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DC once had its own Arc de Triomphe

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.

Here’s another view, showing the arch from ground level.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

February 11th, 2016 | Permalink
Tags: architecture, fun, history



GGW made urbanism a mainstream topic. Donate to keep it going strong

Once upon a time, having a walkable, urban city was a niche idea in our region, one special interest among many. Today it’s a mainstream discussion topic all over the region’s cafés and living rooms.

Greater Greater Washington helped make that happen, and it relies on reader donations to survive. Please consider giving GGW a donation, so it can keep fighting the good fight.

Read more about why you should give to GGW, or skip the pitch and donate now!

February 10th, 2016 | Permalink
Tags: site



More than 20% of people bicycle to work in some DC neighborhoods

Over 20% of commuters in Bloomingdale, Mount Pleasant, and Petworth get to work each day primarily using a bicycle. That doesn’t even include people who use bikes to reach Metro.


Bike mode share in central DC. Image from DDOT.

This fascinating map is part of the background data DDOT is preparing to study a possible protected bikeway on or around 6th Street NW.

It shows how hugely popular bicycling can be as a mode of transportation, even in the United States. What’s more, this data actually undercounts bicycle commuters by quite a lot.

It’s originally from the US Census’ American Community Survey, which only counts the mode someone uses for the longest segment of their commute. People who bicycle a short distance to reach a Metro station, then ride Metro for the rest of their commute, count as transit riders rather than bicyclists.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

February 8th, 2016 | Permalink
Tags: bike, maps, transportation



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?

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 

February 3rd, 2016 | Permalink
Tags: fun



How snow exacerbates the weaknesses of suburban road design

A lot of people had awful commutes last night, thanks to snow. And a lot of people had fine ones. One explanation for the difference: Suburban roads are far more susceptible to catastrophic breakdown than urban street grids.


Traffic congestion on snow night. Image from Google.

Snow storms like last night’s highlight how easy it is to completely shut down suburban-style transportation systems. And conversely, how comparatively resilient are more urban systems.

Cities beat suburban areas on snow resiliency in two big ways: Multimodalism and network connectivity.

First and foremost, with transit, walking, and biking more convenient options, cities are simply much less reliant on having clear roads. Metrorail worked like a dream yesterday, and pedestrians had a lovely commute.

It simply didn’t matter how bad the roads got for a significant percentage of DC’s travelers, because they simply weren’t on the roads while they traveled.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

But that’s not all. Even for car drivers, urban street grids are more resilient than road systems focused around large highways, because of how they’re laid out.

The great thing about interconnected grids is that if one street becomes blocked, there’s another perfectly good street one block over. And another one block down.

If a wrecked car or fallen tree or whatever blocks the street you’re on, you just take a different street. There might be some additional turns involved; it might not be quite as direct. But for the most part 28th Street isn’t all the different from 29th Street.

Contrast that with suburban-style systems where all traffic in a particular area funnels onto one big highway. If that one highway becomes impassible, everyone in the area is stuck. Or, at best, they have to drive miles out of their way to find the next big highway.

This illustration shows how that works. If the “Collector Road” gets jammed, people in the top half of the image can still move around. People on the bottom half can’t.


Suburban-style roads vs urban street grid. Image from USDOT.

That’s part of what happened last night. There were a lot of crashes. If they happened on arterial highways with no parallel roads, which a lot of them did, that road would succumb to gridlock.

Urban places aren’t immune, but they’re better off

To be sure, this storm was bad for roads all over the region.

Streets in Northwest DC were just as dangerous as those elsewhere, and DC’s plowing response was bad. And buses were every bit as stuck in it as cars.

But there’s no doubt that people who could travel via Metro or foot had a much better time, and there’s no doubt that drivers who could use parallel streets were able to bypass some of the congestion on arterials.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

January 21st, 2016 | Permalink
Tags: environment, master planning, roads/cars, transportation



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.

So it’s totally bonkers. But maybe it works.

What do you think?

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

January 13th, 2016 | Permalink
Tags: bike, fun, transportation, urbandesign



Not building enough housing is morally equivalent to tearing down people’s homes

According to the California housing champion who’s suing communities that don’t allow enough new development, not building needed density is morally equivalent to tearing down people’s houses.


