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McMillan plans show expansive new recreation spaces

Opponents to redeveloping the McMillan Sand Filtration Site often say it'll result in a loss of recreation and park space. But a recent video of the proposed plan by development team Vision McMillan Partners shows a compelling vision of a site with a large park and recreational component.

The newest plan, which the Historic Preservation Review Board called "very tangible and commendable" earlier this month, consolidates the site's green space, and ensures it's available to the whole neighborhood, rather than as piecemeal private yards.

While the fight to get redevelopment moving at the 25-acre site is far from over, winning HPRB approval is one more major hurdle cleared in bringing a 6-acre public park with pool and rec center, dedicated new affordable housing, and rowhouses and apartments to the long-shuttered site.

Aimee Custis is a wonk, communicator, and professional advocate at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Her writing represents her own views, though they're often aligned with her employer's. Weekends, you'll find Aimee at home in Dupont Circle or practicing her other love, wedding photography


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I can't lie. Still think those building designs are kinda awful, but I LOVE everything else they are doing with the site.

by BTA on Nov 18, 2013 11:51 am • linkreport

Notable because a lot of developments try to satisfy green space requirements by counting yards. This keeps the green space public for everyone in the neighborhood to enjoy and not just the new people.

by drumz on Nov 18, 2013 11:51 am • linkreport

The pool looks good, but I hope the parks aren't just big lawns. 1 big lawn, sure, but not so much.

by BeyondDC on Nov 18, 2013 11:55 am • linkreport

They should use some of the space for an athletic field. The one behind DCUSA is busy day and night all year long.

by BTA on Nov 18, 2013 12:07 pm • linkreport

Agreed with BTA - those buildings are freaking hideous. Nothing redeeming about them. As for the big lawn on the south side of the project, I'm of very mixed feelings about it. Often, these huge "lawn" style parks end up being big wasted spaces, as the only thing they're good for is athletic uses and since they're not designed and striped / marked for any sport in particular they go underutilized, or, like the lawn in Lincoln Park, they turn into an unofficial dog park that's closed half the year for re-sodding. The other problem I have with that setup is that there is no shaded spots for spectators. I'd rather see the space a little more programmed so it got more usage.

Assuming that indoor pool is accessible to the community, however, I will certainly welcome a new spot to do laps in the summer. Even if it is in an ugly Kennedy-Center-esque building!

by ShawGuy on Nov 18, 2013 12:32 pm • linkreport

I like most of it overall, but would like to see more trees/flowers in the park, particularly at the southwest corner. That corner is ignored and underutilized, and should be a really cool entrance to Bloomingdale. I would like to see gardens, public art, benches.

by eastof9 on Nov 18, 2013 12:36 pm • linkreport

I also with BTA - not a huge fan of the design of the buildings, but I do think it's very helpful to see the video to get an actual sense of what the space might feel like.

And love or hate the big lawns, they certainly discredit opponents' claims that there won't be adequate wide-open recreational space... especially considering that today, there is zero recreation space.

by Aimee Custis on Nov 18, 2013 12:39 pm • linkreport

I'll echo others. I love the overall design but loathe those buildings. I'd also like some delineation on the lawn to give it some purpose. I'm honestly not sure what that would be though.

by RDHD on Nov 18, 2013 12:42 pm • linkreport

would love to see an Olympic size pool here (like the one at Wilson High School)

by bigswim on Nov 18, 2013 12:49 pm • linkreport

Some of the lawn space results from keeping the water treatment cells, which can't have root structures growing into the already fragile unreinforced concrete.

Which is why a massive, treeless, unstructured green space is not a good idea, and this plan is.

Architecture: Can't say I'm a fan of the Baranes buildings in back, but the mid-size residential building by David Jameson will probably come out nice. He's made stranger things look good before and has a very talented team.

It can be hard to tell from renderings. All of the trees are identical: we don't know what the canopy will look like. The light is relatively flat, we don't know how that will change the texture of the facades.

by Neil Flanagan on Nov 18, 2013 1:08 pm • linkreport

I'd also like some delineation on the lawn to give it some purpose. I'm honestly not sure what that would be though.

Beach volleyball court as a nod to the historic *sand* filtration site? Maybe a sandbox for the kiddies along with some kind of small exhibit showing how sand filtration works?

The idea someone mentioned for a garden is also good, although I would tie it into a sand filtration system for stormwater from the rec center roof, as below:

Gulf States Manufacturing is donating gutters, which will drain rainwater from the remaining half of the museum roof into a sand filter on the ground below. The sand filter is a box, 50 feet long and 5 feet wide, which contains 6 inches of gravel topped with 15-18 inches of sand. The plan is to grow plants and flowers in the box. The process is designed to slow down and filter the storm water

Read more:

by Falls Church on Nov 18, 2013 1:14 pm • linkreport

I don't think a cell is being preserved in the southwest corner, so trees or at least some landscaping could go there. DC Water is digging up that corner for a tunneling project until 2016 so I don't see how that underground structure could survive.

by eastof9 on Nov 18, 2013 1:26 pm • linkreport

Why are they keeping those brick filtration silos? Looks like a lot of dead space to me. Sure they are kinda cool and old, but that doesn't mean we have to keep them. I don't get the nostalgia for a bunch of sand filled silos.

Also the pool looks like 25 meters to me (hard to tell from the video). The city does not need more 25 meter pools. They are expensive to maintain and if it draws enough people to make it worth building, like Wilson, it better be big or it will be way too crowded. If we go to the expense of building and running a pool do it right and make the thing 50 meters (also ditch the high dive, too much liability).

Maybe the intent is to have athletic fields, but it is not clear in the video. We should add some athletic fields and include lights. People will certainly use them night and day. Also go with astroturf on the fields. Grass would be a huge mistake.

And the whole thing looks kind of Soviet to me.

by turtleshell on Nov 18, 2013 2:07 pm • linkreport

Where are the bikes? Where is the playground equipment? Much of this feels like 1970 and holding.

by tour guide on Nov 18, 2013 2:28 pm • linkreport

Why are they keeping those brick filtration silos? Looks like a lot of dead space to me.

Replacing them with something like public art would be costly and kind of wasteful/unenvironmental.

by Falls Church on Nov 18, 2013 2:48 pm • linkreport

I like the silos. I think it's actually a good example of historic preservation done right.

by BTA on Nov 18, 2013 3:02 pm • linkreport

The whole development looks like an exurban office park--that's "park"--with a big suburban-style lawn in the front yard. Lawns are about as anti-environmental as green can get. The VMP folks--not to mention Aimee--might have done the public a favor and taken a look at the photos from the era when McMillan Park deserved the name. Most of the comments suggest the writers haven't visited great urban parks, like those in Chicago, Boston, New York, Paris, London. The city should end the ill-gotten relationship with VMP and issue an international RFP. Maybe then we'd get the park the city deserves.

by Unregenerate Idealist on Nov 18, 2013 3:16 pm • linkreport

Gotta love NIMBY's like Unregenerate Idealist.

1) When development is proposed--Preserve McMillan Park! (Except no one actually is allowed to use the park)
2) When a park is proposed as part of the development--That's the wrong kind of park! (Ignoring that his/her preferred type of park can't be built there)

by carlosthedwarf on Nov 18, 2013 3:24 pm • linkreport

Hey Aimee, I hear you on the idea that a large 6-acre park conflicts with any argument of the green space being disjointed. However, I haven't heard such sentiment recently. Are you sure that wasn't with respect to the old VMP master plan in which the green space was broken out into clusters around the entire development?


by Mat on Nov 18, 2013 3:30 pm • linkreport

Regarding the silos, they are being preserved in part to address the HPRB requests from July 2013. This is a historic landmark registered in DC since the early 90s. Keep that in mind. There are fairly strict guidelines on development and demolition of a historic site.

