Greater Greater Washington

DC's most useless park is a parking lot in disguise

Capping an underground parking garage with a public park is such a nice idea. It's a shame DC's most prominent example is such a terrible park.


Spirit of Justice Park. Image from Google.

The South Capitol parking crater is undeniably one of DC's most inappropriately underused plots of land. It's 6 complete blocks of parking lots, all in a cluster mere steps from the US Capitol.

By all rights these blocks should be active and vital parts of downtown DC. Instead, they're under the jurisdiction of the Architect of the Capitol, and thus off-limits to the normal rules of city building. In the vacuum of capitol complex land management, vast parking lots for Congresspeople and their staffs are a higher priority than housing, amenities, or attractive streetscapes.

So it's nice that federal planners at least tried to spruce up this neighborhood-sized sea of asphalt with Spirit of Justice Park, a cap atop a two-block section of parking that's covered with green space.

Unfortunately, it's a lousy park.

The biggest problem is that rather than sink the parking below grade, the park is raised a level above the sidewalk. As a result, many people only see an imposing wall, and have no idea the park behind it even exists.


The sidewalk in front of the park. Image from Google.

People who actually want to enter and use the park must find one of only four entrances over the entire two-block area. Of the four entrances, two face the congressional office buildings and one faces the street between the two park blocks (though you can't walk between them directly), leaving only a single entrance on the south side facing away from the capitol complex towards the public city.

Meanwhile, there are no visible entrances facing east nor west.


Entrances to Spirit of Justice Park. Image originally from Google.

That's not the only problem. With a parking garage directly beneath the grass, the park's soil is too shallow to support trees large enough to provide shade or protection against wind. The park is uncomfortably hot in the summer, and cold in winter.

Finally, management apparently only cares about capitol complex workers, because the fountains at the center of each block are switched off over the weekend.


Small trees and a dry fountain hidden behind a wall. No people.

The overall message is that the public is barely tolerated in this park, not really welcome, and certainly not a priority. As a result, the public mostly stays away.

A park that's not used is a useless park. We can do better.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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Agreed. This is an awful park. With the layout of the entrances and exits, walking through the park is worse than just walking down D street. And why did they leave a surface parking lot right next to Capitol South metro station?

by alurin on May 27, 2014 12:11 pm • linkreport

Par for the course for the Architect of the Capitol…

by Froggie on May 27, 2014 12:26 pm • linkreport

Which parks in DC are warmer in winter because they aren't situated on top of a parking garage?

by Ken on May 27, 2014 12:26 pm • linkreport

Worst thing is that the parking garage park is surrounded by surface parking lots on 3 sides.

by Richard on May 27, 2014 12:27 pm • linkreport

Which parks in DC are warmer in winter because they aren't situated on top of a parking garage?

Parks with trees that provide a buffer against whipping wind?

by MLD on May 27, 2014 12:28 pm • linkreport

And of course the parking for members and their staffs is free, and exceeds the federally allowable transportation fringe benefit for parking.

Perhaps the next "occupy" movement can congregate here.

by Will Handsfield on May 27, 2014 12:30 pm • linkreport

I've seriously walked past this a dozen times over the years and I never knew there was a park up there. At all. That should say something!

by ShawGuy on May 27, 2014 12:34 pm • linkreport

"the public is barely tolerated... not really welcome, and certainly not a priority". Isn't that the true spirit of everyone up at the Capitol?

by yup yup on May 27, 2014 12:39 pm • linkreport

Like many things constructed for the Capitol, this park is divorced from the city in which it resides.

by Randall M. on May 27, 2014 12:39 pm • linkreport

When I was a Congressional Page and lived in the Page Dorm across the street, the pages were some of the main users of these 2 parks.

Then they torn down the bldg at NJ & C St SE that the dorm was in to add more surface parking, Pelosi and Boehner killed the House Page program because Members couldn't be trusted to keep their hands off of 17-yr-olds, and the Senate Pages moved their dorm elsewhere.

Capitol Police would constantly scold us for jumping into the fountain. Great memories.

by Ken Archer on May 27, 2014 12:42 pm • linkreport

Truly an example of poorly utilized space. Even a partly underground multi-story parking ramp (retail on ground floor) with the rest as proper parks, multi-use, etc. would be an improvement. When looking at all this in Bing Maps for their angled "birds eye view," I saw that the Capitol, Congressional...err...House/Senate office buildings LOL, White House and surrounding office buildings and Lafayette Park are all "pixeled out." What purpose does that serve, to deter tourists...err...terrorists who are too dumb to look at Google Maps? LOL

by DaveG on May 27, 2014 12:45 pm • linkreport

Dan... I've been to this park a few times. It's a great place to watch the July 4th fireworks, without having to deal with tourists.

by Veronica O. Davis (Ms V) on May 27, 2014 12:48 pm • linkreport

The fountains were on this weekend. I agree about the trees - no shade makes the place really uninviting compared to Garfield (two blocks away) or even the Botanic Gardens Bortholdi Park (one block away).

by Pete on May 27, 2014 12:51 pm • linkreport

I agree with Richard. There is so much surface parking between the House office buildings and I-395. You'd think the Ayn Rand-disciples in the Republican party, with their obsession on austerity, would realize the value of this land that is used for surface parking and sell it to a private developer.

