When you cover up the CVS, the southern end of 17th is beautiful. Photo by katmere on Flickr.

Dupont’s 17th Street continues to puzzle observers and generate lively debate. On the one hand, businesses keep leaving; the Washington Business Journal just wrote about a gay-focused art gallery moving eastward, following other businesses that have followed gay residents to greater 14th Street. (Unfortunately, the rest of the article is behind a pay wall.)

The article is now publicly available.

Others argue there’s nothing wrong. After all, 17th still has a grocery store, hardware store, and CVS; the MBA-hatched froyo-serving Mr. Yogato draws significant crowds each evening. June’s InTowner editorial, entitled “What’s Wrong with 17th Street? Nothing” quotes an unnamed neighborhood blog‘s criticism of 17th, citing the arrival of Tranquil Space Yoga, the expansion of Coldwell Banker, and restaurants supposedly in the works. 

I’ve now lived on both ends of 17th, and I think I’ve figured it out. The problem with 17th? The northern end. When approaching it from the north, as I did before, one’s first view is of the 7/11 and a liquor store. Then, at 17th and R, we have the architecturally ugly Steam Cafe building, the run-down Swift Cleaners, and the horrific Indian-themed Cobalt building. The intersection is way too wide and has too few trees. If you’re a resident of the northern part of Dupont, walking down 17th to the shops there is not an especially pleasant experience.

From the south, it’s entirely different. Other than the visually terrible yet extremely convenient and delicious CVS/Sushi Taro building, 17th is a pleasant strip of mostly attractive row houses and apartment buildings. The trees and street widths make for an enjoyable walk.

Perhaps I’m more attuned to architecture than your average resident, but everyone responds in subtle ways to the environmental cues. From Riggs to Corcoran, the cues are off-putting; from Church to Corcoran, they’re inviting. Maybe the 17th Street Streetscape will fix these problems; if only we knew what was going on.

Update: Rob Halligan pointed me to this video from WBJ, discussing the same topics as their inaccessible article. The article also says the streetscape project has been delayed until at least 2010. Perhaps by 2010 DDOT will see fit to reconstruct the recently-redone 17th and R intersection into something more pleasant.

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.