Regarding the pool, it is a 25-metre pool according to the VMP specifications of the site.

Regarding the underground cells, specifically Neil Flanagan, there are only 8 out of 20 that were deemed unstable in the 2000 geological study that was conducted. The other 12 are stable or nearly stable. One of those moderately stable cells is cell 14, currently being worked on by DCWASA to retain storm water. This cell, despite being classified as moderately stable, required no reinforcement and cost DCWASA $0 to stabilize.

by Mat on Nov 18, 2013 3:39 pm • linkreport

Not really.... it's about making this the best it could be. I agree that this has got real potential, but it has a ways to go yet. Think about this one question:

When was the last time you just hung out on a big vast lawn (national mall or otherwise)?

Chances are if you did it was along time ago. Big open spaces are an attractive idea in theory but unless you are throwing a frisbee or playing touch football...people simply don't congregate in big open spaces like this. They congregate in the shady peripheries. Space needs to be programmed. Just go down to the mall and observe.

In this design we supposedly have an amphitheater (with a very limited stage area right the behind the lake) a spray park (where? it's not rendered), A 25 meter pool for the 700 living units (2000 inhabitants) just on this site only plus the THOUSANDS of people in the surrounding hoods (don't swallow the water), a fitness center (for those same thousands of people), an Olmstead walk (with no benches).

If we are patient and insistent, We could have: 1)community gardens; 2) outdoor cafes; 3) play implements for children; 4) A farmers market/craft market space; outdoor galleries or sculpture gardens; 5) Vertical gardens/farms; 6)green infrastructure; 7) a whole lot more you could imagine.

It's not about being bitchy's about patiently creating a world class space that everybody will use and love.

by Todd on Nov 18, 2013 3:43 pm • linkreport

What would be the point of an olympic-sized pool in a rec center? Swimming laps in an olympic pool is not pleasant.

Agree about the lack of use of large, unprogrammed spaces, but this is what the "save our park" people gunned for when they complained about how the park space was too "broken up" in previous plans. Previous plans had smaller spaces that were better programmed and the preservation crowd didn't like that.

by MLD on Nov 18, 2013 3:49 pm • linkreport

I've never seen this report. Can you link to it?

by Neil Flanagan on Nov 18, 2013 3:52 pm • linkreport

I'd put in a playground or two but I don't mind the lawn overall. The existing lawns we have in DC are well used. There seems to be room for both.

by Drumz on Nov 18, 2013 3:55 pm • linkreport

@ Falls Church. Agreed no point in adding a bunch of public art. More space for recreation or more buildings would be great. 20 of those silos seems like a lot of wasted space to me. That's probably enough land for several out door basketball courts, a very large play ground for kids, another building or even a cycle track and a whole bunch of Capital Bike Share parking.

OK maybe keep one of the silos, but the video has about 20 silos and a few other brick structures.

If you were building this design from scratch would you want 20 big brick silos? Just because they are there we should keep them?

by turtleshell on Nov 18, 2013 3:55 pm • linkreport

.people simply don't congregate in big open spaces like this. They congregate in the shady peripheries.

This is a great observation of human behavior. Without thinking about it, I do that. I think because I'd feel like I was in the way or unprotected sitting in the middle of an open lawn. Probably goes back to our survival instincts where laying out in the open savannah would be a death sentence and drain you of precious water.

by Falls Church on Nov 18, 2013 3:58 pm • linkreport

MLD, Unsure what they meant about that...i prefer to think about going forward now that it looks like this going forward. I think that regardless, this is a fabulous park. But what needs to happen now is to take about half of this green space and plan it out. As others here have said, i'm not adverse to a big large lawn, but just not a 4 acre lawn...that's an opportunity lost. It is also unpleasant to swim in a tepid, foggy indoor 25meter pool with 1700 other people.

by Todd on Nov 18, 2013 4:00 pm • linkreport

I agree completely with Falls Church about our precious water

by JackDRipper on Nov 18, 2013 4:02 pm • linkreport

Too bad we dont have anything like a Rock Creek Park, or a National Mall, or an Arboretum or an Aquatic Garden in the city... how could they let this kind of development go in when there are literally no big parks in the city ANYWHERE.

by BTA on Nov 18, 2013 4:14 pm • linkreport

Todd, I'm a member of WAFC. WAFC has a lot of trouble getting the field space it needs, because of the intense demand for field space in the DC area. Almost all WAFC games are played outside DC proper, many in hard-to-access places. If there were little demand for wide open spaces, like you claim, WAFC would have no trouble getting the field space it needs.

by carlosthedwarf on Nov 18, 2013 4:14 pm • linkreport

You should visit Meridian Hill Park to see people congregating on a large urban park. It's about the same size as the park quandrant will be for this site and its a mix of basically unprogrammed spaces. I do agree the site could use more trees.

by BTA on Nov 18, 2013 4:18 pm • linkreport

You should visit Meridian Hill Park to see people congregating on a large urban park.

And where do people congregate?

A: On the shady sides of the large lawn where there are benches, or on the actual shaded lawn parts of the park. The lawn is mostly used for playing sports.

Not directed at you, BTA: do people just not get that this city is hot in the summer? Who wants to take a stroll across an open lawn when it's 95 degrees and 90% humidity out? Look at any park in this city and the places people congregate have one thing in common: shade. Central Park is the same way. For some reason, people in DC have decided that The Mall is the guideline for how to create a park, even though the Mall itself is actually pretty terrible. Looks good in aerial shots though.

by MLD on Nov 18, 2013 4:32 pm • linkreport

BTA.... the shady peripheries of Meridian Hill park... i used to live just next to it. Not in the fields...that is used by the guys playing soccer. The fields will be used for soccer and sports...not a problem... but i'm just saying for the avg. person, they probably will not use the lawns that much. It will be used by a few folks on sports teams. Which is good, but do we need that much space for that? Is it at the expense of the avg. park user?

by Todd on Nov 18, 2013 4:32 pm • linkreport

I agree about the tree cover but I don't think every inch has to be overly programmed necessarily either.

by BTA on Nov 18, 2013 4:38 pm • linkreport

Todd: "When was the last time you just hung out on a big vast lawn (national mall or otherwise)?"

Well, there are two gigantic open lawns in one of the parks that you're always suggesting as a model for McMillan: CENTRAL PARK. Tens of thousands of people hang out there all year, yes, even in the sun. All the time. There are probably 15,000 people on Sheep's Meadow right now. Your point is demonstrably false, eg, you are wrong.

In re: the current design, what do you define as "patient and persistent," following through with legal measures that would scare away VMP (and any other developers who come along) so nothing would be done for 20-30 years, as the Fear of Modernity has suggested?

No design will ever make 100% of the people 100% happy, but the current proposal is much better than what we have now, which is nothing. Should we work to make it better? Of course. I'm suggesting that the best way to do so is within the current design framework, not with continued obfuscation and threats.

by Stronghold Resident on Nov 18, 2013 4:38 pm • linkreport

Bloomingdale resident here. For those frustrated by the park aspect of the VMP plan, channel your energies in a productive way: the Mid City East recommendations include lots of great ideas for parks, but unlike the VMP plan, these recommendations won't happen unless we get organized and demand new green space. One popular idea is decking over N. Capitol at Rhode Island and creating a green space there. And if we're organized and out in front of this, we can put whatever we want, hold an international design competition, whatever. I'm frustrated that people are so adamant about getting a do-over from what was admittedly a flawed process and yet they refuse to engage when the city is trying to get it right. With all this pent up energy for good design we could create something truly elsewhere in the neighborhood and we're squandering that opportunity.

