Two new developments in Washington, DC continue the disappointing trend of creating buildings that present blank walls to the street.

Just as New York did in the 1970s and sometimes still does, and just like much of today’s downtown DC, developers create fortress-like apartment buildings, offices, and even churches that isolate their residents from the neighborhood without adding to its vibrancy. And sadly, architects and observers often extol these very buildings for their unconventional exteriors without recognizing their neighborhood-draining properties.

DC Metrocentric praised both these buildings, calling the first (an office building on 14th 15th Street) “a wonderful departure from the ordinary”, despite its blank (and ugly) garage filling the entire front of the lower two floors. Of the second (condos in Adams Morgan), they declared it to have “curb appeal” due to the interesting stone facade, but a stone facade and a big garage door don’t engage passersby.

A parking garage should not occupy the entire ground floor of any building. If parking is needed, put it underground, or in the back of the building. Any building on a commercial street, or downtown, should have retail on its ground floor; on a residential street, front doors, windows, or a yard with seating to facilitate residents sitting outside and increase “eyes on the street”.

Zoning can do more to encourage good buildings, and less to encourage bad ones. Today, most areas are zoned for minimum parking requirements which often force developers to devote space unnecessarily to parking. The DC Council should remove these requirements, and instead ensure that the street-facing ground floors of buildings make better, neighborhood-

enhancing use of their space.

Update: I spoke with Eric Colbert, architect for the Lot 33 building, the one on the right with the stone front and garage entrance. According to him, he would never put a parking entrance in front, except that in this case there is no alley behind due to the terrain (it’s on a hill), and confirmed my suspicions that putting parking in the building was mandated by zoning (though I don’t know whether or not the developer would have wanted parking even if they could have made the choice).

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.