Dear PoP – What’s Going Into the Empty Lot Behind DCUSA

DSCN1635, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

“Dear PoP,

I walk down Hiatt (behind DC USA) every day on the way to the metro, and I pass by a few things that might be of interest. There is a huge undeveloped lot behind DC USA that I would love to see turned into a public space. Do you know what the plans are for this area?”

Hmm, this was the old Bell Multicultural School which was demolished back in June. So does anyone know what is going to happen to this land?

31 Comment

  • It is (hopefully) going to be a soccer field or some variation of an athletic field for the school. My aunt is on the board at Bell and she is one of the people working on raising the money needed to get things going. From what I understand they are very close to having all the $. I will drop her an e-mail and see if I can get a status update for everyone.

    I think it should become DC’s largest dog park…hehe

  • Is it big enough to have a running track back there, too? It would be nice to have a place close by to do sprints and whatnot.

  • That could be good. It would seem that the more activities there are for youth, the less likely it is for them to get involved in crime.

    It would also be cool if they could make it into a movie complex or some other destination to draw people to Columbia Heights.

  • Just so long as they have a sign that says, “This athletic field is a Drug-Free zone!” Because sometimes the kids need a reminder.

  • i frequently park on the street right here. its a shame the DCUSA complex’s air-handling unit throws so much noise onto this area. why couldn’t they have the noise directed upwards instead?

  • Turning it into a public space is a terrible idea. I live on the 1500 block of Park, so I walk up that block of Hiatt all the time. And at night it gets more than a little creepy. Just last night I was confronted by a homeless man. He meant no harm, but I did get the feeling that if things went south, I’d be on my own. Read Jane Jacobs’ ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities,’ and you’ll learn that one of the things that matters for the safety of a block is “eyes on the street” — people whose windows face the street at night and so on. Right now that block has almost no eyes on the street. There’s the school, the empty lot, two vacant apartment buildings under renovation, and a small set of row houses. There’s an alley that runs behind the school’s fields and in that alley are constantly prostitutes and drug dealers and so on. The only way that problem’s going to get fixed is to get more eyes on the street. That space should become mixed-use, with retail on the first floor and apartments or condos above.

  • With all due respect to Jane Jacob’s and the “eyes on the street” theory, please consider the bystander effect and its implications for the effectiveness of mixed-use development to deter crime.

  • What good are “eyes on the street” when “snitches get stitches?”

  • yeah, lets make sure we get a drug free sign up. that should fix all our problems.

  • If it were a sports field and adequately lit, you’d have a huge number of people there all evening and much of the night, most of the year. The safety benefits of having dozens of well-intentioned folks in an area are enormous. What’s more the machismo and adrenaline combo may lead to a very high rate of intervening in street crimes when help is called for.

    This part of the city is very very short on space for pickup soccer, football, ultimate etc and the presence of a field would be very very valuable.

    One thought: make it one of the new kinds of artificial turf so that it holds up very well to use and we don’t need to artificially restrict it’s availability to keep it lush.

  • Jim: the point about the bystander effect is well-taken, but we’re not contemplating an ideal world absent the quirks of human psychologies. We’re contemplating a choice between having essentially no one around on that block at night and having a fair number of people around constantly. Maybe those people will be less likely to intervene than they otherwise would be, given their numbers, but having a number of people whose propensity to intervene is reduced is better than having no one at all around to intervene. While the bystander effect is a troublesome fact about our psychologies, I’ll take the imperfection of worrying about the bystander effect over the imperfection of being wholly on my own.

    ZT: there is already a sports field behind Bell High School, and while we may question whether it’s adequately lit, it’s simply not the case that we have a huge number of people there all evening and much of the night, most of the year. The fields do get used for soccer, ultimate, and so on on the weekends in the spring, summer, and fall, and there are usually people waiting to get on the tennis courts on the weekends. But that doesn’t carry over into the night, and the place is desolate in the winter. The only people I see around there at night are groups of teenage kids and your more questionable-type individuals muttering to themselves or asking for change or cigarettes.

