This past weekend, commissioners from the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) along with friends and members of the Adams Morgan community gathered with me at what the Washington Post calls “the best coffeehouse in the district”, to discuss a path forward to activate key goals from the Adams Morgan Vision Framework Plan.
Originally called “Envision Adams Morgan”, the need for this plan came about in the spring of 2012 in response to the rapid changes in development in the Adams Morgan community. And after a series of public outreach meetings and surveys coordinated through the local ANC between September 2014 and February 2015, the District of Columbia’s Office of Planning finally released the Adams Morgan Vision Framework (AMVF) document on Monday, November 9, 2015. The plan was officially complete and ready for an “activation process” to begin upon the conclusion of the public comment period on February 8, 2016.
My involvement with my local ANC began in November of 2016, after feeling a calling to engage more deeply in local neighborhood issues and help steer better outcomes for my community. During one of my earliest meetings for the Public Services and Environment subcommittee, I realized that my architecture and urban design background could be of great help to the commission’s thinking regarding local development. And through my research about the ANC and Adams Morgan in general, I encountered this amazing framework plan that had advanced the conversation the community wished to have about cultivating the defining characteristics that makes Adams Morgan such a unique neighborhood in Washington: diversity, arts, culture, vibrancy, architecture, amenities, institutions and location.
With the support of my ANC commissioners, I launched the first task force to explore activating key goals from the AMVF plan that call for revitalizing neglected “pocket parks” and creating prominent “neighborhood gateways”. This led to a lively discussion among community members like Danielle Kriz, Eric Clifton, ANC1C Chair and SMD 03 Commissioner Ted Guthrie, Tom Carmichael, Sharon Zamore and friends from the Columbia Heights neighborhood like Bill Brown and ANC 1A Chair and SMD 08 Commissioner Kent Boese.
We looked at my initial strategy to identify which of the 12 triangle parks identified in the plan should be prioritized for action. The criteria for this approach began with an inventory of key amenities bordering and occupying these parts, such as sidewalks, grass and plants, trees, bus stops, bike share stations, kiosks and civic art. This resulted in identifying four key parks to address first, and one park to draw success stories from. Using a combination of PowerPoint slides, printed maps, and 360 videos recorded at these parks, I lead the group through a discussion on the variances between these parks and their importance to the community.
For example, parks number “six” and “seven” from my presentation share proximity and functional value as important bus stops on a busy commuter route that serves four bus lines: 42, 43, L2, and H1. However, they are underserving the community because they have no covered bus shelters and the current waiting areas are too narrow for both commuters and other pedestrians in the community to effectively share during busy rush hour traffic. I have since learned that the District’s Department of Transportation (DDOT) is currently replacing all of the bus shelters in the District with new, modern shelters, under a 20-year agreement with Clear Channel.
“Clear Channel provides and maintains the new bus shelters located throughout the city. In addition, through revenue generated and paid to the District from the sale of advertising on the bus shelters, the District has been able to earmark $100 million to finance the Great Streets program to improve and beautify some of the major transportation corridors in the District.” So clearly, improvement to these triangle parks is a viable expectation since they can be linked to an already existing city program, and their upgrade would help to further enhance the functionality of these parks for the community.
We also discussed parks number “ten” and “eleven”, which because of their proximity to the very busy 16th St. corridor, present different opportunities to use these parks in more meaningful ways. Because these parks are currently merely concrete wedges that divert traffic flows, save for the highly-active Capitol Bikeshare station located on one of them, they are an optimum location for establishing neighborhood gateways that include consideration for illuminated art and more permeable surfaces. I have since learned that the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities' “DC Creates! Public Art Program” purchases, commissions, and installs artworks for public sites throughout the District of Columbia.
This vital civic part program “gives opportunities for individuals to encounter art in parks, libraries, community centers, government offices, bridges and other public venues.” By simultaneously enriching the daily lives of city residents and visitors and giving voice to artists, these triangle parks would activate gateways to our Adams Morgan community as part of an already existing city program that also would help to revitalize this busy intersection.
Community members and friends voiced diverse and constructive points of view about the feasibility of improving the triangle parks, and offered strategic ideas about next steps. For example, Chair Boese suggested revising Chapter 8 of the District’s Comprehensive Plan, which addresses “Parks, Recreation and Open Space Element[s]”. Amending the Comprehensive Plan through the “Open Call” period from March 24, through May 26 of 2017 would be a productive step toward linking our community’s need with the broader city planning agenda.
Many, including by Chair Guthrie, voiced concerns about which city agency actually maintains and operates these pocket parks. Historically, lack of clarity about agency purview has resulted in neglect of these parts. Many felt strongly that city agencies need to help resolve some of these questions, and also for our Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau to better advocate on behalf of the community’s needs with a coordination meeting across city agencies about the broader AMVF plan. The participants also suggested we petition our ANC to coordinate with the Mayor's Office of Community Relations and Services to organize a follow-up Community Walk-Through of Adams Morgan, and address these triangle parks in connection to other successful city initiatives like the 2017 Potholepalooza Campaign.
Ultimately, future Task Force meetings will be coordinated through our ANC to continue integrating community feedback and stakeholder engagement to review and prioritize the other 17 goals of the Adams Morgan Vision Framework plan. It is my hope that all 40 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions can learn best practices and support from each other, giving greater clarity to the future development of our city in the decades to come.