Paris’s Arc de Triomphe is world famous, but did you know DC once had its own version?
Photo from the DC Public Library.
The Washington, DC Victory Arch sat on Pennsylvania Avenue, at the corner of New York Avenue and 15th Street NW.
It was a temporary structure built to commemorate the end of World War I. This photo, from 1919, shows the US Army on parade following the end of the war. Presumably the arch was made of plaster, like the White City of Chicago, and thus never intended to be permanent.
There’s a “Washington” neighborhood in Milan, Italy
Milan, Italy’s second largest city, has a neighborhood named “Washington.” Its main street: Via Giorgio Washington.
Washington, Milan. Map by Google.
Washington Quartieri is about a mile from the center of Milan, outside its historic Renaissance core but very much in the midst of town. It looks like this:
Via Giorgio Washington. Photo by Google.
Milan isn’t the only European city to honor Washington. At least one other, Paris, has a short Washington street near Champs-Élysées.
Both Milan’s Via Giorgio Washington and Paris’ Rue Washington are more likely named for George Washington himself than for our fair District of Columbia. But still, it’s interesting to look at a map of a European city and see “Washington” in bold letters.
What other foreign cities have streets or neighborhoods named Washington?
America’s most bonkers bikeway is in Clearwater, Florida
What do you do if you have active freight rail tracks running down the middle of a downtown street? Add bike lanes, of course!
East Avenue, Clearwater, FL.
This is East Avenue in downtown Clearwater, Florida. It’s one of America’s most unusually multimodal streets.
On the left: A normal one-way general purpose lane with normal car traffic. In the middle: Freight rail tracks. On the right: A major regional two-way bikeway, the Pinellas Trail. What could go wrong?
Actually, it’s not as dangerous as it looks. Freight traffic on those tracks is relatively light, and extremely slow-moving. The train in this photo was moving maybe five miles per hour. And unlike cars, trains don’t suddenly change lanes. There’s zero danger of a CSX right hook.
In fact, the rail tracks are effectively a buffer between the bikeway and car lane. They make a bigger buffer than normal buffered bike lanes get. In a weird way, the tracks are a sort of protection.
Part of the appeal of the cultural juggernaut that is Star Wars has always been its fantastic settings, including its cities. As The Force Awakens arrives in theaters today, here are the five most fascinating cities from the six previous live-action Star Wars movies.
Theed. Image from Star Wars.
The Phantom Menace may have been a disaster of a movie, but its setting at the height of the galaxy’s pre-Empire luxury showed us a strong contender for the most beautiful city in the franchise. Theed is Queen Amidala’s home, and capital of the planet Naboo.
Picturesque Naboo is the Neoclassical Europe of the Star Wars universe. Its ornate buildings and grand, monument-strewn avenues are an idealized version of the Baroque Mediterranean. There’s no visible traffic or industry, besides one spaceport at the bottom of a waterfall. Theed’s citizens appear to do nothing but shop and picnic.
It’s the Garden of Eden of the Star Wars universe. Perfect and naive, and out of place once the galaxy descends into evil and civil war.
4. Mos Eisely
Mos Eisely. Image from Star Wars.
The complete opposite of Theed, Mos Eisely is a frontier settlement on a poor and dirty planet, a wretched hive of scum and villainy. If Theed is Habsburg Vienna, Mos Eisley is Dodge City. Its famous cantina nothing so much as a wild west saloon.
There’s precious little art of culture in Mos Eisley. Its hardscrabble populous struggles to survive, and its streets are full of pack animals, cargo crates, and industrial equipment.
3. Gungan City
Gungan City. Image from Star Wars.
Return to Naboo for the secret underwater Gungan City. It’s beautiful, but like all things Gungan, it makes little sense.
With a fairly small number of orbs that appear to be mostly empty air, Gungan City is clearly more of a village than a metropolis. Maybe the Gungans prefer isolation, or maybe they’re too clumsy to live many side-by-side. Hopefully we’re never forced to sit through more Gungan scenes, and therefore never find out.