    My female housemates won’t take Hiatt to get to our house from the Metro stop at night, but instead walk up 14th and over Park, simply because the street is so deserted and they feel unsafe. The structural inadequacies of the block come down to the fact that there’s no one around. And I don’t see that changing unless more people simply live there. Maybe we should push to have the field better lit at night, and certainly we should push to have more cops walking the beat in the entire area. Maybe that could start a positive feedback loop of people being willing to come around that block. But that entails making better use of what’s available, and adding something else of greater value, rather than building a redundant and likely under-used field.

  • How would everyone feel about putting an Arby’s here? I’ll email around, and see if we can get some traction on this.

  • dog park-sports bar combo

  • I doubt a dog park/Arbys combo is financially viable, since I have yet to see any dog even attempt to eat an Arbys sandwich. And this is an animal that eats its own poop and smiles while they do it.

  • KJM:

    There are two problems with the Bell field.

    1) smallness…it isn’t big enough for many sports. Ultimate, for instance is a big stretch.
    2) lighting…you have to stop playing at dusk because it isn’t lit. If it were you’d see much greater use for sports at night.

  • A movie theater wold be outstanding for the neigborhood – even if this location is already spoken for!

  • Dog parks, sports bars, and movie theaters are nice, but considering the fact that there is a huge Latino presence at the church and playground around the corner and there is a school so nearby, I think a grassy sports field with lighting is the way to go! But I also agree that it’s a scary, dangerous, and hidden waste right now. And who wants Arbys when you can get Pho just a block away?

  • Quite honestly, the dog park/field combo at 11th and R is great. There are daily soccor games on the field, and kids running around on the outskirts of the play area, and the dog park shares the field lights at dusk. Dogs need places to run, and so do peoples.

  • If things worked out well, it could turn into a community space like Malcolm X/Meridian Hill Park was before those fields were shut down for several years by inept NPS fumbling. If things went well we’d see soccer, ultimate, capoiera, families, dogs, etc all happily coexisting.

  • KJM: While I like a lot abuot Jacob’s argument I guess I generally doubt the validity of “eyes on the street” reducing crime even if it makes people *feel* safer. Mainly, I do not think it will matter much what is developed there as far as the crime rate is concerned. I find crime to be the result of several factors either unrelated, or indirectly related, to the type of development and that most correlation found between development type and crime is spurious (obviously with some exceptions such as casinos, etc…). What is infinitely more important for the safety of the neighborhood are the socio-economic status of the people living there, the short-term allocation of resources by the city towards law enforcement in that area, and the long-term allocation of money towards education.

    That being said, I am not an expert on urban planning, and I could be very wrong. Personally I am pushing for an Arby’s/Sports Bar/Dog Park combo.

  • I think this is where the kite store is supposed to go.

  • OOOOoo! OO! OO! Can we have please have an open-air drug market? Can we?!? Can we!?

    It’s too far to walk all the way down to Meridian Hill some nights. And I hear I shouldn’t be walking alone at night or I deserve what’s coming to me.

  • Sounds like we’re thinkin Arby’s

  • Legal drug sale zone. Just pay $10 to enter, say a couple grand a month for vending rights. The city pays some fair “but for” compensation to the neighbors and pockets the rest. Budget deficits gone, entitlement programs fully funded forever.

  • It should be a place that changes with the seasons. My nominations are as follows:

    1. Spring/Summer – Outdoor Family friendly Beer Garden with Stage for plays and live music
    2. Fall/Winter – Space for tagging, public art installations, temporary architecture installation

  • y’all know – gonna be cupcake shop

  • kite collective please. no wine bars.

  • an Arby’s that sells cupcakes and froyo, serves wine, and instead of a kiddie playland, has a doggie play area.

  • This thread got a little weak toward the end, but I just wanted to add that I actually walk down Hiatt regularly (aint skerrrd), and this afternoon I saw a contractor taking measurements along the edge of the aforementioned vacant lot. He said that it would soon be an artificial-turf football field. I assume that the field would belong to the Multicultural school, since the DCUSA/school were actually developed by associated parties, and the empty lot is smack in the middle. Does anybody know any details?

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