Shaw Library Meeting Monday

Posted: July 17th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: DC Shaw Neighborhood, District of Columbia, Libraries, Watha T. Daniel Library | 3 Comments »

UPDATE: This meeting has been canceled. If, like me, you received a post card about it in the mail please disregard it.

Watha T. Daniel LibraryNext week the D.C. Public Library will start the first round of public meetings connected to the redesign of three neighborhood libraries: the Benning Neighborhood Library, Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library, and Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library.

Although it is not currently on the library website, the community listening meeting for the Shaw library will be next Monday, July 23 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the recently opened Interim Library, located at 925 Rhode Island Ave. NW in front of Shaw Jr. High School.

The meeting in Benning will be on Tuesday, July 31, and the meeting in Tenley will be Wednesday, August 1.

> DCPL: Capital Projects, Community Listening Meetings
> Federation of Friends of the DC Public Library

Shaw Loves Blogs

Posted: April 25th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Blogosphere, DC Shaw Neighborhood, District of Columbia, Gentrification, Urban Development | 3 Comments »

The neighborhood blog directory has announced Shaw has the second most active neighborhood blog community in the country. Although DCist had a short item I thought it was worth noting the news. They claim their rankings are based on “total number of posts, total number of local bloggers, number of comments and Technorati ranking for the bloggers.” The top neighborhood was Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. Interestingly, most of the top 10 are older urban neighborhoods experiencing revitalization, including neighborhoods in New York, Boston, Chicago, Portland (OR), San Francisco, and Los Angeles. I first described Shaw’s blogging renaissance in January, and several new blogs have popped up since then. The exciting blogging action has even inspired envy from other bloggers around town. Gallery Place Living pondered a second home in Shaw, and one well known blogger nearly in Columbia Heights claimed residency.

On that topic, what are the boundaries of Shaw? While there are never hard and fast rules about neighborhood boundaries, history provides some guidance. The Shaw neighborhood was first defined when planners used the boundaries of the Shaw Junior High School to define an urban renewal area for redevelopment efforts. Our very own Mari from In Shaw unearthed the map above, dated 1973. If anything, since then the boundaries have become restricted as other neighborhoods have developed identities.

Rapid Bus Service Starts on Georgia Avenue

Posted: March 30th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: DC Shaw Neighborhood, District of Columbia, Public Policy, Transportation, Urban Development, WMATA | 1 Comment »

Metro ExtraToday marks the end of the second week of service of WMATA’s new Metro Extra line on Georgia Avenue. To my knowledge the project is the second Bus Rapid Transit line developed in the region, and the first express bus to operate almost exclusively inside the District.

The service, officially Metro Extra Route 79, currently operates every ten minutes from 6-9:30 a.m. and 3-6:30 p.m. along 7th Street and Georgia Avenue, with stops at the Navy Memorial, Chinatown, Shaw, Petworth, Walter Reed, and Silver Spring, among others. When Dr. Gridlock took a ride on the bus recently he found it running smoothly, with the exception of a few confused riders. Over the next year new bus shelters, sidewalk bulb-outs, and technology to speed buses through intersections will be tested and installed. The service may also be eventually be extended to provide all-day service.

Metro Extra MapAlthough the branding for the route is less than ideal (extra what?), the marketing has been more creative than I’ve seen for any other WMATA bus service. I even received a pamphlet in the mail in Spanish and English clearly explaining the route, and containing coupons to use at the AFI Silver Theater and Borders Books (both located near route stops), and two coupons to ride the bus free during its first week of operation. With Arlington County, WMATA developed the successful PikeRide to provide service on Columbia Pike in Virginia. However, other suburban express routes could be improved by clearer marketing and route information.

The service, a joint project between WMATA and the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) shows that DDOT continues to be much more dedicated to enhancing transportation in the District, having also launched the successful DC Circulator service, which recently expanded to take over the Georgetown Blue Bus route on Wisconsin Avenue.

The project is a rare bright spot for WMATA’s bus system, where little major changes have been made since a 2005 evaluation in which experts reported the system was providing erratic service on aging buses along routes that have changed little since 1973. High hopes are riding on WMATA’s much-discussed new General Manager, John Catoe, Jr., who successfully led the overhaul of bus service in the sprawling Los Angeles system.

