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No neighborhood likes empty storefronts, especially up-and-coming areas. Now artists, city agencies, and landlords are teaming up to fill vacant spaces with “pop-ups” — creative temporary projects that generate visitors and buzz. We explore the art installations, performances, supper clubs and craft stores bringing life to underused urban spaces.
- Harriet Tregoning Director, D.C. Office of Planning
- Philippa Hughes Chief Creative Contrarian, The Pink Line Project
- Danny Harris Creator of the blog, People's District: A People's History of Washington, D.C.
- Lisa Duperior President, Adams Morgan Main Street
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. No one likes an empty storefront or vacant lot, not the landlord, not the neighbors, nor the city hoping to collect tax revenue. One solution, temporarily fill the space. It might be a shop open for a few weeks that sells funky T-shirts and handmade jewelry or it could be a temporary art installation. These pop-ups last longer than a trunk show, but are fleeting enough to generate a buzz and sometimes draw a crowd.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe city's onboard, creating a temporary urbanist initiative to support these. It's not a new idea. New York has been doing it for decades, but it's one that's recently taken off here in the District. H Street and Mt. Pleasant recently had pop-up shops and now there's one open in Adams Morgan. We'll likely be seeing more of these in the future. And joining us to explore the issue is Harriet Tregoning, director of D.C.'s Office of Planning. Harriet, good to see you again.
MS. HARRIET TREGONINGGreat to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDICan you give us a sense of how many vacant storefronts we're talking about in the District?
TREGONINGI was hoping to have a number for you by the time we went on air, but I don't have one. All I can say is that it's a really common urban phenomenon that at any given time -- even in the height of a building boom -- that we would have lots that would be vacant for months or even years as sites go through a development process. And the pre-development preparation and that stores and other retail spaces on street fronts would turn over, you know, with greater or lesser frequency so that there's always some amount of vacancy in the city.
NNAMDINot just storefronts, but the District also has a number of vacant buildings, both large, old factories and smaller spaces. What are some of the issues you face when these buildings are empty?
TREGONINGWell, I mean, it, you know, there are lots of issues, some of them have to do with public safety. Vacant buildings attract sometimes some very undesirable uses, unauthorized and illegal uses. So it becomes a public safety matter in the community. It certainly, depending on the condition of the building, is a physical blight in a neighborhood, so that's of concern. From a fiscal perspective, a vacant building isn't giving us the tax revenue that an active building might. You know, there are lots of reasons why cities should abhor, you know, vacant buildings and vacant properties, especially over a long term when we can figure out some much more creative and productive uses for those properties.
NNAMDIWhat is the city's role in getting owners to sell or to renovate buildings that are sitting empty and how does the city provide incentives for those owners to create retail or residential space in some of those buildings?
TREGONINGWell, I think like most cities, we have carrots and sticks. We have a vacant property tax rate that, last time I checked, was something like 10 times the amount of non-vacant property tax rate. There are a lot of exceptions and exemptions that, you know, so if you had a property for which you are seeking a building permit, but the process was protracted, you wouldn't be taxed at a vacant property rate. But if you had a building sitting idle year on year, that's a way that the city signals to the property owner, hey, might be better for you to try to find a use for this building.
NNAMDIEmpty lots are another problem in many cities, including the District. How does the city handle those?
TREGONINGWell, we do a lot of different things. If you'll recall, we had this site in the city. We just broke ground, in fact, on what we're calling City Center Development at the old convention center site. And so, recall that during the boomingest time in the District's history in terms of its real estate economy, that was a site that was vacant for many years as it went to the entitlements process. So what do we have on that site? We had World Team Tennis...
TREGONING...Trapeze School, we had, you know, all sorts of even more temporary events, circuses and other things that was a lot that people went to to get Bolt and Megabus. It was a storm water demonstration project with Rain Gardens all around the outskirt. So, we had a lot of different uses. It was the staging area for the "Transformer" movie and they shot a lot of it, you know, from that site. So we had a lot of different uses for it. But it wasn't something we were heretofore kind of set up to routinely do in the city. And we think that it would actually be really useful to try to figure out ways to more fully employ the vacant buildings and the vacant storefronts and the vacant land in the city in a more systemic way.
NNAMDII was going to sign up for the Trapeze School, but then I chickened out, got scared. In many places, empty lots can become venues for community gardens or flea markets. How does the city feel about these informal uses of unused lots?
TREGONINGWell, I think in theory we really like those productive uses. We think that they're great to create community amenities, you know, in a neighborhood. I mean, my only issue, I guess I would say, from the perspective of a the planning director is that sometimes people get very attached to those uses in a neighborhood and it may not be the city's property or it might not be a property that is destined for long term use as a garden or some sort of informal space, but it often becomes politically and otherwise very difficult to change those uses.
