DC’s great public spaces work that way because they’re surrounding by active and visually interesting things. How can new places become great as well? By making sure they aren’t surrounded by blank walls. Murals are a good start.

A blank wall behind the new District Flea market near U Street. All photos by the author.

Like many, I joined the herd that flocked to District Flea, the new flea market from the creators of Brooklyn Flea, on its opening day in September. But by the time I entered the market at 9th Street and Florida Avenue NW, a blank grey wall disrupted my train of thought. The wall belongs to the Floridian, a condo building completed a few years ago.

Have you ever walked in a space and said, “This is wrong?” That’s what I did.

After regaining my composure, I thoroughly enjoyed the event and vendors, especially the shop that had two amazing terra cotta pipes for sale. (Hopefully they aren’t sold yet.) Thankfully, District Flea will continue until the end of November, and hopefully it will return next summer.

But if District Flea officially makes its home in this lot, something has to be done with this tidal wave of a wall intimidating patrons like me. A mural would be a good way to enliven this space and make it more visually appealing and inviting.

Photo by cisc1970 on Flickr.

Compare it to Brooklyn Flea, where the historic neighborhood context provides several beautiful vantage points for visitors to enjoy. These buildings may not be part of the market, but they add to its atmosphere and character in a way a blank wall simply doesn’t.

Painters have created murals around DC for decades, but they can be hard to find. In Cincinnati, my previous home, it seemed as if every empty wall in the city had art on it.

A mural in Cincinnati.

The District is fortunate enough to have Murals DC, an organization that helps to replace illegal graffiti with artistic works, revitalizing sites within the community while teaching young people the art of aerosol painting. They are responsible for over 30 murals throughout the city, and perhaps could help to create one here.

“A People Without Murals Is A Demuralized People,” a mural in Adams Morgan. Photo by art around on Flickr.

I might be crazy for feeling bullied by an inanimate blank wall, but a mural is still worth pursuing. I’m sure District Flea’s parking lot is already a likely site for a new apartment building. But until it’s forced to move, we should still strive to make this site a better a place to be.

Bobby Boone is a young urban planner working with Smart Growth America. An Atlanta native, Bobby has spent his last six years in Tallahassee, Florida, Cincinnati, Ohio and Istanbul, Turkey. His passions are placemaking and revitalization of neighborhood and city commercial districts.