At the very least, if more reasonable people are elected to Congress, I would at least hope there would be solar panels installed over all of this surface parking.

by 202_Cyclist on May 27, 2014 2:01 pm • linkreport

Also, in my fantasy world, through a combination of renewable energy and increased energy-efficiency in federal buildings, the huge energy-generation plant next to I-395 (which I think is a coal-fired power plant) would close and we could get a thousand more units of housing in an area that is a ten-minute walk from three metro stations.

by 202_Cyclist on May 27, 2014 2:04 pm • linkreport

Also, why should Congressional staffers get free parking?

by 202_Cyclist on May 27, 2014 2:05 pm • linkreport

I know it will never happen but if this land was sold to a developer, how much could the federal government get for this land? There has to be a huge opportunity cost to give 23 year-old Congressional staffers free parking.

by 202_Cyclist on May 27, 2014 2:09 pm • linkreport

@Ken:

What is the dorm building on NJ Ave? Is that for interns. If it isn't being used, why hasn't GSA or Congress sold the building? This is a good location with close proximity to the Navy Yard and Capitol South metro station.

by 202_Cyclist on May 27, 2014 2:11 pm • linkreport

I think I just found the new DC United stadium site

by David C on May 27, 2014 2:12 pm • linkreport

I agree this park could be improved (I lived down the street), but why such a whining article? Does anyone honestly think "housing" is an alternative for this space? Come on. It would have been much more productive to compare this site to the park space on the Senate side, which I think many would agree is more functional. Instead of crying about how the mean AOC is destroying DC, why not compare and contrast with the Senate park and make some useful recommendations. (Again, housing is not a useful recommendation for this space.)

by MJ on May 27, 2014 2:35 pm • linkreport

@MJ

Wait, why isn't housing an alternative for that space? Also, not sure why you're putting housing in quotation marks.

by Nick on May 27, 2014 2:52 pm • linkreport

@MJ:

This land, some of the most valuable land in the United States, could have certainly been used for office buildings.

Also, although it can be debated whether the park space could have realistically been developed as housing, the other surface lots around the perimeter of the House office buildings could certainly be developed into housing, specifically, the fenced surface lot immediately south of this park.

by 202_Cyclist on May 27, 2014 2:52 pm • linkreport

@202_Cyclist: "I know it will never happen but if this land was sold to a developer, how much could the federal government get for this land? There has to be a huge opportunity cost to give 23 year-old Congressional staffers free parking."

I doubt any 23-year-old staffers are given parking in these lots; more likely these spaces are perks for the 33-,43-, and 53-year old staff directors, many of whom could make a lot more money if they decamped for K Street.

I agree that the parks have lots of room for improvement, but I'm also guessing that the Architect of the Capitol's Office is not rewarded for innovation.

by John Henry Holliday on May 27, 2014 2:56 pm • linkreport

I agree with MJ - enough with the whine, whine, whine. I'm just happy to have learnt about a new place! I've passed it many times as well and never knew it was there. Heck, theoretically, can't ALL public/park spaces be replaced with other, "better" uses? Rock Creek Park, Farragut Park, etc. are all in prime real estate, but they serve a different purpose than providing more housing, retail, etc. I think the suggestions for improving the park space are good, but leave it as an open space. They could add trees in large planters. And maybe add one of those meditative mazes. Or perhaps take the high-line/yards park, landscaping approach with low-upkeep ornamental, grasses, etc. And thanks for the July 4th tip, Veronica!

by CJ on May 27, 2014 2:56 pm • linkreport

@ John Henry Holliday:

I was talking with a 20-something Hill staffer the two weeks ago who was discussing about how she drives to work instead of taking metro because she has free parking. The Capitol South metro station, part of metro-rail system that we invested billions of dollars in, is a three minute walk from the House office buildings.

by 202_Cyclist on May 27, 2014 3:02 pm • linkreport

I always had the understanding that this land was being banked for future House office buildings.

by Distantantennas on May 27, 2014 3:13 pm • linkreport

I have fond memories of that park from when I was a little boy and also from last summer when my wife and I waded in the fountain on the Fourth of July. Nice park!

by Arthur Delaney on May 27, 2014 3:17 pm • linkreport

I think when they re-do Freedom Plaza as something more lively than a barren skateboard board with inspirational inscriptions, they should follow San Francisco's model of its renovated Union Square. But first build a parking garage below, just like Union Sq.

by Jasper2 on May 27, 2014 3:18 pm • linkreport

Jasper2: Considering when that was built, it's a surprise they didn't!

by Neil Flanagan on May 27, 2014 3:30 pm • linkreport

I think that flowers, rather than small trees, would be a better use for the planting infrastructure in the park. Ideally the AOC could "activate" the space with flower beds or other interesting plants that can thrive in the shallow soil.