TREGONINGI wish we were a city that could more routinely, you know, use land productively with gardens, maybe even with commercial-scale urban agriculture, something that really would produce jobs and really kind of make a difference in terms of the food that's available in a neighborhood. But do it so routinely that we don't have to worry that we can't ever change that use because people just won't expect that to be happening.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking about pop-ups and temporiums. Inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Have you visited any of the temporary shops, pop-ups in the District, H Street, Mt. Pleasant, Adams Morgan? 800-433-8850 or you can go to website, kojoshow.org, and share your experience with us there. Send us a tweet @kojoshow. We are talking with Harriet Tregoning. She is director of the Office of Planning of the District of Columbia. Harriet, the pop-up shops came out of the city's temporary urban initiative. Tell us about the idea behind temporary urbanism.
TREGONINGWell, you know, the idea, we've already touched them a little bit, is that, you know, it's the urban condition. It's a normal thing in cities to have vacant spaces. But those vacancies create their own problems. So, we're trying to be a city that, you know, more fully utilizes all the resources that we have, human and otherwise, and this is an example of how we would hope to animate and showcase different neighborhoods, different arts and culture, different retail opportunities and reverse negative perceptions that are associated with a particular side or a particular lack of activity in an area. And I think it really fits well with some other work that we have been doing about our creative economy.
TREGONINGYou know, we have such, you know, well known as the seat of the federal government that that's how people think of us. But if we weren't the nation's capital and the, you know, and the land bureaucrats, we would probably be known as a creative city. We have, you know, more than 90 performing arts organizations. And when we studied this, we found that there more than 75,000 direct jobs in the district's creative sector.
TREGONINGAnd that's more than 10 percent of all the employment. So, you know, that's a really important thing to our economy. And it's in media, in design and culinary arts and yet that is almost invisible to people how much creative activity is going on. So, it does two things, our temporary urbanism initiative, it gives us an opportunity to highlight those designers and artists, but also use some spaces that are temporarily vacant in the city.
NNAMDIJoining now -- joining us now in studio is Philippa Hughes. She is chief creative contrarian for The Pink Line Project, an online guide to arts and culture. She also serves as an at-large commissioner on the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Philippa Hughes, thank you for joining us.
MS. PHILIPPA HUGHESThank you for inviting.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Danny Harris. He is the creator of the website, the People's District: A People's History of Washington, D.C. Danny, thank you for joining us.
MR. DANNY HARRISThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIDanny, the District does not lack for arts. We've got some of the country's best museums here. But it seems to me that pop-ups are also about bringing arts venues from a formal museum setting, say, on the mall to neighborhoods.
HARRISThat's correct, Kojo. And one of the things that I'm here to talk about today is an initiative that came out of the National Building Museum, which is an Intelligent Cities Initiative. And the idea here is really to think differently about the data that's coming out of cities and to mash up both information that relates to public transportation information and combining that with an interdisciplinary conversation so that this information ultimately becomes relevant.
HARRISAnd one of the things that's been coming out of it are these info-graphics in Time magazine, which is a partner on the Intelligent Initiative -- Intelligent Cities Initiative that takes these pieces of information that are available and combines them. So whether it's relationships between public transportation and obesity, which maybe people understand, but to put them in a very matter of fact terms. And the next initiative is actually to create a 24-hour city project which would be an event that takes place on the four corners of the National Building Museum.
NNAMDII would talk to you about -- I'd like to talk to you about the 24-hour city project in greater detail later. But first, Philippa, how did you get involved in pop-ups?
HUGHESI got involved in pop-ups because I wanted to. I moved here about 10 years ago and I soaked up the Smithsonians, the Kennedy Center. I just loved all the cultural offerings here, buy I yearn for something a little more than that, more meaning I wanted something that felt exciting and buzz worthy. And so, frankly, I couldn't find it so I just did it myself.
HUGHESI started finding raw spaces around town and filling them with art and music. And I invited a few people and it just kept growing and growing. And it made me realize that there are a lot of other people like me who were interested in just something, some different alternative than to the same sort of institutional things that were happening. And because it started to grow, I just kept doing it more.
NNAMDIThe first temporium was the H Street project. That was something of an experiment. Tell us about that.
HUGHESVery much an experiment. So I've been doing sort of event based things up until then, very much around art and music. And I got involved with the Temporary Urbanism Working Group. And from that we decide to experiment with an actual retail space. How can we sort of help drive economic development with these sort of fun little art and music pop-up spaces that we had already been doing. And so, we tried to -- we filled up a small space on H Street with over almost 20 artists and their work and people came in droves and it just got a lot of press. And I think it was because it's time -- it's time to sort of look at retail and art and culture in a different way than the way we've been looking at it until now.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that you are, in fact, the one who may be responsible for the term temporium that's been used in association with these spaces. Is that correct?
HUGHESWell, I have to say, I will take credit for that. My interns and I were sitting around trying to think of a name for that first store. And so, we did come up with that name. And I'm excited that it continues to be used as sort of a term for other places like it around the city.
NNAMDIAnd as Harriet Tregoning described the Temporary Urbanism Initiative, it's my understanding that you are involved with the development of that idea.
