Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Toast to the Triangle Teams

The accidental hump day, an evening in three scenes.

Scene one in which an invitation last night for a drink tonight had been accepted when a quick check of my calendar showed absolutely nothing on the books.

Fast forward to 10:50 this morning, ten minutes after getting up, when I get an invitation to something called "The Ephemeral Plan: Brook Road" and immediately sense that I must be there.

Our cocktail hour is moved up to accommodate my ephemera and we meet at Lemaire for Simonet Blanc de Blanc and so that I can hear about the state of her love life, the good, bad and ugly.

When my advice is solicited, I suggest a full frontal attack using the truth to let her beloved know what's bothering her.

While it seems unlikely she'll take my advice, she at least acknowledges its value.

Proceed to scene two, in which I prove that while I'm not an urban planner, I can play one with neighbors.

Tonight is the first of four sessions held at Gallery 5 to brainstorm what to do with the triangle at Brook and Adams in Jackson Ward, an island neither inviting nor usable (except to skateboarders), in part due to the weird traffic tearing around it.

Urban studies graduate student Josh Son has convened the group of neighbors and people who work in the neighborhood to help him develop ideas for making that corner of Brook Road more of an asset to  the ward.

Wisely, he has arranged for food so we begin with fried chicken and dill potato salad from Saison, a chance to meet people while chewing with our mouths full.

My favorite neighborhood couple is there and we meet another couple, much younger, who share tantalizing tales of the view they have into nearby apartments. There are stories of hot tubs and sculpture and few curtains. Our group has formed itself.

From the evening's director, Josh, we hear about Brook Road's history as a turnpike from the farms of the counties into the big city, seeing old photographs that document this past, followed by photos of similar revitalization projects in places like Philly and Brooklyn.

He shows us a 45-minute condensed video of the triangle, a blur of pedestrian, bike and speeding car traffic, a testament to the need for change in this corner of the 'hood.

Thus inspired, we break into our groups to take a field trip to the triangle with two designated artists and two designated writers (no points for guessing which one I was).

On site with clipboards, paper and pencils, we note what exists there now, what the challenges are and what solutions we imagine to make this a more habitable space.

With no constraints, we talk big and imagine bigger.

We see terraced steps on all three sides providing seating under the large, old oak tree in the center of the triangle.

Our vision includes a circular stone bench around the tree once low-branch pruning is done and up-lighting to highlight what is undoubtedly the largest tree on Broad Street from Belvidere to MCV.

There would be flower gardens in large containers in two of the corners for color and contemplation.

We want a local sculptor to create a piece that incorporates a fountain where people could fill water bottles, like the ones they have in Europe.

Emboldened, we decide that the stretch of Brook Road next to the triangle needs to be closed to vehicular traffic to create a piazza for tables, chairs and umbrellas (and, as a bonus, create three additional parking spaces on Broad) so people could bring food, books or coffee and have a place to linger.

We see Max's on Broad putting cafe tables on the stretch of sidewalk next to the restaurant. New crosswalks and handicapped access ramps so that everyone can safely get to and use the space.

As we're busily discussing all this, Max's owner approaches us, clearly curious about what we're up to.

My friend warns me not to tell him because he'll disapprove, but I share anyway, explaining that his valet parking will have to move elsewhere and laying out the whole cafe culture we've imagined for this area.

He's immediately on board with the idea of closing Brook right there and having a pedestrian area with tables separate from his own.

When we return to Gallery 5, it is to hear each of the six groups' plans for re-developing Brook.

Our little group, the "corner collective" as we've dubbed ourselves, is appalled when two of the groups' plans begin by taking down the oak tree.

Almost in unison, the five of us protest, insisting we will chain ourselves to the oak before we let it be taken down. We are nothing if not passionate.

Our group presents our ideas and the remaining groups theirs, including one who plainly said that our idea for terraced steps to provide seating is an outstanding one.

All of a sudden, two hours have passed and we are at the end of tonight's session. The only thing left is to sign up for which arena - connectivity, shade/light, greenery, gathering- we want to work on next week as the plans are further refined and developed.

So while the evening should be over, it isn't.

A guy joins our group from another and soon we are discussing ideas for the triangle again. That segues into talk of the neighborhood and who's eaten where and how they liked it.

Which leads us to scene three, wherein I mention it's pupusa night at Saison and the Irish Catholic suggests the four of us adjourn there to see what kind of pupusas are on the menu tonight.

Mushroom with queso fresca and pork belly with guasano, that's what.

It matters not to me, since my standard response is always that I'll take one of each.

While we're all eating crispy, warm pupusas, we talk about the neighborhood, how we were attracted to its central location and architecture, about the house one of us is building on Leigh Street, about the old house across the street once owned by one of our friends and for years used as a studio for artists.

Everyone has a story about eating at Porkchops and Grits with gospel music playing. A couple of us rave about Lucy's, lunch and dinner. To a person, everyone is counting the days until Saison's market opens.

The Irishman has an extra ticket for Kathleen Madigan at UR Saturday night and invites me along but I have plans. The couple asks for a suggestion for a Perly's breakfast replacement and happy hour recommendations and I oblige with both. The bartender asks if anyone's been to Rogue Gentleman and what they thought.

Eventually the two women at the end of the bar, also J-Ward residents, can't stand it and join in, telling us where they live and why they love it.

They are bummed at having missed the meeting, at least until we tell them there are three more in which they can participate. With three other neighborhood restaurants providing food. And no telling how many new people they might meet.

And if you're the gregarious sort, the afterparty alone is worth the community service.


  1. Curious what your Perly's breakfast replacement recommendation was? Miss the salmon cakes, jazz, kilt, & warm service... Thank you.

  2. I told him that no one place has everything Perly's did. For inexpensive eggs and casual service, City Diner on Broad. For killer biscuits and pork products, Lunch in Scott's Addition. And since he was a Jackson Ward resident, for a terrific brunch that's walkable, Magpie.