Maple View Place is a perfect example of careless repair that we shouldn't stand for.

Enter the DC Service Request Center, where most of the problems like this can be submitted and fixed with the help of anyone who takes five minutes to fill out a request online (no worries, I got the one above).

i've had streetsigns replaced, sidewalks repaired, trees planted, bulk trash removed, vacant lawns mowed, ... all at the touch of a button. It's a great resource, but we have to be vigilant or these little problems will turn our neighborhood into a big eyesore.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Honfleur Gallery: 2 years later

Anacostia's own Honfleur Gallery turned two on January 20, and it's still as fresh as ever.

...and they have a great storefront and logo to boot!

some reflections:

i don't go to every show, but just knowing that it is around the corner is an incredible thing. The fact that there was a cool gallery a couple blocks away was a big factor in my own decision to move to the neighborhood. Things must be happening here: art had arrived.

Honfleur is a staple of neighborhood amenity descriptions, e.g. "we have an art gallery, a coffee shop is about to open, we're in a historic district, ..."

but the gallery is also a legitimate force in the DC art scene. this is a place that draws artists from the around the world, cared enough to send neighborhood residents to northern ireland last year as part of a cultural exchange, and is host to poetry slams, artsists-in-residence, and anyone who happens to walk down Good Hope and inside its crayola-bold blue walls.

"What!? This is here!?" is a reaction Honfleur directors Amy Cavanaugh and Briony Evans love hearing. On a street that until two years ago hadn't seen much of a direct investment in culture, the gallery is a pleasant, refreshing, and instantly engaging surprise.

so if you haven't visited, do so for your own benefit. Looking for an excuse? a closing reception for the current exhibit (John K. Lawson's "Fragile") will take place on Friday, January 30th, from 6-8 PM.

happy birthday, Honfleur - cheers to many more!

photo by DG-rad

Friday, January 23, 2009

DHCD (finally) Moving to Anacostia Gateway

all we need now is people in the windows

You may have noticed all the work being done on the interior of Anacostia Gateway recently: walls are up, cubicles are in, and bright accent walls are painted. Even though their entrance is coming six months later than originally planned, the Department of Housing and Community Development will finally move into their space next weekend, and will be open for business on the morning of February 2.

What does this mean for Anacostia? I see the move as a net good (minus the "wish it were something more street-enlivening" fact that the Housing Service Center is going into the corner retail spot on the ground floor). It means hundreds of new people coming into the neighborhood each day, many of whom will be on the streets at lunchtime looking for a good spot to eat. It means a few who will see Anacostia for the first time, and talk about it in a different way when explaining the move to their friends and family. It means a real anchor to the Anacostia Gateway intersection of Good Hope and MLK, adding rootedness to one of our neighborhood's most prominent corners.

It also means that this agency will be working out its mission in an area that could use some of its help. The DHCD's stated mission is:
to create and preserve opportunities for affordable housing and economic development and to revitalize underserved communities in the District of Columbia... providing gap financing; increasing first-time homeownership opportunities; providing funding to rehabilitate single-family and multi-family homes; supporting communities through neighborhood based activities; providing funding for homelessness prevention; addressing vacant and abandoned properties; and overseeing the administration of rental housing laws.
photos by DG-rad

Monday, January 19, 2009

MLK 2009: a day on

president-elect Barack Obama has emphasized that today is a national day of service. Not a day off (for some), but rather a day on. It was in that spirit that hundreds came out to volunteer in greater southeast this morning: first for a MTV/ServiceNation-sponsored breakfast at Ballou High School, then followed by a day of service at Simon Elementary.

Ashton and Demi premiered their new video, in which fellow celebs pledged to service and other good-will commitments. as Ashton put it: "once the words [to commit] leave your lips, you become accountable".

tobey maguire, spiderman & chair of the ServiceNation ambassadors council. incidentally, the latest superman was also in attendence.

the famous Ballou marching band led the charge to Simon Elementary where the program continued and the serving began

they have a lot of spirit - definitely a great way to get the crowd excited

mayor Fenty was there, and once inside helped introduce one young gentleman, below, who read a portion of Obama's Grant Park "if there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible" speech

everything was being filmed, both for today's Oprah and for a program tonight on MTV

gettin' ready to serrrve

new books for the refurbished library!

the lockers go white. over 200 volunteers were busy priming, painting, and re-stocking.

the legacy of service and selfless commitment to country is MLK's greatest gift. sometimes it's easy to see a day off as just that: an extra couple hours of sleep, a big cup of coffee, some errands, and some all-star relaxation. Painting the day instead as a day on radically transforms it.

all photos by DG-rad

Sunday, January 18, 2009

step one:

remove vinyl or aluminum siding and reveal fake brick siding.