Please, if you want to see better green space in the neighborhood, add your views here:

by jcbhan on Nov 18, 2013 4:39 pm • linkreport

I was going to mention Central Park in NYC as a place where the lawns get heavy use - but the sheer density of population nearby probably accounts for a good portion of that. I'm not sure there are enough people living and working close enough to McMillan for it to work the same way.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 18, 2013 4:43 pm • linkreport

It would be nice if developers would build buildings that are lastingly beautiful rather than ones that we might think look "cool" for a few years until the coolness wears off and we realize they are actually quite ugly.

by CLS on Nov 18, 2013 4:44 pm • linkreport

Don't take it from me... or from FOM (Fear of Mediocrity) ... just go down to the Mall today and Look at the way it is being used today. Sure, there are a few days when it is used (or when the big fields in Central park are used)..when Obama is being elected or in any odd march, or whatnot Paul Simon decides to play for free or whatever. (nevermind that this park won't get that sort of play) But on a day to day's simply untrue. And it's not hard to verify. Anybody visiting the mall on nearly any day of the week can verify this today. Central park is another thing altogether --a vast and varied landscape...but when you have a few acres do you really want it to be 90% open space?

by Todd on Nov 18, 2013 4:46 pm • linkreport

I was thinking more of the Mission or whatever.

by BTA on Nov 18, 2013 4:47 pm • linkreport

No one lives near the mall really though.

by BTA on Nov 18, 2013 4:48 pm • linkreport

Except all of the people in SW, SE, Capitol Hill, Penn Quarter, and H street.

by Todd on Nov 18, 2013 4:50 pm • linkreport

AWalker: agreed, but I suppose that's not the point. Todd was saying that people don't hang out on lawns in parks. I am just saying that, well, hundreds of thousands of people actually do, frequently. I would like to have a large, open lawn near my house. I'm sure many more would as well.

I realize arguing against the Fear of Modernity is futile: they just don't want anything on the site and will go to any length to stop VMP, including lawsuits (as they have suggested). Nothing I, or anyone who lives near the site and just wants to have a grocery store, park, restaurants, community center and pool, will change their minds. They say they want more park, now it's that there's too much open lawn in the park?


by Stronghold Resident on Nov 18, 2013 4:51 pm • linkreport

as well as the 1mn or so folks that work in the vicinity. Just look at the jazz in the sculpture gardens. You can't freakin find a square foot to sit in.

by Todd on Nov 18, 2013 4:53 pm • linkreport

Right, but what is the dew point on an average July day in San Francisco vs DC!

Most of Central Park is tree-covered, and a bunch of what isn't tree-covered is programmed for sports.

by MLD on Nov 18, 2013 4:54 pm • linkreport


I sympathize with the desire to move this along already. And I agree that if it turns out the space is underprogrammed, it shouldn't be that hard to change it later.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 18, 2013 4:55 pm • linkreport

I sympathize with the desire to move this along already. And I agree that if it turns out the space is underprogrammed, it shouldn't be that hard to change it later.

Totally agree.

by MLD on Nov 18, 2013 4:56 pm • linkreport

Right...that's the meme. FOM wants nothing. Makes no sense at all...that's why they spend all their time fighting this. Easy to vilify them when they are obstructionists however. Not when they just want a better space for everybody, that couldn't possibly be true. Nevermind. I actually own a house in Bloomdingdale... i live in Africa though. So I am not an FOM member. But whatever. I do care about this development. Sorry to offend you're sensibilities.

by Todd on Nov 18, 2013 4:58 pm • linkreport

Todd, that's just not true. This is from the Sheep Meadow wikipedia site: "This open area is very popular and can draw up to 30,000 people a day. 'I've seen people standing in line to enter the Sheep Meadow,' said Doug Blonsky in 2009, president of the Central Park Conservancy."

The Mall is a tourist attraction and has some ball fields. Not the same as a traditional park. Also, none of those neighborhoods you mention are really in close proximity to the Mall: the Mall is surrounded by museums and office buildings.

I suspect you see the silliness of your argument but maybe if you continue to say it over and over (and louder and louder) people will think it's true. It's not working so far, but I guess we haven't seen the end of it yet.

by Stronghold Resident on Nov 18, 2013 4:58 pm • linkreport

Todd, you're not offending my sensibilities: I recognize your right to opposition and I am exercising my right to support the development of amenities that would greatly increase the quality of life of myself, my family and my neighbors.

I appreciate your opinion and your interest in what's happening, I just think it's wrong, and I think the people with whom you associate are misguided. Keep on opposing the development and I will keep supporting it. We'll see where we end up.

by Stronghold Resident on Nov 18, 2013 5:05 pm • linkreport

In upper NW parks are geologic, stream valleys, hills, glens, and cultural and historic sites like Civil War fortifications. This absurd , wrong , "national Harbor" with a lawn, is the kind of miserable stuff shoved in the face of NE DC.There are real parks 80% of them, in walking distance from every home in upper NW, we can walk to
4 Walmart Box stores. Defend your community against gross consumerism, swallowing up our land. Fight the Surplus of McMillan, No Govt. hack has the right to hand our land, tell the City Council, NO SURPLUS of OUR McMillan

by Daniel Wolkoff on Nov 18, 2013 5:14 pm • linkreport

Stronghold: [Deleted for violating the comment policy.] Spaces need to be separated and bounded and defined to maximize utility for human interaction and use. Read the Geography of Nowhere by Howard Kunstler to start. Then go to any park and take a look be it Millenium park (under the Pritzker pavilion for instance) or Central Park or the Mall and compare the numbers of humans there to the ones in the periphery. [Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Todd on Nov 18, 2013 5:16 pm • linkreport

In A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander and his colleagues actually investigated the usage patterns in parks and concluded that, while everyone needs and wants an "accessible green," people won't travel more than 3 minutes, or 750 feet, to use one. (More precisely, they found that willingness to visit a park decreases exponentially with distance.)

Which is why The Sheep Meadow, for which millions are brought in close proximity as part of their everyday activities, can draw thousands, but similar grassy expanses--on the Mall, or at McMillan, or in many other large parks in DC (Barnard Hill park, on Eastern Avenue, is my favorite example) do not and will not, unless the immediate population density is increased substantially.

by thm on Nov 18, 2013 5:22 pm • linkreport

THM: Interesting point. And yet "The National Mall is our country’s most visited national park, attracting more than 25 million annual visitors – more than Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon combined.(official website). And yet people still don't use the field space. Funny.

by Todd on Nov 18, 2013 5:33 pm • linkreport

Um, fields at the Mall get lots of use. There are always people playing sports or organizing events all over the place. Maybe not so much now that it's getting colder/darker but that's not hardly out of place in other cities.

Like AWITC said, if we come up with a better use in the future then we can take advantage then. Or the conditions will be right to make it popular for what it is. Let's build it and see.

by Drumz on Nov 18, 2013 5:45 pm • linkreport

Todd, you're coming across as patronizing. I think we all want parks to be usable, and in general large grassy spaces are not ideal. However, this is not a large, unbounded grassy space, it's relatively small space, with boundaries and paths. It's 4 acres. Dolores Mission Park is 14 acres, Sheep Meadows are 15. By comparison, the entire McMillan Site is 25 acres.

