Thursday, July 09, 2009

Maintenance Required: recent work at Glenview Mansion

For the better part of the last year I have been walking and driving around Washington, DC documenting broken fire hydrants, and documenting my journey and observations. On display at the Glenview Mansion - through July 28 - are 14 recorded tours in parts of Wards 2, 3, and 6, composites of broken hydrants, and a few sculptural renderings of hydrants.

The work has been brewing in the back of my head since May 1, 2007, when The Georgetown Library and Eastern Market were heavily damaged by fire. In each instance, nearby fire hydrants were either broken or had low water pressure. Little was done to address this issue, until early fall when a large fire in Mount Pleasant summoned a four alarm fire that raged for hours because of inadequate water pressure from several nearby hydrants. That fire destroyed an apartment complex, damaged a few nearby buildings, and was too close for comfort for the DC Ward One Council member who lived near the fire. Within days legislation was enacted to find and replace the broken hydrants within the district.

Soon hydrants were labeled with "out of order, maintenance required" collars, or "in order, maintenance scheduled." Early on, the former seemed to be everywhere. The latter seems a recent edition in the posted signage, seemingly appearing on the scene late last year or early this year.

In the last two years, the city has moved relatively swiftly to replace or repair close to 1/5th of the districts 10,000 fire hydrants. I have to give them kudos. Yet, I still see these labeled fire hydrants throughout the city. So, I thought I would document them.

The walks and drives are also reflections of this city I have lived in for almost five years, yet I still feel like a stranger within it. Coming to DC in 2004, I associated it with monuments and government. Five years later I know that it is much more than all of that, and that there are far more things to see and do, but I know the millions who flock here annually only experience the well known. For instance, no one comes here for The Building Museum, but thousands flock to the (reminiscently Fascist) World War Two Memorial, or traipse through the overblown FDR memorial. Lots of things get missed in the whirlwind tours... kind of like fire hydrants in the landscape. You don't notice them until you need them. Sometimes when you need them, they are out of order.

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