by Dipa Mehta
Van Ness Vision Committee member
Ever wonder why Connecticut Avenue at Van Ness is so drab and unappealing?
Sure, it serves some functional purposes. One can access the Metro, mail packages, do dry cleaning, pick up groceries, and exercise. But, is it a destination for strolling, lingering, and sitting?
Not yet, but a group of local residents believes it can be that and so much more. More than 40 people gathered in WAMU’s community room early on the morning of Saturday, March 8th, to dream big about the future of Van Ness. Their starting point – Windom Street, which crosses Connecticut Avenue at a central point along the Van Ness corridor.
The dream and design session, called a “charette” in the architectural world, was hosted by the Van Ness Vision Committee. This group comprises local volunteers who’ve been appointed by ANC 3F and is led by Commissioner Mary Beth Ray. The committee’s mission is to catalyze the transformation of Connecticut Avenue at Van Ness into an an inviting, walkable and sustainable neighborhood.
The charette was led by world-renowned architect, Travis Price, who is a close neighbor residing in Forest Hills, and an active member of the Vision Committee. Known for his nature-based designs infused with spiritual undertones, Travis spent the first part of the charette inspiring participants with images, structures and symbols from around the world.
Part two had the local dreamers separated into break-out sessions to create a list of ideas that would enhance the “Windom Hub” area of Connecticut Avenue. And, that’s where the fun really began. Residents came up with exciting concepts, such as a cantilevered overlook that would peek over the edge of Rock Creek into Soapstone Valley.
Connecting people to nature emerged as a popular theme as folks sought to highlight the Windom Street access point to Rock Creek. What also became clear is that many residents participating in the charette did not even know that beyond the UPS store and the parking lot of Calvert Woodley lay a modest and uninviting entry to Rock Creek. This, everyone agreed, had to be changed.
Other ideas included a dedicated farmer’s market area at the entry to Soapstone Valley/Rock Creek, a DC “high line” running parallel to Windom Street over Connecticut Avenue, and creative ways to revitalize UDC’s amphitheater located at the far west end of Windom Street. Charette participants agreed that a high line over Connecticut Avenue would have to be something special – perhaps a design that embodies the international flair of the embassies located in the neighborhood, offers green spaces, serves as a showcase for local artists… the possibilities seem endless.
And, for the little-known and underutilized amphitheater at the west end of Windom Street, charette participants considered music concerts, dramatic performances, art shows, and even the possibility of local elementary schools holding shows there.
So, lots of exciting ideas, but where to go from here? Travis distilled the ideas generated by the breakout groups and will put his creative juices to work on developing a schematic design. Next steps include getting the city, local developers, property owners and commercial business owners involved. Stay tuned to the Forest Hills Connection for more updates and exciting developments on the Van Ness Vision Committee’s plans to transform Connecticut Avenue at Van Ness.