A couple of weeks ago I saw a short posting on The Yards Park facebook page. It read, “Planning an event for March 2012? This is your last chance to hold an event in the lumbershed open air pavilion in the Yards Park! The lumbershed is going under construction in April to be restaurants. Book now – email…”
I took this last-chance opportunity to book an event in the lumber shed as sad news. For over a year now The Yards Park has been a destination for families from the Hill and farther afield, both for its splash pools in the warmer weather and for the well-designed outdoor space that provides multiple opportunities to enjoy the waterfront. Few other locales in Washington DC offer space to have a picnic, play a board game, enjoy a concert, use the dog park, and take in views of the river all in one spot. The Yards Park was even recently voted one of the top new green spaces in the country. At the center of this urban green space is the lumber shed, the skeleton of an old warehouse building that was cleaned up, provided power and lighting, and has served as a gathering space for numerous special events. In rainy weather it also provides the opportunity to remain outdoors, taking in the river views without getting drenched.
I know the developers who own The Yards have a multi-phase strategic plan to create a vibrant, exciting neighborhood at the river front, and the potential of this excites me for the asset it becomes to our neighborhood. But when I first ventured to The Yards Park, I was drawn not just to its location and vistas, but also at its high design and care taken to create a comfortable and unique outdoor space. The open air pavilion at the center seemed perfectly placed to me – it brings the language of the buildings around the park into the green space but lets the structure be used from something completely different. The park in general reminds me of some of the well-designed parks and green spaces in Europe that are filled with architectural follies and structures to experience that are woven into the fabric of the park’s design. Places like Parc de la Villette and Parc Citroen in Paris recognize that people inhabit parks, and often need and want places to sit and enjoy the space that go beyond the typical wood or metal park bench. Green spaces aren’t an afterthought, but should instead be crafted to heighten the user experience and entice them to return. The character and elements of The Yards brings that same philosophy to mind.
So instead of an open air pavilion – an architectural folly to be experienced in a multitude of ways – the lumbershed will be enclosed and populated with restaurants. This limits the ways the building can be used (no more TSNY performers hanging from the rafters!) and also drastically limits the amount of respite from unexpected rain storms or blinding summer sun available to park users. The pavilion is open on all four sides, so once enclosed pedestrians will be forced to walk past closed in walls to conceal trash, receiving and back-of-house elements, and on trash collection days will also deal with the inevitable sight of trash waiting for pick up. Also inevitable will be the occasional napkin or plastic cup that drifts into the park from the restaurant. Yes we are in a city and some of this is truly inevitable. No need to encourage it though, right?
Now, I know the development is privately owned and as such the owner has the right (or earned the right through due municipal process) to create whatever is desired or most beneficial. The entire project has the potential to revitalize what some have seen as an industrial afterthought, and the reuse of old warehouses to create new retail and residential spaces provides a unique aesthetic among today’s large-scale developments. However, once The Yards is completed and all the neighboring projects are built and the Waterfront is a bustling, successful neighborhood, will the bigger-picture benefit of the lumbershed be in its use as a couple of restaurants or in a community gathering space that can be so many things to so many people?