> WMATA Metro Extra Information
> Metro Extra Project Development Website
> W. Post: “Georgia Avenue to Get Express Bus Route“, Get There Blog: “New Metrobus Rolls Out
> W. Post, 12/27/05: “Progress Has Passed Metrobus By
> DCist, 11/17/06: “New Guy on the Bus” (Catoe profile)

Re-Imagining The Watha T. Daniel Library

Posted: March 15th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: DC Shaw Neighborhood, District of Columbia, Housing, Libraries, Urban Development, Watha T. Daniel Library | 9 Comments »

Watha T. Daniel Library

Could the site of the closed Watha T. Daniel library in Shaw become home to not only to a new library, but also housing and perhaps even a small store?

That’s what Cheryl Cort, Policy Director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, is suggesting in a provocative proposal being circulated in the community, that I have published below.

Zoning Around Watha T. Daniel LibraryThe idea is not as far-fetched as it might seem. Although composed of barely a quarter of an acre of land, the library site is located immediately adjacent two large Section 8 subsidized apartment buildings and across the street from an exit to the Shaw Metro station. (The canopy can be seen to the far left in the photo above.) A dense development would fit nicely in the existing context, and take advantage of the proximity both to Metro and 7th Street buses, which will soon include the new Metro Extra. As Cheryl suggests, a creative re-use of the building could provide not only library and retail services but also additional housing and safety to the neighborhood. Furthermore, the parcel is already zoned R-5-D, a category designed to include both residential buildings and “institutional and semi-public buildings that would be compatible with the adjoining residential uses.”

A quick web search turned up an article about the project in Portland, Oregon Cheryl mentions, where mixed-use development combines a library, restaurant, and 47 apartments — 19 of which are reserved for households below the area’s median income. Although the situation here in Shaw may have been created by poor planning by library officials, the closed library presents a tremendous opportunity for a creative redevelopment.

Watha T. Daniel Library redevelopment proposal for a mixed use facility
By Cheryl Cort

Our closest (closed) library is the Watha T Daniel library at the 8th & R St. entrance of the Shaw Metro station. It feels or is unsafe at night; it’s a depressing place by day due to poor land uses and urban design.

The Mayor has promised to rebuild or reopen the 4 closed libraries as soon as possible.

Given the problems with crime and poor land uses around the Watha T. Daniel Library and the adjacent Shaw Metro station, a mixed use library at this site with a pedestrian-friendly design is particularly important for creating a safer environment for the community, library patrons and Metro riders. To create a safer and more inviting street environment and library, I propose reconstructing a new library with affordable housing units above, and possibly a small retail space at the ground level. This proposal is similar to the new branch library in Portland Oregon which doubled library space, added a café and 40 units of housing – 19 of which are affordable.

Transportation: The Watha T. Daniel site is tight but located next to a Metro station, close to grocery stores, shops, services & downtown. In order to provide added public benefits, such as affordable housing on top of a new library, I propose that the mixed building be developed with no automobile parking. Instead, residents can be offered a valuable package of carsharing memberships & discounted usage, transit passes, bicycles and bicycle parking (ShawEco Village could provide the bicycles). The transportation benefits package could equal the cost of renting a parking space in such a location – about $150 per month. Two to four on-street carsharing vehicles could be parked adjacent to the new library building. Access to residential parking permits could be limited to a small number in order to address adjacent neighbor concerns about more competition for $15/year residential public street parking.

Until now, the opportunity to leverage the value of the library sites through redevelopment to provide greater public benefits has been largely overlooked. These public benefits include: expanded library space, public meeting and study spaces, enhanced technology, synergistic development potential with adjacent schools/public facilities, and complementary private uses such as a café and affordable housing that could offer greater safety and vibrancy to the library as a center of civic life.

I understand that some people have been skeptical of the opportunity to leverage added public benefits from a public-private venture for the library. The idea of mixed use libraries to maximize complementary public benefits is not new. The Montgomery County Library in Rockville, Maryland, is finishing a ground floor café that marks the prominent corner of the street and public plaza that leads to the main entrance of the new main library for the County. Library agencies all over the country are building mixed use, complementary facilities to leverage the opportunity to expand library space and offer other public benefits such as affordable housing and activities to reinforce the vitality and safety of public realm through cafes and other small-scale retail. This is the kind of mix of uses that would great benefit a new Watha T. Daniel Library.