Also, please, please step away from James Howard Kunstler. Someday, people will notice how often he treats feminism as a historical aberration caused by the pill or how Mexicans are gonna overrun the country and replace it with Aztlan. He uses cuss words, what a rebel.

by Neil Flanagan on Nov 18, 2013 6:08 pm • linkreport

I honestly don't know if sports teams would use that space. There is a city field about 2-3 blocks from there, and it is underutilized. (Look on a map. but I go past it every day). There needs to be more green space around here, but also better programmed. I'm fine with a designated sports field in the middle, but the rest should be something other than an open lawn that will not look like the renderings. Keep in mind that this whole thing is planned to be privately owned, including the park, but open to the public. So this won't be a standard DPR site.

by eastof9 on Nov 18, 2013 6:26 pm • linkreport

Whatever. Here, take the real point: This park is designed in a way that won't maximize it's utility based not on my own conjecture but on reasoned approaches to urbanism that are well elaborated by the new urbanists. Sorry if you think that's not valid or that you feel that people that disagree with you are patronizing you. I think it's an important point to try to get this right the first time and not in continuous rearguard corrections that may not ever take place. Want to rebuild the entire community center or pool or whatever because we underestimated the degree of public use of it? I think that's a waste of time and effort and money.

by Todd on Nov 18, 2013 6:36 pm • linkreport

Todd, several members of the design team are members of the Congress for New Urbanism, and at least one has won a Charter Award.

by Neil Flanagan on Nov 18, 2013 6:46 pm • linkreport

Well, they have no excuse then! Neil, we all know that right now this design isn't talent's budget driven. Nelson Byrd Woltz is a fine firm. Give them the resources and i'm sure they can deliver. This isn't a's a Toyota. Just look around dude...look at those designs. We've been asking for foundation involvement since the very beginning to take this to a World Class level. But no dice. They are going strictly business on this one.

by Todd on Nov 18, 2013 6:59 pm • linkreport

The townhouses don't look too bad but the multi-family buildings look like fashion victims. They'll look dated faster than you can say parametric.

The architecture is lack luster, but the urbanism worse. The street scape on North Capitol is a huge berm. How will that make for a nice North Capitol streetscape? Even the little old rowhouses accross the street have the presence to meet it at the sidewalk. I know grade is tough, but whole cities have managed dealing with it and still provide great streets. The public space looks completely withdrawn of all the construction, and the sunken space dosen't seem like it will work well, but time will tell. This site plan looks like an old Civil War fort from the south east. I'm happy to see this finally move forward, but what a missed opportunity.

by Thayer-D on Nov 18, 2013 7:19 pm • linkreport

Keeping the berm was required by the HPRB during the design review process.

by Neil Flanagan on Nov 18, 2013 7:35 pm • linkreport

...but what a missed opportunity.

What would you purpose building instead Thayer-D?

In fact what would all the detractors purpose for the site?
I will answer it the same way I see everything in this world. By maximizing profit. The site should be re-auctioned, sold to the highest bidder, foreign or domestic monies, doesn't matter. They should be allowed to build and destroy whatever they need to make it a profitable business decision. What you would get, most likely, is dense skyscrapers, pushing 400 feet and beyond. More condos, more offices, smaller environmental footprint, what could be better?

by Bill the Wanderer on Nov 18, 2013 8:14 pm • linkreport

Harriet Tregoning and friends call it "smart development"

by Friends of McMillan Park on Nov 18, 2013 9:08 pm • linkreport

@ Friends of McMillan Park --

Yes, we've seen the flyers making the rounds - clever, to be sure. Though personally, if I were designing the flyer I'd have gone with "smart growth" rather than "smart development". Our movement is diverse enough that I can comfortably say I don't speak for everyone, but I do speak for myself and for the Coalition for Smarter Growth when I say that no, the flyer is incorrect - certainly not all development is smart. Our team at CSG testifies regularly against development projects that don't help our region be a more walkable, inclusive place.

But thanks for sharing! The flyer is certainly good for a laugh!

by Aimee Custis on Nov 18, 2013 9:24 pm • linkreport

Bill the Wanderer,
The whole concept is fine, I just think many of the details aren't. I'd build a denser community with taller buildings and a more urban public space with a much better integration with it's surroundings. I'd make the public space at the northeast corner of the site more pleasant. Have you seen the ground floor of the adjacent buildings? It looks like a blank wall with a building on a podium. I'd even take down those silly concrete cylinders. I love the idea of the development here, I just think it's timid and not urban enough.

by Thayer-D on Nov 18, 2013 9:29 pm • linkreport

Reminder: Smart Growth is a specific term talking about a specific set of design principles. Talk to te creators of the smart code if you have a problem with the name rather than ridiculing those who are actually using it correctly.

by Drumz on Nov 18, 2013 11:34 pm • linkreport

Who are the organizations in "The Coalition for Smarter Growth"? how many people are members? Vocal but a vacuum.
The static, lawn surrounded by a strip of sapling trees, is the remaining land after 50 buildings would swallow up this fascinating historic site. This just shows the marginal level of design talent at VMP. The monotonous slavish devotion to mediocrity of uninspired and corrupt city officials , elected and appointed, are self empowered and dictated this development , and said swallow this whole you powerless residents, with out any open exploration of the numerous valid options for re-development. Parks are development! Bistro, skating rink, carousel, urban farms, beach, gardens,concerts, movie festivals, and any creative use you can imagine,, that is park compatible. National Trust for Historic Preservation recommended to HPRB any buildings follow the same roof line of existing structures, spaced apart, and could share the same architecture, like brick and Spanish tile roofs. I know this is too classy and coherent for the idiots who are supporting this VMP atrocity, but just imagine the fabulous 1920 Wardman buildings at the National Zoo. Why does class, coherence, space, and great views have so much difficulty getting into your heads? Take a break from the computer screen and imagine walking up gracious entrance stairs onto areal park of mature tree, and shrub lined gardens, fountains, sculpture, with stair cases, views of the monuments, sunsets, July 4th fireworks, breezes, and fresh air. Is that too hard for you? Think Meridian Hill Park , this is what McMillan will be.Even commercial services cleverly built into adaptive re-use of existing under-surface masonry galleries. This park was planned by true "Visionaries" and wasted by the elected and appointed, corrupt officials of this miserable embarrassment of a govt. since the day they payed $9 million and wasted it every day since.This level of waste of public resource is disgusting, and should be punished, not glossed over.We can and will have an active, 365 day a year Eco-Campus with endless community and family oriented potential, don't be scared, you can participate. Glen Echo in west Bethesda, restored immaculately, and developed for the entire community welfare. Their classes and activity schedule is 88 pages..This is your opportunity, be smart enough to be part of this, please don''t blow it.Correct the historic, racist imbalance in DC park land, not with a lawn in front of a grocery store.

by Daniel Wolkoff on Nov 19, 2013 12:37 am • linkreport

I think Thayer-D gets it exactly right. This isn't necessarily a "can the entire thing and start over" proposition (although i would advocate to open up the design competition to other groups as a best practice). It's a continue to refine until we get to the level of detail and utility that will make this a great public space. This design layout seems more or less ok. The elements are also ok by me. But what i rue is that this place could be really great. Not just ok. The details have a sort of "just get it thru HPRB" quality to them. The architecture of the grocery store is simply beyond me. The service courts treatment seems like a wasted opportunity too to have really interesting public spaces. The park needs further thought as does the community center.

You can't do this using a business paradigm. It needs foundation involvement. Period. That's the reality.

I want to agree with those that want to go forward and refine as we go. We all know that the complexity of building on this particular site means that what is built will likely stay as is. Are they going to open up and revise the plinth foundation again in the future to add some major addition to the park? Probably not. This is a now or never thing. Do it right now or live with an opportunity wasted.

by Todd on Nov 19, 2013 4:25 am • linkreport

Absolutely fantastic! I love the presentation and the design. This is positive and heroic planning and design. The entire team from owner to animator should be rewarded with approval. Make sure those vaulted tank portals are lit correctly at night to prevent hiding people.

by AndrewJ on Nov 19, 2013 6:53 am • linkreport

"National Trust for Historic Preservation recommended to HPRB any buildings follow the same roof line of existing structures, spaced apart, and could share the same architecture, like brick and Spanish tile roofs."

You should know that HP dosen't exactly want designers to blend in that well. They are hung up on buildings being "of our time", which to them means a lot of glass and little ornamentation. My guess is you'll get more traction improving the design on the clearly bad parts than in wishing for spanish tile. As for Glen Echo, some of that could be a matter of programming, but this site is very close to downtown while Glen Echo is out there.

by Thayer-D on Nov 19, 2013 7:23 am • linkreport

The static, lawn surrounded by a strip of sapling trees, is the remaining land after 50 buildings would swallow up this fascinating historic site.

