Housing Complex

Chat Prep

Hey everybody, our chat about the National Capital Planning Commission's Southwest Ecodistrict project–which seeks to improve the planning disaster centering around Maryland Avenue and 10th Street SW–is tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. But first, our conversants, Elizabeth Miller and Diane Sullivan, would like to hear a little bit from you. They've asked for feedback on the following questions, and I'll pull good remarks up from the comments if you'd be kind enough to leave some. Here goes, with a few of my own thoughts to start us off:

The bleak present. (Lydia DePillis)

1. What do you like best about the 10th Street and Maryland Avenue, SW corridors?

Lydia: There's a certain peace in sitting alone at the fountain in Banneker Park. Also the circular awnings around the HUD building are kind of cool.

SW Ecodistrict Worker: It's very walkable and should be easy to get around in (it would be better if we didn't have to go through a maze of federal buildings to get anywhere, though).

Alex B.: The opportunity. The physical environment right now is pretty hostile, but there's great opportunity to do some big things here.

The decking over the tracks at the Mandarin Oriental hotel provides a little glimpse of the kind of opportunities in the area.

2. If you could make a single change in the area, what would it be?

Lydia: If cost were no object? Bury the highway.

SW Ecodistrict Worker: Um...take away its soullessness? Sorry I don't know how to put that into more tangible terms.

Alex B. Urbanize it. Mix uses. Add density.

Burying the highway would be awesome, as would re-building the street grid. But that doesn't change the fact that it is currently a mono-use area.

3. Would anything specific encourage you to visit the area more frequently (after hours and weekends)?

Lydia: A great coffeeshop or bookstore.

SW Ecodistrict Worker: Eating/drinking/entertainment establishments would encourage workers to stay in the area after hours.

Alex B.: Mix uses. Mix uses. Mix uses. There are no shops open because no one is there outside of 9-5. Add residents, mix uses, add more density. This is a city, let it be urban.

4. If you work in the surrounding area: what works and what doesn’t?

SW Ecodistrict Worker: The circular park near the Portals building (I know, it's just outside the Ecodistrict border) works. I wish I worked closer to it. The eating establishments that have outdoor seating work.

Alex B.: I used to work in the area – not much works. The urban framework is all messed up. The good thing is that the bones are in place – high employment, good transit access, etc.

5. How would you link the National Mall to the future redevelopment of the SW Waterfront?

Lydia: I think the current plans for a majestic staircase coming down from the 10th Street Overlook to the fish market area are a great start. It would also help a lot to build more housing in the plaza area, so there are people who'd actually want to traverse between the two.

SW Ecodistrict Worker: I agree that building housing in the area would link it, but I'm interested in knowing how you plan to accommodate housing when the area is already so dense with federal buildings. Making the L'Enfant Promenade less soulless (sorry) and perhaps making 7th Street more inviting for pedestrians would also help.

Alex B.: Tear down Forrestal. Connect the overlook to the waterfront. Connect the overlook at the terminus of Maryland Ave to the Tidal Basin/Hains Point. De-federalize things, add some private development and residential to the mix. Create as many opportunities to cross the freeway as possible.


Comments

  1. SW Ecodistrict Worker
    #1

    1. It's very walkable and should be easy to get around in (it would be better if we didn't have to go through a maze of federal buildings to get anywhere, though).

    2. Um...take away its soullessness? Sorry I don't know how to put that into more tangible terms.

    3. Eating/drinking/entertainment establishments would encourage workers to stay in the area after hours.

    4. The circular park near the Portals building (I know, it's just outside the Ecodistrict border) works. I wish I worked closer to it. The eating establishments that have outdoor seating work.

    5. I agree that building housing in the area would link it, but I'm interested in knowing how you plan to accommodate housing when the area is already so dense with federal buildings. Making the L'Enfant Promenade less soulless (sorry) and perhaps making 7th Street more inviting for pedestrians would also help.

  2. #2

    I work down at Hood.

    FOOD, FOOD, FOOD Lower Federalia is a food desert.

  3. #3

    1. The opportunity. The physical environment right now is pretty hostile, but there's great opportunity to do some big things here.

    The decking over the tracks at the Mandarin Oriental hotel provides a little glimpse of the kind of opportunities in the area.

    2. Urbanize it. Mix uses. Add density.

    Burying the highway would be awesome, as would re-building the street grid. But that doesn't change the fact that it is currently a mono-use area.

    3. Mix uses. Mix uses. Mix uses. There are no shops open because no one is there outside of 9-5. Add residents, mix uses, add more density. This is a city, let it be urban.

    4. I used to work in the area - not much works. The urban framework is all messed up. The good thing is that the bones are in place - high employment, good transit access, etc.

    5. Tear down Forrestal. Connect the overlook to the waterfront. Connect the overlook at the terminus of Maryland Ave to the Tidal Basin/Hains Point. De-federalize things, add some private development and residential to the mix. Create as many opportunities to cross the freeway as possible.

