Dear PoP – Columbia Heights Plaza Update

IMG_1866, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

“Dear PoP,

Hard to tell but it looks like they may be installing solar panels on
these metal monstrosities. Thank god they finally gave me a reason not
to completely hate them.”

I still think it’s too early to tell, we gotta see when it’s all done.


39 Comment

  • guess they are supposed to be lights for the new fountain. I just can’t wait till the construction is done, it’s neverending…. they should rename Columbia Heights Construction Hell.

  • complain complain…..

  • From
    [columbia_heights] FYI: CH Civic Plaza Funky Light Poles
    by: William Jordan

  • The Funky Light Poles in the Columbia Heights Civic Plaza at 14th
    St/Park/Kenyon have multiple purposes. First they will host solar panels
    designed to provide power for lighting and the fountain. Hopefully enough
    juice for other functions. They will also host and are art objects. A
    preliminary design inclused stained glass design to reflect a kaleidoscope
    pattern, not sure if the stained glass made the final cut. And finally the
    should provide a small amount of shade.

    Also, on the south side of Kenyon the widened sidewalk is designed to extend
    the plaza a similar design will be included on the Tivoli side and to the
    DCUSA side to a lesser degree.

    Ideally, given permitting and other factors the entire area including the
    streets will be closed down from time to time to host mini-concerts and
    other events or just a pedestrain mall. The overall design is also layed out
    to host the CH Farmers Market and marketplace. Also the design may also
    just close Park Rd. in that area or Kenyon or some combination.

    The space is designed to work both well in the day and night.

    The theory behind the maintenance and programming of the plaza and related
    public spaces areas is the formation of neighbor maintenance group funded by
    quasi-public and private funds.

    Also note, the Metro Plazas will form a mini-plaza minus the fountains.

  • Could be worse. We could be getting a giant, wacky sculpture of a musician on a bicycle.

    Seriously, I’m totally jazzed about the construction getting finished. I think it’s going to be great.

  • @ Mark, yeah I guess it could be way worse.

    @Anon, try living directly above this construction and you could be complaining too.

  • I overlook the new plaza and watch the construction progress each day after work. Last night, they were really hard at work (even after dark) on the solar panels, Kenyon Street, and the sidewalks at the intersection of 14th and Kenyon. I read on PoP that the dedication is this Friday, and based on the overtime and the constant high level of activity, it looks like they are working to meet that schedule. The stainless steel “trees” have fluorescent lights in their “branches” that were lit for a short time last night. Also from above, it is clear that the plaza design extends south across Kenyon into the space in front of the Heights restaurant. There are several tree pits of similar design and there are large, rectangular concrete blocks in the sidewalk that I assume will be seating areas covered with the same dark granite. Once it is done, I think it will all be very nice and a great community asset. I am still reserving judgement, however, on these new narrower streets. Unless traffic shifts and motorists begin to avoid the 14th Street/Park/Kenyon intersection near the plaza, this could be a traffic nightmare. There is already too much honking of horns at all hours of the day and night.

  • I like the bike sculpture. and look the ghost bikes are gone. all you people who went ape sh*t over them can breath a sigh of relief and find something else to have a stick up your collective asses about.

  • Every time I wander by these things I havta consciously remind myself to have patience for a work in progress. I really hope these things turn out well, and I’m happy to hear that they are incorporating photovoltaics into the sculpture, but so far the whole thing looks rather odd.

  • I’m also thrilled to see the new plantings. I was afraid they would skimp there, but there are actually about as many trees/shrubs as can reasonably be squeezed into a space that size. Fingers crossed that the city actually comes out and waters them for the first couple years!

  • I think real trees would be better here. Even big ivy covered tall walls or hedges with small spaces between, ringing the plaza… that way you’d be able to peek in passing by, and people would be drawn in. Inside have sculpture, water, sitting, trees, whatever. Use vegetation to close the view of the roads and maybe create a add a few amphitheater-style stairs/seating ringing the stops Something that makes it a little enclave from the city. People aren’t attracted to it now, because it has traffic all around so you have a sense that you’d being viewed and that you must move along as well. there is no air of clam or security to make it a comfortable place to rest and relax.

