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With Jack Evans and Vince Gray headed to New York and Muriel Bowser and Andy Shallal otherwise occupied, the small candidate crowd at last night’s architecture debate must have left the hosts feeling as lonely as sad architect archetype Ted Mosby. The lack of candidates at the District Architecture Center brought about a similar lack of political tension, but that didn’t keep the candidates who did show up from having ideas about buildings.
Flex Apartment Buildings: Tommy Wells, whose background in the world of “livable, walkable” gave him home-court advantage at the debate, liked the idea of apartment buildings with units that could be expanded into other units after residents have kids.
City-Run Parking Garages: Keeping with the candidates’ new devotion to using every available public area to store cars, Reta Lewis said that the District should consider turning city-owned property into city-run parking garages similar to municipal parking garages in Silver Spring, Md.
Vincent Orange proposed his own massive public project in the form of his much-discussed idea to transform RFK Stadium and nearby Langston Golf Course into stadium, a waterpark, and a whole lot of other stuff. When the candidates were asked what city project they’d want to cut the ribbon on in their hypothetical administrations, Orange chose the RFK project.
Make This Guy’s Friend the Director of the Office of Planning: With Office of Planning boss and smart growth favorite Harriet Tregoning leaving for the federal government, the candidates were asked who they’d like to replace her with. Tommy Wells was the only candidate to offer names of people he’d like to see in the job, including planner Jeff Speck and smart growth advocate Kaid Benfield.
And then there was write-in candidate Michael J. Green, who promised to appoint an unnamed friend to the position. Green, who came off so poorly with the planners and architects in the room that he twice insisted that he didn’t mean to offend them, said that he and his friend had some architecture chops of their own. “We’re going to take this city by storm,” Green promised. “You’re going to see some urban design that you’ve never seen.”
Barcelona, D.C.: When moderator and Washington Business Journal editor Douglas Fruehling asked the candidates what cities the District could learn from, some of the candidates treated it as a loyalty test and refused to name any. “I am going to be fervent in my admiration for Washington, D.C.” Green insisted.
Lewis and Wells didn’t prove as tight-lipped. Lewis pointed to New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Atlanta, while Wells mentioned Zurich and Barcelona as potential examples for the city. Especially admirable to Wells: Barcelona’s street lamps that double as benches.
No Height Act Changes: Maybe LL shouldn’t be calling this an “idea” since it looks like the Height Act will be law until mankind forgets how to build above 130 feet, but there it is. All of the candidates at the debate agreed that they opposed changing the Height Act. Wells, who opposed Height Act changes along with nearly all but one of his D.C. Council colleagues, gave the exiting Tregoning a shove out the door on her pet issue. Tregoning’s belief that the city needed loosened height limits to keep up with population growth didn’t take into account development elsewhere in the city, according to Wells.
“She viewed it in a very linear, two-dimensional way,” Wells said.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery