January 26, 2006

TELL THAT PARK THAT SHOULDER PADS ARE OUT, OUT OUT. Dupont Circle and a soulless plaza in SW have earned the dishonorable distinction of being listed on the Project for Public Spaces' list of the 16 worst-dressed parks. Actually the list is ponderously called "The 16 Squares Most Dramatically in Need of Improvement" and was prepared by the New-York based nonprofit PPS.

Coming in as the tenth worst public square in the world is "the Education Plaza" at Independence Ave. and 4th St. SW.

"The federal government needs to move past the fortress mentality it has imposed on every building it operates. Department of Education on Independence Ave. is the perfect site to move beyond the perpetual state of fear that pervades every federal building in Washington and, increasingly, across the nation," said PPS.

Truth be told this space at 4th and Independence Ave. SW was dreary long before 9-11 and its related efforts to ramp up security. But PPS is correct, this plaza and other nameless plazas around town should be rethought and redesigned.

And if they don't work as parks, heaven forbid, turn them into commercial or residential spaces. To our mind, no amount of re-engineering is going to turn this dreary plaza into a vibrant place. There's no there there. Even with trees, flowers and free beer. The surrounding streets are empty, the plaza is empty.

Surprisingly, beloved Dupont Circle comes in on the list at No. 13.

"Many think Dupont Circle is the best destination in Washington. We think it is performing at 30% of its potential. ... There are active parts of the Circle, but they are not connected. The Farmers Market is separate from the inner circle and from the active part of Massachusetts Avenue. The road around the Circle is two lanes too wide, and the connections from the interior park to the edges could be dramatically improved," PPS said.

A two-lane Dupont Circle roadway would be a traffic nightmare. But greening some of the concrete medians, say along the Q St. overpass, would help. Moving the farmer's market to the circle and closing a street or two on Sunday morning would be even better.


jbmnd93 said...

Comments about Dupont are from obvious outsiders who don't live here. To traffic calm, reduce the lanes of traffic on the circle would have a negative impact on east-west traffic flow.

DC has a horrible east-west traffic flow with Pa Ave being closed and RCP, like a moat, only having 3 or 4 places to cross it at.

david said...

I love that idea for the farmers market in the circle

they do that in every other city in the world why not DC?


Anonymous said...

The sad part is, when first developed at the turn of the 20th century, the Dupont Circle park was one of the best in the nation. It had something like 200 varieties of plants and trees and was set up in a manner that gave preference to people using it rather than to those just walking through it. Now that Thomas Circle is being rebuilt, maybe we could get someone to focus on putting Dupont Circle back as it used to be?
Also, I think the idea of there being too many lanes around the circle might be redressed by seeing how other major metropolitan cities have handled their circles. I know driving around the Arc de Triompe in Paris is always a thrill for me ... No traffic lights, no painted lanes ... just a reliance on people observing the entry rules for a circle (cede right of way for all traffic coming into the circle) and on good common courtesy and sense. I wonder if that work here ... ?

dcbubble said...

thrill...when mentioned the thrill I thought you were going to say what thrill it is trying cross that circle on foot. madness is more like it

but you right so much of the circle feels like a grand traffic median

David Gaines said...

i once heard someone tried to build an underground retail area beneath the circle. is this true? doubtful it would make the park pretty enough for pps, but i was just wondering. though i also feel pps doesn't understand dupont circle and why it's surrounded in traffic, i do agree that the area has such potential.

dcbubble said...

there was retail under the circle for a while... it was a food court of sorts... my memory is foggy. the entrance was at 20th and P st, where there still is a canopy over where the entrance was.

Robbie said...

You're right about the retail. It was called the Underground, I think. And it was mostly food shops, although there was a massage parlor, if memory serves me right.

It's a shame it didn't work. I thought it was an innovative approach to adding retail to that area. Maybe some adventurous entrepreneur will try to revive the underground again without making the same mistakes as the previous attempt.