    These big solar “sculptures” are a fad now and just going to look silly in a number of years. We might have break through solar technology in 10-15 yrs that could power the block by outfitting Tivoli & Best Buy’s roofs, and then these won’t even have symbolic value. They’re have functional value for the buildings now, but not for people. “Let’s go sit under the solar tree thing” (?)

    They could design a really cool unique small park here if they really put their minds to it. DC has lots of monuments and natural parks, but not many constructed park spaces. I’m thinking Paley Park in NYC (not its design, just its success w/ limited space.)

    see here: (The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces 3/5)

  • How about they transplant an old gnarled 4 or 5 story hardwood or something? or three.

  • Amen to everything CB said. For the money they spent, this could have been a gorgeous space with a LOT more green in it. It is a case of trying too hard to be novel / creative, when something far simpler, more traditional, and most importantly, more natural, would have looked a lot better. Replace the solar panel things with large trees, add a little more green elsewhere serving as more of a demarcation from the roads, and make the fountain less bizarrely patterned, and this would have been perfect …

    I am also annoyed that they dug up about half of the very attractive red brick adjacent to Kenyon Square and replaced it with the far less appealing ugly yellow bricks used next to DCUSA. Although I am very happy to see all the attractive new trees near Kenyon, so that is something, at least.

  • Look, I know people have different opinions and everything, but why complain about something that is nice and improving the neighborhood? I feel like this is what our country has come to- complaining without really doing anything about it. Snarkiness and negativity. sigh…

  • I’ve lived just down the block on Kenyon for eight years and have watched the neighborhood change, mostly for the better. As always in these matters, I think about what the place was like back when I moved in – or even when I was a kid in the 80’s. Trust me, this if fine! I’ll take it. The alternative, as I’ve become accustomed to growing up in DC, is broken-down, abandoned, crime-ridden and nasty. Hundres of millions of dollars has been/is being poured into our neighborhood. Every cent won’t be spent perfectly but this new plaza is pretty cool. It will evolve and become something that it isn’t now, hopefully something cool.

  • my take:
    – They made an effort: add 10 points.

    – Obviously a design by committee, take off 50 points.

    – Solar panels a feeble attempt at being “green” (trees would have softened space, added shade, cooled the park, and dampened sound, take off 20 points.

    – Will fare poorly over time and will look like bus-soot-and-pigeon-poop-caked crap in less than a year, take off 35 points.

    – Remove traffic lanes: take off 45 points.

    Total score: I’m bad at math, but it ain’t good.

  • How long until they get vandalized?

    It’s so depressing to see how public art installations are (mis)treated here, as opposed to countries that don’t have hordes of feral unparented adolescents roaming the streets.

  • While I’m overall pleased with what’s going on (it’s progress, and it’s different– cookietime knows what I’m saying) I have to say the yellow brick is awful. I noticed yesterday that the blackened wads of chewing gum are already popping up, and the light-colored brick offers a high contrast. Ick.

  • Fortunately and unfortunately, the responsibility for maintaining the plaza belongs to a partnership between residents, city and businesses/developers. With the primary responsibility falling on residents and businesses/developers. The condition of the plaza will reflect the condition of this community we will get what we desire. Something world class, another failed project in urban America or something in between, but the blame and responsibility is on “us”.

    The plaza is designed to be a primarily a hardscape community gathering place with lots of foot traffic. Yes it was purposely a design by committee to reflect the diversity of this community in all its beauty and tensions.

    There was always a debate as to whether design down to our lowest expectations and shifting responsibility off to the citiy or to design out of the box and work toward meeting the highest expectations. Luckly in my view the visionaries edged out over those who were more risk adverse or those who sat on the sidelines. The concept of the design was done in 2003 pre the I’m green bandwangon.

    We wanted the design to challenge the community live up to a higher standard, did’t want to hide the gum with darker brick, but force the necessary work and investment to keep the light brick looking good. Well see which Columbia Heights gets reflected.

  • I’ve actually been liking the effect of the white plastic tattering off and blowing around the sculpture/trees like streamers – very Christo.

