Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hine Meeting Tonight

Continue to push for a real discussion of the Hine site tonight at 7pm @ The Hill Center. This is a special ANC 6B meeting where you can present your views on the proposed project.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Can’t We Do Better than This?

Tonight is the meeting with Tommy Wells on the Hine Junior High redevelopment. For local residents, the redevelopment project started with a series of meetings organized by former Mayor Fenty, in which a certain kind of redevelopment was already assumed as necessary: Hine would be replaced by a building with expensive residences, a first floor of businesses, some room for potential non-profits or a boutique hotel, and the city-mandated few residences for moderate-income and very few for low-income individuals or households. At these meetings, political officials presented this redevelopment model without any real discussion or any real imagination. The options have been presented as only 1) new urbanist high-density transit-oriented development or 2) local NIMBYism and lack of development (see "When is density just density of the wealthy?"). Developers and politicians have pushed and continue to push this redevelopment plan forward, presenting it as inevitable and good for Capitol Hill. What if we stopped for a moment and really talked about the redevelopment of Hine Jr High?

Yes, a delay would make many people anxious, but the Hine site is a spectacular space that invites us to think in a more imaginative way. A delay would make the architects and urban planners nervous because, as I spoke about in my last post, they have no role when there is no building going on and many of them make their money when building is moving forward. City officials are also looking for tax revenue. People will likely say that we don’t have time for delay because the abandoned building will attract crime. People might say that such a discussion is a waste of time, it won’t go anywhere, there really are no alternatives, and we already have the Hill Center and CHAW. But can’t we do better than the current plan? We don’t have to be perfect, but the site is a spectacular space and deserves some real discussion.

What is a more imaginative vision of the neighborhood? Is it just a desire for expensive town houses and high-end boutiques? Or is it something else? Something that might draw even more people to the area? Such imaginative models emerge from real discussion, not orchestrated discussions with already set agendas. Here are some ideas inspired by a commenter on my last post:
  • Give adequate space to the flea market. Think about how the flea market might be expanded, not reduced, in interesting ways.
  • Keep the views of Eastern Market open from 8th Street, not blocked by new buildings. Without this view, we can only view the glorious front of Eastern Market in a cramped way, right in front of the building. Think about how to improve and highlight this wonderful view with new walkways and plantings.
  • Return the tennis courts, the basketball courts, and the playground to bring a lively non-commercial aspect to the area. Maybe even include picnic tables and benches to create a new social space.
  • Learn from other cities. Lots of Hill residents have seen cities all around the US and abroad; they could bring these experiences to the table. Rome’s Villaggio Globela provides so many activities far different from those offered by the great CHAW and Hill Center. Many other interesting experiments could be found.
  • Develop the site over time. We don’t need to have the answer right now, but we can open the discussion up and invite, for example, students from area schools and universities to talk about possibilities and experiments from other cities in the United States and elsewhere. We can develop parts of the site and think about other parts. We can work to stop the intrusion of crime, trash, and any ugliness. Most importantly, we don’t have to have the perfect solution. The current solution is also in no way perfect, but it will be permanent.
Want to have a real discussion? All you have to do is start talking tonight:

Hine Meeting with Tommy Wells, Tuesday, May 22, 6:30-8pm @ Brent Elementary School, 301 North Carolina Ave, SE.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Hine Jr High: Dead Zones and Life Zones

In my GMU course "Globalization in My Neighborhood," we learned about globalization by looking at how globalization works in our own neighborhoods. The students chose all sorts of places to research: H St NE, Columbia Heights, Fairfax, Ashburn, Annandale, Centerville, towns in NJ, Moscow State University, Istanbul, etc. For their research, they did interviews and surveys, used census data, took photos, made maps, and used archival documents. Their research papers were so fascinating. One student was asked to present her research to her city's mayor. Another student made a glorious, room-sized mural of H St NE that included photos, drawings, census charts, and quotations, specifically from Gil M. Doron.

For class, we read Gil M. Doron's "The Dead Zone and the Architecture of Transgression." Doron discusses how urban planners and architects see abandoned buildings, closed industrial areas, empty lots, spaces under bridges, and other such spaces as "wastelands," "voids," and "Dead Zones" and seek to rescue them from their wasteful existence by redeveloping and "revitalizing" them. When further investigated, these apparently empty places are in fact not dead at all, but rather represent "an order of a different kind." Doron studied such "Dead Zones" in 20 cities in Europe, America, and Asia. In such "voids," he found:
  • community gardens
  • public art (licensed or illicit)
  • cruising or public sex
  • homeless inhabitants, permanent squatters, boat dwelling communities
  • havens for wildlife
  • raves, parties, informal beach bonfires
  • alternative economic enterprises
Before you focus only on the public sex, here's what Doron found in the center of Rome, the Villaggio Globela in a former slaughter house:
  • a music school
  • an elderly peoples' home
  • stables
  • a restaurant named 'Casa Della Pace' run by Middle Eastern immigrants
  • a small community center for Kurdish refugees
  • a center for alternative art and music
Urban planners and architects are anxious about abandoned spaces because they realize that they don't have a role in these spaces; other people have taken over the role of architect and planner and have begun putting these sites to new uses. These spaces often open up to other uses because they are going to be redeveloped but plans are in suspension. Such suspension is a normal part of the planning process as plans are put together, resources coordinated, etc. Doron suggests, however, that this suspension might be indefinite and the worlds created in such "Dead Zones" might be more alive than what urban planners and architects can imagine.

To demonstrate Doron's argument to my students, I quickly took some pictures of Hine Jr High. Here is the slideshow I showed them (follow this link to my actual flickr slideshow which looks better and you can also see my commentary on the photos):

After I showed them the slideshow, the students said that I should start a discussion on the bulletin board about alternatives for the Hine Jr High site. Due to being so busy, I made only a small attempt at doing so (see in the last slide, there are two green index cards posted on the bulletin board). What might Hine Jr High become? How might different people imagine and practice different worlds? How might our neighborhood benefit from these different worlds?

Thursday, May 3, 2012


The end of the semester is always incredibly hectic, which explains my delay in posting. I have so many ideas and so little time, especially a response to the Washington City Paper's "Handbook for the Responsible D.C. Gentrifier." Oh, my, just too much to be said about that "Handbook"! I'll be posting soon!