They already plant some tulips in the spring time, but if they went all out they could create something much more attractive with the space. The Denver Civic Center gardens offers an example.

But fundamentally, it is going to be difficult to really bring people into the park even with creating more entrances, turning on the fountains during the weekend or adding more trees. It suffers from poor placement surrounded on most sides by government buildings, highways or other parking lots.

by Scoot on May 27, 2014 3:38 pm • linkreport

The only way intertia will be overcome to transform this space is if there are some really good political optics on a national level. The kind of thing where you can issue a press release that would get a mention on CNN.

I could see a couple possibilities with the necessary political visibility. Solar panels would certainly be one of them. Another possibility is to put some kind of monument there (maybe something related to hispanics like Cesar Chavez or the war in Afghanistan or put a statue of Reagan in one and a Carter statue in the other) which would serve as motivation to invest in increasing the visibility and accessibility of the site.

If anything happens with this space, it has to be something that's seen as serving the nation/tourists in general rather than the residents of DC. Congress doesn't care squat about DC residents.

by Falls Church on May 27, 2014 3:38 pm • linkreport

I've heard that the parking lots were a landbank as well. Still, some of the lots could probably be leased with an eye on better utilizing them in 80-100 years. Congress could build offices there, and then lease them to other agencies or private uses until such time as Congress needs them. Only the government can afford to be this wasteful.

by David C on May 27, 2014 3:42 pm • linkreport

This article is completely off-base. The best thing about these parks is that they are not full of people all the time. On the contrary, they offer peaceful and quiet retreats in the middle of a busy, high-traffic area next to one of the most fast-paced work environments in the world. Downtown needs MORE beautifully maintained, open green space, not less. My husband and I live just a block away and take advantage of these parks every day with our dog, and we enjoy seeing many of our neighbors there frequently, along with hill staffers looking for a place to soak up some sun and breath fresh air for a few minutes in the middle of their busy, stressful days. You could not be more wrong, GGW.

by Carolyn on May 27, 2014 4:26 pm • linkreport

Also, the fountains are not switched off on weekends (they are off in winter months) and the AOC groundskeepers do a wonderful job keeping the park clean and beautiful, both for the workers at the Capitol Complex and the residents of the surrounding neighborhood. You speak of which you do not know, Dan Malouf.

by Carolyn on May 27, 2014 4:30 pm • linkreport

@Carolyn

Ah yes, what a peaceful, quiet, beautifully maintained place.

http://goo.gl/maps/flRP7

It's an eyesore and a horrific waste of space.

by Trollie McTrollerson on May 27, 2014 4:33 pm • linkreport

The parks are fine but what DC needs is more housing, not surface parking lots. Leave the parks but develop the surface parking lots that are prevalent between the House office buildings and I-395. The average home price is more than $450K (http://www.zillow.com/local-info/DC-Washington-home-value/r_41568/)in DC, restricting families and young people from having the opportunity to live in Washington, close to employment and amenities. It is also ridiculous to have so much surface parking within a 10-minute walk of three metro stations that are part of a transit system that we've spent billions of dollars to build. These surface parking lots are exactly where new housing should be built.

by 202_Cyclist on May 27, 2014 4:37 pm • linkreport

Carolyn is right. Nice park!

by Arthur Delaney on May 27, 2014 4:37 pm • linkreport

On the contrary, they offer peaceful and quiet retreats

Know what this city needs? A park that almost no one goes to. That would really improve things.

by David C on May 27, 2014 4:41 pm • linkreport

@Trollie That is D street and the parking garage entrance *outside* the park. [Deleted for violating the comment policy.] Go there, take a walk around the circle, bring a book or a laptop to work at one of the new picnic tables, enjoy the fountain that drowns out all the city noise and the nice breeze on a hot day (a perk of being elevated above the street level), and then we can talk about what is an eyesore and what is not.

I've lived across the street for 7 years. These parks are one of the things we love the most about our little neighborhood. Not everyone wants to live or work in a concrete jungle.

by Carolyn on May 27, 2014 4:44 pm • linkreport

@Carolyn

Another one trolled by trollie!

by Trollie McTrollerson on May 27, 2014 4:47 pm • linkreport

The park may/may not be fine but it is a fact that there there is a long, blank wall for an entire block along D Street, along with several curb cuts. This is exactly what you don't want if you want an active, vibrant streetscape. Some effort should be made, at least, to improve this part of the park.

by 202_Cyclist on May 27, 2014 4:53 pm • linkreport

I like the wall and the elevation of the park. It's stately. Compare it to X Park at 2nd and D SE, which is also controlled by AOC.

by Arthur Delaney on May 27, 2014 4:57 pm • linkreport

In terms of the whining about staffers getting parking, even the young staffers play a role in shaping the governance of the United States, population 300 million, with the most powerful voice over global affairs of any entity in the world (pop: 7 billion). Stop whining about the fact that they get a perk or two.