    And a funny aside, I just noticed I’ve been reading a certain poster’s moniker here as “Black Turd-istan.”

  • As well after the CH/Mt. Traffic Study in 2003, the choice was made in the core CH Plaza/Commercial area to favor pedestrians and safe pedestrian flow over cars. The lights will be re-timed at the end of the project to help improve vehicle flow, but not speed.

    Construction is occuring now instead of on the original time table because some key stakeholders refused to work cooperatively basically attempting to kill or scale back the project by default. Again, after much struggle the more visionary(s) got the edge. But this is actually scaled and toned down. BTW much of the Tivoli side also has to be dug up and redone over the next year.

  • What kinds of trees (shrubs?) are those that they planted?

  • DREADFUL design.

  • Hey PoP

    You probably mentioned this at some point but according to Wikipedia “Service began on September 18, 1999 ” for the Columbia Height Metro Station. For the 10 year anniversary it would be cool if someone posted Pre-Metro pictures of the area (14th @ Irving St, Park Rd, Kenyon St and Columbia Rd). I lived in the area befor / while the Metro was being constructed but never thought to take pictures. I had no idea it would change so much. The Tivoli was boarded up and abandoned, the post office was still open on Irving, Woolworth was still open! It was different but I liked it then too.

  • Who, exactly, in the “community” do you expect, WJordan, to spend hours scraping off the black gum from the yellow brick? We all know that it is too much to ask folks not to simply dispose of their gum / garbage in this community by just tossing it on the ground, so I guess that means the clean, law-abiding members of the community are expected to clean up after our littering comrades?

  • Certainly not the self-righteous.

  • @victoria: Hey, I resemble that remark.

    “Black Turd-istan.” Catchy.

  • Oh – thanks for having a sense of humor – as it was meant! I was fearing, after I posted that, eternal damnation at least.

  • Hey, some replies.. they’re sharp but pls don’t take offense, just short on time.

    I remember when this intersection was just bombed out building shells. It’s cool to see it not looking like Sarajevo, but think about the design this way — this area is going to be a huge money maker for the property holders for a long time, so them replacing the blight isn’t a gift to the community, its a gift from the city to them. A design by committee cookie-cutter square wont have staying power, and wont ultimately serve the neighborhood well. If you live in CH and went to see it become a magnet for people and business that is stronger than the box stores that are fueling it now, then make it a space that people feel compelled to gravitate too. Would anyone be there now if Best Buy wasn’t there? If/when Best Buy leaves, will the infrastructure there draw in new tenants?

    It’s bad planning to expect a retailer to draw people and money, rather than the other way around. There’s no reason that plaza can’t become a world class park that will draw residents and business for a century.

    One of the reasons this city doesn’t have more renowned public-use spaces, or people/walking friendly areas is because someone once similarly said, “fuck it, anything is better than what was here before.” That’s why so much of D.C. has narrow sidewalks and this weird system where retail, office, and residential spaces are segregate. This makes for acceptable use when times are good, but when times are tougher, those office areas turn to crime ridden ghost towns at night (hooker HQ 1990s 14th st anyone?), the neighborhoods have no businesses to draw police presence (basically anywhere in D.C. 1990s), and retailers know they find space where customers don’t have to leave a neighborhood to patron them.

    “it was purposely a design by committee to reflect the diversity of this community in all its beauty and tensions.?

    This comment is such nonsense. How in the world does that bland design reflect the community and all its “tensions?” If by “tensions” you mean the tension between residents and out-of-town developers who designed this with no understanding of the area and no personal stake in it beyond its initial sale, then yes, you’re dead right. That plaza speaks to mediocre design and represents that rapid injection of outside developer dollars more than it does anything that previously existed or continues to exist in the neighborhood. This plaza could be in Reston Town Center, or any other rapidly constructed retail strip trying to be just above a strip mall or a shopping mall. To keep harping, it matches the lack of imagination in the suburban townhouses on the back of Tovoli/Giant. While this stuff looks nice and “good enough” now, it has no staying power. The reason Georgetown redeveloped before U st was because it had the infrastructure that couldn’t help but attract the dollars (great architecture, park/water, unique enclaves that had character.