HUGHESI was part of it, yes. I was part of the working group that came up with this concept. But it was a group effort. There were many people involved. And some of the key players all around the city who are involved in similar efforts were there. George Cook who helped Artomatic, was a key player there.
NNAMDIWe will talk about Artomatic, yes.
HUGHESYeah. And so, you know, I feel like these things were bubbling around for a while and I just, I feel like I happen to be in the right place at the right time to kind of help pull it all together into one effort.
NNAMDIJust trying to establish that you came to this city to shake everything up. Here is the Elizabeth in Washington, D.C. Elizabeth, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELIZABETHHi. I'm calling to ask about two properties that have been vacant for I think five years or more. One is the former Babe's Billiards in Tenleytown and the other is McDonald's in Cleveland Park that was supposed to be getting a restaurant in, but apparently the permit has taken over a year.
NNAMDIHarriet Tregoning, Babe's Billiards right across the street from us.
TREGONINGRight. I can't tell you that I know offhand exactly the status of both of those projects, but I think they point to some issues that, you know, that are true in a lot of parts of this city, that on otherwise seemingly vibrant retail corridors that we have some periods of long vacancy. It might be because there's a disagreement between the owner of the property and how they would like to use it and what the neighbors would like to see. And if it requires a zoning change or a variance, that can be of a protracted process, especially if there's not agreement.
TREGONINGIn the case of Cleveland Park, that's a neighborhood that has an overlay that restricts the number of eating and drinking establishments. And that's, you know, that has complicated the reuse of that McDonald's site.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Elizabeth. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation on pop-ups and temporiums and take your calls 800-433-8850. Are there empty stores in your neighborhood? If they could be filled, even temporarily, what would you like to see in those spaces? Call us, share, 800-433-8850 or send us a tweet at kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about pop-ups and temporiums. We're talking with Harriet Tregoning, director of D.C.'s Office of Planning. Philippa Hughes is chief creative contrarian. What's that? What's the chief creative contrarian do?
HUGHESThe -- I orchestrate everything.
HUGHESYeah, I mean, the reason for that is because I want to try to think about how to do things differently. For example, these pop-up things, how do we look at the world differently? And that's what that means.
NNAMDIPhilippa Hughes is chief creative contrarian for the Pink Line Project. That's an online guide to arts and culture. She also serves as an at-large commissioner on the D.C. commission on the arts and humanities. And Danny Harris is creator of the website, "The People's District," a peoples' history of Washington, D.C. Before we get back to the telephones, and we will get back there, Danny, tell us a little bit about the 24 hour city project.
HARRISSure. Well, as I mentioned before, the idea behind the data in intelligent cities is how to make things more relevant. So in the intelligent city's conversation, it's about this interdisciplinary approach, taking data, taking the disciplines, mashing them up and seeing what comes about. The idea with the 24 hour city project is actually to take it a step forward and to say, well, okay, we have all this conversation. What if we were to empower people to create interdisciplinary teams to see who could most effectively activate an underused urban space in 24 hours?"
HARRISAnd the idea is that in June, in advance of the intelligent cities project, which is going to launch on the 6th of June, that we'll have four teams. One is going to be with an architecture background, one's going to be mapping and data, one is going to be public art and another one is going to be entrepreneur. And the four of them are working now to put together teams. So that they'll be these four physical structures that all have a digital component that will be built on the grounds of the National Building Museum in advance of that form.
NNAMDIThat is a fascinating concept. And what's the date we're looking at?
HARRISSo it's going to happen the first weekend in June. Likely, the 4th of June. And it'll...
NNAMDIFirst weekend in June. For those of our listeners who would like more information, is there...
HARRISYeah, you can read about it at the National Building Museum's website. You can read about the intelligent cities process there and then through that we'll start to put more information about the tours.
NNAMDIWe'll make sure we put up a link to that website at ours, kojoshow.org. Now, on to the telephones. We'll start with Patrick in Baltimore, Md. Patrick, your turn.
PATRICKHi, how are you?
PATRICKGreat. I wanted to bring up that I went to Philadelphia this past weekend and looked at Green Grow, which is an agricultural -- urban agricultural center in the middle of Philadelphia. And it's only on one city block there, but the difference it's made in the neighborhood has been remarkable. In that children looking at this farm opportunity bring their families there, want to eat the fresh fruit and vegetables that are growing there, et cetera. And this movement has also expanded from people who were committed to having a middle -- a mid range farm, specialized farms and small farms have an access to urban markets.
PATRICKSo rather than people going to the grocery store, what has happened is, is that an organization has brought all of these -- everything that people grow out there and local farms into the city and put it in the schools and put it in hospitals and other institutions where they're getting much better food than they were before.
NNAMDIYeah, I'm familiar with that. I'd like to know if Harriet Tregoning has a comment. Not exactly pop-up, not exactly temporium, but, I guess, something to improve the urban environment.
