Report on Piedmont Housing Alliance Field Trip to Washington, DC

Nov 8, 2018 by Claudette Grant, Piedmont Housing Alliance
Piedmont Housing Alliance’s Friendship Court Youth Leadership Team Field Trip to Washington, DC, thanks to SAH’s American Architecture and Landscape Field Trip grant program

Youth Leadership Team and team leaders outside NMAAHC
The Youth Leadership Team and team leaders outside the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The Friendship Court Youth Leadership Program started in August 2016 to support redevelopment planning, youth training, and youth leadership, with a focus on developing youth leaders through exposure to ideas and experiences, involvement in idea-generation and decision-making, and consistent and time-intensive relationship building. These focus areas were tightly knit together to create a permanent role and mechanism for youth leadership in the future of the community.

This grant for a field trip to Washington, DC, enhanced the knowledge and experience of the Friendship Court Youth Leadership Team as they participate in designing their future community. For two days in June 2018, the seven members of the Friendship Court Youth Leadership Team toured our nation’s capital with several adult leaders to study urban design, architecture, public space design, and community engagement. It was the culmination of a two-year program of civic education to help empower them to be active contributors to Friendship Court’s redevelopment plan.

The field trip began the morning of June 19th, as the youth traveled to Union Station by train and enjoyed lunch there along with observing the interior architecture of the building. For many of the youth, this was their first time riding a train. Any fears they had about riding a train quickly dissipated as they realized it was not such a bad experience. That afternoon, they met with Equitable Development Manager Vaughn Perry to discuss the 11th Street Bridge Park project. Barbara Brown Wilson, assistant professor of environmental planning at the University of Virginia who traveled with the group said, “This has been a two-year program where we’ve all been learning about communities and leadership. Watching some of our recent middle school graduates asking really hard and important questions at the 11th Street Bridge Project just shows their level of sophistication.”  Observations and questions were shared regarding the likelihood of the bridge’s construction, as well as safety and how emergency vehicles would access the site if needed.

In the afternoon, the group met with Matthew Steenhoek, who works with PN Hoffman, the developers of DC’s District Wharf, a multi-phased, sustainable, mixed-use project. At the Wharf, they were able to view an architectural model of the new development along the Potomac River and hear a brief discussion about urban planning and design of buildings and public spaces. After the discussion, the youth were able to tour the Wharf and see the actual public spaces that were viewed on the architectural model.

Traveling on the Metro, using Uber, and staying at an Airbnb exposed the youth to urban living in a way that they had not experienced before.

Vice President of Development, Matthew Steenhoek, discusses the District Wharf project
Vice President of Development, Matthew Steenhoek, discusses the District Wharf project.

Beth Meyer addresses group near the National Monument
Beth Meyer addressing the group near the National Monument.

On day two, the youth members were given a special tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture before its usual opening time at 10 in the morning. The group was given a chance to walk through the expansive museum to learn about our nation’s history and racial inequality. After the visit to the museum, the group congregated on the grassy hill near the Washington Monument and listened to Landscape Architect Professor Beth Meyer speak about the design of public spaces and the structural relationships between other adjacent public buildings, such as the Capitol Building, Washington Monument, and the White House.

In the afternoon, the youth visited a housing development called SeVerna on K, which was completed in 2013 by Grimm + Parker Architects, also the architects designing the current Friendship Court redevelopment. The mixed-style and mixed-income housing complexes are located in the heart of NoMA, a vibrant, multi-generational community, and is a great example of a similar project to that of Friendship Court. Lead architect Mel Thompson spoke to the team about the history of the site, after the unsuccessful management of a previous housing development on the site and how now, many displaced residents have returned to the neighborhood, which includes many new amenities, access to transit, and proximity to new schools, a library, and a recreation center. The youth were filled with energy while they walked around the SeVerna on K, a project very similar to the envisioned future of Friendship Court.

Mel Thompson explains features of the SeVerna on K.
Mel Thompson leads tour
Mel Thompson, Grimm + Parker, lead architect, explaining some of the features of the SeVerna on K.

Having the opportunity to tour a couple of apartment units and walk through the building and its amenities gave the youth team a feeling of excitement and possibility for what the future Friendship Court might feel like. The tour ended with the youth taking in the view from the rooftop terrace. It was a wonderful way to end the two-day trip.

The program is equipping resident youth leaders with valuable skills, experiences, and networks to both provide input for the redevelopment and to create educational and career opportunities. The trip to Washington, DC, provided the youth leaders with knowledge and skills that they are now able to use as they begin to work on a community build project to design and build improvements to one of the courtyards in Friendship Court. Experiencing the public spaces on the District Wharf provided the youth with context that they have used as an example in discussion about designing the space in their own community. The two days were packed with enriching activities that left the youth energized about what the future holds within their own community. Piedmont Housing Alliance remains committed to helping the Youth Leadership Team effectively provide input for the redevelopment of their community. 

Claudette Grant
Friendship Court Community Organizer
Piedmont Housing Alliance