Also, parking is allocated by office- each Congressional office gets so many parking passes, and they get to distribute them as they see fit. The 23 year olds are usually at the bottom of the totem pole, but many get it because older staffers who can afford to live near metro take the metro in, leaving the junior staffers who often can't afford to live near the transit systems so beloved to those here to drive.

By all means, make suggestions for improving the parks. Parks are better if they're usable. But the idea that it's an outrage that the United States Congress reserved themselves some extra land is comical. Boy, I bet you're outraged about the White House Ellipse and South Lawn. If you want to talk about green spaces on valuable land with no visitors...

by Zeus on May 27, 2014 5:21 pm • linkreport

@Zeus:
Each parking spot in these garages probably cost $30,000 - $40,000 to build, money that taxpayers paid. So, yes, we can complain about that. The availability of free parking also completely undermines transit ridership and walking/biking. We should be supporting sustainable transit, not undermining it.

If Congressional staffers are underpaid, then perhaps their salaries should be increased instead of 'free' parking that all of the taxpayers pay for. If the staffer chooses to drive, then he/she could use part of their raise for parking.

by 202_Cyclist on May 27, 2014 5:27 pm • linkreport

It's such a myth that building more housing automatically equals more affordable housing. If that lot was developed, it would likely be another $450K condo per unit(or apt) building. Especially with its location, they wouldn't put affordable housing there. Also, its proximity to the Capitol administration buildings requires additional security, like the rest of the Capitol (and other) Federal grounds. I think that people are being unrealistic and probably aren't even native or long-term residents.

And regarding the side of the garage not being a vibrant streetscape - have you seen the rest of our Federal buildings? The stoic, neo-classical and/or brutalist, "heavy on the concrete" Federal architecture probably isn't meant to conjure soft & fuzzy or super approachable. There are the residential-DC parts of our city and then there are the National's Capitol/Federal parts of our city. This building and the rest of the Capitol happens to sit on the edge of the area that begins to blend with the more residential portions, but that doesn't mean that they need to cater to the residential streetscape.

I think the garage is fine - the addition of a park on top is a great idea. Cars and driving are fine too (if one so desires). As are other modes of transportation, if that's your preference. Add more landscaping if necessary and tell your friends about the park, to increase its use. Otherwise, do a real tour of the city - there are LOTS of parks that are "under-utilized". Not every park is meant to be heavily trafficked, but nonetheless they're fun to discover.

by CJ on May 27, 2014 6:03 pm • linkreport

In a post-9/11 world, that land will never be used for anything other than the parking garage/park or additional House buildings, so potential value, except as House buildings, is largely irrelevant. While the Capitol Police may be OK with the two-story homes near the Capitol complex, they'd never approve high-density commercial or residential buildings for those spaces.

Given that, while the park may not be as pretty as those on the Senate side, or Bartholdi Park, it's certainly better than the scourge that is the nearby surface lots. I don't give the government a lot of credit, but this is not the worst use of space ever, and it's certainly not "useless."

This seems like a nit that may not have needed picking.

by Lisa M on May 27, 2014 7:25 pm • linkreport

@CJ

"It's such a myth that building more housing automatically equals more affordable housing. If that lot was developed, it would likely be another $450K condo per unit(or apt) building. Especially with its location, they wouldn't put affordable housing there."

1. Yes, if any residential was constructed there it would be expensive if it was market rate. We see this everywhere with new EYA developments near metro stations.

2. This doesn't mean it doesn't help the affordable housing problem. Any additional housing unit built in the area (especially in a dense, transit accessible area) helps deal with the reason why we have such expensive housing: a housing shortage. Of course, housing wouldn't become suddenly affordable right there by the capitol, but it would increase regional supply. The sum of NIMBY anti-development attitudes across the region is in some ways responsible for our housing shortage.

by Nick on May 27, 2014 8:13 pm • linkreport

With the security concerns, why not put federal office buildings on these blocks? It doesn't have to be housing. Anything beats nothing. If the parks are too precious, start by developing the other four parking lots.

by BJ on May 27, 2014 8:44 pm • linkreport

I'm rather guessing the House had some say in this. Compare this to Senate Park, both Lower and Upper -- a lovely and well-used space, also under AOC.

by dcseain on May 27, 2014 8:50 pm • linkreport

even the young staffers play a role in shaping the governance of the United States, population 300 million, with the most powerful voice over global affairs of any entity in the world (pop: 7 billion)

Free Parking, for AMERICA!! Staffers are nice, dedicated people, but let's not wrap them in the flag too tightly here. I play a role in shaping the governance of the United States too, I vote. Anyone who wants to cast staffers as part of the heroic story of America have never been to Capital Lounge after 11pm on $1 longneck night.

...outraged about the White House Ellipse and South Lawn... want to talk about green spaces on valuable land with no visitors

I've played some ultimate and soccer on the Ellipse. And there are lots of events on the South Lawn.