TREGONINGWell, I think, it's a really, really great idea. And we're looking at it in a lot of different contexts. I think that we've had a history of community gardens and you know how popular the various farmers markets are around the city. You know, they're wonderful and help to really reinforce the sense of community identity in different neighborhoods. But, I think, something like Green Grow is a -- it takes it to the next level. You know, we have the opportunity to really -- to actually produce food.
TREGONINGYou know, add a -- perhaps even at a commercial level, you know, herbs and greens and other things that restaurants might use. You know, 20 percent of the land in the city is parks and open space and virtually none of it is food productive. Now, why would it -- why is it that something beautiful like our parks couldn't also produce food and be beautiful? I mean, I think it's a different way of thinking about how we use the resources and the assets of the city.
TREGONINGAnd I think Green Grow in Philly is a great example.
NNAMDIHere is Evan in Baltimore, Md. Evan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EVANMy question had to do with using the space for -- to benefit the local members of the community who might be in need more. And if there's any movement toward providing programs for, like, the urban poor or youth who are at high risk of different things like community violence?
NNAMDIWhat kind of programs are you talking about specifically? Arts programs? And if so, what kind of arts program would you have in mind?
EVANI mean, arts programs would sound great. For instance, I thought of that example brought earlier where they were taking the different companies and giving them the different -- or the different organizations and letting them develop different spots. And maybe taking one of those spots and giving it to, like, a Boys and Girls Club or something like that.
EVANLetting it become a community project for youth who are at risk and need intervention. I work as a therapist at the Department of Juvenile Justice. So that's my perspective (unintelligible).
NNAMDIYeah, I was trying to make sure you were making a distinction between a community center or a Boys and Girls Club and some kinds of arts activity. Any comment on that Philippa, at all?
HUGHESActually, when -- in our discussions about the temporium before it became the temporium, we were very conscious of trying to incorporate the community and trying even create possibilities for learning skills. We -- for example, we had to build out the space and we'd had a lot of conversations about bringing young people in to help do the actual work and learn how to make things. And if we'd had more time, I think, we would've done that. So, I think, as an experiment, in the future, I think that would be wonderful to incorporate into any kind of, even retail space, that we would do again.
TREGONINGActually before the temporium on H Street, we -- some of the first work we did with the temporary use at this former library kiosk, was part of the digital capital week. And so we basically set up this kind of digital lounge in that space and did a lot of classes for adults and for kids in the neighborhood. Basically, the entire week, you know, to teach them how to, you know, use Facebook, how to use twitter, how to, you know, develop some computer skills, how to, you know, how to do some rudimentary mapping and other things.
TREGONINGAnd so, I think, you know, that's a really great idea. We do it in the city with playing fields. Bruce Monroe Park is an example, tennis courts and basketball courts, you know, as a temporary use. But, I think, that's an important component, you know, given any -- in any location there's a neighborhood that's proximate. What is it that would help to meet the needs of the residents in that neighborhood?
HARRISYeah, well, you know, the other hat that I wear is I run the website called, "People's District," and everyday what I do is I go and I interview a stranger as a way of putting together this oral history of the city. So what very much inspires me in the sense of rolling out the 24 hour city project, which would be in beta launch in June and then ideally city wide in November, is to have the community involved. Both in the sense of getting an understanding of the kind of things that they would like to see in these under used areas.
HARRISBut then taking it to the next level, which is to have the community involved in the construction and the participation of the project. Really, this is about bringing pride to neighborhoods. And there are so many wonderful projects that have taken place around the country and one that's particularly inspiring is one that's done by a group called, "Better Block," out in Oak Cliff, Texas. And what they've done is completely revitalize streets and there've been a lot of interesting implications from that that I hope we can talk about moving forward.
TREGONINGWe should put that link on the website because it's a very cool video.
NNAMDIShe comes here and starts telling me what to do. Put that link on the website.
NNAMDIKojo said, we will certainly do that, put that link on the website. That was the voice of Harriet Tregoning. She is the director of the D.C. Office of Planning. She joins us in studio along with Philippa Hughes, chief creative contrarian for the Pink Line Project, an online guide to arts and culture. And Danny Harris, creator of the website, "The People's District," a peoples' history of Washington, D.C., our own digital Howard Zinn. Here is Jessica in Tacoma Park, Md. Jessica, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JESSICAHi, thanks. There are a lot of cities that I've been to from Paris to Montreal to even Ocean City that have found an area where they encourage artists to set up and sell their work and, for example, do sketches and caricatures. And those places have really created destinations. They're temporary in that they're outdoors and they're taken down every night. But they're sort of a known place that people can go to, to find artists. And they attract a lot of tourism dollars and they attract a lot of attention.
JESSICAAnd it's long seemed to me like Washington has a couple of areas that would be great for that kind of temporary installation that's permanent in that it's always there during the day or during certain seasons. But that's temporary and that it comes down at night. I wonder if you've ever thought about places where something like that could go in? For example, opposite of the Corcoran where all those arts students (unintelligible).
