by Mary Beth Ray
ANC 3F03 Commissioner, chair ANC 3F Vision Committee
Imagine a more beautiful and more vibrant Van Ness. That’s what these renderings do, and that’s what your ANC 3F Vision Committee is doing.
These renderings anticipate a variety of retailers – national and local shops, restaurants, outdoor cafes – as well as trees and copious flowers. The drawings were prepared by Street Sense, the consultant working with the DC Office of Planning’s Vibrant Retail Streets Toolkit project. The aim of these drawings is to define something attainable and affordable that will help our area “read” like a retail area rather than just office space.
The consultants recommend that we highlight our advantages: Connecticut Avenue frontage and car visibility, the Metro station, our wide plaza spaces with lots of outdoor seating opportunity, sidewalk width, the student population, and potentially less expensive lease rates. The two blocks between Veazey and Yuma on the west side of Connecticut are our most heavily traveled and visible space, and therefore will encompass Phase I of our improvements.
With almost 40,000 cars driving through the Van Ness-Connecticut corridor every day, retailers need to be noticed. Awnings and umbrellas highlight their presence to passers by and help draw the eye toward their storefronts. Awnings designed to protrude from buildings, together with the umbrellas and trees, offer shade to enhance the pedestrian experience and soften our ubiquitous concrete. Our Metro station and Bikeshare station make us accessible to pedestrians and cyclists as well, and add to the retail appeal of our neighborhood.
UDC is a key partner, owning a large share of the Connecticut Avenue frontage in our corridor. UDC is seeking retailers for both the student center and the law school ground floor. Hopefully these retailers will complement not only the student population, but also aim to serve residents, visitors and commuters. UDC’s emphasis on green architecture and their environmentally sensitive landscape design for the student center makes them a valuable partner as we seek to green Van Ness.
The Vision Committee is working closely with the Urban Forestry Administration of the DC Department of Transportation, the Office of Planning, and others, to enhance the street tree canopy. We are exploring ways to expand our tree boxes, allowing more root growth for healthier trees and storm water management. Mature trees add beauty, comfort, and the height retailers need to permit visibility. Contrasting pavers that cross Connecticut suggest a safer pedestrian experience, and give drivers a reminder to slow down.
These renderings represent an achievable goal. Members of the Vision Committee have bigger dreams for Van Ness: numerous local shops offering unique products and foods; a central park with trees, water feature and seating; a weekly schedule of community events outdoors; recreational opportunities such as mini-golf, bowling or an ice-skating rink; an international dimension that connects the community with our large embassy presence; and most importantly, large healthy trees, landscaping, and pervious pavement with other environmentally sensitive designs that complement our relationship to Rock Creek Park.