Improved Green Space, Better Retail at Top of Tenleytown Vision

Roughly 50 people packed a meeting room at American University’s Nebraska Hall on Saturday, November 9 to air their viewpoints on the strengths, weaknesses and potential of Tenleytown. Ward3Vision and the Catholic University School of Architecture and Planning convened Tenleytown residents and neighbors as part of the creation of a “Tenleytown Vision” document intended to guide potential future development of the community.

Catholic University students, working under the tutelage of Associate Professor Hazel Edwards, who grew up in Tenleytown, and Assistant Professor Charles Hostovsky, are completing a semester-long study of Tenleytown.  Placards detailing their research on local history, homeownership patterns, public transportation and local commerce, among other issues, filled an entire wall of the room. Their findings, combined with the outcomes of the visioning exercise, will form the basis of the “Tenleytown Vision” document.

Following opening presentations about the qualities of a great urban neighborhood and the Catholic University study, those assembled broke into small groups to discuss what’s working and what’s not around town.

Using Paris as a point of comparison, Matt Bell, Principal at EEK Architects, laid the groundwork for discussion by emphasizing seven elements of a great city: walkable urbanism, a strong city center, housing diversity and choice, green infrastructure, multimodal transportation, neighborhood schools and neighborhood character.  While Tenleytown has some of these elements – strong public and private schools, access to public transit, walkability and some green, public spaces – Bell argued that the neighborhood needs better architecture, more connectivity, better access to public transit, better centers for commerce, better public spaces and to attract more customers to support local retail.

The three discussion groups largely came to the same conclusions as Bell.  Common recommendations across the groups included:

  • Enhance Tenley Circle and the underutilized green space that surrounds it. Unlike Dupont Circle, which forms a heart in the community, Tenley Circle divides two segments of the Wisconsin Avenue corridor and is an area people avoid rather than congregate.  Residents praised the Washington College of Law, currently under construction at Tenley Circle, but called upon American University to improve the integration of public spaces, especially the front lawn, with the surrounding area.

  • Improve the Metro plaza next to Panera Bread. Suggestions ranged from the relatively simple – encourage Panera to move its trash and recycling bins – to the more lofty – install a water feature, but there was consensus that as it stands, the Metro entrance is an eyesore.

  • Transform Fort Drive behind Whole Foods. Building off a suggestion raised by Bell, there was consensus that Fort Drive could be significantly improved, perhaps as a pedestrian mall or park or through the development of retail facing Fort Drive. Many thought Fort Drive’s use as a bus turnaround and for metered parking was a waste, especially given the parking structure that borders it. Improvements to Fort Drive could have the dual benefit of providing a community gathering space and potentially pull people toward the underutilized Fort Reno.

  • Encourage greater community use of Fort Reno.  Workshop attendees want to see better lighting at Fort Reno, more seating and a push to bring more events, like the current summer concert series, to the park.

  • Attract more and diverse retail to the neighborhood. At least one group suggested developing more residential, mid-rise buildings with slightly greater density, as well as more office space to attract commercial businesses. The combined increase in residents and office workers could provide the needed customers to encourage retail to come to and stay in Tenleytown.

  • Focus on pedestrian safety and disability access. Residents shared horror stories of trying to traverse sidewalks in front of CVS’ parking ramp and St. Ann’s Academy, as well as crossing Wisconsin Avenue as examples of the need for greater attention toward pedestrian needs.

Other areas marked for improvement included the Verizon substation, the series of triangle-shaped parks that run along Wisconsin Avenue and the alley behind Guapo’s restaurant.

Ultimately, the findings of the CU study and the outcomes of the planning discussion will be compiled by Ward3Vision in a document to be shared with Ward 3 City Councilmember Mary Cheh, the Office of Planning, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) and local media.  

Community members have an opportunity to provide additional input in advance of the report by submitting comments online at  As of now, only one comment is on the site, so hopefully residents will take to their keyboards to share their perspectives on the future of Tenleytown.  Tom Hier, Chair of Ward3Vision, emphasized at the November 9 meeting that all viewpoints about how Tenleytown should develop, grow and change are encouraged, including those that might be opposed to the ideas raised during the meeting and in other venues.  

Similar visioning exercises have taken place elsewhere in the city, including recently in Van Ness and Georgetown.  Unlike the Tenleytown workshop, however, those visioning projects take place over extended periods and are led by the community.  The 12-member Van Ness Vision Committee, led by ANC-3F, has been meeting since April to identify and execute immediate improvements, as well as create a “forward-looking visioning document to help guide and lead improvements” through a comprehensive, inclusive process.  

While Ward3Vision’s effort to develop a vision for Tenleytown is to be applauded, perhaps it can be used as a foundation for a larger, longer-term effort that provides greater opportunities for public input.