by Adam Tope, ANC 3F chairman, and Mary Beth Ray, 3F03 commissioner
As many FHC readers are aware, ANC 3F has been proactively working with the DC government and other groups to help design the future Van Ness that our residents want, through the Van Ness Vision Committee. Following in the footsteps of a Van Ness Vision Committee meeting, we had the pleasure of attending the “Tenleytown Vision” event on Saturday, November 9th, hosted by Ward 3 Vision, a local smart-growth organization. The event was open to the public and was attended by a diverse group of about 40 Tenleytown residents.
In many ways, Tenleytown shares many of the same problems that Van Ness has, so we were very excited to see what ideas and solutions the residents of Tenleytown had in mind.
The program began with a presentation by Matt Bell, principal of Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects. Bell has extensive knowledge of Tenleytown and Van Ness and has been a speaker at Ward 3 Vision events that Adam attended in the past. He made an interesting presentation comparing Paris to Tenleytown. Using an assortment of photographs and maps, Bell explained the difficulties with Tenleytown’s design as compared to Paris.
For instance, Paris has significantly more population density than Tenleytown. One map showed a 5-minute walk from the center of a generic neighborhood in Paris as compared to Tenleytown. And in that neighborhood, Parisians have access to over 5 separate subway lines and significant public transportation options, while Tenleytown have far fewer. Bell believes that much of this density likely comes from Paris’s extensive street network. which is far more developed than the limited street network around Tenleytown. Bell also showed pictures of Parisian streets and compared them to the “charm” of Tenleytown.
Then, a number of students from Catholic University’s architecture program were introduced. For the past semester, a group of students have been studying Tenleytown to learn how architecture and transportation planning could help improve Tenleytown’s quality of life. Each student developed a poster showing extensive information about Tenleytown. These were displayed around the room.
The posters started with the history of Tenleytown, showing its rural beginnings using older maps and other data. Around the room, participants saw posters showing Tenleytown in the past 20-30 years. The final set of posters showed Tenleytown’s current design and included ownership information for each property in Tenleytown, maps of the transportation networks, and more. The purpose of the posters was to provide attendees with the data they needed to develop new ideas for the future of Tenleytown.
Following the review of the posters, the attendees split into three groups, armed with stickers and large maps of Tenleytown. The attendees were told to use the stickers to mark the maps with what they liked and disliked in Tenleytown (green stickers signifying “good” and red signifying “bad”). In Adam’s group, there was significant dislike for Tenley Circle and its difficult-to-navigate streets. And there were significant concerns about Fort Drive behind the Tenleytown Whole Foods.
Following the markup of the maps, we brainstormed in our group about new ideas solving some of our dislikes about Tenleytown. Could Tenley Circle be redesigned so it operates more like Logan Circle, with a lively center park? Could Fort Drive be demolished and redeveloped into a grand pedestrian thoroughfare that leads from Tenley Circle, past Wilson High School to Fort Reno park, and ending with a well-designed outdoor pool, enhanced athletic facilities or other community amenities? These were the type of grand visions that members of Adam’s group described.
Following the group sessions, all of the attendees came together to discuss the ideas from their groups. What was apparent was that many of the dislikes in Adam’s group were also held by other attendees.
Many Tenley concerns will sound familiar to Van Ness/Forest Hills residents. Participants found Tenley to be generally safe and walkable, and they felt the public spaces had much room for improvement. There were concerns about the lack of connectivity between the neighborhood and retail, and many expressed enthusiasm for mixed use retail/residential.
Crossing Wisconsin Avenue safely and better retail were priorities. They hoped that Tenley Circle could be re-built to serve as an “entrance” to Tenley, and the Albemarle area next to the Metro could serve as a focal point with outdoor seating, trees and flowers with more events and activities. They understood the need to attract more business presence during the day to support retail.
What was also apparent was that many people had grand ideas for the future of Tenleytown.
The community hopes to partner with American University, in much the way that Catholic University has partnered with its neighbors to revitalize that area. They acknowledge that the lack of a business improvement district or “BID” is a handicap, but they hope to work with local merchants to begin forming a merchants association. The upcoming Tenleytown Winterfest on December 7th is one short-term project to begin organizing merchants and property owners.
We’re hopeful that many of the ideas discussed at the Tenleytown Vision event spark further discussion and lead to engagement from our elected officials and developers, so that Tenleytown can further develop and meet the wants and needs of its residents.