Well, that and the preservation/re-use of the actual historic and defining structures on the site in several places.

by drumz on Nov 19, 2013 8:05 am • linkreport

Do you need to open up the plinth foundation to, say, add a row of trees, or something like that? Maybe we aren't all thinking the same thing when we are thinking about reprogramming the space.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 19, 2013 8:29 am • linkreport

The static, lawn surrounded by a strip of sapling trees, is the remaining land after 50 buildings would swallow up this fascinating historic site.

Not sure exactly how it's a "fascinating historic site" if it sits closed all the time and nobody can ever use it, walk around, or visit. Seems like this plan is preferable to the current situation.

by MLD on Nov 19, 2013 8:44 am • linkreport

Well that depends....probably not if you just are going to just add a stand of trees or a playground. But if you're going to build a larger structure like a vertical farm, museum, farmer's market or revise/expand the community center, probably.

by Todd on Nov 19, 2013 8:46 am • linkreport

What I got from the discussion above of various parks, was that while open grassy lawns are often underutilized, people congregate under the trees on the periphery. I don't see how that suggests a need for a vertical farm, or a museum. Now it sounds like the argument is not for a better designed, better defined, park, but for additional amenities.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 19, 2013 9:03 am • linkreport

There is no crystallized argument here....just ideas to improve the usability of the space. Park or otherwise.

by Todd on Nov 19, 2013 9:07 am • linkreport

But even if we talk only about a better planned park, then if that will include additional water features for the west side, then that would likely necessitate foundation work on the plinth.

by Todd on Nov 19, 2013 9:09 am • linkreport

but if someone considers continued delay of the project a cost, as many clearly do, then I think a rationale needs to be given for further delay. And it seems to me that rationale, now, is the nature of the grassy expanse. If it can be changed from grassy expanse into a better utilized park with only some trees, or something similarly easy, then I think the case for delay in order to rethink the concept becomes weak.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 19, 2013 9:19 am • linkreport

My recollection is that the nearby residents didn't want an active athletic field. Certainly that can be reprogrammed in the future if the community supports it.

Any of the amenities Todd is suggesting can be incorporated into the planning effort, but it takes positive engagement. Instead, the VMP folks are dealing with the FoM who seem to yearn for a past that didn't exist on the filtration site.

Let's get back to reality and engage positively with the developer - only then will we get the best results for the community.

by William on Nov 19, 2013 9:49 am • linkreport

I have to say, this whole thing looks amazing...really one of a kind in the world, to be honest. I agree, most of the new buildings are really bad,(inparticular that ridiculous building with the grocery store) but the little pool building is really nice beautiful. I think it's elegant, and understated and quite lovely. I like how they look to be using the underground vaults in the design.

by UrbanismIsTheWay on Nov 19, 2013 10:21 am • linkreport

I usually am very cynical about, well, everything. But this proposal stops me in my tracks. It is really something special...minus the embarrassing buildings. (Well, the park building is actually great looking, but the other stuff looks like Beijing or worse...modern garbage that will look terrible the day it is done)

However, the park and park building look amazing, the streets look nice, and the reuse of the historic things seems really cool. Very unique place coming to DC. Too bad they didn't hire good architects for the larger buildings.

by MajorCynic on Nov 19, 2013 10:29 am • linkreport

Some of these comments are ridiculous! This place is going to be amazing! What a bunch of grumps. Geez...

This site is fenced off, has been for as long as I can recall (and I was born in DC in the 50s) and is a rotting hole. It looks like they are saving lots of things, and maybe reusing them (I saw a stair on one of the tubes, and cafe tables near the big buildings). That little building in the park is the best looking building, BY FAR, being proposed, but the place as a whole looks like it is going to be wonderful. I just re-watched the video with a more critical eye, and I do agree that the big buildings are really bad. Really bad...but so is most of the stuff being built in DC recently...the terrible buildings on 14th come to mind...but the little building in the park is just gorgeous. The place looks amazing. This neighborhood won't be a food desert any longer. Start building!

by NiceGuy on Nov 19, 2013 10:41 am • linkreport

I watched the video again, and the big buildings get worse and worse. But, happily, the building with the pool gets better and better. I love how you can see it through the park pedestrian bridge! I'd swim there! It's really cool looking. I love more each time I watch the video how the designers are reusing the old concrete things. I hope they make them into cafes and things. That would be great. The streets look blacktop it seems, and the streets seem like they will feel really nice. The row houses aren't bad, either.

So, for what it is worth, I think the park and park building are an A+, the place as a whole gets an A+, the rowhouses get a B, the grocery store building gets a D-/F and the big buildings on the end also get a D/D-.

I hope the architects read these comments, because it seems like some of this team cares about people and the city, and some really don't care about much other than building ugly buildings. Sigh...but I'll take it, because it looks great in spite of the ugly big buildings!

by NiceGuy on Nov 19, 2013 10:47 am • linkreport

The park looks great!
The little building in the park looks amazing! It is the only great building being shown, really. The others are a joke.

I'm glad for the development, I'm happy about the nice park and beautiful little park building. The whole thing seems like it is going to be one of the best things in the city, really.

But why the disgusting architecture? Do modern buildings always have to be gross? Why can't they be as nice as the poolhouse building? It is so disappointing. This could be soooooo much better if the buildings (again, aside from the little pool building, which will be a grace to the city) were nice looking. I'd even settle for unoffensive! But if they were beautiful, that would be even better. Alas, we will have to settle for bland, ugly modern trash. Some of these buildings look as bad as those City Center things downtown.

by HispanicVoter on Nov 19, 2013 10:54 am • linkreport

I'm Canadian, but I live in DC part of the year (my hubby is American). I gotta say folks, this thing is amazing.

The tall buildings make me puke, but the park and the building with the pool are world class! That is one of the nice buildings I've seen in a long time being built.

I wish Toronto had anything this cool. Instead all we get is tall grim gross modern least the ugly buildings aren't too tall.

by TheGoogs on Nov 19, 2013 11:01 am • linkreport

Yuck. The video looks like some recycled version of 1960s urban renewal, right down to the concrete plazas.

by Alicia on Nov 19, 2013 11:49 am • linkreport

just like 1960s urban renewal

except minus the destruction of existing neighborhoods, and minus the towers surrounded by parking lots, and minus the excessively wide streets, etc.

IE it looks nothing like it.

Maybe the larger buildings could be designed a bit better (though Im not sure they will date any more than the more neotrad THs will) . But the main street between the taller buildings and the townhouses looks like an excellent, vibrant, urban space.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 19, 2013 12:01 pm • linkreport

From what I remember of the video I thought the overall design of the buildings were fine, (can't rewatch at the moment). I think I'm just more forgiving and would rather focus on the use (the walkability/zoning/etc).

But remember, it's not like historical architecture styles that we love happened overnight. The Victorian period (generally loved and appreciated nowadays) was 50-60 years at least. If you're worried about "cookie cutter" architecture now then you may be in for a long wait until the next thing comes along.

by drumz on Nov 19, 2013 12:10 pm • linkreport

I dunno I pretty much hate Brutalism and a lot of modernism with a passion and that was from the 50s on. Give me art deco any day.

by BTA on Nov 19, 2013 12:26 pm • linkreport

The site plan is pretty good. The buildings as rendered less so. I don't see what is so amazing about the recreation building. It's a pool. A big, cool pool that can be used year round... From the stand point of recreation planning, DC lacks an expo space and has no indoor tracks that I am aware of. This is a problem with parks planning and cultural planning in the city. Without robust master planning (as jbchan mentioned in a way wrt Midcity East planning), the private sector comes up with some stuff, but it usually isn't as well integrated and as robust as it could be.

by Richard Layman on Nov 19, 2013 12:42 pm • linkreport

I forgot to say the best part of the video is the music. I like Arcade Fire...

this isn't Arcade Fire, but reminiscent of it.

by Richard Layman on Nov 19, 2013 12:44 pm • linkreport

The main thing I'm getting just about all across the board is how much people hate those multi-family buildings. So aesthetics don't matter?

