Crossing the Street: DC’s Superstop

For several years, the DC Office of Planning (DCOP) has experimented with how temporary urban interventions can support long-term planning goals. The Superblock project, by the Gehl practice with support from Gehl Institute, provides one example. Gehl conducted public life studies and carried out short-term interventions to provide the basis for future neighborhood improvements that would enliven the street, engage people who are normally outside the planning process, and test urban design concepts.

The project began with meetings with core community stakeholders, who were asked to select and discuss photos from art installations and great public spaces around the world. Afterward, these stakeholders went on a walking tour of their neighborhood, assessing the quality of different spaces using the 12 Quality Criteria. Gehl synthesized this engagement and site observations into a set of key pressure points and opportunities that informed overarching goals and public life outcomes.

In Downtown Ward 7, the project team observed wide streets with crowded bus stops and nowhere to sit. The area is undergoing tremendous change with new infrastructure investments, new residents, and new ground-floor businesses. Although many people, especially students and young adults, pass through this space every day, there isn’t a strong sense of identity, and there are few places to gather and spend time with one another in public. In a stakeholder meeting, participants noted lack of shade, seating, and amenities as issues inhibiting this type of place from existing.

Gehl and Public Workshop collaborated with more than two dozen residents who use the bus stop — ages four through seventy-four — to design and build the “Superstop.” Its design and programming took multiple forms over six weeks: a bench with speakers that played an 8-hour loop of music from local We Act Radio station, a “playable” bus stop constructed from wood and cardboard tools (kids expressed “climbing” as an activity they were interested in doing while waiting for the bus), a stage for live musical performances curated by East River Jazz, and a porch for storytelling. It was stewarded by artists, volunteers Mark Garrett and Ángel Zambrano, The Hope Foundation, neighbors, and Park 7 Apartments.