Image by BeyondDC licensed under Creative Commons.

It occurred to me recently that GGWash used to run more posts about the basics of urbanism than we do today. A few years ago, we had a core group of writers that was still cutting its teeth in the planning world, and a byproduct of that was frequent content about simple things that make places better for people.

As those writers have moved forward in their careers— and, perhaps, as more parts of the region have gone from being on the brink to filling out— we've had fewer posts on the subject. But it's not like our region is finished growing and changing, and decisions about what we build and where we build it won't ever go away.

In that vein, I wanted to re-share a 2012 post from Dan Malouff, now our editorial director, about how we benefit from walk-up store windows. When I re-read it, I found myself thinking there have to be planners and architects out there who weren't reading our blog five years ago and would draw inspiration from what Dan has to say.

For those who have been following along all this time: are walk-up windows as novel as they were five years ago? Do you think they're more common? If you count food trucks, you could say they're ubiquitous (in some places…). Do you have any favorites?

Here's what Dan wrote:

A macaron shop looking to open in a small space in Georgetown is proposing to sell their sweets from an open window facing the sidewalk, rather than from an interior register. Customers wouldn’t actually go inside the shop, they’d merely stop outside it, and order through a large window.

Hopefully the store will be approved, because walk-up windows are great urbanism. How so?

  1. They provide additional “eyes on the street,” which deters crime.
  2. They provide passing-by pedestrians with something interesting to look at, which makes the street more pedestrian friendly. Visual diversity is an important consideration in walkability. If pedestrians feel bored, walks seem longer. If walks seem longer, people opt not to walk.
  3. They decrease the distance between destinations. Pedestrians want to walk the shortest possible distance to their destination. Giving shoppers the option of buying a product without going into a store decreases how far they have to walk.

More activity on the sidewalk is a good thing. We want it. Sidewalk activity is what makes for good cities.

To be fair, there are occasional places where adding a walk-up window would be troublesome. Especially narrow sidewalks that already have especially heavy pedestrian traffic, for example. A hypothetical walk-up window at the corner of Wisconsin and M Street might get in the way, and ultimately harm walkability by inconveniencing too many other people. That’s a legitimate concern.

But 99.9% of the time, walk-up windows are great. The proposed walk-up macaron shop in Georgetown is way up Wisconsin Avenue, well north of the busiest area, on a stretch of sidewalk with plenty of room for existing shops to put out clothes racks and wicker furniture. It should be approved.

And hopefully there will be even more proposals in the future for these great features of urbanism.

Jonathan Neeley was Greater Greater Washington's staff editor from 2014-2017. He gets most everywhere by bike (or Metro when it's super nasty out), thinks the way planning decisions shape our lives is fascinating, and plays a whole lot of ultimate. He lives in Brookland.