On the post about dwelling density, Alex B. writes,
The idea of preserving an evolving thing (a city) is somewhat troubling to me. We preserve things that are dead (like animals taken to the taxidermist, for example). Preservation gets caught up in the idea of one sudden snapshot of a city that’s suddenly worth preserving - an inaccurate perception, in my mind. All I can think of is little cities (almost as if they were snow globes) encased in jars of formaldehyde.

Cities ought to be alive. I much prefer the term and concept of adaptive re-use. How can we keep the historic elements intact, maintain that connection to the past, and still adapt the structure and the neighborhood to a modern use?

This dynamic is at work in Takoma Park today. Activists there cut their teeth blocking the North Central Freeway, which would have run right through the neighborhood. Then they fought to preserve beautiful Victorian houses from being torn down and replaced with bland, square apartment houses, winning historic districts in both DC and Maryland.

That freeway was worth fighting because it would have created vast expanses of concrete devoid of humanity and ruined the street life. Now, the same activists, “caught up in one snapshot of a city,” want to retain the large, bland WMATA parking lot that separates the Metro station from the neighborhood. Where once that parking lot was a lively commercial street, WMATA proposes to build a village green and a few blocks of townhouses without taking away the existing parking or bus loading. That would restore a streets in the area where they once existed. To some, however, townhouses are just as noxious as a 12-lane freeway.


Must we save Takoma Park from this?

Richard Layman writes about the generational difference among activists between those who fought to stabilize their neighborhoods as cities were shrinking, and those who now strive to improve cities as they grow again. The guide who led our tour for WalkingTown DC (a member of the earlier generation) referred to the “small town” feel of the neighborhood, and residents’ desire to keep the town small. The City of Takoma Park, Maryland has over 17,000 residents. WMATA wants to build 90 townhouses. Are new residents so undesirable?

Our guide also disputed the value of two-car garages under each townhouse. On that, we agree completely. Transit-oriented townhouses next to a Metro station need one per unit at most; shared spaces and ample Zipcars would be even better. Fewer spaces could alleviate residents’ reasonable concerns about heavy traffic. But if residents just oppose more residents, that’s neighborhood taxidermy, not preservation.

Below, more photos of Takoma Park from the walking tour.

Formerly the Takoma railroad depot” width=The historic Victorian Takoma railroad depot was torn down. This building now stands in roughly its place.
Cady Lee mansion” width=The Cady Lee mansion. Some plans for the North Central Freeway would have destroyed this building.
Not so historic” width=The houses next to the Cady Lee mansion were not so lucky. These buildings replaced them.
Once a lively street” width=The WMATA parking lot, once a commercial street (the picture she is holding up depicts the original stores).
WMATA parking lot” width=Activists want to keep this parking lot from becoming a village green and 90 townhouses.
Bungalow” width=One of many bungalow-style houses in Takoma and Takoma Park.
Art Deco stores” width=The commercial strip of Old Town Takoma Park, about three blocks from Metro.
CVS still life with cones” width=Between Old Town Takoma Park and the Metro station are a few blocks of generic suburban development, like this non-historic CVS and parking lot. Photo by Susan NYC on Flickr.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Surface Transit. 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 here are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.