Step two: coming soon.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Houses to be Auctioned Jan. 30

There is a city-wide auction taking place January 30th, at which over thirty homes (most of which are in various stages of decay) will go to the highest bidder. Two are located in humble Historic Anacostia, and both offer an incredible opportunity for ridiculous transformation.

1648 U Street SE: I call this the Door House. It has a great old Anacostia flavor, but clearly needs a lot of work.

it's located on a really nice block with a long view

2321 High Street, SE: this one is crazy dilapidated, but on a good street that I bet carries some sweet views from the back.

almost has an old euro vibe, minus any general feeling of coziness

the fact of the matter is that both of these houses will need an incredible amount of work. but please, bid away!

For more information on the auction, Click Here

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Lessons from Lawrence

i spent a few days in Lawrence, Kansas over the holiday - a college town (Rock Chalk, Jayhawk) with a wealth of civic and school pride, a consistently-humming-with-activity historic main street, and a quality 1860s to 1920s midwestern housing stock that any U.S. city in their right mind would wish upon themselves.

There are lessons to be learned everywhere, but Lawrence's homegrown creativity, boutique sensibilities, and artist-class vibe lend themselves easily to the potential of our own rivertown anacostia neighborhood. Look here:

Welcome to Massachusetts Street, the city's main retail destination, but also home to walkable everyday needs - where old blends with new, hip with hippy, and a (to some) frightening influx of chains threatens a long list of locals:

the hardware store, still a local and helpful resource. loving the 20th c. signage

ingredient, a sweet sign and a focus on fresh salad. I could go for one of these on MLK...

urban outfitters in the very "urban outfitters-esque" old Varsity Theater. old theater as new retail is an interesting model that i haven't seen much of, but definitely works.

still not sure how i feel about this one, but sometimes the rules have to be broken

love. it. Signs of Life (tagline: Books & Art, Truth & Beauty) is an amazing blend of coffee shop, bookstore, and art gallery; warm, inviting, and interesting.

Moving from the main drag to the more residential area, but pause for a quick peek at a humble and human-scale sign. We don't always need fluorescent lights to blast out information. sometimes a more human approach is most appropriate:

you can usually count on small-city architects to have cool offices. no exception here.

if you didn't already know, i'm a huge supporter of dark-contrast windows. adds a certain understated punctuation to an exterior:

green fishscales + black windows + garlands = the sum of all classy

unpainted stainless steel roof with washed-out brick: the perfect combo of actual rustic and country-living chic

simple black and white - hard to go wrong here

kansas stone and forest green. check out the great picket fence - don't forget that you can apply for one with the Historic Homeowners Grant. Although now mostly replaced, this same style used to grace many of the front yards of old anacostia

Lawrence's alleys provide access for the unsightly aspects of everyday life: trash cans, utility wires, and garages...

i swear, if that clean-looking wire is all it takes for Lawrence, aint no way we need our utility line disaster in anacostia

...which allows the streets to exude clutter-free elegance on a human scale. no unnatural tree-shearing here to make way for the telephone lines:

the streets are (too) wide, but the stop signs are many

it really is (always) the details that pull everything together. Unfortunately for the modern streetscape, design details have largely been the first thing to go in our computer-generated society. But there is hope:

even the sidewalk bricks are stamped with a little extra detailing. this was one "pattern", but there is quite the variety from block to block.

there will always be brick sidewalk dissenters (and for good reasons), but i am a big fan. especially loving the herringbone crosswalk and granite outlines.

Washington, DC is a city of old street names. Especially in older areas like Georgetown and Anacostia, there is a street name legacy that has largely been forgotten in the era of letters and numbers. Anacostia's Uniontown (generally the historic district) was laid out in a grid of presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and so on. We could definitely use these in our neighborhood:

this is something i will be pursuing for anacostia.

Lawrence is great. It's inspiring to see a place with so many good examples for our hood to follow, and that has found a way to creatively rejuvinate, stay local, and retain a class-act flavor as it grows. i won't speak for the numbing suburbs that flank it, but its historic center is classic America, and a town with a heckuva lot to offer.

photos by DG-rad

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

in need of another newsy source? tweeeeet.

although i'm still not 110% sold on the time-worthy-ness of twitter (simply because it is one of the first online communication tools that I didn't just naturally gravitate towards), it's another fun way to share links, random ramblings, and interesting urbanism and anacostia-related thoughts. I've also added a link on the right-hand sidebar, so follow away! Click on the picture to go to the DG_rad twitter page.