NNAMDIClearly you've thought about them, yes.
TREGONINGYeah, I've love to hear what the caller would suggest.
JESSICAIn front of the National Portrait Gallery.
NNAMDIOutside the Corcoran, where else?
JESSICAI was going to say, in front of the National Portrait Gallery where you have this beautiful open space that's -- where a lot of foot traffic would be welcome, I would imagine.
NNAMDIPopping up outdoors. Any comments, Harriet Tregoning?
TREGONINGI love that idea. I will tell you one constraint that we have. And that's the federal government and the park service and their rules about not allowing anyone that's not one of their concessionaires to sell anything on their land. And so, you know, we've -- we get around it in different places. And certainly those kinds of sales can happen on District property, but there probably would have to be some kind of vending license. But I love the idea and would love to kick around some thoughts about where that might be appropriate.
TREGONINGIt could also be episodic, you know, associated with different events that might happen in the city. But, I think, that's fantastic.
NNAMDIIs that something you've given any thought to at all, Philippa?
HUGHESYou know, I...
NNAMDII thought you had.
HUGHESYou know, the problem is, there are so many great ideas and, you know, I would say, you know, caller, if you're interested in doing something, you should actually round up people and do it. And, you know, that's where I come from, is that when I saw that I wanted to do something, I did it. And later, the District government came around and they -- and we started working together. And it's been a wonderful collaboration. But I also think, that in the end, it's just going to take somebody to start it. And then, you know, along the way, you'll get more help. And so that's my advice, if you want to see something like that happen, you should do it.
NNAMDIAnd Jessica, thank you so much for your call. We move on now to Minu (sp?) in Cleveland Park, in D.C. Minu, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MINUYes, hi, good afternoon. My first time calling. I'm a little nervous, but my question is, how many -- how long is the period of time that the temporiums can stay open and how many can be in -- are there -- is there a limit as to -- I mean, can be in different quadrants of the city? For example, could there be two -- I know there in northeast at the same time or is it spread out? And then on a different note. Is -- are you familiar with Figment's in New York City? They're a very cool organization that do outdoor stuff, too. Like, they did something on Governors Island where they put in a mini golf course made by artists.
MINUAnd it's all, like, recycled materials. I think that's -- that idea is just really fantastic, I think. But as far as locally, I'd like to limit the question because...
NNAMDIThank you very much, Minu. Here's Harriet Tregoning.
TREGONINGWell, you know, there's not a real limit on any of things. I mean, as Philippa said, we're kind of making it up. So, I think, it's a factor of how long the landlord, the property owner, is willing to let you have it. It might actually be a question of your own, kind of, marketing. Like, if too many of things -- of these things were going on at the same, you probably wouldn't get the same buzz or necessarily attract the same people. So, I think, you want to -- would want to do some level of coordination.
TREGONINGBut a lot of them have been very temporary. I think, it was about a month for the Mt. Pleasant temporium. For the H Street, it was four weekends, consecutive weekends. But, pretty much, not during the week. You know, other events have been less. You know, Target did a pop-up retail in Georgetown for just one weekend. You know, so it's not just the, kind of, grassroots arts community, a lot of -- you know, a lot of places in the country and around the world, people basically do, you know, bring new retail or a new, you know, a new product to a city.
TREGONINGAnd sort of test drive it by letting people, you know, take a quick, you know, provocative look at that product and then they're gone. We think, given how under retailed we are in the city that we should encourage as much of that as possible.
NNAMDIThank you so much for your call, Minu. You, too, can call us 800-433-8850. Do any other temporary projects come to mind here or in other cities? For you, art instillations, short term shops or restaurants, call us 800-433-8850. Here is Ted in Washington, D.C. Ted, your turn.
TEDYes, the concept of Vest Pocket Parks, of any vacant property that may be privately owned, if the city could contact the landlord, give a tax credit on property taxes, engage the community in a contract with a proviso that if the landlord wants to build on it, they have to release the property back. And then you could build a temporary playground or temporary park for the neighborhood. And the neighborhood would have to guarantee the city that they would maintain it and city would provide the capital construction to build the park providing that the park is maintained.
TEDIf it's not maintained, it goes back to the rules of private (word?) . What is that -- what do you think of that concept?
TREGONINGWell, I think, it's a good idea. But let me ask you something. You know, we have, like I said, almost 20 percent of the land in the city is already parks. A lot of them are these little triangular spaces, you know, throughout neighborhoods. And they're already public. Sometimes they're owned by the District, the department of transportation, parks and recreation, sometimes they're owned by the park service or another federal entity. And so, you know, what about starting with those kinds of lands so we don't have to give anyone a tax incentive, but it is about probably organizing a neighborhood?
TREGONINGYou know, to figure out what kind of use they want to put it to and how they would agree to help maintain it. Because I think that's the -- that becomes the barrier, the cost to, you know, having much more active, much more intensely used spaces like that across the city. But I love the idea. What do you think of working with the government entities to try to do it with that land first?
