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Public Spaces

3 choices show different visions for Franklin Park

Should Franklin Park mostly stay as is and get a facelift, or more significant changes? A study by the National Park Service, DC government, and the Downtown Business Improvement District has devised three options for us to consider.

Photo from the study documents.

All of the options add a much-needed children's play area in the northeastern portion of Franklin Park. Residents of the Chinatown area have nowhere close to take their children. They also create some measure of plaza or promenade space which can give people places to eat lunch or for events.

Right now, the park is very large but doesn't provide a lot of usable spaces. The benches are all in a line along the paths, which don't create good spaces to eat lunch in groups. The fountain in the center is, as Dan Malouff put it, "nothing but a squat ledge set in a sunken plaza." The paths also force people to walk an indirect route even to get there.

The first pair of alternatives keeps the layout mostly as is, but widen a few paths to create space for farmers' markets and other events, and add bike racks and electric charging stations. At the northern edge there would be a plaza with some moveable seating. One sub-option also adds a building there which could house a cafe, restrooms, park offices, and provide information, while the other has no building.

A second option, called "The Edge," would activate the southern I Street edge with a larger plaza that could hold two small buildings, one for a cafe and restrooms and the other for park management and information.

Dan pointed out that good parks engage the city around them by putting activity along some of the edges. This option would do that. It would also move the southern path so that it leads people more directly into the center, where a fountain with a different design would better engage people than the standoffish current fountain.

The most dramatic change would come in the third option, "The Diagonal," which creates direct diagonal paths from three corners into the middle of the park. There would be plazas on the 14th Street and I Street edges, and the fountain would be much more interactive, the kind where jets of water shoot out from the ground over a large area. The document notes that this can let people enjoy the water at times, while the jets can be turned off at other times to program the center space for events.

This option has the greatest number of movable tables, with many around the fountain and others on the 14th and I edges. Both this and the Edge option give bus riders, many of whom board along I Street, more places to sit in the park while they wait as well.

Some of the options keep more of the existing trees than others. 37% of the trees are large, mature trees, while some trees are not in good shape. "The Center" concept, which changes little, would preserve about 90% of trees; "The Edge" preserves 77% and "The Diagonal" 49%.

As is often the case with such studies, there is a tradeoff between keeping the existing design and trees and building a park that serves the most people. If one were designing Franklin Square from scratch, it might be fairly clear to use The Diagonal. Is that the right call here, or should we make more modest changes for the sake of history, tree preservation, continuity, or other reasons?

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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The Diagonal is just what Franklin needs.

by BeyondDC on Feb 12, 2014 10:22 am • linkreport

I too like the diagonal best.

by drumz on Feb 12, 2014 10:27 am • linkreport

I'd be for anything that loses the fountain (to cut down on non-existant maintainance) and keep the trees.

by aaa on Feb 12, 2014 10:46 am • linkreport

I think the Edge provides everything the Diagonal does, while still keeping more of its historic shape. It still looks like a complement to McPherson, Farragut, and Lafayette Squares.

by Franklin on Feb 12, 2014 10:47 am • linkreport

Hey, where'd my statue go in the last option?

by Marion Barry on Feb 12, 2014 10:49 am • linkreport

What are the electric stations?

Save the trees!

get rid of the homeless feeding!

by charlie on Feb 12, 2014 10:53 am • linkreport

I love Franklin Park but it would be really cool to have seating and a play area. Of all the squares it is most interesting to me. It reminds me of some of the parks in New York City and I could definitely picture some of those new elements in it.

by Abigail Zenner on Feb 12, 2014 10:54 am • linkreport

They should get rid of the steps in the center and make the park easier to navigate with stroller or wheelchair. I can not believe that they would even keep them in this day and age everyone should have equal access to the park and all parts of it those steps limit the parts of the park a person in a wheelchair could access.

