Saturday, May 18, 2013

A walk around L'enfant Plaza and urban renewal

Today I decided to play tourist and take a walking tour  with Washington Walks around L'enfant Plaza and environs. For those unfamiliar with Washington, D.C., the area is roughly south of The Mall and is probably most well-known as a Metro station where four lines(Blue, Orange, Yellow and Green) converge. Mostly though it is a concrete jungle comprised of federal office buildings that is empty most weekends due to the lack of any residential area-the closest being the SW Waterfront which is behind a major expressway.  We met our guide Carolyn, who is the owner of Washington Walks, outside the Metro station and for the next two hours walked around the area while Carolyn told us of the urban renewal idea put forth by the Federal Government called the Southwest Ecodistrict.

This would knock down some of the uglier concrete office buildings while trying to make the area more attractive and "green" both environmentally and esthetically.

While the greenery and more pedestrian-friendly plaza are welcomed, with the money mainly coming from the federal government, I fear that the plans won't be realized anytime soon. In addition, L'enfant Plaza was the model of urban renewal when it was modernized in the 1960s. Whose to say that in another 30 years, architects will look with favor on the proposed plans.

In addition to the plans above, there are also plans to put an Eisenhower Memorial across from the Air and Space Museum on the other side of Maryland Ave, where today there is currently a community garden, believe it or not. Again like all monument proposals, there are proponents and dissenters-one group being Eisenhower's own family. Finally, one of my favorite sites was the often-missed train station for Amtrak and Virginia Rail. Below is the steps leading up to the platform, where trainspotters gather during the week to look out for trains.

We ended up in the underground shopping mall underneath the L'enfant Plaza Hotel is in the process of being refurbished and remodeled by a private firm. With windows to the outside terrace, clean white lines and cool LCD pillars(see photo below), it is hoped that more people will come to see the underground mall as a place to stay, eat and shop during the week and not just use the metro next door.

All in all, it was an enlightening tour for both the tourists and the residents like me who took the walks. Washingtonwalks has neighborhood walks every Saturday during the summer and I highly recommend taking one to see parts of our nations capital that most residents don't see.

Friday, May 17, 2013

What I'm watching: The Tube: A History of the London Underground

For those not following UK news, 2013 is a very important year. Not just because of the royal spud, but because the London Underground is celebrating it's 150th anniversary. There's been royal visits from the Queen, Charles and Camilla and much more interesting IMHO, original steam locomotives have pulled refurbished first class carriage cars from the time of Queen Victoria through the tunnels of the Metropolitan line. . BBC TV have done their part in the celebrations by commissioning an hour documentary celebrating the history of the Underground. It aired last night on BBC2 and is as much about celebrating the little known staff and proponents of the Tube as spouting out the history.

While there are some interesting facts, for example did you know that the tiles on the platforms were originally designed so illiterate people could know which stations to alit? Also that before 1933 all lines were run by different companies and if two different lines used the same station a person would have to come out of the station and then go back in and pay at the different train's entrance? However, the more interesting feature of the documentary for me were the individuals-most of whom worked for London Transport- that were interested and knew odd facts about the Tube. My favorite had to be Dylan, the train driver, who had collected over 8,000 station tiles. One wonders if he tiled his house in different station tiles.

All in all it was a fascinating if brief look at the complicated history of an iconic London institution. As a subway aficionado, the peeks at secret stations in Highgate and the old tunneling equipment left in a disused area of Moorgate station was new to me. If you have any interest in the Tube-whether or not you're a Londoner, you should really see this show.