Wednesday, November 28, 2007

14th and U Street Controversy

A developer has proposed a ten story apartment and retail building for the southwest corner of U and 14th Streets, where the McDonalds now is. The proposal is to get rid of the bad one story development along 14th Street and incorporated the historically contributing structures into the design of the new building. This, of course, has brought out all kinds of opposition from various community group, including, for some reason, the Dupont Circle Conservancy and the Dupont Circle ANC, even though 14th and U is NOT in Dupont Circle.

But that’s OK, because in this great city of ours, anyone and everyone can throw their two cents into any issue at any time. Since I live two blocks from 14th and U and walk past that corner twice a day, I figure I probably have more right than people who live at 22nd and S Streets to comment on it. So here goes.

I support the development. To not support dense in-fill development in the middle of the city is to be both anti-urban and anti-environment.

Anti-urban because dense development, as Jane Jacobs pointed out in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is good for the economy and good for public safety. Anti-environment, because in a neighborhood that is well served by public transportation (the Metro is one block away), and in a world where global warming is a reality, leaving a huge plot of land like that under-utilized is backward looking. Us urbanites should be leaders in the environmental movement, not NIMBYs.

The arguments against it come down to traffic and “massing,” which is the same as saying “I don’t like it ‘cause it’s too big.”

The traffic argument doesn’t work because, again, Metro is one block away. Who on earth would move to that building so they could drive to work every day? Plus, I walk past there at rush hour every day, and there ain’t that much traffic there, something the Dupont Circle folks might know if they every actually ventured into my neighborhood.

The “massing” argument is also absurd. To support the “I don’t like it ‘cause it’s too big” argument (and I quote from The Dupont Current), the Dupont Circle Conservancy said that “unlike the Reeves Center to the north, which was built on a large site, this project is being wedged into an existing historic district with considerable adjacent existing residential areas.” The sheer idiocy of this statement is mind-boggling! First, to hold up the Reeves Center as some sort of model of development is lunacy. The first problem with the Reeves Center is that it doesn’t use all of it’s large site, not to mention that it has such things as huge ventilation systems fronting on U street and empty glass and ugly brutalist architecture, all of which make it relate extremely poorly to the prominent corner on which it is situated and not fit in with the historic structures all around it. Which brings up the second problem with the Conservancy’s statement: the Reeves Center is in the exact same historic district, surrounded by the same residential areas, as the proposed site. In fact, it is right across the street! Their argument is simple nonsense. A 75 to 100 foot building would have the same “massing” as the self-storage building it will abut, as the Reeves Center, and as all the other apartment and condo buildings that have been built along 14th Street.

The devil, of course, is always in the details. The plans have to be good. But since it is in a historic district, and there are zoning specifications it must meet, and a lot of it has to be reviewed by the ANC (the ANC that has actual jurisdiction over the area, not one from across town), the plan will have to be good to pass muster.

In this day and age, with the price of oil climbing to ever higher levels, with the reality of global warming, NIMBY-ism and obstructionism should not be allowed to derail good, dense, urban in-fill development, which I believe this will be.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Shameless Promotion: Les Champs Artists' Cooperative

I've come out of my blog-dormancy to make a quick anouncement about a new Artists' Cooperative based in DC. Based, in fact, on U Street. Actually, based right here in this building: Les Champs Artists Cooperative.

My beautiful and talented wife is the founder of the cooperative, and they just had their first highly successful show this weekend at the Junior League of Washington's A Capital Collection. They sold a lot of art!

The cooperative is made up of many talented artists who do what I like to call "representational realism". In other words, artists who can actually draw and have a real sense of color and create beautiful, amazing pictures.

Perhaps I'm biased. But check it out!