    This isn’t the first boom this intersection has seen. It thrived as a retail space once before, but when times got tough there was no natural draw of people to the area to keep the residences competitively populated, so retailers left. When they did, no one had a reason to stay (including the police, followed by the residents), and it was only a matter of time before the buildings crumbled and the Tivoli burned, leaving that stretch of CH a barren tunnel to barrel through on your way to the NW embassies and Silver Spring.

    This intersection could be a place of real imagination. If the city and busineses were serious, an entire park could be developed by spanning the rooftops of PNC, Tivoli, and the two new buildings with beautiful wrought-iron foot bridges, and the rooftops become living high-rise parks that look down onto a vibrant park and public space below. A well designed undertaking like this would ensure that CH will be a magnet for people for a hundred years, which boasts well for the community’s longevity more than Best Buy can.

    Doubt me? Go take a look at the old Woolworth’s (now H&M) building outside Chinatown/Gallery Pl. How long did that building sit derelict while residents fled and crime reigned before economic upswing gave retailers the cover to stick-out a redevelopment strategy. If MLK Library weren’t there (a natural draw), that building and the neighborhood would have probably went the way of SW. While it looks great now, we only have to look at the planning bunder trying to pass as park space amongst that giant parking lot in Chinatown. Do you ever see people sitting under that glass tunnel thing? Of course not. What looks sleek to the designer’s eye, and makes for nice a presentation model/miniature, doesn’t necessarily attract people. Design in public space shouldn’t be filler, which is what that, and this CH intersection really are.

  • Meant to say this — you can tell when public space is designed by architects and not public space designers. It saves the developers serious bucks, but it doesn’t sing to people b/c architects design facades for aesthetic quality and not utility, which is what public space exists for and why their public space design is frequently unsuccessful.

    This city has incredible unique monuments (Vietnam, WWII, Lincoln, Freedom Plaza, etc.) People are drawn to them because serious pros designed them. The current design “will do,” but it wont do enough when economic winds shift and the neighborhood has to stand on its own.

    Watch the whole video I posted earlier for a feel sense of what makes public space successful.

  • Don’t get too attached to the plantings. All the dog owners will let their pets pee on them and kill them.

  • saf

    CB – Woodward and Lothrop, not Woolworth’s.

  • CB – Interesting comments. The intersection was not bombed out buildings. The building were closed for Metro Construction and then development.

    The design was not focused on serving retail or even the developers, but current and future community needs. The Plaza is just one element of the entire space. Because of politics the design had been truncated and ignored by developers.

    As well the overall design supports both passive and active uses. Passive people watching, small sitting groups, which is why almost every element can be sat on. Active as it will host regular performances, farmers market and market place.

    The concept is a unifyied streetscape which is why brick is the same color and design. The more complete design elements were removed by the city. The diversity will be expressed in how and who uses the space.

    CH is about the most dense neighborhood in the city. We don’t need to attract lots of more folk just fully activate our base. While design is important what will attract people is a sense of community and interaction which the plaza is designed to do.

    You analysis is superficial and makes built a assumptions which make some sense in general, but show a lack study in understanding this design and its history. The biggest problem will be keep up with demand for the space.

  • Dog pee doesn’t kill trees.

    I’m more worred about Anonymous’s bad attitude killing the spirit of the neighborhood.

  • W Jordan —
    The intersection was absolutely bombed out. Before the painted mural went up in, 2001, 2002(?) a few of the surrounding buildings were just crumbling brick faces with no side or rear walls even. I know, b/c I used to paint them. The Tivoli was a blackened tinderbox. The only signs of life were the cars, homeless and the rotating graffiti.

    ” The diversity will be expressed in how and who uses the space.”

    Yeah, like any space. You originally said however, that the space’s design reflects the inherent tensions of the neighborhood. Both of those statements were nonsense — the former in that the design reflects nothing about the neighborhood, and the latter in that its obvious and irrelevant to the question of whether the design has staying power. Do you work for the developer or something? reading from the press release?

    “You analysis is superficial and makes built a assumptions which make some sense in general, but show a lack study in understanding this design and its history. The biggest problem will be keep up with demand for the space.”

