The lights aren’t broken, but the design is

Uplighting by Payton Chung
Uplighting, a photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

L’Enfant Promenade is so badly designed that it accomplishes the rare feat of making something darker by applying light. Lots and lots of lights, actually, which instead of illuminating the street surface instead just spill their coal-fired power as light pollution. This is just one of many things about this streetscape that are objectively wrong, as described by GGW commenter “Moose”:

L’Enfant Promenade is miserable. I work down there, and it’s too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter. No vegetation to help mitigate the effect of the wind canyon created by the buildings. The paving stones they used for both the road and the sidewalks are rough, and difficult for bikes and pedestrians. The “lights” they have on it don’t shed enough light at night to actually illuminate the sidewalks or road, but they do put out enough light to not let your eyes adjust to darkness (when they’re not blinking on and off, that is – there seems to be a short in the sensor or switch used to turn them on at dusk).

Yet somehow, the notion that this could be a landscape worthy of immortality (a supposedly rare privilege, as it places stewardship obligations upon future generations) actually exists out there in someone’s brain, and therefore tax money needs to be spent investigating that specious claim (perhaps at the DC Historic Preservation Review Board, if the GSA is to be believed about claims regarding Banneker Circle). Perhaps not since the SF Bike Plan has such a quantity of money been spent for planners to prove the obvious.

It’s no better by day, either. Nor is our jaundiced view just because it’s one generation old; it was hardly beloved even when it was shiny and new, if press and eyewitness reports are to be believed.

L'Enfant Promenade

Thankfully, this 1980s bulbs-and-brass interior was recently ripped away because again, it was objectively wrong — it never succeeded at being attractive, otherwise the shops around it might have done okay. Otherwise, surely someone would rush in and “rescue” it with some obviously-well-deserved historic protection.

Time warp

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One thought on “The lights aren’t broken, but the design is

  1. Given the competing preservationist impulses here, it will be interesting to see which ones prevail. On the one hand, there’s the broader EcoDistrict plan, which promises to restore L’Enfant Plan streets, build urban buildings to the same scale and use as the rest of the city, etc.

    On the other hand, there’s the ‘freeze it in amber’ impulse, the anti-change reaction that did help avoid some hasty demolition back in the day, but now finds itself at odds with a growing city and the very definition of what a dynamic, growing city is.

    The second strand runs the risk of being like a parent who thinks their toddler is so cute that they refuse to buy the child new clothes as it grows…

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