I propose that we adopt a resolution asking for the city to look into a public-private partnership to increase the library space, upgrade facilities and add complementary uses such as a café and affordable housing.

Shaw’s Buried Stream

Posted: March 4th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: DC Shaw Neighborhood, District of Columbia, History, Reedy Branch, Urban Development, Waterways | 1 Comment »

Shaw Metro Station

Shaw Metro StationRegular visitors to D.C.’s Shaw-Howard University Metro Station will be familiar with the water. Year-round, a soft trickling sound can be heard in the damp station, and sometimes the water visibly flows over the southbound rail bed. In the photo to the right, the flow has slowed leaving a series of puddles. Although the station is much newer than most others in the system (it opened in 1991), the cement walls are stained with algae and mineral residue left by water. The picture above shows a valve installed directly into the wall to drain water from behind the cement.

All the water is partly due to the station’s construction. It was built just beneath the road surface through a cut-and-cover technique where a hole is excavated and then a roof constructed to create a tunnel. Although the much deeper stations like Dupont Circle also have water problems, they were constructed by drilling directly into bedrock and thus insulated somewhat from subsurface flow. Shaw’s water might have another cause: it is barely one block from a historical stream noteworthy enough to be one of two named streams on eary versions of the L’Enfant Plan.

Labeled “Reedy Branch,” early maps show the stream flowing east from 7th and S st NW in Shaw to join Tiber Creek, and then flowing south just east of North Capitol Street to the Mall. Another version of the L’Enfant plan drawn by Andrew Ellicott in 1792, and shown below, adds the note to the Reedy Branch that “This branch of the Tiber may be conveyed to the Presidents house,” suggesting it is possible the water in the Shaw Station — just south of the natural riverbed — could indeed be the stream.

Portion of Ellicott Map

H-DC has a good listing of D.C.-specific online mapping resources

Analyzing Washington’s Block 450

Posted: February 25th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: DC Shaw Neighborhood, District of Columbia, Photos, Urban Development | 5 Comments »

For a recent assignment for a class in urban design I am taking, I analyzed a block in downtown Washington, D.C. The block is located at Mount Vernon Square, bounded by New York Avenue NW, 7th Street NW, and L Street NW. The block is part of the original L’Enfant plan, square 0450 in modern records. It has an assessed value for 2008 of over $93 million. I have uploaded the owners and assessments of all of the properties in the block from the city’s assessment database. What follows is a detailed analysis of the block’s shape and use.


URSP 688J Study Area

To the south is Washington’s downtown, a commercial district with tall buildings set on larger lots. Historically few people live in this area. To the north and northwest are residential neighborhoods composed of 2 and 3 story row homes. To the east, New York Avenue and the railroad right-of-way leading to Union Station have historically been major transportation arteries into the city. Immediately adjacent the block is two large institutional buildings. A wedge-shaped corner of the block fronts the northeast corner of Mount Vernon Square, the location of the city’s 1903 Carnegie Library. The block is also across 7th Street from the Washington Convention Center, which opened in 2003. This context influences both the design and function of the block.

The Block Area

Historical Development

The odd mix of uses seen today are in fact consistent with the history of the site. Located between industrial, residential, and commercial zones in the city it is the natural place for furniture, hardware, and small warehouses. Indeed, today the block contains a furniture store, warehouses, and an art gallery called “Warehouse.” Located near major transportation routes and the busy downtown the block has been the site of liveries and carriage and car storage and repair since at least 1880. Lastly, located near instutional uses that draw visitors (first the library, now the convention center) the block has always contained small shops and today even bars. It is this unique context of both the block and specifically the wedge-shaped building at the corner that have made it attractive to political candidates looking for a high profile yet neutral headquarters for their campaigns.

Here is a brief analysis of the historical development of the block, using Sanborn maps.

Historical Development 1

Historical Development 2

I was able to find two photos of the block in the Library of Congress’s online image library. This photo from 1927 shows the livery that creates an uninterrupted facade on New York Avenue. The hardware stores in the foreground are on land now occupied by a parking lot and billboard. The women standing to the left of the truck appear to be waiting for a streetcar.

Mount Vernon Square (1927)

This aerial from 1992 shows the large parking lot that existed across the street from the early 1970s until the Convention Center was constructed. Both 7th and 9th Streets sustained heavy damage during the 1968 civil disturbance, and the city used eminent domain to acquire this property.

