06 August 2006

Petworth Rising...

Monday was the groundbreaking ceremony for Park Place, the new mixed-use development adjacent the Petworth Metro. Present were councilmembers Adrian Fenty (Ward 4, DC Mayor wannabe) and Jim Graham (Ward 1), as well as several ANC reps and a smiling handful of brass from builder Donatelli Development.

It was a brave feat for all involved, as it was damned hot by 11:00, and there were several speeches to get through.

The Park Place project represents a quantum leap for the Petworth/Columbia Heights stretch of Georgia Avenue, which has been a bit, uh, creepy for a long, long time. The concern, of course, is how far the quantum leap will go.

I certainly don't envy folks like Graham, who must balance economic growth with protecting deeply-rooted neighborhood character. I returned to this neighborhood after some 14 years BECAUSE of that character--it stayed with me through moves to New York, Arizona, and Maine. With all of its warts and bruises, Columbia Heights was still my ideal example of what a great urban neighborhood should be.

Having said that, there's still room for improvement.

I'm sure many of us residents of Ward One would like to feel safer on Georgia Avenue walkabouts, but Donatelli's renderings of the finished block seem TOO NICE. The more I look at these images, the less I can reconcile it with the real corner of Georgia & New Hampshire Ave... Will it ever truly look like that? Who are those faceless drones walking down that immaculate sidewalk?

Now really, I'm pleased that they're finally working on that lot, and that small retail spaces will be included, and I'm pleased that the project may inspire a continued rebirth of the Georgia Avenue strip. But for the love of all that's holy, be careful with this urban renewal thing. It destroyed Tucson's downtown in a few short years, and it could happen here as well.

Sorry Donatelli, those archictect's renderings freak me right the hell out.

Evidently they freaked out some other folks as well, who came to the groundbreaking with signs that could've used a little typesetting help (inset photo). I'm certainly more in favor of the development than these two, but their message is important, and should be considered anytime a councilmember breaks ground in this great neighborhood with one of those gleaming ceremonial shovels.

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