Tuesday, February 23, 2010

DC's West Elm to Shutter

We've just learned via DCist and Washington Business Journal that the DC location of West Elm will be closing in the next month. According to store manager Dion Barela, " This location was just not as successful as they’d hoped.” Citing less than estimated tax revenues, the closure appears to also be due in part to the weak economy. Sadly large furniture retailers and smaller shops as well have not always had such an easy time making it in the District. Brazilian furniture store Artefacto had a similarly brief presence in Georgetown, and back in Penn Quarter it has come to light that Apartment Zero has not only relocated, but shifted their focus away from retail sales. And while the Penn Quarter location may not be as ideal for residential shoppers as other locations (such as what is becoming a fairly solid home furnishings district along 14th and U Streets, NW) the aforementioned Artefacto was across the street from Georgetown's popular Cady's Alley. Certainly there is hope that this is not a sign of turmoil for other furniture retailers, especially as the DC area's first Room & Board is slatted to open on 14th Street this spring, weeks after the West Elm closure.
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Urban Seen :: Pondering a Greener Bus Stop

So I was amused to come across this sight several weeks ago on my way to the metro: A Christmas tree sitting upright in a trashcan beside a Metrobus stop. Presumably this was simply someone's effort to discard of their left-over holiday conifer, but it gave me pause, as for a moment it appeared to be a planted shrub. This led me to thinking about the lack of green in this particular transit plaza, and furthermore to imagine the incorporation of plantings in concert with common urban elements, such as the humble bus stops.

Admittedly, the design of the DC Metrobus shelter has gotten more attractive over the last few years. The one pictured here is one of the few remaining of this kind that I've come across, many having been replaced by new glass and aluminum shelters, which feel much more open and less oppressive. But what if, beyond being more aesthetically pleasing, our bus shelters could be better for the environment as well. Imagine if these shelters incorporated planters which would collect rainwater from their roofs to water the plants and help reduce stormwater, which would otherwise end up on sidewalks and carrying debris into our sewer system. How about a sedum-sprouting greenroof? How wonderful if our bus stops could become a living oasis in our cities.

Some jurisdictions, including San Francisco and Chicago, are exploring sustainable solutions, such as solar powered bus shelters. Others are utilizing LED streetlamps (a topic which I'll explore further in a future post). The point, really, is for us to begin to reinvent common urban elements in such as way that they contribute to not only the built environment but to the natural environment as well. Imagine solar-powered streetlamps illuminating permeable sidewalks. Trash and recycling receptacles made themselves from recycled materials. Bike racks that integrate seating to encourage multiple forms of street life. Once we start thinking beyond the singular use of the ordinary objects that surround us, we'll realize countless ways in which these objects can become both more dynamic and more eco-friendly.

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