Friday, January 9, 2009

St. E's West Campus Wins Final OK

it is incredible that these buildings, at once both beautiful and desperate, are so close to everything yet so unknown to most of the public

The National Capital Planning Commission gave final approval yesterday to the GSA's planned redevelopment of the St. Elizabeths West Campus (and part of the East Campus) as the consolidated headquarters for Homeland Security and the U.S. Coast Guard.

because this is a Historic District, most of the buildings will be restored to a much better look

Although the move has been on everyone's radar for a while, the $3.4 billion headquarters project - which will be among the largest construction projects since the Pentagon and will carry the same security requirements - will be a game-changer for the Anacostia, Barry Farm, and Congress Heights neighborhoods.

the variety in the rooflines lends a whimsical and rural feel to the campus

Located just up MLK (what was once called Asylum Road) from the Anacostia Metro Station, the historic mental hospital campus is currently a boarded-up but very impressive reminder of the kind of distinction the institution once held. But it's also a sad place, and very eerie. A lot of people really suffered there.

the ghostly auditorium inside Hitchock Hall

Many of the discussions have centered on the redevelopment's effect on the historic nature of the place, with the National Park Service recently suggesting that the called-for changes pose the risk of de-designating the c. 1850s campus as a National Historic Landmark (Click Here for a PDF of the boundaries). Others fear the "loss" of the campus' prime views, and the missed opportunity for mixed-use development at the site. However, this has always been a closed campus, so we aren't really losing an asset we have always had. If you want views, move to the hills of Anacostia or Barry Farm, where you will be equally or even more impressed. Most of the buildings will stay and be preserved, but there will also be significant new construction, sensitively placed, on the site.

the gatehouse at MLK - straight out of lady and the tramp

For an area of the city that isn't well known to the region, this move will help highlight its potential. I don't expect all 14,000Homeland Security employees to grab lunch in Anacostia. I understand that it will be a very closed campus. But some will, and some will buy homes, and all will be forced to readjust their perceptions of River East. Proximity matters, and the areas surrounding the campus will most definitely benefit from its location within their midst.

on the main quad - MLK runs just behind these buildings

The redevelopment may also bring a new St. Elizabeths Metro station on the Green Line between Anacostia and Congress Heights. This is an exceptional idea that absolutely needs to happen. With a new intersection and highway access directly into the site from 295 planned as part of the project, it is necessary to also provide a transit option.

looking forward to seeing this with windows...

So, I'm pretty pumped that this continues to move forward. Next step, congressional funding. It has been a long time coming, and it will be a long time in the making. This isn't everyone's top choice for the land-use at St. E's, but it is a catalyst and presence that will certainly help legitimize the communities it lies at the heart of. In the end, the project will be a major player in the dramatic change of River East.

at the entrance to Hitchcock Hall

For more, see:
Planning Agency Approves Homeland Security Complex, Washington Post

Disaster for St. Elizabeths, a less-than-optimistic Op-Ed by the President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

NCPC approves St. E's plan, Washington Business Journal
Additionally, if you are interested in a tour of the West Campus, hosted by the DC Preservation League, please email your interest to rsvp[at]dcpreservation[dot]org.

photos by DG-rad

Thursday, January 8, 2009

oldest house to get restoration

located at 1312 U Street SE, this grand abode is the oldest existing house in the original Uniontown subdivision (yes, we live in a subdivision). According to an old historic district brochure,
"the villa-like Italianate-style house, and the more vernacular 1342 U Street, are indicative of the early residents’ preference for rural residential dwelling forms.

Built by the early 1870s, this dwelling displays characteristic features of the Italianate style, including its picturesque cupola and bracketed roof. A two-story stable still survives at the rear of the lot."

I sort of hope they go with a new color scheme

Sadly, the stable has since been (illigally) demolished. But, the grant calls for a "general restoration" of the exterior, so I am pretty excited to see what happens.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Meetings to Attend this Week

Tonight - ANC 8A Monthly Meeting

the first Tuesday of every month at 7:15PM
1649 Good Hope Rd. SE (UPO Anacostia Community Service Center)
Not sure what all is on the agenda this evening, but in general the ANC meetings are a great way to learn about what's new, what's being proposed, and what your locally-elected representatives think about the issues.

Thursday - Historic Anacostia Block Association (HABA)

January 8, at 7:01PM
1649 Good Hope Rd. SE (UPO Anacostia Community Service Center)
Updates and information on the developing Historic Anacostia Heritage Trail, discussion with Michael Beidler from DC Historic Preservation about expanding the Anacostia Historic District boundaries, and info on Census Employment Opportunities.
Make it a New Years resolution to become more involved!