Second the right side of the last image would be better for both sides of the park it would allow you to walk from corner to corner if you want to without going around a bunch of windy paths.

by kk on Feb 12, 2014 10:55 am • linkreport

It looks like the designs are being sensitive to most of the big trees by locating the tot lot in one of the only open lawn areas, but I think this is a big mistake.

This is one of the only open "sunning" lawns in the area. And I would not want to have my kid play in the full sun (remembering the agony of blazing hot metal slides of my youth). Stick the tot lot in the shade, among the trees, and keep the sun lawn as a sunny pocket in an otherwise shady park.

by Larchie on Feb 12, 2014 11:00 am • linkreport

Some combination of two and three would be ideal. I think if they are going to try to create a dense vegetative wall anywhere it should be the north side where K St makes the least attractive pedestrian/recreational environment. Also they need to provide better transit amenties on the south and western sides where many many people board buses. Ideally they could play off the Metro station nearby and put in a transit plaza area on the SW corner of the prk.

by BTA on Feb 12, 2014 11:41 am • linkreport

Are those electric car charging stations?

by BTA on Feb 12, 2014 11:43 am • linkreport

The Barry statue in The Diagonal option is moved to K Street, at the center of the park.

But it would be a lot better to move it to the exact corner of 14th & I instead.

by BeyondDC on Feb 12, 2014 11:54 am • linkreport

Food trucks currently park where those electric stations are planned. Would they still get to set up along the park?

by jyindc on Feb 12, 2014 11:55 am • linkreport

While the designs are definitely a step up in creating a more inviting park, the real issue that prevents this park from being nice is the large number of homeless people living there. A children's play area sounds great, but fixed structures can easily wind up being an open air bathroom.

Before spending money on redesigning the park, NPS, DC, and the BID need to come up with a plan to deal with rough sleepers and the sanitary problems associated with this area currently being used as a hotel/toilet.

by Brent on Feb 12, 2014 11:55 am • linkreport

Or, re-do the barry statue to shoot water out at kids/passers by. He was in the Navy after all.

by drumz on Feb 12, 2014 11:57 am • linkreport

And by adding the special features that draw people to the park you can mitigate the issues that people may have with the homeless population concentration.

by drumz on Feb 12, 2014 12:00 pm • linkreport

The edge option seems the strongest because that side of the park is the most isolated, dead part. Although the way the diagonal alternate revises the center ellipse looks promising.

by Neil Flanagan on Feb 12, 2014 12:02 pm • linkreport

@ Brent

Do forget about the removal of the rats and its a lot of them underground and living in the trees. I once saw a sparrow about to get jumped by some rats in the park and had a rat hiss at me before I guess I was walking through its territory.

by kk on Feb 12, 2014 12:04 pm • linkreport

These plans seem to ignore the presence of an on-street bus terminal along the I-street side of the park. Many Metrobus lines and the Circulator all dwell there, while many other Metrobus routes stop along that edge. How might that existing use change with each of these plans?

by recyclist on Feb 12, 2014 12:17 pm • linkreport

Diagonal is best. Tree replantings will fill things in in relatively short amount of time. This is the chance to get things right for the next 100 years, and we should choose the best layout for human use.

I can't wait for this.

by Will Handsfield on Feb 12, 2014 12:19 pm • linkreport

The Diagonal seems logical to me. I live near 12th and Mass. NW, and McPherson Square is the closest Metro station to me - and the quickest way there is to cut diagonally through Franklin Square. I'm not the only one - during the day you'll see lots of people cutting diagonally through that park to or from the Metro station. The present layout of the paths is simply not conducive for that - which is why you've got diagonal goat tracks in there now.

by rock_n_rent on Feb 12, 2014 12:21 pm • linkreport

I'd love to see a really bold/prominent water feature. Dupont Circle esque but bigger. Right now the park completely lacks identity.

by BTA on Feb 12, 2014 1:08 pm • linkreport

Agreed with recyclist - where's the bus terminal? I'm sure it's one of the busiest stops in the city; it needs the commensurate attention.

by David Edmondson on Feb 12, 2014 1:17 pm • linkreport

This kmz file (Google Earth) shows my own quick draft... I include a direct diagonal across each axis & include an angled canopy for the high volume of bus riders. Part of this is an open plaza on the 14/i corner, faced with a stage for medium-scale events (public restrooms located behind the stage).

