Where might DC area federal jobs be located in the next 15 years?

By Charlie Richman

(Click to animate) OP’s analysis of possible DC area federal office locations though 2027

What if the General Services Administration is right about telecommuting and stops renting office space?

We looked at where GSA puts federal workers today, and imagined where the workers might be in 15 years if plans for increased telecommuting proceed.  Existing rules already favor transit-accessible locations.

Our back-of-the-envelope analysis started with GSA’s current offices.  We dropped expiring leases each year to meet an aggressive schedule for consolidating space, ending leases farthest from mass transit first and consolidating jobs at the remaining sites.  After 15 years all of the leased space would be gone.  Look what that would mean for the density of jobs downtown!

(Click to animate) Federal job density in the DC-area over the next 15 years

We don’t believe the future will look exactly like this, but we’re trying to learn from the exercise.  Perhaps we’ll need to focus more on meeting the needs of part-time telecommuters.

What do you think?

Poppin Fresh Dough

Blind Dog – Image courtesy of blinddogcafe.com

By Elisa Vitale

No, it’s not the Pillsbury Doughboy, but a bakery or restaurant may be popping up in your neighborhood.  Pop-ups are temporary, or not so temporary, businesses that operate during off hours at bars or restaurants when the space would otherwise go unused.  In addition to enlivening spaces that are dark during the day, pop-ups bring new offerings to neighborhoods; allow entrepreneurs to gauge interest by local residents; and provide seasoned cooks, or those just starting out, a chance to see how they would fare in the risky restaurant business.

Noah Karesh, Jonas Singer, and Cullen Gilchrist launched Blind Dog Café in Darnell’s Bar on Florida Avenue in February 2012.  The café takes advantage of the bar’s space, including a kitchen, that sits empty during the day.  Gilchrist, a line cook at Ardeo + Bardeo, wanted to evaluate neighborhood interest in a coffee shop.  He is responsible for the menu and his sister runs her own start-up, Black Strap bakery, from the kitchen and supplies the café’s baked goods.  Blind Dog Café has proven so popular that the pop-up expanded to the Science Club’s patio at L and M Streets, NW for the summer.

While Blind Dog Café is a pop-up that’s here to stay, there are more temporary pop-ups around DC.  You might associate H Street NE with bars and live music, not brownies and baguettes, but stop by H Street Bakes and that could change.  H Street Bakes is a monthly pop-up bake sale (the venue rotates among bars) that features treats from local residents and employees.  Kim Moffatt, a local resident and the pastry chef (and waitress/hostess) at Granville Moore’s, who also provides desserts and baked goods for Boundary Road, started the pop-ups to determine neighborhood interest in a bakery on H Street.  You’ll also find Crunkcakes at H Street Bakes.  Faith Alice Sleeper and Raychel Sabath cooked up the idea for these boozy cupcakes while working together at the Rock & Roll Hotel.

Crunkcakes – Image courtesy of districtofcrunk.com


Erica Skolnik, of Frenchie’s, is looking for a permanent storefront for her bakery.  In the meantime, she sells her baked goods at Seasonal Pantry in Shaw.  She recently had the opportunity to take over the Seasonal Pantry space for a one day bakery pop-up when the gourmet market was temporarily closed.

Frenchie’s - Image courtesy of frenchiesdc.com

Kera Carpenter, owner of Domku in Petworth, says that she would have benefited from a mentor and a space to test her concept – that’s why she’s working with Priya Ammu and DC Dosa.  Ammu is the winner of Think Local First’s StartUp Kitchen competition, which is targeted at providing resources for emerging restaurant businesses.  Over the fall DC Dosa took over the Domku space (Domku is closed Mondays), giving consumers the chance to test the dosa and provide feedback at this pop-up restaurant.


Is there a space in your neighborhood that would be perfect for a pop-up?  What type of restaurant would you like to see?

Height Limits Make Great Places

By Kim Williams

Around the turn of the 20th century civic activist, urban visionary, and developer Mary Henderson clearly got city planning. Among other things, she understood that by controlling building heights, you can create great places for the benefit of the public.  A stroll through Meridian Hill Park with its low-scale buildings framing the park to either side confirms this attitude.