  4. #4

    There is currently no way to travel across the SW quadrangle area east-west, and only two ways to do so on foot north-south (7th and 4th---the way down from the Banneker Overlook is steep or circuitous). Travelling within the area is likewise impeded by streets at different levels, freeway exits, and the railroad tracks.

    Since getting around is so complicated, people are less likely to explore, choosing instead the one sure route they know (I know I do). So besides promoting street-level businesses, planners should promote connections to and within the area so that these businesses can receive casual customers.

    For reference, see how interconnected SW used to be:
    http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/8803/historic-aerials-show-the-disappearance-of-southwest/

  5. #5

    1. The self contained nature of the space. Apart from the function of surrounding by federal superblock buildings, this part of DC seems to have little connection to the rest of the city.

    2. Provide more engagement with the street at ground level. The neighborhood would benefit from more ground level commerce, instead of it all being buried in the L'Enfant Plaza "mall".

    3. More restaurants or coffee shops. I walk by this area on a regular basis (from L'Enfant Plaza Metro to the Southwest Waterfront area). The only place I ever visit is the Pizza Authentica, because its the only place open in the evenings when I am commuting home.

    4. I don't work in this area, but I live nearby. What works is the close proximity to the South West waterfront. It is easier to metro to L'Enfant and exit the system than transfer to the green line to exit at Waterfront.

    5. Re-work the L'enfant plaza connection and make it one that people will want to use and inhabit. Right now it is a wasteland, if you compare it to the rest of the Southwest Waterfront you can see why. It is a tree-less promenade of monumental concrete structures with nothing to drive people there, whereas Southwest Waterfront while mainly residential stark concrete structures, has become human scaled through the growth of the neighborhood street trees. L'Enfant needs promenade level commercial spaces and a serious planting plan, and with the proper nurturing could become a vibrant connection to the National Mall.

  6. #6

    1. The Banneker Overlook at the end of 10th Street. The plantings and hardscape are clearly neglected but the vistas from the overlook make it a special place.

    2. Span the freeway in more locations and remove the grade separations that occur so often in the neighborhood. Make it easier to travel the area on foot.

    3. The fact that there's no retail or street life makes the area dead outside of business hours. The area needs to go more mixed use and add retail and cultural uses for me to go there during non-business hours.

    4. I don't work in SW, but I live in SW. The single use nature of the area and the fragmented street grid are the two biggest failures of the area's planning. On the other hand, It has a lot of potential in the axial corridors (10th St and Maryland Ave) to act as a lively conduit between the Mall and the waterfront.

    5. The biggest potential is the 10th street corridor. Either remove the DoE building or place activities along 10th street to draw tourists and pedestrians south of the mall. Shops, galleries and sidewalk cafes along the promenade would all easily attract added users.

  7. #7

    1. It's easy to get to. Or to flee in case of a Russkie A-bomb, which may have been the thinking at the time. Seriously, it's probably the most easily accessed location in the region.

    2. Fill it in. Bring the shops up to street level, fill in the concrete wastelands (plaza and freeway alike), and bring in interactive museums rather than static memorials. It might be interesting to see if the Brutalist buildings could sprout some extra floors -- since 10th St. is 180' wide, it could be fronted by 200'/15 story buildings. The approach of gradual renewal and densification taken in the Crystal City Sector Plan could be used here to even greater effect.

    3. No one big thing would, but a lot of small things would. If pressed for two things, I'll go with one free thing and one expensive thing: rezoning the L'Enfant-Federal Ctr SW area to proper downtown densities, since going from C-3-C to C-4 or C-5 would allow 30-85% more development, and thus more than double the number of people around (since sites like L'Enfant don't even utilize all of their existing zoned capacity); and reconfiguring the streets so that they don't feel like highways.

    5. DC has many great processional streets, and we can draw lessons from all of them: great anchors on each end; spatial definition through build-to lines, common cornice heights, and street trees; dense and diverse uses; punctuation marks along the way; and no direct obstructions. Unfortunately, none of these conditions exist along the streets between the Mall and the Potomac. Buildings like Forrestal that sit astride major axes need not be removed entirely, but selective demolition (removing the middle section or carving a portal through) could open up the view corridors.

  8. #8

    I wonder if anyone has brought up a time frame/line or phasing to the discussion. It is easy to grab a red marker and x out what doesn't work and draw a couple of arrows to show how it can be fixed. But, in fact it is a major highway that divides this area and the urban fabric will not change at the click of a pen. Rather than easily saying remove federal buildings. Phasing land uses will be essential. Open space and amenities for the federal workers should be of high priority. Mixed use residential can't be the only answer. Really, how many more DC young employees will buy/rent in SW or SE? We have enough mixed use in the vicinity. The Yards is a great example of phasing, although it was forced phasing. The private real estate sector could not mark its presence first due to the economy, instead open space and amenities became the driving force.

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