One would think that if Gungans are such great swimmers that they’re happy to build underwater cities, they’d spread their city vertically as much as sideways. Guess not.
2. Cloud City
Cloud City. Image from Star Wars.
High-concept sci-fi at its best, Cloud City is an atmosphere-mining colony on a gas giant planet with no solid surface.
Its workers harvest gases for use in Star Wars’ futuristic technologies, and its government is more corporate CEO than democratic president.
Being an expensive floating factory, Cloud City’s layout and infrastructure are necessarily vastly different from a cobbled-together frontier town like Mos Eisley. As a single, purpose-designed mega-structure, Cloud City needs nothing so messy as parking lots, and piecemeal expansions are strictly not happening.
One city that covers a whole planet. Coruscant is either the ultimate in sprawl, or the ultimate in extreme urbanization. Given what we’ve seen on-screen, it seems to be the latter.
Like Washington, the capital of the Star Wars galaxy clearly has a height limit, with a canopy of blocky same-height buildings rolling over the landscape, and monuments like the Jedi Temple (above) dominating the skyline. But unlike DC, Coruscant’s city planners allow frequent skyscrapers to pierce the blocky canopy.
Unlike other Star Wars cities, Coruscant features busy air-highways, crowded with flying transports. But there don’t seem to be enough vehicles to move around a population as dense as Coruscant’s must be. Surely the planet is a public transit paradise.
Coruscant’s galactic capitol building, with air-highways. Image from Star Wars.
What will we see next?
If the past is any guide, The Force Awakens promises even more aliens and sci-fi landscapes. When I see it, I’ll be hoping to see some fun cityscapes too. And, I admit, a few light-saber duels.
Independence Day was the biggest summer blockbuster of 1996. In the movie, aliens invade Earth, destroy DC, New York, and most of the world’s major cities. Eventually Will Smith, Bill Pullman, and Jeff Goldblum beat the aliens and save humanity.
Now, 20 years later, the aliens are back and our heroes (minus Will Smith) are at it again.
In the still, you can clearly make out the National Mall on the far right, with the Capitol, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial in order. Except apparently, post alien apocalypse, Arlington’s surviving community leaders rebuilt the Pentagon in place of Rosslyn.
Seven spectacular photos of last night’s stormy sky
Last night’s heavy storm produced a truly breathtaking evening sky. Here are seven spectacular photos from around the region.
M street, Georgetown.
According to Capital Weather Gang, the storm washed pollutants from the air at exactly the right moment. The clear air combined with dramatic clouds and red light from the sunset to produce the memorable view.
The northern lights, aurora borealis, are usually only visible near the Arctic Circle. But every once in a while, when conditions are perfect, they make an appearance as far south as DC. I caught a glimpse early Wednesday morning.
Aurora over Chesapeake Bay on Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday news spread that a heavy solar storm was hitting Earth, and producing some of the strongest aurora in years. Maybe strong enough to see from DC.
Since the sky was clear, the moon below the horizon, and conditions perfect, my wife and I booked a Zipcar to the clearest northerly view I could think of: The northern tip of Kent Island, across the Bay Bridge, in the middle of the Chesapeake.
And there was the aurora. Barely visible, but there. Dim green flashes floated low against the horizon, flowing in great fast waves from east to west. It was nothing like the huge curtains of light you see in the famous pictures (we’re too far south for that), but it was unmistakable nonetheless.
How you can see them next time
Aurora are sometimes visible from DC’s latitude. But they may never be visible from inside the District of Columbia, because this far south they appear very dim, and only close to the northern horizon. To see them, find an extremely dark north-facing vantage point, with a clear sight of the horizon.
If there are street lights turned on or trees blocking the horizon, you probably won’t see them even if conditions are otherwise right.
Since we live in Northeast, we decided Kent Island would be ideal. It’s about an hour drive east of DC, assuming no traffic—usually a safe assumption after midnight.
Route to Kent Island. Map from Google.
You will need a car to get there. And since news of likely aurora this far south typically only comes the day of the event, you won’t have much time to plan ahead. But in the age of car-sharing, even a car-free urbanite can get it done.