NoMa’s Interim Placemaking Projects

Many neighborhoods can be labeled “in transition,” with changing land uses, building uses, and demographics. Often though while we wait for demolition and/or construction to begin we are left staring at empty lots or abandon buildings. This does not have to be the case however.  These transitioning spaces have the potential to contribute to building better neighbors, even if for temporary uses. Washington DC’s NoMa is doing just that.

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NoMa, which stands for North of Massachusetts Avenue, was best known in 1990’s as a desolate area housing the Grey Hound Station and many parking lots. Today the Grey Hound Station is gone and the parking lots along with older buildings are being rapidly redeveloped. Now this neighborhood maybe best know for its 20+ transformative development projects underway. Throughout all of this, NoMa’s empty spaces are not lying dormant. Instead NoMa’s very active BID (business improvement district) is diligently using transitioning spaces to contribute to the present betterment of their community with interim placemaking projects. While the NoMa BID and NoMa Parks Foundation are focused on developing permanent parks and art installations for the neighborhood, they have also been creative in collaborating to use privately held land for temporary placemaking initiatives. A few of these interim projects are discussed below.

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The first project is a pop-up an event called Lunch Box. It takes place in an open lot with picnic tables, umbrellas and games intended for local employees and residents to enjoy their lunch outdoors. The space is a former parking lot with an adjacent building, set to be developed by JBG Companies. On Wednesdays it also serves as a food truck pod hosting food trucks from around the District and live music, all organized by the NoMa BID. Unfortunately the day I wanted to explore Lunch Box it was canceled due to rain. I did however find its bright signage throughout the neighborhood pointing to the lot.

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Temporary murals are another interim project in NoMa, turning buildings scheduled for demolition into pieces of art. The mural pictured above was completed in Nov 2014 on a facade of the building adjacent to the Lunch Box lot, also owned by JBG Companies. This piece in particular stands out as an example of a developer taking interest in interim placemaking projects, as they financed a piece of art that will soon be demolished with their building. The brown and teal mural in the first picture, is also on an empty building opposite the Lunch Box lot. Together these two projects turn this section of the neighborhood into two bright and inviting corners. Although the buildings being empty no longer draw people in, the art work provides a point of interest for pedestrians to explore, as I did a few days ago.

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Another mural project in NoMa that fills a space in transition has been labeled the largest public art project in DC. It is composed on the wall around a lot, known as NoMa Junction, and is highly visible next to the Metro station and train track. The space is set to be developed into a mixed use project called Storey Park. In the meantime the NoMa BID has facilitated the painting of its walls and has used the space to host free events for the community. One event was a series of movie screenings held throughout the summer at NoMa Junction. Just last week a large pumpkin craving happy hour event also took place there.

As other cities look for ways they can create placemaking projects they should not ignore transitioning spaces. Often times as trendy pop-up events and temporary urbanism have shown us, the temporality of these projects can draw more people to them simply because they will not be there to explore forever. While neighborhoods do need permanent parks and public spaces of their own, it is inspiring to see interim projects take place on their way to acquiring long term public spaces, as in NoMa.

All photos were taken by the author.

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