May 02 2014

Revitalization and the Decline of Public Art in the Nation’s Capital

Washington, D.C. is a dichotomous city. This is reflected everywhere you look, including in the public works of art scattered through neighborhoods both old and new; from formal statues and sculptures, to the murals that seem as if they were strewn throughout the city at random. It is available to all, free of charge. But all of this art carries another common thread: it gives more life to the streets, and adds to the vibrant urban fabric that offers the residents of D.C. such a high quality of life.

Picture of DuPont Fountain, Washington, D.C.

There are a multitude statues and sculptures serving as sentinels in the city’s longest standing parks, paying homage to the historic foundations of the District. Just follow Massachusetts Avenue from start to finish and you can make a day of visiting obscure figures from America’s past, like Samuel Francis DuPont, an Admiral in the US Navy during the Civil War, whose namesake is borne by one of the city’s most prominent landmarks.

There are also murals you might find on the sides of buildings. Take a wrong turn in one of D.C.’s historic neighborhoods, and stay on it a little longer than you should, you’re bound to come across one. Like the mural featured below, which you can find walking down Champlain Street in Northwest DC. Once a barren wall resulting from the simple architecture of row houses that typify most of DC’s neighborhoods, it now brightens the street, a perfect example of a painting adding value to the very character of a neighborhood.

Mural on Champlain St NW, Washington DC

However, with the revitalization of the city, we are losing some significant pieces of art. The Black Family Reunion is being obscured by new development, and the DC Art Yards is being torn down, even as I write this piece. One question that comes to mind when finding this out is what role, if any, should the city play in protecting pieces of art on private property? One of the justifications that land use controls are predicated upon is that they serve to promote the public welfare. Can this be justifiably extended to preserve artwork?

Credit: Images by Chase Keenan. Data linked to sources.

Chase Keenan

Growing up in Tampa, Florida, Chase Keenan learned first hand what it means to live in a city that is built for cars rather than people. The influence of this experience, and his recognition of the urgent threat climate change poses, led him to pursue a career in urban planning. Now he enjoys the vibrancy that comes with life in Washington, DC as he completes his final semester of study at the George Washington University, where he is working towards a Master's degree in Sustainable Urban Planning. His focus throughout his studies has been aimed at understanding urban resilience, and how our cities can be better prepared to face the challenges of the future. But while he may be an urbanist by trade, he’s really a jack of all trades at heart, dabbling in hobbies as varied as snowboarding, muay thai, creative writing, and the piano.

Website - Twitter - Facebook - More Posts

This entry was posted on Friday, May 2nd, 2014 at 9:25 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, History/Preservation, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


One Response to “Revitalization and the Decline of Public Art in the Nation’s Capital”

  1. Cita Sadeli 'Chelove' Says:

    Thanks for including my mural in your piece. It was an honor to create that for the city, and I’m glad it seems to be resonating with the community.

Leave a Reply

6 × = six


Follow US