TEDWell, I would love to. I was a former parks commissioner in Atlanta and in New York City. And I would be more than happy...
TED... (unintelligible) .
TREGONING...I'd love to get your name and contact information and we can get started...
TREGONING...right after the show.
NNAMDI...Ted, I will put you on hold and we will take your name and contact information and pass it on to Harriet Tregoning. Thank you so much for your call. We got a tweet from somebody who says, "As an active D.C. based singer, song writer, I'd love to help put together a pop-up music venue. Who should I get in touch with?"
HUGHESCall me. This is Philippa.
NNAMDIThis would Philippa Hughes, chief creative contrarian for The Pink Line Project, an online guide to arts and culture. And we have a link to that online guide at our website, and presumably our tweet -- our Twitterer can get in touch with you...
HUGHESI would love to do that.
NNAMDI...at that website. Okay. And you can call us at 800-433-8850. We move on now to Lauren in Lorton, Va. Lauren, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LAURENHi there, Kojo. I love your show.
LAURENI'm a stay-at-home mom, and finding like playgroups and places to go during rainy days or hot days is just unbearable. So I've always thought of a play group that either travels from location to location, or a place that you can, you know, buy snacks and have an indoor playgroup.
LAURENAnd I think it would be great to have something that travels, you know, from neighborhood to neighborhood, maybe getting people more involved with the local community.
NNAMDIPhilippa? Hey, I just pick a name.
HUGHESYeah. I think it's great. Again, my advice is, you should do that? I don't have children, so that -- I don't think about that, but I can certainly see the value, and I think you should do it.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk a little bit more about pop-ups and temporiums, takes your calls. If you've already called, stay on the line, we'll do our best to get to your call. If the lines are busy, shoot us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, a tweet @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about pop-ups and temporiums with Harriet Tregoning, director of D.C.'s Office of Planning. Danny Harris is creator of the website People's District: A People's History of Washington, D.C., and Philippa Hughes is chief creative contrarian for The Pink Line Project, an online guide to arts and culture. She also serves as an at-large commissioner at the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
NNAMDIAnd joining us now by telephone is Lisa Duperior. Lisa Duperior is the president of Main Street Adams Morgan. Main Street Adams Morgan created the AdMo Pop Up Shop!!! at 2421 18th Street Northwest. The shop will be open for just another couple of days through April 16. Lisa Duperior, thank you for joining us.
MS. LISA DUPERIORGlad to be here.
NNAMDIIt's clear that one motivation for these projects is using vacant spaces, but your organization is in Adams Morgan and that's a pretty vibrant area already. People might be surprised that you were able to find vacant spaces there.
DUPERIORUnfortunately, we have quite a few vacant spaces in Adams Morgan. But we're not part of the temporium process. We had to do this on an independent basis. We weren't able to get grant funds.
DUPERIORBut the interesting thing about Adams Morgan, we did the pop-up shop because Adams Morgan has actually been a pioneer in these pop-up artwork, places like Mint, Bossa, they do temporary artwork demonstrations. We even have a Morton Fine Art retail that specializes in pop-up, and a lot of people don't realize that the Arts on Belmont since about 2005, part of the Adams Morgan Day Festival, has been a bigger and bigger part of original artists.
DUPERIORSo our difficulty is when you have a vacant space right in the middle of 18th Street, of course, it's not good for other business, but we particularly want to combat this myth that Adams Morgan is just about bars and so forth. We have a rich arts history, and we used our pop-up shop, not just to have 50 original artisans. There's, you know, pottery, and sculpture, and fine art, and whimsical art, green items, kids' stuff. But we did something a little different from what the temporiums did.
DUPERIORWe specifically on different nights and days brought in specific local retail, like our Violet Boutique which had a cherry blossom dress. Our Sky Mural, Plant Pet, Urban Sustainable, you know, just to name a few. We did tie-ins because we're particularly -- in talking about the history of Adams Morgan with the arts, and some of the retail that we have locally.
NNAMDITell us about the process of creating a temporary shop. First, how did you identify the space, and it's not easy to do this temporarily. There are insurance and other implications, aren't there?
DUPERIORThat's a very interesting comment you make. We actually had, about two or three years ago, this idea of windows into art, where maybe you just take vacant window space and put art into it. And what we started learning then, this -- there's a lot of legalities involved. Factors of insurance, hold harmless provisions, people worried about someone getting hurt. We might have liked to have applied for a temporium grant. We couldn't, because at the deadline time people were involved in lawsuits. The space might be vacant because someone was in bankruptcy.
DUPERIORIt turns out that once you're dealing with specific spaces, it is -- it's really amazing how many hurdles can present themselves.
NNAMDIHow do you cross over or jump over the insurance hurdle?
DUPERIORBecause we do the Adams Morgan Day Festival, one of the things, it's a big expense for our little one employee organization. We spend thousands and thousands of dollars on insurance. So we were able to put the landlord on a million dollar rider policy in order to get to use the space, and that was a requirement to get to use the space.