"But remember, it's not like historical architecture styles that we love happened overnight. The Victorian period (generally loved and appreciated nowadays) was 50-60 years at least"

I'm not sure I follow, but are you saying the victorian buildings when new where greeted with the same disdain as the modernist ones in this plan? Or are you saying it will take 50-60 years to love and appreciate these buildings?

by Thayer-D on Nov 19, 2013 12:50 pm • linkreport

"The main thing I'm getting just about all across the board is how much people hate those multi-family buildings. So aesthetics don't matter? "

Urban design is also about aesthetics, apart from the massing and detailing of individual buildings. Try walking in Mosaic district in FFX, and then walk out on to rte 29. The width of rte 29 is not only an issue of safe and convenient walking - it is, massively, an aesthetic issue - walking beside it is an assault on the eyes and ears. Walking on a good urban street is better EVEN IF the invidivudal buildings are badly designed.

I simply don't buy the idea that anyone who is less concerned about building architecture is dismissing aesthetics.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 19, 2013 12:56 pm • linkreport

Not really that people just need time to learn to love it. But that I just don't understand the complaints about "cookie cutter" architecture. When it's an older or celebrated style, the uniformity is a key component.

It's just a dissonance I see. People say they hate what's cookie cutter but then flock to things that show a great degree of uniformity.

by drumz on Nov 19, 2013 1:01 pm • linkreport

shorter: in a neighborhood where the fundamentals are correct (with regards to use, transit, generally accepted smart growth principles) people generally seem prefer the uniform architectural style than one that's eclectic or goes against the grain.

/doesn't help that post-modern architecture celebrates eclectic building elements though.

by drumz on Nov 19, 2013 1:03 pm • linkreport

I think it's fair to say that modernism is one of the first styles to intentionally ignore most established aesthetic principles and emphasize abstract technical acheivement.

by BTA on Nov 19, 2013 1:16 pm • linkreport

drumz -- what you call "cookie cutter" I'd probably term "stylistic coherence," there is a commonality amongst the buildings, even though they vary. You see this say walking in pre-1920 rowhouse neighborhoods, which is slightly before the period when "production" or mass-production residential construction began in the city typified by Harry Wardman. Wardman developed on a multiblock scale and with the same basic house. Earlier periods are typified by a builder constructing a few houses at a time at the most, working on one or two or a handful of lots, and then moving on, and working from pattern books and books of architectural parts and brick catalogs.

I like how BTA termed the disconnection within modernism between aesthetic elements and the finished product.

I haven't read Goode's _Best Addresses_ unfortunately. But as I travel from time to time up 16th St. or Massachusetts Avenue or Connecticut Avenue I think about that book and wonder if he has some universal architectural truths about multiunit building construction and aesthetics. There are some great buildings on those streets, and it is a shame that we seem to have discarded any lessons from that period.

The hullabaloo about the Cafritz building on the 5600 block of Connecticut Avenue NW is a case in point.

by Richard Layman on Nov 19, 2013 1:34 pm • linkreport

meant to include these links about pattern books:



ANd this about apartments. I searched for some architectural history books on multiunit apartment buildings last summer, even made a query to SAH, and didn't get much of anything.

- cf.

by Richard Layman on Nov 19, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

Seems like nobody likes the architecture of the big buildings and the reception for the rowhouses is tepid to accepting...shouldn't that be figured into the calculation somewhere? Where? HPRB has already given a green light. Will the Mayor's Agent weigh in on this sort of thing?

by Todd on Nov 19, 2013 2:08 pm • linkreport

Thank you Richard, that's a good term to replace cookie cutter with. It removes the perjorative aspects.

by drumz on Nov 19, 2013 2:18 pm • linkreport

"I just don't understand the complaints about "cookie cutter" architecture. When it's an older or celebrated style, the uniformity is a key component."

"I think it's fair to say that modernism is one of the first styles to intentionally ignore most established aesthetic principles and emphasize abstract technical acheivement."

Drumz, I think BTA has answered your question. You might ask David Alpert to chime also. He seems to feel the key to non-boring buildings eliminating the height restrictions. Aesthetics are definatly subjective, but like good food or music, most people agree when they experience it.

by Thayer-D on Nov 19, 2013 2:19 pm • linkreport


A. I dont think we all agree on the multistory buildings. They dont wow me, but I don't know I can see them well enough in that video - they appear to have a concrete/brutalist surface, which I tend to dislike. The window placement looks okay, and I have no issues with the massing.

B. I would say me reaction to them is tepid. The THs looked fine.

C the urban layout is very good, and this has been delayed a long time

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 19, 2013 2:30 pm • linkreport

"think it's fair to say that modernism is one of the first styles to intentionally ignore most established aesthetic principles and emphasize abstract technical acheivement. "

my sense is that modernists thought they had good aesthetic principles, superior ones, not just a desire for technical acheivement. And that the real merits of the best older buildings were not the ones celebrated in earlier theories. And Its also my impression that not all modernists agreed, and that ideas changed over the years, and that the ideas of post modernists are dramatically different from that of earlier generations of modernists.

But I am not arch school grad, and I am not interested in a debate about this with an arch school grad.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 19, 2013 2:33 pm • linkreport

Thayer, BTA,

I may be wrong, but aren't these post-modern? But I'm not talking about the specific design aspects of this or any other project but rather the people who have complained here and elsewhere that the architecture is derivative. I just see that as a feature rather than a bug.

by drumz on Nov 19, 2013 2:37 pm • linkreport

and maybe I'm just a pessimist. I consider it a far greater acheivement that we have not too wide streets, civic spaces, a mixture of housing types, opportunities for walkable retail, etc. than having a bunch of pretty buildings laid out in a way that doesn't promote walkability, transit, etc.

by drumz on Nov 19, 2013 2:39 pm • linkreport

I don't know for sure, but the large buildings in rear seem to use ceramic rain screen cladding, with cast-in-place concrete on the first story.

by Neil Flanagan on Nov 19, 2013 2:48 pm • linkreport

Don't get me wrong, I actually think those things you laid out are the most important aspect of good urbanism. But I'm not sure they are as well done as you think in this project. And the archtiecture does play a role, just a much harder one to quantify. Compare a row of 1960's Townhouses in SW to a row of 1860 townhouses in Old Town. Pick the same scale and street section and then tell me if you see a qualitative difference in the urbanism. Good urban archtiecture presents a good backdrop to urban life. Good meaning lively and attractive. Not necessary, but sure appreciated.

If you don't like urban life, then you turn your back to it. That's why so much modernist architecture fails urbanistically, becasue the early modernists didn't have much love for traditional cities. I will say that the recent crop of mid-century revival buildings aren't your grandfather's modernism, but the one's in this project don't seem to have learned those lessons very well.

by Thayer-D on Nov 19, 2013 3:02 pm • linkreport

That I can agree with. I guess I'm more excited at what's getting built than I am dissappointed at what's not.

by drumz on Nov 19, 2013 3:08 pm • linkreport

Fair enough. I am to for that matter.

by Thayer-D on Nov 19, 2013 3:17 pm • linkreport

Yeah at the end of the day I think it's all good to fine. I'm quibbling about the details, but I'm happy with the overall plan. It kinda seems like they are using those ugly office buildings in the Washington Hospital Center as a design reference, which is bizarre to me.

by BTA on Nov 19, 2013 4:46 pm • linkreport

Sort of sad that the parting consensus is "good enough for gov't work." I guess you can argue that life is about compromises, but this sort of thing doesn't come around that often inside DC and other cities seem to get this more right than DC does. Yes, they have stronger tax bases..etc. But for god sake this is the nation's capital. We should be able to do something world class with no compromises.

by Todd on Nov 19, 2013 5:17 pm • linkreport

and other cities seem to get this more right than DC does.

such as?

by Canaan on Nov 19, 2013 5:19 pm • linkreport

Sorry, that may sound flippant. I am genuinely interested though.

by Canaan on Nov 19, 2013 5:21 pm • linkreport

Todd -- While I agree with you that this project isn't superlative and it's better not to settle for mediocrity (I use the phrase "better than cinder block" or "better than a parking lot"), you're wrong to assert that other cities have better tax bases than DC. DC is the only city-state in North America. We control 100% of local tax stream, which includes "state income taxes". No other city does the same. DC probably has the best municipal tax base of any city in the US, other than maybe NYC, but NYC has so many other needs, that per capita we do better.