Also, its proximity to the Capitol administration buildings requires additional security, like the rest of the Capitol (and other) Federal grounds. I think that people are being unrealistic and probably aren't even native or long-term residents.

I don't know what being native or long-term residents has to do with it, but I agree that security concerns would make housing on this site impossible (I think DaveG was referring to the empty parking lots farther south).

Still, I do think any spaces within a secure zone (whatever that is) could be used for federal office space. We pay a lot to lease office space in DC much of inconveniently located far from the core of DC. Meanwhile, that land is very expensive, we own it and Congress is under-utilizing it. Seems like building some office space there would be a good long-term solution.

by David C on May 27, 2014 8:57 pm • linkreport

@Nick. I disagree. Your argument is the same one that the proponents for lifting the height restrictions use. There isn't an overall housing shortage throughout city, but there's a shortage of different types/levels of housing stock in certain parts. In fact, the apartment vacancy rates in some areas, like SW, are higher than more central parts of the city (Urban Turf has an article referencing this). And there's more (primarily apartment) stock being built throughout the city but that won't necessarily bring costs down - unless the city stopped being popular. Affordable prices simply aren't as profitable. Also, everyone doesn't have to live IN the city or in central portions of the city. Like Manhattan has the boroughs, NJ and CT, Washington has MD, VA and WV. If you can't afford to live on Capitol Hill or 14th St, there are other options.

by CJ on May 27, 2014 9:15 pm • linkreport

@David C. Actually, vacancy rates for office space throughout the city have been rising and is an increasing concern within the RE industry. The federal government has been contracting their use of office space and so have other large users of office space, like law firms, etc.

It's ok to leave open space and park space as just that, every square inch doesn't have to be developed (see Central Park or locally, our many other parks, like Rock Creek, Hains Point, etc.) And that's part of my point with the native/long-term resident comment. I am one. And others that are, understand the history, background, and complexities of many of the issues in the area. I just personally find that many (not all, so don't get hysterical) of the transient or recently transplanted residents tend to be some of the most critical.

by CJ on May 27, 2014 9:24 pm • linkreport

The housing shortage is not the only reason that the region lacks more affordable housing. High median income in the region plays a big role, as do changing demographics, expensive amenity rich condos (which would likely be built on the land in question), increasing demand for homeownership, and the regional trend toward smaller household sizes.

My guess is the adding more housing on this 2-block lot won't affect regional housing prices at all and would very likely increase housing costs in the immediate neighborhood. Even so, it's kind of a moot point because housing is unlikely ever to be built here, but there are ways to make the existing park better and more inviting.

by Scoot on May 27, 2014 9:39 pm • linkreport

Let's also not forget the other reason rents have soared in certain parts of the District: they're near Metro. Good transit is an amenity in all-too-short supply these days. Build it and you'll increase the desirability of many other places many times over.

by LowHeadways on May 27, 2014 10:25 pm • linkreport

the federal government has been contracting their use of office space

They have. But they still lease an awful lot of it. And problem none of it in as good a location as the Capital South parking lots are.

It's ok to leave open space and park space as just that, every square inch doesn't have to be developed

No one is saying that every square inch has to be developed. But not every park, or every surface parking lot, makes sense. This park is minimally used, limited by it's location on top of a parking lot and possibly a missed opportunity. That's not so hard to accept is it?

And that's part of my point with the native/long-term resident comment. I am one. And others that are, understand the history, background, and complexities of many of the issues in the area. I just personally find that many (not all, so don't get hysterical)

But native/long-term residents never get hysterical?

of the transient or recently transplanted residents tend to be some of the most critical.

Some times fresh eyes on a problem can lead to new and useful perspectives. It would be wise not to dismiss someone's opinion just because they're new. In business school we were taught that "that's the way we've always done things" are the seven most expensive words.

by David C on May 27, 2014 11:49 pm • linkreport

I doubt Congress would agree to any solution eliminating parking, so here's what I would do. Take the west park and the triangular surface lot to the west and build a giant parking garage. They can even get rid of the one block of Delaware. The north and east garage sides will be solid concrete with a faux building painted on both sides. The roof will be a solar panel grid. The east park and the giant surface lot to its east would be converted to street level parks with grass and trees and picnic areas. The triangle block to the south would be landbanked and made green space. The big lot SW of Washington Av would be a dog park.

Not a perfect solution. Just a reasonable compromise.

by SteveK on May 28, 2014 12:55 am • linkreport

Big bad evil Hill staffer here. I like these parks - they provide a nice reprieve from the traffic by 395. My dog and I use this park everyday. Residents of the area frequent the park with their dogs too and playful romps ensue. When the weather is warm there are staff and visitors eating lunch at the many picnic tables, especially when a select few foodtrucks come by. Tourists groups also use the park as a resting spot between the Hill offices and the Capitol South metro.

I don't consider this a "real park," but a welcome green space atop a parking garage that as far as parking garages go is pretty unobtrusive. It's a nice and practical space for the House side of the Capitol in an area with so much concrete.

by Alm on May 28, 2014 7:11 am • linkreport

Couple things:

These parcels are being land banked for future need. When the lots were built, and today, Congress has no need for additional space but that won't be true. These parcels are on the AOCs long term plans for additional office square footage.