According to the 1910 Height Act, buildings at the time could rise 85 feet on residential streets.  For the strong-minded Mary Henderson, 85 feet was too high, especially for Meridian Hill Park where views to the city were a major part of its allure.  Henderson argued that buildings that rise above the standard skyline cut off light, air and harmony of height.  In her flamboyantly written editorials and oral testimonies, she claimed these streets were diseased and suffered from what she labeled “pulmonary consumption of residential avenues.”  Henderson also often noted that buildings that rose above a certain height made “pygmies” out of existing building stock—quite a visual image illustrated by the historic photograph here.

As a reference point for building heights along residential avenues, Henderson looked to the Champs Elysees in Paris, noting that it always maintains a “comparative general height of 65 feet, which is enough for four or five stories.”   So, with 65 feet thus established as a maximum height in her own mind, Henderson set out to maintain it around Meridian Hill.  To either side of the park, along both 15th and 16th Streets, she built nine private mansions and foreign legations all conforming to this height limit, some of them shown here: 

When other developers deviated from her established norm, she interfered.  In 1915, for instance, she negotiated the purchase of land away from developer Harry Wardman who planned the construction of three apartment buildings overlooking Meridian Hill Park at 15th and Euclid Streets.  After completing the deal, she expressed satisfaction that the park was “now protected from any surrounding which could fall below a certain standard of beauty.”   The following year, when the Kennedy Brothers proposed construction of the Meridian Mansions apartments (now the Envoy) at 2400 16th Street at a height exceeding Henderson’s ideal notion, she sought to stop its construction.  When she found she couldn’t prevent it, she instead negotiated to collaborate on the building’s design, to “have a hand in helping it fit into the pattern.”

When it came to the Hadleigh Apartments (now the Roosevelt), she took her fight against its 77-foot height to Congress.  In her Congressional testimony, Henderson argued that the view from Meridian Hill Park was “the only one remaining in the capital” and is comparable to similar outlooks in Paris and Rome, which she claimed “have been preserved for posterity.”  Although it was built higher than she would have liked, the owners were required to eliminate pergolas that rose above the roofline, cutting off those precious views.

As long as Mary Henderson was alive, it seems, the height of buildings on Meridian Hill was held in check.  After her 1931 death, however, developers were free to exercise their zoning rights, introducing several aberrations into Henderson’s vision for Meridian Hill, the most egregious example of which is found at the base of the park, eliminating the views Henderson fought so hard to protect.

Despite such intrusions, the scale of buildings surrounding Meridian Hill Park as imposed by Mary Henderson makes the park one of the city’s great places.

Taming the Big Box

By Stephen Cochran

Pentagon City, VA (Credit: Street Google)

We’ve all been here.  It’s one of those places where we hand over $1 billion shopping dollars each year to Maryland or Virginia.  If even half of that money could be spent in DC, our 6% tax rate would generate $30 million in revenue.  That’s enough to supply 300 new affordable housing units, or pay for the education of 1600 District children, every single year.

The city has been working for decades to reverse this loss of dollars, and we’re starting to see results.  Larger retailers are moving into the District to supplement our local stores.  Some are bringing new designs that fit in with, and bring new life to, our traditional neighborhood centers. Others, unfortunately, continue to bulldoze trees, fill in wetlands, or construct stone-walled mesas so they can just replicate their suburban stores.

Planners need to provide models of how major retailers can come into the city without compromising good design and active street life.

Los Angeles, CA (Credit: Stephen Cochran)

This storefront I saw on Broadway in downtown L.A. shows how to do it:  name recognition, openness to the street, pedestrian and bicycles friendliness, and a broad selection of brand goods at every-day low prices.

Having a vital shopping street need not take a zoning overlay, or city subsidies; just some creative entrepreneurs, sensitivity to scale … and a lot of red paint.

Welcome to OP’s Blog!

By Tanya Washington-Stern

Welcome to OPinions, the blog of the DC Office of Planning! We envision this blog as a space for OP staff to dialogue with you about the urban environment and related topics such as urban design, historic preservation, transportation, health and other areas that intersect with planning. We want to talk about innovative, thought-provoking or just plain cool trends and developments in the urban planning world.  The geography of our dialogue is not just Washington, DC and its region, but also the United States and the rest of the world.  This blog is our room to look beyond our official day-to-day work and talk about what we as individual planners find interesting.

If you want to learn more about the DC Office of Planning and our neighborhood and citywide plans, reports and initiatives, please visit our official website, www.planning.dc.gov. We are also on Twitter and Facebook.

We hope you will join us in these conversations!