Archives

Petworth: where the development climate is anything but Frosty.

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In a district of rapidly escalating land values, the natural tendency is for extrusion. Buildings start to stretch upward, growing taller and taller to cram value into a patch of land that, even absent an edifice, is worth a lot. Despite the legal limitations to building heights, Washington DC still demonstrates this phenomenon perfectly. It is a …Read more…

How parochial can public education get?

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Though it sits on a prominent corner in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington DC, this repurposed old school building doesn’t hold a candle in opulence to some of the neighboring churches on 16th Street: It’s unlikely that many would consider it an ugly building, though I suspect historic preservationists would pull their hair out …Read more…

The Great Recession and its undead discontents.

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In the immediate years following the housing market’s catastrophic implosion, it was common to find half-finished suburban developments, where a handful of homes splayed out across a tangle of curvilinear streets. In most of these zombie subdivisions, the developer had already installed water/sewer, at least some of the paved roads, streetlights, road signs, maybe even …Read more…

Pushing our way toward car/human interplay.

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Here’s a rarity for me: a short(-ish) post! About half the time, I aim for my posts to be brief (which for me is under 400 words), and they just balloon out of control. I can’t rein myself in. Obviously I have no one to blame but myself, but I’ll also recognize that the shorter …Read more…

Highest and best may not be tall, but it’s still higher and better.

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Urban neighborhoods have been changing considerably over the last decade, and, in many locations, income levels have risen steadily. When we hear about gentrification, the coverage often reaches us through a few recurrent tropes: data-driven accounts of demographic and socioeconomic change; journalistic interviews of individuals who have either left or feel threatened by the rising …Read more…

Porous placeholders.

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A multitude of American cities have experienced resurgences in their urban centers over the last decade. Nonetheless, it typically seems that one city in particular enjoys the lion’s share of favorable publicity for a few years…and then passes the baton to another. New York wore the crown through much of the late 90s, with a …Read more…

The heart of a state, encased in stone.

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The average well-traveled person who looks at the remarkably uniform street walls below will likely draw a conclusion that the photo comes from Washington DC. After all, with the alabaster facades, the prosaic fenestration, and—most tellingly—the uniform height of all the structures, the photo could capture a typical avenue in the sprawling central business district …Read more…

When urban revitalization is nothing more than a façade.

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Among the more controversial results of arbitration during urban redevelopment is the retention of a building façade, while demolishing everything that comes behind it because, presumably, the layout, traditional use, and possibly even the entire floorplate fail to meet contemporary needs. The growing practice of façadectomy has entered the general development parlance, though the closet …Read more…