Second, the person who said "most valuable land in the nation" hasn't lived here very long. The land could never be sold to a commercial developer due to its proximity to the rest if the campus, and even if it could be, DC had for ~50 years, some if the cheapest and most depressed commercial or residential real estate. That only started to change about 10-12 years ago. I even bought a nice row house half a block down the street from this park for 412K 10 years ago...1 block from the capital complex and the cap south metro stop

by Nellie on May 28, 2014 7:29 am • linkreport

If a multi-story parking ramp were built, then it should be built to look as much like an attractive building as possible with real or concrete brick facing and large open window spaces such as this:

http://historyculturebybicycle.blogspot.com/2011/06/heritage-parking-ramp.html

With retail or other multi-use on the ground floor. You get the idea...to make the ramp blend in best with it's urban surroundings.

I think these two parks should be made accessible to pedestrians from any direction, which means eliminating the walls along the streets...sorry to those of you who like them.

by DaveG on May 28, 2014 9:17 am • linkreport

The bigger, better question is given the jurisdictional issues what CAN be done about it? The reason it appears to be inaccessible and a low priority park is that it IS an inaccessible and low priority park. The city can't do a thing about that. This is a classic case of federal power overshadowing any and all concerns of the city that hosts it. However, who in city government has the authority to stand up to congressional members who want their convenient parking?

by Mike on May 28, 2014 9:19 am • linkreport

I've thought for years that all those surface parking lots in that area are a shame, an eyesore, and a misuse of prime DC real estate. You've got stately Union Station and the congressional office buildings, with ugly surface parking lots strewn about around them. DC is an international tourist destination, in addition to being home for its residents. Visitors and residents deserve better. It could be lovely. I'm pragmatic enough to know that Congress, who makes its own rules for itself and its own (and, gallingly, sets its own salary, but that's another topic), is not above granting itself the ultimate DC status symbol: reserved parking, but parking can take more aesthetically pleasing forms than surface asphalt ringed with chain link fence, in tourism ground zero.

by likedrypavement on May 28, 2014 9:44 am • linkreport

Congress has no need for additional space but that won't be true. These parcels are on the AOCs long term plans for additional office square footage.

Congress has no need for additional space, but the Goevernment does. So, build office space and move some government agency or department into it. When Congress needs space, kick them out. Or build parks as SteveK suggests, and when Congress needs space, build on the parks. Parking lots can not really be the ideal use here. AOC may have long term plans for these lots, but their short-term use is terrible. What is the time-frame on this long-term use anyway?

said "most valuable land in the nation" hasn't lived here very long

Maybe they don't live here at all. So what?

Yes it was hyperbolic, but the land is pretty valuable now, no? That it probably won't be sold commercially doesn't change it's value.

As for the parks above the parking garage, they are better than nothing (and useless was probably too harsh), but I think this post eloquently makes the case that they could be better. More access points, moveable chairs, an improved street view, shade - even if from canopies, running the fountain more often, events that are open to the public (Movies?), a space for food vendors, etc... It would make a good project for college students.

by David C on May 28, 2014 9:54 am • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] I have never been by this park when it wasn't filled with people..tourists, workers, etc. enjoying the space. I've used it..when biking...and never found it hard to find. True, not the best designed at some street level perhaps but this may well have been an engineering issue. There is so little constructive in attacking a park as anyone near one does find it, does use it and enjoys the calm space. On a web site that regularly advocates large taxpayer expenditures for some projects which will never get built...be thankful this park is here...and how about using a photo that represents the norm not an anomaly. Thanks.

by Glenn Mosher on May 28, 2014 9:57 am • linkreport

@Zeus
Boy, I bet you're outraged about the White House Ellipse and South Lawn. If you want to talk about green spaces on valuable land with no visitors...

They are decent as sports fields and work as a "monumental lawn" but in terms of urban parks they are pretty much garbage.

Do people who live in DC actually go to the Mall and adjoining spaces when they want to experience "outdoor/park" activities and not an event on the Mall, or the monuments? I sure don't.

by MLD on May 28, 2014 10:00 am • linkreport

I'm seeing a lot of confusion in these comments that seem to partly stem from a sense that all parks are or should be equal in function.

The first question we should be asking is "what should a park at this location do?". There are lots of answers to this but I think comments that say it should be a quiet, contemplative, space miss the mark. If someone really wants to get away from the hustle and bustle of the capitol we should expect them to maybe travel a little further than a block or two.

Or, have a quiet space but that's hardly a reason for the entire site to be that way. You've basically got two city blocks to work with. That's a lot of room for a lot of different things.

by drumz on May 28, 2014 10:09 am • linkreport

@David C

I've gone to the Mall for outdoor and park activities many times. I've also seen many people use it for such activities. Recreational sports, picnics, kite flying, jogging, bicycling, sunbathing, etc. I've also been to the Mall for several great events including Screen on the Green.

