Could we liven up Northwest Washington? Here’s one idea:
The residential areas of northwest Washington are divided by a strange street system. Cutting across the familiar American grid are diagonal avenues, usually named after American states. Some of these avenues are zoned for commercial uses along at least part of their length, and are lined with shops and restaurants. Most of them are not. And because they cut across the grid at angles, they end up creating triangular plots, too small for parks, too oddly shaped for building lots.
Result: While many neighborhoods are moderately densely inhabited, the combination of zoning rules and the street pattern leaves much of northwest devoid of cute cafes, shops, and services, but crowded with a host of not-so-cute, not-so-practical triangular patches of grass inconveniently situated in the middle of streets and intersections.
If this were Paris, or perhaps even New York, these numerous plots of grass would have been transformed into streetside cafes or shops where passing commuters or at-home moms could enjoy a coffee, buy a newspaper, or drop their dry cleaning. As is, they mostly serve as open-air dog toilets.
This café, located in the Parisian Latin Quarter is not on a sprawling avenue, but rather, situated on a metropolitan island in between two one-way streets – an island not unlike the many grassy patches to be found scattered around the busy intersections of northwest Washington, D.C.
Washington’s zoning theory would deem this cafe a nuisance or a blight. Does it look like a nuisance? Wouldn’t it be interesting if Washington City Council would authorize an experimental cafe or shop or two on one or another of the blank urban triangles of Washington’s Ward Three?