Mount Vernon Square (1992)

Street Analysis

Each side of the block has a distinct set of uses and physical form.

Massing Diagram

The northern edge of the block bounded by L Street NW contains a series of buildings of fairly uniform height. Some are abandoned and others are being used as warehouses, and some it is difficult to evaluate their use. The sidewalk is very wide and few trees exist. At the far northeastern corner is a 1-story building occupied by an Eritrean cultural organization. The western edge contains one abandoned structure, one building used for storage, and a parking lot.

The southern edge, along New York Avenue, contains a range of uses. The block contains parking, a restaurant, two nightclubs, an auto repair shop, and a vacant building. The three parking lots are interspersed between taller buildings. According to the historical maps these lots were used for parking as early as 1959, and before that used as livery stables for horses.


South Field Sketches 2

The western edge, fronting 7th street, presents the most uniform façade of buildings, ranging from 2 to 4 stories. Although the most northern half are entirely boarded up and vacant, this block also includes a furniture store, small offices, and art gallery and café. It has the highest pedestrian traffic and the width of the sidewalk, street trees, storefront scale, and even the Convention Center across the street make the space feel enclosed and welcoming to the pedestrian.

West Photos.jpg

West Field Sketches


The structure at the corner of 7th Street and New York Avenue works to define both the form and character of the rest of the block. The sharp corner and tall vertical façade responds to the convention center and Carnegie Library directly, and the downtown district indirectly, and defines the form of the entire block. The roofline projects a hypothetical line down each block, unifying the varied sizes and gaps present to provide the illusion of solidity. The structure also responds to the pedestrian character of the street and the neighborhoods to the north. The prominent door and “bumped out” display windows strongly defines a pedestrian zone at the sidewalk level, inviting passersby to look in.

7th and New York Ave. Sketches

7th and New York Avenue

The White Elephant of Shaw Redevelopment

Posted: February 19th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: DC Shaw Neighborhood, District of Columbia, Housing, Urban Development | 4 Comments »

O Street Market

The Washington Post had two stories today evaluating the economic impact of the Washington Convention Center on the city and its impact on Shaw. The Post reports that attendance at the convention center is flat and with an annual operating cost to taxpayers of roughly $20 million is generally not performing as well as supporters had hoped. A companion article by Paul Schwartzman describes how Shaw remains a “renaissance thwarted.” While discussing some of the causes of the blight, including property speculation and negligent institutions like Shiloh Baptist Church, the article omits mention of a major contributing factor: the neighborhood is home to almost 1,400 housing units of subsidized Section 8 public housing.

As I illustrated in July 2006, these projects line 7th, 9th, and 14th streets like a massive Maginot Line against gentrification across the District.

The high concentration of these projects and very low income of their tenants can make the neighborhoods look less appealing to businesses conducting research. According to data from the Washington, DC Economic partnership the median income of the population in Shaw is $25,000, as opposed to $31,000 for H Street NE or $69,000 for Dupont Circle. Secondly, although it generally goes undiscussed, these properties can share some of the problems associated with government-owned large public housing buildings, such as concentrations of crime. One of the murders earlier this year in Shaw occurred in the stairwell of a Section 8 building, and last year a man was murdered just steps from a Metro entrance, which happens to be adjacent a cluster of four Section 8 buildings. (The man police arrested for the murder lived in a nearby Section 8 building.) Police response to a recent jump in crime in the neighborhood has been focused on these buildings — including the decision to station patrol cars 24 hours a day at the 8th Street Metro station exit and patrol the troublesome Kelsey Gardens heavily with cars, a “light tower” of floodlights, and even a horse patrol.

My point here is not to dwell on the crime, but instead invite a dialogue about the connections between revitalization, crime, and housing. Crime is a complex problem, but de-concentrating the affordable units and investing in social programs — not horses and floodlights — seem like logical first steps.

(As a side note, D.C. passed an inclusionary zoning ordinance last year, which am planning to examine later.)

> W. Post: “Convention Center Not Living Up to Lofty Goals
> W. Post: “A Thwarted Renaissance Near the Convention Center

Also see these related posts:
> Where is the Convention Center’s Retail?
> Mapping Shiloh Baptist Church’s Properties
> D.C. Gentrification and Section 8 Subsidized Housing

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