The Mall obviously has many flaws but I believe it would be used more by locals if it were located closer to residential areas and were not overrun by tourists. It also doesn't help that there aren't many good bars, restaurants or cafes nearby.

by Scoot on May 28, 2014 10:23 am • linkreport

@Scoot

Me too. I think that was to be addressed at MLD.

by David C on May 28, 2014 10:25 am • linkreport

If someone really wants to get away from the hustle and bustle of the capitol we should expect them to maybe travel a little further than a block or two.

Why is that? Who is the "we" in this case?

by Scoot on May 28, 2014 10:25 am • linkreport

@Nellie:
"Second, the person who said "most valuable land in the nation" hasn't lived here very long."

Admittedly, I have never purchased or sold commercial property but I would guess that 1-2 acres of land two minutes from a metro station on Capitol Hill is a bit more expensive than 1-2 acres of land in Boise or Wichita.

@CJ:
"It's such a myth that building more housing automatically equals more affordable housing."

This is just not true. Look directly across I-395 at the Capitol Riverfront/Navy Yard. A significant number of housing units will be completed over the next year and rents have decreased there.

"The high rents reflect current demand, but the coming wave of new apartments in the neighborhood and rest of the city will likely change the market in the near future.

Grant Montgomery, Senior Vice President of research firm Delta Associates, estimates that rents in the region will decline by 5 percent in the coming year and 2-3 percent the next. Capitol Riverfront is already seeing rents decline. Rents fell 2.6 percent in the neighborhood over the last twelve months, compared to 0.2 percent in the District as a whole." (http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/navy_yard_cap_riverfront_after_a_rain_delay_the_boomtown_starts_to_deliver/8442)

by 202_Cyclist on May 28, 2014 10:30 am • linkreport

@Scoot--

If you scoot, say a block or so off the Mall, there are a number of bars and restaurants if that is your thing. The Mall is a unique resource for the residents of this area --- that's why so many stepped forward to get involved in the Coalition to Save Our National Mall and the new Mall trust.

by Alf on May 28, 2014 10:43 am • linkreport

The surface parking on the Senate side is a worse problem/missed opportunity. And Senate side parking lanes on Louisiana Ave, D street NE etc. should be converted into bike lanes/cycletracks.

The Capitol complex is good for letting bikes get east-west from East Cap to the PA Ave cycletrack, but further north toward Union Station and the 1st Street NE cycletrack, all the Senate parking impedes connections.

by Greenbelt on May 28, 2014 10:43 am • linkreport

Why is that? Who is the "we" in this case?

People have suggested that the park is perfect as-is because it's a nice retreat from the stress of working at the capitol. So to them it's not "useless" per se.

That's fine but I'd suggest that A: we shouldn't consider other uses just because people nearby have stressful jobs (that are also extremely prestigious and known to be stressful anyway) B: we can still incorporate contemplative spaces into a more active space.

I tend to agree with Dan though, the park is just here as an afterthought as a way to make a parking lot look a little better. Therefore even if we decide we want it as a total retreat we could still do better in providing that.

by drumz on May 28, 2014 10:50 am • linkreport

Most of the preceding comments are flights of fancy. The twoblocks in question, and and the one directly east, by Capitol South Metro, are within the Capitol Complex security envelope. The land belongs to Congress, and the parterres ("parks") behind the House office buildings will never be alienated from congressional control. Nothing will ever be built on those sites, except, perhaps, as was noted, more House office buildings in the distant future. Moreover,Congress has historically shown a distinct reluctance to sell land it has acquired: e.g., it bought the old Providence Hospital block decades ago as a building site for the Page School, but when the small office building at New Jersey and E SE (which will also never be alienated from congressional control)was renovated as the Page School dorm, Congress retained the hospital site. It was, however, graded and planted, and is maintained by AOC Grounds crews. It's open to the public and sees a lot of use by Capitol Hill residents. As to the "Capitol South" block, between New Jersey Ave and First Street, SE and C and D Streets, SE, the rail tunnel to Union Station runs diagonally beneath it, and then due north under First St, SE. This would severely contrain any builing on that site: recall that the old Congressional Hotel clung precariously to the northwest corner of the block. Perhaps another elegant parterre is indicated for this site too.

by Publius Washingtoniensis on May 28, 2014 10:56 am • linkreport

Most of the preceding comments are flights of fancy.

Perhaps, but they're still good ideas.

No one knows what Congress will do in the future (they just loosened the Height Limit - with Republicans in control of the House. Who predicted that in 2010?), but one prediction I feel confident making: if DC residents ask Congress for nothing, Congress will gladly oblige.

by David C on May 28, 2014 11:10 am • linkreport

That's fine but I'd suggest that A: we shouldn't consider other uses just because people nearby have stressful jobs (that are also extremely prestigious and known to be stressful anyway) B: we can still incorporate contemplative spaces into a more active space.