NNAMDIThe most recent pop-up before yours was in Mt. Pleasant, and it generated around $31,000 in sales in less than a month. What's been the response to AdMo Pop Up Shop?
DUPERIORI'll be honest with you, I don't handle the money, and we're, you know, we haven't finished yet, so I don't know. But you do bring up an interesting point. We don't have a circulator stop right in the middle of 18th Street. We don't have an anchor tenant. We're not on top of a Metro stop. So our pop-up shop has some of the same difficulties our retail faces, which is things are very slow during the day. And of course we already have our streetscape started. So I don't know exactly where we will be.
DUPERIORBut also, since we didn't get the $15,000 grant, we haven't been able to do ads and things, we've had less promotion. That's why if anybody's listening, we have more than 50 original artisans, and that's what we call them, artisans. There's everything from handmade dog collars to organic products, green items, everything original and handmade by one artisan, including about five local Adams Morgan people. But we're only there till 10:00 p.m. this coming Saturday, April the 16th.
NNAMDIThe Adams Morgan pop-up shop, or AdMo Pop Up is open right now as she said until the 16th. You started a few years back art in empty shop windows, and you've gotten to this point, to a large extent on your own. So congratulations and keep on keeping on.
DUPERIORBut we're still looking for a sponsor for that windows into art, because that program we haven't been able to fully implement. So if anybody's listening, come to Adams Morgan Main Street and help us out. Thank you very much.
NNAMDILisa Duperior is president of Main Street Adams Morgan. Thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Philippa, it's not very easy to do this as an individual is it?
HUGHESIt's not. And, in fact, I really feel for Lisa. When I first started doing my own things before all the temporary urbanism stuff started, I didn't have insurance. I moved around some electrical outlets without getting permits, things like that. And as things have become legitimized, it's actually become a lot more difficult. So I really feel for how difficult it is to go through that whole process and -- yeah. You need collaboration.
NNAMDIDanny, there are pop-up art events all around the region, and there's the Artomatic Installation at National Airport, a temporary art exhibition called Suddenspace on Columbia Pike. Care to talk about that?
HARRISI haven't been to them yet. I'm excited to go out and see them. But again, if I can talk about some of the other interesting pop-ups that are happening.
HARRISAnd it's one of the things that Harriet had also mentioned, but this concept of better block. And the idea there, and I think why the 24-hour city project may be a little bit different than some of the things we're discussing, is because it's this very short of short pop-up space that is gonna allow for either retail or art. But the concept is really to explore the possibilities, and I think that's what we're here to talk about. And actually, on April Fool's Day, Philippa and I conspired on People's District where she told the story...
NNAMDIOh, I love it. I love it. The most ambitious project was announced on April 1st. Canals in D.C. Could you please...
NNAMDICould you please tell our listeners a little bit about that?
HARRISSure. Well, the idea was that -- we had talked together about what could we do on April Fool's Day that would really kind of push the envelope in terms of these pop-up spaces. And while there's a lot of things happening with murals, we thought, well, what if we take it a little bit further. So we had discussed this idea about what if we suggested that Philippa was gonna divert the Anacostia River and flood four square blocks of Southwest and create pop-up canals that would only exist for a month, and we'd have gondoliers, and Ben's Chili Bowl would actually create a floating food truck and et cetera, et cetera.
HARRISAnd it would really push the envelope of what was out there. And what's been amazing from both of us is to see how many people are actually writing and saying this is incredible. I want to help.
NNAMDIIt's April 14th and I'm still believing. You're 13 days late. It sounds so good.
NNAMDIHow about that Harriet, why can't we make that happen?
TREGONINGYou know, I think it's a great idea. We could -- we could so something like it. We've talked about beaches, you know, putting in a beach, you know, in places that we don't have it. I just think that, you know, we're -- in some ways we're such a stuffy place. We have so many levels of review for things that have to happen. I think this whole idea helps us to loosen up a little bit. Like if it's only gonna be temporary, what's the big deal. Let's be more experimental. Let's be more avant-garde.
TREGONINGLet's really try some things and let's, you know, celebrate some of the entrepreneurs and the kind of can-do spirit that I think both Danny and Philippa really represent.
NNAMDIRight now, there's also a temporary dome in Yards Park on the capital waterfront. It was built for something that's been described as a Nomadic supper club.
HUGHESIt's called the Sensorian. And...
NNAMDIDid you come up with that name?
HUGHESI did not come up with that name, but I'm very excited about it.
NNAMDIWell, you have this affinity for Latin-sounding names.
HUGHESI think imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I think there's some degree of imitation going on.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here now is Jesse in Washington, D.C. Jesse, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JESSEOh, beautiful. Hello, Kojo. How are you?
NNAMDII'm well, Jesse.
JESSEThank you. So I run ArtDC.org, which is a community organization, and we've been doing pop-ups since 2005 all over the D.C. area.
NNAMDIHas that -- how -- what kind of reception have you been getting to your pop-ups?