We just waste so much of it and spend it on wasteful stuff.

DC's tax base is no excuse for lousy projects, at least not in the last 10 years. It's about priorities and vision.

(P.S. this is like people used to say "the city doesn't spend any money on H St." when the reality is that it spent between $100 and $200 million on various projects between the late 1970s and 2000.)

by Richard Layman on Nov 19, 2013 5:39 pm • linkreport

I don't think its that this is good enough for govt work.

Its that urban development on a site with lots of constraints, and lots of interests, is hard. And that given the needs DC (like so many municipalities) face (and while they have the revenues of a state, they also have the costs of a state) its not at all unreasonable for the Distric to try to maximize revenue from this site, and allow the developers to decide issues of architectural style based on their views of what the market wants.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 19, 2013 5:51 pm • linkreport

"and allow the developers to decide issues of architectural style based on their views of what the market wants."

If this is what the 'market wants', they certainly aren't shooting for the average GGW reader.

by Thayer-D on Nov 19, 2013 7:03 pm • linkreport

I'm referring to Millenium Park in Chicago, the High Line Park in NYC, the Citygarden in St. Louis (which also used Nelson Byrd Woltz btw). All of which of course have foundation involvement. Yes, there are certainly constraints when you go with a purely business based have to balance the books...but there was no effort or even discussion of getting foundations involved in this project, even for parts of the project such as the park portion. Even after this was suggested multiple times by neighborhood advocates.

by Todd on Nov 20, 2013 8:11 am • linkreport

I also agree that DC's effort to maximize revenue on the site is reasonable. However, to me this goal isn't mutually exclusive of also creating a world class development which reflects excellence and not compromise. I have no problem with each of the individual elements proposed here. In fact, i think that having MORE park doesn't make any sense...this size of park is perfectly adequate. However, some of the details here such as the size of the pool/community center and the architecture of the multi-unit buildings seem to me to be based more on cost calculations than creating something visionary. I think that this would be a win-win if we could get some foundations involved in the design of the park portion from the townhouses south including the south service court. This would save VMP money and allow them a bigger budget for their architecture for the upper 2/3 and allow for more community involvement in refining and improving the lower 1/3 of the site. Again, the basic layout of the park is fine, but if we had some additional foundation funds, we could ensure that the community center is of adequate size as well as further program space in the park (adding a play area for kids, community gardens or whatever the community desires).

by Todd on Nov 20, 2013 8:23 am • linkreport

Those seem to be good examples (though I'm not familiar with citygarden). The highline is pretty similar in the sense of it's previous use as industrial. I know other have criticized Millenium Park as being too big as well.

Personally, I think playgrounds are essential and I want to see them on the Mall as well (seriously, you could put some things to climb on among the trees on the edges and it could be awesome).

Let's hope once the space is here local residents will cast some vision and do some of these things.

by Canaan on Nov 20, 2013 8:28 am • linkreport

Highline was largely paid for by a private foundation IIRC

by BTA on Nov 20, 2013 8:36 am • linkreport

Ok it seems I was wrong about highline. It was paid for by the city after proposed and possibly designed by the foundation which maintains it.

by BTA on Nov 20, 2013 8:38 am • linkreport

Just so you don't get the idea that i want to trash it all and start over, here is what i would do with foundation funds:

1) enlarge the community center and pool by 30% to accommodate a bigger pool and exercise center to accomodate both the 700 housing units on site as well as surrounding community.

2) Add another lane to the south service court road on the north side of the sand filtration towers...this would allow traffic on the north side of the towers to be two way (servicing the towers) and would allow for the present lane placed south of the towers to be transformed into a pedestrian space. This would effectively take the towers out of the median and make them contiguous with the park space, allowing for a range of public uses of that pedestrian space (markets, outdoor gallery space, an outdoor cafe...whatever).

3) Add programmed space to the west corner of the park (overlooking the lake)...such as shaded playspace, additional water features, community gardens).

4) I think that the community center is lovely as is ..but it could really be excellent if it was flanked by cascading waterfalls on either side of the building, following the decent of the stairs of the amphi-theatre)and perhaps even turn the roof into a shallow, calm reflecting pool (instead of a green roof) with ribbons of water falling into the pools below. This would be more in tune with the water theme of this site. Then it would in my mind becomes sort of a iconic structure of it's own rather than just looking like the Menil sunk below grade.

by Todd on Nov 20, 2013 8:41 am • linkreport

A lot of it comes down to density. DC residents seem to want middle density and you just don't get the same concentration of amenities you get in dense areas when you're spread out like that.

by BTA on Nov 20, 2013 8:45 am • linkreport

Falling/cascading water, by the way, energizes a space and attracts people.

by Todd on Nov 20, 2013 8:50 am • linkreport

Point taken about density, but Bloomingdale's density is on the rise. Many of the Victorians have now been carved into 2-3 unit apartment buildings. More basement apts too. And then there will be the folks working at this site and at the Washington Hospital Center and VA hospital. Still, not like NYC or anything, but definitely getting dense enough to support the proliferation of new restaurants on 1st/Rhode Island.

by Todd on Nov 20, 2013 9:18 am • linkreport

Todd -- your points are well taken, but foundations in DC are a no go for funding a project like what you suggest. We have a very small philanthropic community and the really rich (David Rubenstein, the Rales Brothers) don't seem to fund this kind of stuff.

But there is no reason that such couldn't be constructed by DC as part of a parks master planning process for the city and the sectors (which correspond to the area elements in the Comp. Plan) if we did such planning as a matter of course.

This gets back to the point I made in the thread about a reliance on private sector actors and the private sector creating stuff that ought to be specified as part of overarching planning.

E.g. the Arts Walk at Brookland Lofts is cool, but with better cultural planning, that space could have accomplished additional objectives that were outside of the more narrow objectives pursued by the developers.

And, like I say in my own writings about community benefits and impact fees (1) they should be higher but (2) spent in accordance with the creation of a consensus plan within neighborhoods on what projects should be pursued and funded, although the reality is that a park on the scale you're talking about can't be funded solely with revenue streams from this land UNLESS all of the "profits" were to be diverted to it, leaving no profit for the private sector.

by Richard Layman on Nov 20, 2013 10:08 am • linkreport are there some concrete steps that can be taken to improve the park portion in some way other than simply relying on the developers to do it?

by Todd on Nov 20, 2013 10:27 am • linkreport

That's the million dollar question.

Ironically, just a couple weeks ago I was talking with another group within that area that has parks planning issues, and I advocated for pushing for a wide-ranging parks planning initiative over there, to include

- McMillan Reservoir (I don't know, but if the reservoir includes post-treated water, it has to be covered according to new EPA regulations, which in Baltimore will be leading to the capping of some reservoirs)

- the McMillan site we are referring to
- Trinity
- public lands and assets in that area (like land around 4th and Irving Streets)
- maybe Howard.

They thought that was overly ambitious.