I lose the central fountain (though I suppose it could be kept) and intend a more natural water feature by 14/K. Several small plazas are formed at the corners, pathway junctions, and at the east end I have a slightly larger area (with an engraved wall) affording more space for food truck patrons.

At the northeast, I use the higher grade to raise a walkway above, intended to have a vine canopy and an open view to the southwest. A mixture of forested areas & open grass is included for some variety of urban park and Olmstead-esque escape... but I'll admit it might be overreaching for what's a somewhat limited space.

Dotting the area are Franklin-themed points, spanning some of his core beings as well as other Pennsylvania figures such as Barry and Penn. I wouldn't want to lose the Barry statue, but there needs to be more about Franklin: I'm quite amused that Franklin Square lacks much information about Franklin himself. But... well... I'm also a Philly native, so maybe just a *little* bit biased :)

by Bossi on Feb 12, 2014 1:27 pm • linkreport

The side along 14th Street should be expressly designed with a dedicated bus lane in mind, meaning a large shelter and ample seating (more of this would be welcome on I Street as well, but with the...eventual rerouting of the 53 bus down to G Street is less necessary).

More importantly, the sides along I Street and to some extent 13th Street should be as activated as possible - that block of I is totally dead right now, as is 13th. Unlike Farragut or McPherson, there's little going on at the periphery to generate foot traffic, which good structures could be the antidote to.

by Low Headways on Feb 12, 2014 2:08 pm • linkreport

To deal with the rats, we should just bring in a bunch of snakes. Problem solved.

by David C on Feb 12, 2014 2:35 pm • linkreport

I also vote diagonal.

by Cavan on Feb 12, 2014 3:49 pm • linkreport

There is no need for buildings--especially a cafe--in this park. There are already eateries in every direction.

I would not mind seeing a greater degree of stormwater capture in the park if there is a good way to do it without compromising access to every square meter of land on that block.

Is it feasible to simply create the designated nap zone and enforce it?

by JimT on Feb 12, 2014 4:29 pm • linkreport

Whichever design is chosen -- and as a confirmed centrist and tree-lover I vote "edge" -- I very much hope that any new benches have backs and are comfortable for actual people to actually sit in. Don't replicate the stone slabs of Canal Park. And flexible/group seating is great but space also needs to be left for individuals seeking peace and quiet.

Realizing that the homeless population is an issue: benches with segmented seats are perfectly usable for their intended purpose and unlikely to become camping spots.

by Willow on Feb 12, 2014 6:36 pm • linkreport

It's a lovely park, probably the nicest of the squares. That's probably why so many homeless people congregate there, because it's nice and calming. Design won't "solve" the homeless problem, social programs will. I like the cafe ideas but maybe what they need is apartments to populate it.

by Thayer-D on Feb 12, 2014 8:50 pm • linkreport

The plans all seem oddly ignoring of context, which the comments about transit seem to refkect. Transit is one of the things that will keep the area lively provide sfaety in the forms of people using and watching the space. If anything, this should be maximized, aalong I and 14th, but also perhaps also with more transit connection at K.

The other context issue is taht the park is really not a focal point for any one place. It's a few blocks beyond downtown and no closer to "Chinatown" than the newly redone Kennedy Recreation Center/Playground. I tend to think the "children of Ciunatown" are more ghosts than real, anyway. This the CBD is not going to attract cfamilies with young children--more likely that will be N of Mt Vernon Square. The park, though, also lacks immersion in office like MCpherson or Farragut and the transit is concentrated on one side unlike, esp. Farragut. There's a lack of retail and the few eating places have struggled. The idea of a cafe and rest rooms makes little sense, although the latter would be required for a serious playground.