    How long have to you lived here? I’m out, but I was here from 2000-2006/7. CH used to have virtually no amenities, let alone mainstream retail. Reverse white flight, latino immigration, non-incompetent city management, and general upswing in investment brought CH back, not something inherent in the neighborhood’s design or community (which is what you seem to suggest is going to keep CH strong, regardless of how this public space is designed.)
    My point remains the same — CH was once up, a historically dense neighborhood and retail hub before, then it fell out. Any public space gives it some staying power, my point about design (whether the current plan is effective) still holds — its nothing special. If you want to give CH real staying power, give it a unique space that is a people magnet. When times get tough again, that’ll help keep the neighborhood desirable (just like M Street’s architecture and the nearby waterfront & gardens gave Gtown a leg up on other areas (same with Dupont.) When crack ate this city up, those areas stuck it out and turned around. CH, despite its history of density and retail stayed boarded up and burnt out for another decade. You assume density will always been equal or greater, which history has shown is not the case, and its something to bank on.

    Even when people were getting bodied on columbia & 13th, the area still had fairly density, and that didn’t save the neighborhood. It was only the influx of outside investment and effort (and repopulation) that shocked CH back to life. Can CH survive another exodus? When Tysons and the Dulles areas begin to develop into more city-like spaces that can draw & keep residents, is this dinky little design going to attract people to CH, or are they gonna go outside the city limits and/or flock back to Gtown, Dupont, Cap Hill, etc? How about when serious high speed rail makes everywhere between Fredericksburg & Bmore a quick commute? When H st NE becomes the new Gtown/U st desination for retail. Or if/when Nir Buras’ Anacostia Waterfront becomes a mecca for food, music, relaxation and play in the city. Or when the internet radically changes how citizens participate in government (bringing power to the individual and away from the Congress, and with it the money that is used to lobby), or when govt is radically reformed to be smaller and/or dramatically reduce the influence of money/lobbyists — all of which would make the employment & tax base of the city bottom out. You have to take a 50-100 year view.
    Remember that this is a career city — people come from all over and usually aren’t used to urban living (so the suburbs will always hold an attraction.) That same reason is why local culture doesn’t thrive in this city and can’t sustain neighborhoods either. You need great design to sell neighborhoods. Unlike places like New Orleans, people come to D.C. to work, not play, so you can’t count on a little public space to be where a naturally brewing culture will thrive — you need to design infrastructure that can really hold roots. This city changes SO fast and SO often. You really do have to design it so that people have a real affinity w/ the physical place, and not the people and businesses that can shift in the wind here.
    You need to imagine the intersection without any of its retailers. People probably thought CH would survive b/c it had the Tivoli and was historically a public space in that sense. Guess what, the Tivoli building just ended up being another burnt facade with a nice landing for homeless to sleep on. Successful design draws people to populate it.. it doesn’t rely on high density making it a place where people congregated b/c public space is in high demand. Don’t expect something as impermanent as people to sustain space. As the design stands now, it’ll serve the needs of a neighborhood experiencing high demand for public space, but when things change, it wont be a magnet for residents.

    Let’s take a poll. If this design had been around since the 60s, do you all think it would have been hosting farmer’s markets when crack was eating this city alive? In the 80s/90s people were still getting murdered around Dupont and Gtown, but residents still stayed, because they liked walking up and down M st and they liked sitting in the sun at Dupont Circle. Are people going to want to sit on a few cement steps looking at three roads of traffic, a big former mall/Best Buy and a non-functioning flat fountain with an unremarkable mosaic?

  • Come for the solar panels on the metal monstrosities, and stay for the average food. What can be better in CH? Life is grand in the City.

  • I look forward to seeing all of you sitting under those solar tree sculptures while snacking on something from Rita’s, Pollo Campero, etc. You know you’ll be out there enjoying the open space when it’s all finished, regardless of the slander you’re spewing out now.

    Also, it’s great to see how everyone is putting their two cents in now, instead of during the planning stages. Some posters want the whole thing torn up and redone before it’s finished? WTF? Give it a chance.

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