Photo by .Martin. on Flickr.

Sonja Trauss, founder of the SF Bay Area Renters’ Federation sums up the housing problem affecting nearly every growing American city today:

“Most people would be very uncomfortable tearing down 315 houses. But they don’t have a similar objection to never building them in the first place, even though I feel they’re morally equivalent. Those people show up anyway. They get born anyway. They get a job in the area anyway. What do they do? They live in an overcrowded situation, they pay too much rent, they have a commute that’s too long. Or maybe they outbid someone else, and someone else is displaced.”

Trauss hits the key points: The population is growing, and people have to live somewhere. If we refuse to allow them a place to live, that’s just like tearing down someone’s home.

Someone else is displaced

Trauss’ last sentence is particularly important. It explains how the victims of inadequate housing often are not even part of the discussion. She says “Or maybe [home buyers] outbid someone else, and someone else is displaced.”

Here’s how that works: One common argument among anti-development activists is that new development only benefits the wealthy people who can afford new homes. That’s wrong. It’s never the wealthy who are squeezed out by a lack of housing. Affluent people have options; they simply spend their money on the next best thing. Whenever there’s not enough of anything to meet demand, it’s the bottom of the market that ultimately loses out.

Stopping or reducing the density of any individual development doesn’t stop displacement or gentrification. It merely moves it, forcing some other person to live with its consequences.

Every time anti-development activists in Dupont or Georgetown or Capitol Hill reduce the density of a construction project, they take away a less-affluent person’s home East of the River, or in Maryland, or somewhere else. The wealthy person who would have lived in Capitol Hill instead moves to Kingman Park, the middle class person who would have lived in that Kingman Park home instead moves to Carver Langston, and the long-time renter in Carver Langston gets screwed.

As long as the population is growing, the only ultimate region-wide solution is to enact laws that allow enough development to accommodate demand.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

January 5th, 2016 | Permalink
Tags: development, economy, environment, law, preservation



Watch the world’s urban population explode on one map

The number of urban areas in the world with a population over one million has exploded since 1950. This map shows just how extreme that explosion has been.


Image from KPMG.

On the map, you can see how in 1950 the world’s scant million-plus cities were heavily concentrated in western Europe, the northeastern United States, and Japan. Since then, not many new ones have popped up in those places, but the rest of the world has caught up big time.

By the 1980s, China, India, and southeast Asia are challenging the west’s dominance. By the turn of the millenium, the middle east and central Africa join the party. South America keeps up a slower but steady pace the whole time.

What jumps out to you?

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

December 29th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: demographics, maps



Benning Road’s building boom begins

While H Street NE has boomed in recent years, nearby Benning Road has lagged. That’s about to change, with at least two big Benning Road redevelopments coming down the pipeline.


The proposal at 17th and Benning. Image from Capital City Real Estate.

Benning Road NE is, for all intents and purposes, an easterly extension of H Street. East of Starburst the name changes, but Benning more or less functions as the same road, streetcar and all. Except that while H Street has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years, Benning Road has not.

But now it appears the H Street boom is jumping to Benning.

On December 17, developers officially filed plans to build a 180-unit multifamily building at the northeast corner of Benning Road and 17th Street NE, across 17th Street from Hechinger Mall.

It’s the first big, H Street-style proposal to see the light of day on Benning Road.

But it’s not the only one. Half a block away and across the street, near 16th and Benning, another developer is proposing a 250-unit building. There are no renderings yet, but rumor purports it will be similar to The Maryland at Maryland Avenue and 14th Street NE.

Together, these developments show how the impending Benning Road boom isn’t a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Properties along Benning are too enticing, demand for new housing in DC is too ravenous, and the streetcar, for all its faults, is too much of a draw. Benning is about to boom, and it won’t be the same.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

December 23rd, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: development



5 amazing cities from the Star Wars universe

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.

5. Theed


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.

And if you approach it without an invitation, cloud cars shoot at you. It’s the ultimate gated community.

1. Coruscant


Coruscant. Image from Star Wars.

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.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.

Aimee Custis contributed to this post.

December 18th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: fun, galleries, urbandesign



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