Pierre L’Enfant’s plan for the city of Washington included radial avenues named after states superimposed over a grid of lettered and numbered streets. Inevitably, the intersection between the avenues and the grid result in a number of small triangular lots, and many lots with at least one acute, wedge-shaped corner. (This has resulted in many buildings with triangular corners, a feature modern office designers have celebrated with rounded, neo-Victorian towers and other embellishments.) The smallest triangle lots in the L’Enfant plan were too small to build upon, and designated public space. These triangle parks were managed by the federal government until the 1970s when many of the small triangle parks (but not the larger parks) were transferred to the newly created independent D.C. government. Today, the DC government website contains this list of triangle parks. Thanks to a lack of funds and the small and awkward shape of many of these parks, D.C.’s triangle parks have experienced a wide range of fates. Below I consider several types that can be found in residential neighborhoods in D.C. As a note, these parks include some managed by the city, others by the D.C. Department of Transportation, some jointly managed by private organizations, and some managed by the National Park Service. The actual ownership is noted if known.
The Green Triangle
In some places the triangles simply contain grass, and perhaps a few trees. I call these “green triangles,” and they appear most often in triangles where there is little pedestrian traffic due to busy adjacent streets or low levels of pedestrian traffic. The triangle park to the left is at Scott Circle, and on the right is at the intersection of Vermont Avenue and 11th Street NW. Although the latter park is quite simply designed I noticed a man walking his dog walked through this area just before I took the picture. Although the green triangle does not attempt to encourage use, it can serve low-intensity uses like occasional pedestrians. The green triangle can also provide an oasis of green in densely developed parts of the city. The two green triangles below are at Rhode Island Avenue and 11th Street.
The Gray Triangle
At the opposite extreme from the green triangle one can find trianglular spaces city authorities have chosen to pave completely. Most likely the least expensive to maintain, the paved triangle is only useful in heavily trafficked areas. Although their bleak design discourages lingering, near busy Dupont Circle, vendors and musicians sometimes set up shop on similar paved spaces.
The Enclosed Triangle
Another option to the designer is to make the space usable by enclosing it with a fence or hedge and leave only one opening. The Sonny Bono Park located at 20th and O Streets NW is a good example where careful design has carved out an oasis in a very small space. When I visited Saturday I observed one woman sitting in the park talking on her cell phone, and the wear on the grass indicates it is well used by pedestrians.
The Lush Triangle
It’s easy to miss this triangle park, located at Dupont Circle and P Street. Here the designer has carved a wide sidewalk for pedestrians and claimed the interior of the space with lush vegetation. This park is a landmark for passersby to observe, not a space to linger.
The Memorial Triangle
In a city that contains as much statuary as Washington, we should not be surprised to find triangle parks that contain memorials and monuments of various types. This triangle park contains a monument to Daniel Webster. The design of this park includes a grassy area protect by a hedge and tree from passersby. This space is used during the day by bike messengers to relax. I have also observed homeless people using the space to socialize and sleep. Perhaps in response to this activity, the boutique hotel adjacent the park has installed a high-intensity floodlight pointing into the park. The memorial park below is dedicated to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, located at P Street NW. Other nearby triangle monument parks include parks containing sculptures of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Mahatma Gandhi.
The Grove Triangle
Two triangle parks located adjacent Logan Circle are a curious hybrid of the green and grey types. In these “grove” triangles most of the ground is paved, but space has been carved out for trees. These parks encourage the visitor to pass through. Although one of these parks is quite large, I have never seen anybody lingering (where would you sit?) while the circle itself (with grass and benches) is well-used by a variety of people.
The Triangle Dog Park
This well-loved dog park was created and managed by a private organization. It contains bulletin boards, a dispenser for plastic bags for dog owners (that was empty when we visited), a water bowl chained to a post, and several pieces of public art. The park contains a paved path crossing the park where dog owners seem to congregate. Opposite this park is a slightly smaller dog park, also managed by the Friends of S and T Streets Parks, that seems to receive much less use. Why is it less popular? It is smaller, contains no obvious point of entry (the entire area is raised from sidwalk level) and there are few trees or shrubbery to provide visual enclosure.
A Design Problem: Carter G. Woodson Park
I was inspired to complete this catalogue of park types for a reason. Last February it was announced that the triangle park very close to my house would be renovated. This park was named after historian Carter G. Woodson in 2001 who lived in a nearby house for most of his professional life. (The house was recently purchased by the National Park Service to be eventually restored and opened to the public as a historic site.) According to the announcement the design will be completed by the architecture firm Lee and Associates, Inc. and will include a sculpture of Dr. Woodson by the artist Raymond Kaskey. The site presents an interesting design challenge. Not only must the design include Mr. Kaskey’s sculpture and appropriately commemorate Dr. Woodson, it must also accomodate heavy pedestrian traffic from two nearby schools, a busy bus stop, and carve out a pleasant space immediately adjacent the very busy Rhode Island Avenue. I plan to analyze the site in greater detail in a subsequent post.