The homeless are legacyt of the former shelter and the various suburban churches (usually from places with plenty of poverty and charity needs in their own backyards) that do feeding programs. I can foresee some battle over where the homeless go and whether they continue to have a place. That there presence is supported by suburban dogooders who are essentially shifting suburban social service needs to DC really needs attention.

the park also doesn't seem to relate to the residential areas to the North which are limited and broken by Mass Ave., N of which people relate more to Logan. Adding a dog park might draw some people here or at least away from lifeless Thomas Circle.

The park actually does have diagonals, mature trees and lots of ameneties that exist now. But the size and layout, as well as the homeless may be impediments to use. it really needs to accomodate different functions and perhaps the space could be broken up more to do this and make it a more inviting park.

by Rich on Feb 12, 2014 10:10 pm • linkreport

Competent designers can save the trees. The little replacement trees are a waste.Like wise, incompetent DC planners are going to demolish 20 acres of fascinating underground caverns at McMillan Park.
We can have an amazing "urban farm" in adaptive re-use of the park at McMillan, if we stop Mayor Gray from "surplussing" the park for developers profits.
see this youtube video from Europe
Please look at this:
Under blue and red LED lights, 5 times the yield of surface farms, 1/10 the water consumption, no pesticides, no truck transport from thousands of miles away, riper fresher vegetables and fruit. Join

by Daniel Wolkoff on Feb 13, 2014 5:35 am • linkreport

I hope they add a super-large Capital Bikeshare station somewhere in Franklin Square. Many of the downtown stations fill up quickly on weekday mornings. Then they empty out on weekday evenings. Rebalancing vans cannot keep up with the demand.

If a very large bike station were added in the park, empty/full stations would become less of a problem in the downtown area. There are more than enough office buildings nearby that the station would see heavy use.

Maybe add a station with 40 or even 50 docks. Knowing that NPS operates the park, I'm not optimistic that this idea would ever be implemented. But it would be nice if it were.

by Citizen on Feb 13, 2014 5:55 am • linkreport

The Edge looks best to me.

Mature trees are (obviously) an irreplaceable asset and are especially important downtown. The plaza/cafe space also seems to be pretty grand in this one and the paths of "The Edge" (cue the U2 music) are able to maintain a lot of the original character.

But better still... a design firm that knows urban parks should be hired to do a real design after this master-plan phase. These drawings are decently rendered, but pretty vague. Bring in the landscape architects!

by MattCicle on Feb 13, 2014 9:10 am • linkreport

I prefer the Edge concept, but would fully support the Diagonal as well. Regardless of which one was selected, I'd want to see a solid outside vendor in place for the cafe, so that like Shake Shack in Union Square in NYC, there will be foot traffic both summer and winter.

by Circle Thomas on Feb 13, 2014 9:58 am • linkreport

No matter the plan selected, it will be an improvement over the current neglected unwelcoming homeless holding pen the National Park Service maintains. It's an eyesore and long-overdue for renovation.

I urge the developers to tear out/replace the sod (preserving as many trees as possible) to eliminate the rat infestation, and subsequently install the rat-proof solar trash cans.

I also urge the inclusion of a new statue in the park. With so few public spaces left for the building of new statues/monuments, we shouldn't miss this opportunity of prime real estate to honor the accomplishments of a DC resident or other notable American. Clara Barton (founder of the American Red Cross and a resident of Franklin Square), or Nobel Laureate Charles Townes (reportedly conceived the theory behind the laser/maser principle while sitting in the square) are two worthy candidates. The statue could be located on the 13th Street side of the park, mirror opposite of the Barry Statue, and wouldn't interfere with the walk-ways planned in these proposals. It'd also get some support for the renovation by some powerful outside groups (American Red Cross, NOW for Barton, science groups for Townes) which might even kick in the money for the statute itself.