But did think maybe they could try to get a foundation grant to do some parks planning in the robust way that I was pushing (using the principles of David Barth of AECOM, send me an email, and I'll send you a pdf of one of his presentations).

I don't feel like the Council or the Executive Branch is much of an advocate for robust, integrated, visionary planning, so I can't see them stepping up.

But ideally your councilmember could do so. (That's how NOMA got funding for public realm improvements.)

Even though I have been one of the staunchest advocates for doing a parks master plan and the city is doing one, and even selected the firm I advocated for, I don't think (like the transpo. plan) that the scope they have for the plan comes anywhere near how I had envisioned.

For all the kudos that DC Government takes on H St. NE, the reality is that if I remember correctly, it was CM Sharon Ambrose who passed legislation to push an H St. plan forward, that the initiative hadn't come from OP, although in conversations I've had with Karina Ricks since then, she argues differently, that the initiative to do it came from OP.

ANYWAY, wrt this project I would argue the following:

1. Get the city to calve off the parks section of this project from a planning perspective.

2. Use the work already done by VMP and the commitment of a certain level of funding from VMP to the park section of the project.

3. But expand the effort through a robust city planning and civic asset planning initiative. Add more city money to the parks element of the project.

4. So what if it takes phases to accomplish it all--that you can't do it all at once. It's not like the site is in use now.

These pieces talk best practices parks planning







(Note that one of the entries said we don't have a waterpark, we do now...)

I list them "all" because you're obviously motivated and willing to step up to try to bring about some change.

by Richard Layman on Nov 20, 2013 10:54 am • linkreport

Richard, i like this idea. First it doesn't start over or delay anything (i don't think)...seems like a lot of folks in the community are worried about delays and rebooting the entire process. Next, it provides a clear focus on the park portion which will be used by the surrounding communities and which the community needs to have the most input on. It doesn't necessarily compel VMP to take another look at the dismal architecture for the multi-use buildings---but if they are hidden behind a really great park, i'm willing to forget about them. And who knows, maybe if they are reading this they will reconsider them out of the goodness of their hearts (right!). It doesn't seem like a solution for bigger infrastructure issues like a larger community center/pool. Unsure if it would result in any savings for VMP to channel back into other things like that...

by Todd on Nov 20, 2013 11:19 am • linkreport

One little problem is that the city doesn't seem to want to take on financial responsibility for new facilities.

WRT the other planning opportunity in that area I alluded to, I suggested including some new development sensitively included within the overall tracts otherwise slated for park use, to create a revenue stream for park maintenance and operations, not unlike a BID, but really just another form of what are called "Special Services Districts."

I don't know what the agreement is with the city and VMP wrt future park maintenance. That should be determined too.

2. You mentioned the High Line. An effort there to create a parks benefit district comprised of abutting properties did not succeed.

Technically, the Bryant Park park operation in Manhattan is a business improvement district. Some properties benefit from increased property value but don't pay into the BID.

These are the kinds of issues deserving of a wider planning scope than DC tends to engage in.

by Richard Layman on Nov 20, 2013 11:39 am • linkreport

Here are the ways i would improve the current McMillan park design and transform it into a world class space for Washington DC based on the sites historic theme of clean/healthy water. The below doesn't mean starting over, but only improving the current VMP plan that is put forward using city funding or foundation funding.

1) Transformation of Current Pool/Community Center into an iconic architectural centerpiece for the McMillan site.
The current community center is a fine looking building as is now but is not however an iconic or particularly memorable structure. Here is how it could be made into an iconic centerpiece for this development. The roof of the structure (currently a green roof) is transformed into a calm reflecting pool, with an elevated walkway around the edges of the building (approximately where the current railings are) to allow visitors to observe the reflecting pond from above. The portholes on the roof are raised and sunlight filters through into the building in the same way as currently envisioned. At the edges of the reflecting pool, the water pours through the roof trusses at the edge of the building's roof, across adjustable weirs that channel the water into either tiny trickles or larger streams creating columns of varying thickness and into pools surrounding the base of the building below. The adjustable weirs (imagine the ailerons on a plane that can be adjusted in pitch using hydraulics) at the building's cornices allow for the cascading streams of water to be increased to achieve a desired affect, allowing the water to flow down in a uniform fashion creating partitions of water that compliment and interact with the glass walls of the center. Water flows can be adjusted from being a sheer curtain, to larger ribbons, to solid columns of water pouring down. The idea here is that the water becomes part and parcel of the building's architecture and mood and the water changes to reflect different lighting, moods and seasons, effectively visually changing the architecture of the building and the experience of the observer. The sides of the building are flanked by water cascades descending down the amphitheater steps on either side of the building (think FDR memorial), energizing the space with sound and movement. Artist James Turrell can be commissioned to create a light installation that illuminates the structure from within and without, evoking different moods that interact with the water movements (see here The cascading pools and the water falling off the roof collects in dark pools that surround the building. The monumental french glass doors of the building now open completely up onto the plaza (like the Kennedy center doors onto the back terrace) during the summertime to create a contiguous indoor/outdoor space which can be closed in the wintertime. The "urban beach" would be revised to be contiguous with the pools emanating from around structure.

2) The community center into a Thermes. Having a pool is an interesting idea, however as it is currently designed, the pool will likely end up being too small given the high population that stand to use it. Instead, expand the center by 30% to make it really usable. Instead of having a regular pool, the community center should be transformed into a "Thermes" ....a series of heated therapeutic pools. Additional therapeutic pools will vary in mineral content and temperature, such as hot sulfur pools, saline pools...etc. along with saunas and steam rooms and exercise rooms. Converting the present concept into a therapeutic thermes center gives this center a comparative advantage over other pools nearby like Turkey Thicket or Harry Thomas community center. Further, DC doesn't not have a thermes. Thermes are wildly popular in Europe and very lucrative....see here: Access can be arranged by a daily pass or by a season pass. Access for all people can be achieved through sliding scale memberships. However, converting this center into a family thermes will provide sufficient revenue to run not only the community center, but also to support the rest of the park. It will also make this center unique in Washington DC, attracting people from all over the city to use it.

3) South service court modifications: In the present VMP scheme, roads encircle the sand filtration towers in the south service courts which are in the medians. Not only does this cut the towers off from the park, but it reduces the utility of unique structures such as the pump house...which are now isolated in the center of the traffic median and reduces the amount of space for public use. Instead, move the two way traffic to the north side of the service court to service the townhouses. Transform the south side of the towers into a pedestrian walkway that can be used for farmer's markets, craft fairs, Christmas markets, outdoor art installations, street performers and outdoor cafes/bier gartens or places where food trucks can park to service the outdoor diners. The pump house then can be used to service a large outdoor cafe/bier garten on a large terrace behind the thermes center surrounded by community gardens much the way the Big Bear terrace is now. The filtration towers become storage for the cafe's tables/chairs during the evening hours. Two filtration towers can also be transformed into giant water fountains and vertical gardens with water and plants overflowing from the top of the towers and pouring down the sides of the towers into surrounding pools..creating vital energy for the cafe space and attracting people to this space to eat lunch or picnic.

4) The far north west corner of the park, overlooking the reservoir, becomes a shady place space for children with an array of quality playground equipment. There is an additional stand of trees, mirroring the stand that is behind the community center building. The spray park is moved to this area.

5) Benches are installed all the way around the Olmsted walk on the park side.

6) Bike share stations are installed in a variety of venues in the park.

by Todd on Nov 23, 2013 4:11 pm • linkreport

interesting ideas.

cf. your thermes idea. We like Lava Hot Springs, ID and the Jefferson Pool in Bath County, VA is really cool too.

I am familiar a bit with a Turkish bath "community center" created as part of a housing project in the Wilhelmsburg district of Hamburg. I could connect you with those people.

again, you should send me email...

by Richard Layman on Nov 24, 2013 2:25 pm • linkreport

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