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Monday, April 20, 2009

Imagine Europe

I'm going to be in Europe on official business for the next two months. Getting ready for this trip has contributed to light posting lately, but it is likely that I won't be doing much posting at all until June. If I can, I'll try and sneak a post or two in while I'm over there.

I'm currently reading James Howard Kuntsler's Geography of Nowhere, and I'm sure that it will help appreciate the differences between American and European cities, architecture, and transportation. I'm looking forward to sharing when I return sometime in June.

In the mean time, take advantage of the DC spring weather, support your local sports teams and concert venues, and get to know the city!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Imagine Grosvenor

I have often heard the question as to why Montgomery County's western Red Line has not enjoyed the vibrant urbanism or Arlington's Orange Line. There are several reasons for this, of course. The Red Line's stations are much further apart and further from the downtown core. MD-355 does not have the supporting road network that Wilson Boulevard enjoys. MD-355 also has several obstacles to maintaining urban continuity, such as the Georgetown Preparatory School campus, The Naval Medical Center, Rock Creek Park, and the Beltway.

But the constant comparisons between the two areas have perhaps driven Montgomery County to try to live up to the Orange Line. The White Flint plan has been taking effect in recent months, complimenting the 2007 completion of Rockville Town Square. But these two developments are islandscompared to the continuous row of urbanism in Arlington. It will be difficult to fill in the gaps, as the Red Line's stations are further apart, but it can be done.

Which brings me to Grosvenor, at the southern end or Rockville Pike. It is an important station, as it is the western terminus for half of the Red Line's rush hour trains, and thus recieves more service than any station to the north. It serves Strathmore Hall, MoCo's prominent center for the performing arts. But don't expect to get dinner nearby the idyllic odieum, there is nowhere to eat in walking distance. In fact, apart from some town houses, some apartments that would make LeCorbusier hot and bothered, and a couple of huge private school campuses, there isn't much near Grosvenor station. There is, however, ample space.

The Georgetown Prep campus (one of the oldest in America) is a solid obstacle against integrating TOD around Grosvenor to the planned urban fabric of White Flint, but it could grow them much closer together, and make Grosvenor a bit more of a desination stop. Surface parking replaced with parking garages, a more continuous street grid, and a couple bistros near Strathmore Hall might make this possible. It could also make the Metro station more accessible to the nearby Garret Park community. As it stands, several nearby amenities in walking distance are inacessible to pedestrians because of the overt suburban design of the area. not the least of these amenities are the two high schools practically touching the station.

Here is what I imagine for a road network that would support this sort of development in Grosvenor:

View Larger Map

Unfortunately, I presume that the station's location at a major interstate junction (I-270 and I-495) would be expected to have enormous parking requirements. Given the affluence of the area, however, I wonder if this parking could be consolidated into garages so that a walkable development could emerge. I also fear that this would be nearly impossible to accomplish without the destruction of a lot of housing stock, primarily because of the wasteful land use of the existing developments, which are laid out with the towers-in-the-park mindset. Unfortunately, the "park" in towers in the park is usually automobile parking.

Grosvenor will probably never see anything quite this urban, but hopefully someone will invest in the ample dead space, taking advantage of the Metro station and performing arts center. Perhaps a high end restaurant could become the hot reservation on performance night. Until then, Grosvenor will just be a questionably placed station at the junction of Rockville Pike, the 270 Spur, and the Beltway, not a destination station.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Stupid Growth: Palisades

Early this week, DC Mud profiled a new development finally going for sale in Northwest. The post captures the "McMansion" feel of the development, which is at the intersection of Foxhall and W, in the shadow of Georgetown University. This development has quick access to Georgetown, Rosslyn, and Downtown. It is even a quick drive to the Beltway. This was the best and most lucrative use of land these developers could come up with?

Worse yet, this sets a dismal precedent for the rest of the city. Ryan Avent confronts the absurd 46 4500-to-9000 sqf houses by comparing this development with the District's requests for the Brookland neighborhood to embrace greater density while just across town prime land is being wasted in such a gaudy manner (or should I say gaudy manors?)

There are differneces between the two areas, of course. Most notably, Brookland is next to a Metro station and Palisades is not. However, to borrow a phrase from my fellow GGW contributor, areas like these in the favored quarter ought to be increasing in density, if not socio-economic diversity. Neighborhoods like Palisades, Berkley, Foxhall, Colonial Hill, Wesley Heights, American University Park, and Kent ought not be held to a different standard than neighborhoods like Brookland, Anacostia, SW Waterfront, or Petworth. As these areas grow, the absorb more density. Palisades, however, appears to be immune for some reason.

Don't get me wrong, I know Washington, DC is a capital city, the most important in the world. Foreign dignitaries, ambassadors, policy makers, and other VIP's need to live here, often with greater requirements for security than most people. However, high end neighborhoods like Cleveland Park, Kalorama, Woodley Park, and Dupont Circle house many such VIP's in a form much more conducive to the city's urban fabric. The book Suburban Nation argues that more traditionally designed neighborhoods usually offer better security due to the more prevalent street activity and human presence. Tucked-away low-density developments like this one offer less "eyes on the street", provide more empty spaces and hiding places, and tend to have much longer emergency response times.

We don't need enormous high rises popping up over Whitehaven Parkway, but 17,000 sqf properties with enormous "estate homes" will ultimately only serve to partition Palisades from the rest of the city socially and politically. The wealthy and the privileged certainly have a right to live in higher quality housing stock, but in an urban setting, that sort of development ought to be constructed practicing more responsible land use.