JESSEYou know, we get tons of attention. People come, they love, they enjoy the art, they share the experience, and it's a really positive event.
NNAMDIOkay, good. Thank you for sharing that with us. I'm assuming this is something that you will be continuing to do?
JESSEOh, most definitely. Most definitely. We try to do at least one to two pop-up shows a year. Sometimes there are gaps in between having...
NNAMDIWhat spaces do you use?
JESSEMostly vacant commercial space. The most recent one that we helped assemble is the Suddenspace that's on Columbia Pike.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much, Jesse. On to Ibo (sp?) in Washington. Ibo, your turn.
IBOI would like to suggest the space we have at Eastern Market. When they were building the permanent market, they was a temporary space they had over there. We can use that for artists who work only Saturday and Sunday at Eastern Market and have them display over there. Because the overflow we are getting from Eastern Market are tourists who are coming to Washington D.C. and want to visit Eastern Market in the (unintelligible).
NNAMDIAll of our guests have taken the appropriate notes, Ibo. Thank you very much for your call. Harriet Tregoning, we got this e-mail from Chuck who says, "Why is it that city planners seem to take the short-term view of getting increased tax revenues, in this instance through pop-up shops, almost exclusively, and reject the long-term view of tearing down the vacant building to improve quality of life through open space, thereby enhancing the long-term tax base?"
TREGONINGI'll say again that we do have 20 percent of our land that is parks and open space. That's more per capita than any city in America, and that only 43 percent of our land is on our tax roles. So that might be one way to say why we kind of care that we have some revenue generating uses, but that's not really what the pop-up retail is about. It's not about how much money gets made. It's more about trying to introduce people to neighborhoods that they may not know about, and introduce them to artists and crafts people that they may not know about, and basically take something that was a liability in a neighborhood and make it an asset. And that seems like maybe always a good thing to be trying to do.
NNAMDIIndeed, Danny. It looks like this trend will be taking off here in the District, doesn't it?
HARRISI hope so. You know, our idea is to do the beta test in June and then in November to launch it city wide, and we've also been in touch with a number of other cities about taking this 24-hour city competition to about four to five other cities in November and growing from there.
NNAMDIOur area has not been known particularly as a magnet for artists. You notice all these calls we've been getting from Baltimore. They think of themselves as a magnet for artists over there, he said jealously. But would you say that's changing Philippa? Is our area becoming more attractive for artists and art in general?
HUGHESI think so. You know, as Harriet mentioned, we do have sort of a stuffy city, or at least traditionally that's the reputation. But, you know, after Danny and I pulled our little April Fool's joke, the overwhelming response I got to that made me realize that people want to be less stuffy. They actually want our city to be more vibrantly artsy and cultural, and they're looking for more of that. And so, yes. I do think because the demand is there it's starting to change.
NNAMDIHere's Ellen in Takoma in D.C. Ellen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELLENHi, Kojo. Thanks so much. I was calling about Walter Reed -- the Walter Reed property that is going to soon be open, actually opening up in September. And it's a huge amount of...
NNAMDIAnd that whole front on Georgia Avenue side is going to be the District's. It's gonna be Harriet Tregoning's personal property.
ELLENYeah. That and much more.
ELLENWell, I was wondering about specifically there's a gym over there, a health club, and wondering if there might be opportunities for using that gym, or using some of the garden space over there for pop-up activity.
TREGONINGI think that's...
NNAMDIYou'll have to -- you'll have to consult with my neighborhood association. I happen to live in that neighborhood.
TREGONINGWell, I think we're still working out some of the details about how the property is gonna be split between the State Department and the District.
TREGONINGThe good news is that the GSA is out of it, so now it's just two users of the site. But I think that well, the plans are being laid for the long-term uses of the property, I think there's gonna be a need, and it's gonna be highly desirable to have some temporary uses of those buildings to make sure that they continue to be occupied and maintained. And so I think, you know, temporary uses of all kinds are very interesting
TREGONINGI don't know if the gym in particular is a facility we're going to get to retain. That's something we're still talking to the State Department about. But would love to hear any ideas that you have about things you'd like to like to see there.
NNAMDIEllen, thank you very much for your call. I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Harriet Tregoning is the director of D.C.'s Office of Planning. Thank you for joining us, Harriet.
TREGONINGMy pleasure always.
NNAMDIDanny Harris is creator of the website The People's District: A Peoples' History of Washington, D.C. Danny, thank you for joining us.
HARRISThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd Philippa Hughes is chief creative contrarian for The Pink Line Project, an online guide to arts and culture. She also serves as an at-large commissioner on the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Philippa, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff and Taylor Burnie, with assistance from A.C. Valdez, Kathy Goldgeier and Elizabeth Weinstein. The managing producing is Diane Vogel. The engineer today is Andrew Chadwick. Dorie Anisman is on the phones. Podcasts of all shows, audio archives, CDs and free transcripts are available at our website, kojoshow.org. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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