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Apr 15, 2022Liked by Alex Bloom

Interesting! It reminds me of reading some interesting stuff about taking blighted former housing in detroit and knocking it down to make green spaces — but that was all, like, little gardens for food and urban biodiversity. Not making a central plaza….. it seems like if the plaza isn’t already there, it’s kind of hard to retrofit in an urban setting where potential price per square foot is high (and housing stock low, as I think is the case in general in the US?)

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Yes and no. I agree that we can't exactly build a Grand Place in the middle of Manhattan, but, there have been some successful endeavors to reclaim space for this sort of thing:

Broadway Ave in NY has been pedestrianized in places. That might be the best example. In DC, they took the half block of 20th street between Q and Connecticut and turned it into a "streatery." It's gone pretty well - I've hung out there a few times - but the tables and chairs in that space are privately held by the restaurants, so they're not set up during the day. And in probably the most famous successful reclamation of streets, Barcelona has shut down lots of roads to through-traffic in the Eixample, its big grid section.

I think sometimes we have in our heads a big plaza that could accommodate a 10,000 person political rally, but being in Europe has reminded me how many small little plazas there are. These don't take a lot of space or a lot of money. The activists lobbying for continued public easement of the SunTrust plaza in AdMo said the city could just buy the space outright for $4M. Really what we're talking about is lots of small spaces - 6 park benches on a corner with a little flowerbed; a few trees and a couple benches; etc. The goal should be a multiplicity of these small public spaces.

The biggest hang-ups I see for the US on this is aporophobia. The DCist piece about the plaza suggests that SunTrust closed the plaza down because there might have been some illegal activity going on. This was loosely connected to the few homeless people living there, even though the bank admitted their presence wasn't illegal and they weren't the ones engaging in the illegal activity the bank cited. But "homeless" and "crime" is a potent combo for shutting things down.

Americans don't want to make spaces that homeless people *might* inhabit. I remember shortly before I left I walked by a building on 13th or 14th street that seemed to have some nice benches out front, but they'd covered them with metal spikes to prevent anyone from being able to lay down (which also served the purpose of preventing two people from being able to sit there and talk to each other). I'm positive these weren't just pigeon guards. So rather than find people homes, we'll deny ourselves nice spaces out of fear that if we built them, some homeless people might congregate there.

I'm not kidding about the dog parks either. My favorite example of this is the little triangle bounded by New Hampshire, S, and 17th. This would be a perfect sport for a little plaza! It's already publicly owned. And it's a dog park, not a people park.

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Apr 15, 2022·edited Apr 15, 2022Liked by Alex Bloom

I have so many thoughts on this great piece!

1. May I suggest another contributing factor to the higher % of Europeans (or maybe better-said: non-Americans) being outside in parks: there is so little multi-generational housing in the US, that people kind of like being at home. Unlike in some countries where people are piled on top of their parents or grannies or grandkids and can't wait to get the hell out of there for some space, Americans tend to be in more nuclear living arrangements, so there's less pent-up demand to be less pent-up.

2. The Truist Plaza situation is an endless source of voyeuristic entertainment for those of us who regularly read the Adams Morgan listserv ... and a source of eye-rolling for those of us who agree that its stasis as a barren, shitty DMZ because "if I can't win then nobody can" is bullshit.

2a. PEDANTIC NOTE ALERT: Kalorama Park is in "Kalorama Triangle" which IS *technically* part of Adams Morgan (KT is bounded by Calvert to the north, Connecticut/RCP to the west, and Columbia to the east) ... and it's definitely part of the AdMo scene, being just a block away from Mintwood Place, the Amsterdam Falafel joint on 18th etc.. For what it's worth, the fancy part of Kalorama which is west of Connecticut Ave is referred to as "Kalorama Sheridan" and they have a park called Mitchell Park but that's definitely not convenient.

3. Re the title, we saw comedian Mike Birbiglia last night and he had an apt laugh line: "I love pizza. I mean, I love it so much that I get excited when I see the word 'plaza.'"

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Apr 15, 2022·edited Apr 16, 2022Author

1. Could be! My host-mom in Spain lived by herself but would still regularly "dar un paseo" with a friend or family member, most often on Sunday evenings. Maybe it was just to escape me, her annoying host student, though!

2. I don't read the listserv, but "who says no and why" game here I imagine to be. Activist citizenry says no to anything that doesn't maintain public space. Condo developer says no to anything that obligates them to allocate any space to people who don't own condos.

2a. You are more local than I and have likely visited KP many more times. Do people sit in KP with Amsterdam Falafel? I know they do with Pitango (and a local ice cream/gelato place should not be an overlooked aspect of public space design!), but AF seems a little too far.

3. Then he should go to Italy, where the spelling is a lot closer!

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