It'd be pricey, but it'd be nice to have a tunnel under the I Street/14th Street intersection to connect the park to the McPherson Square Metro Station. Or at least some kind of welcoming archway/sidewalk connecting the park to that key intersection. Make it seem like a grand East-Coast-city park of yesteryear, so residents/workers/tourists feel like they're SOMEPLACE as they enter/exit. And to include signage in the Metro Station that the west exit leads to Franklin Square, and not just the intersection of 14th and I. There several people in my office (at Federal Triangle) who have worked downtown for decades and didn't even know Franklin Square's name until I mentioned this renovation. The park has little signage/branding to promote itself currently.

I'd also advocate a more notable fountain a la DuPont Circle. Something iconic to "brand" Franklin Square would be greatly welcomed. Ideally, we'd start stalking about Franklin Square as a neighbourhood destination/hub inside of the black hole it currently is.

by Adam on Feb 13, 2014 11:25 am • linkreport

If we're going to be doing things with statues, I'd rather move the Franklin statue from near the old P.O. Building (which is no longer a post office) to Franklin Park. Then we could move the Barry statue to the Anacostia waterfront near the Old Navy Yard and the ship named for him. But then a 2nd statue could make more sense in Franklin Park.

by David C on Feb 13, 2014 11:38 am • linkreport

While I like the symmetry of the first couple of options, they preserve one of the park's existing problems, which is the lack of a direct diagonal path across the park from 13th and K to 14th and I. Right now there's a dirt path that the grass won't grow on from the fountain to the corner at 14th and I because of people taking the shortest route across the park to the Metro station. Any option that does not place a sidewalk on that diagonal across the park is going to create the same problem - an ugly dirt path across what should be the park's lawn. The Edge option does come closer to achieving this diagonal walk than some of the others, but I'd really hate to see money be spent to rehabilitate this park into something spectacular, and then have the new lawn areas turned into dirt by pedestrians taking the shortest path to the Metro station. For that reason, I think the Diagonal option is best.

by Steven on Feb 13, 2014 11:50 am • linkreport

JimT - I disagree. I think there IS a need for a building, and that building is a bathroom. Then the homeless people in the park can stop peeing on the trees and pee in a designated place for pee.

I took some kind of survey last summer regarding what should be done with the park, and that is my biggest complaint. I'm tired of seeing homeless people peeing while I try to eat my asian-fusion tacos.

by Elysian on Feb 14, 2014 8:02 am • linkreport

+1 Elysian, not supplying bathrooms does not keep the homeless from peeing where they should not. It encourages it. We should view urinated on trees the same way we do desire lines in a plaza, as a failure to provide needed infrastructure. The world will be a better place to live in when the homeless have someplace sanitary to go to the bathroom and to wash their hands at afterwards. I'm willing to pay for that.

Also, a cafe would be great and provide eyes on the park.

by David C on Feb 14, 2014 11:08 am • linkreport

While it would be hard to coordinate with the two jurisdictions involved it would be great to see a common plan including the Franklin School eg if its a museum, a small sculpture garden across the street or if there is a restaurant maybe not a separate cafe but an outdoor seating area with tables and chairs would be nice.

by BTA on Feb 14, 2014 11:31 am • linkreport

love the diagonal--that would put this park on the map.

by RM on Feb 15, 2014 4:41 pm • linkreport

I would go with the Alternative 1 that includes a new Cafe/Park management building on the north side of the park. I would also add two other elements of Alternative 2 (the interactive fountain and the diagonal path). Keep the Barry statue where is it now. The other elements of Alternative 2 and 3 ignore the sunlight and shadows. No one is going to want to sit in the shade cast by the building on the southern end of the park.

by armchairquarterback on Feb 17, 2014 10:40 am • linkreport

Perhaps with the redevelopment including a childrens play area and tot lot, the historic Franklin School on the east side of the square may once again be an institute of early education! I was relieved to realize that the "Barry Statue" is a monument to Commodore John Barry, and not to former Mayor Marion Barry!

by Tom on Feb 19, 2014 9:45 am • linkreport

I like the third, but number two is great as well. Honestly any of them would be an improvement.

by BTA on Jul 21, 2014 1:31 pm • linkreport

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