Again I have to ask, who is "we"? You mean people who share your opinion on the issue?

I think there are ways to improve access to the park -- adding steps from street level would be a good start -- but clearly there are some people who are here to rebut the assertion that the park is "useless". It's not that they are refusing to consider other uses or additional improvements, it's just that they are pointing out that the park has positive aspects and is useful to them.

And I'm really not sure where the whole "prestigious job" argument comes into play. Maybe you can elaborate on it.

by Scoot on May 28, 2014 11:27 am • linkreport

who is "we"?

The city/the government. He's advocating a position he'd like the government to take. It's like saying "We should invade Iraq." Someone who says that is not saying "only people who share my opinion should invade Iraq." Certainly, this concept of saying "we should..." as an advocacy statement is not foreign to anyone.

by David C on May 28, 2014 11:35 am • linkreport

1. We = society, generally. Is this really that big of a deal?

2. My first reading agreed with Dan but others in the comments have brought up good points. I'm asking us (again, generally) to go back a little further and take another look at some of the foundations of the discussion about here and parks generally because I think there is some needless confusion about how parks can have different functions, in total or in part.

3. A lot of arguments that say the park is fine as-is ask us to consider the nearby hill staffer who apparently needs a place to relax and get away from the stresses of the job. I think that merits some consideration but I doubt that it should be the entirety of the focus of how we (generally) should want this or any park to function. Considering only one group of users is how we get a lot of underused parks in the first place.

by drumz on May 28, 2014 11:44 am • linkreport

The negative commenters seem like people who have never visited the park. The original post incorrectly stated the fountains stop on weekends. If you spent any time at this park you might like it!

by Arthur Delaney on May 28, 2014 11:47 am • linkreport

so do you want more trees? I mean what is the point of this. to somehow make congress look worse by providing parking. [Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

so next time I hope the parking lots are outside and we the Architect builds above ground parking garages as to remove the debate about the parks.

By the way these aren't dc parks. they are on Federal land.

by laniyoung on May 28, 2014 11:55 am • linkreport

Regarding trees, wind, etc -- any chance of getting bamboo planted to make some windbreaks? It doesn't run its roots as deep as trees, the collection of canes tends to cut both wind and noise, and it would also tend to block mis-thrown frisbees, etc.

by dr2chase on May 28, 2014 12:26 pm • linkreport

@David C

Clearly "we" is not as universally agreed upon as you think it is seeing as you've defined it as the city/federal government (i.e., entities who actually control the park) and drumz has defined it as "society, generally" (quite a bit broader).

The latter concept is a bit fraught in light of drumz' earlier comment stating that "we" (society, generally) should expect certain people (referred to as "them") to walk several blocks farther than they need to for enjoyment of a quiet space. To me, this logic begins to frame the debate as a polarizing "us" versus "them" conflict. Us being the people who simply know better, and them being the prestigious government bureaucrats who should just go away already.

Even if you make the park more attractive or accessible (something that I doubt even people who use and enjoy the park would object to), it must still consider the people who are most likely to use it.

Because the park is pretty much surrounded on all sides by the Capitol complex and a handful of residential streets, who do you believe is most likely to use the park? My guess is employees of the Capitol complex and residents who live nearby.

by Scoot on May 28, 2014 12:32 pm • linkreport

I am happy to have a conversation about how to improve local parks, whether under DC or federal control. But this entire comment thread is hysterical in its pointlessness. This is federal land that provides a security buffer for the Capitol complex, and a nice, clean park for the surrounding community (including workers AND local residents), not to mention it makes use of otherwise unused space above a parking garage in a "green" way that is good for the environment by planting trees (small or otherwise) and using rain that would otherwise end up in storm drains to water grass - shouldn't the AOC be applauded for that?

Before you respond, I would challenge every one of you commenting on here to actually go and visit the parks in question before you post another misinformed complaint about this place that you have never even been to. I'll be out walking my dog there in a few hours - you're welcome to join me!

by Carolyn on May 28, 2014 12:32 pm • linkreport

I agree with @Publius and @laniyoung. There's nothing wrong with improving the landscaping of the park and perhaps some of its functionality, but there are federal and city parks all over the city so should they all be examined for their level of "usefulness"? And who defines what is useful? Dog park vs. meditative vs. family picnic, etc. Different parks are used for different things. If you want to fight for the availability of more open park space - help NOMA. Heck, what about the open space/park on Mass. Ave. near the 395 underpass...that's probably more useless than the Spirit of Justice park.

@202_Cyclist, I actually originally referenced that article on UrbanTurf in my previous comment. Part of what's influencing the lower rents in SW are also the location. The more central areas of the city, like the 14th street corridor, that have received additional housing stock, haven't seen rents or housing prices decrease because there's more demand in those areas. That's the other part of the equation that I think you're not including and why I said that it's a myth that more residences automatically equates to more affordable housing. If somehow, residential development was allowed on top of that garage - those units wouldn't be marketed for cheap.

Also, if folks are complaining about access to the park/open space now, if you developed a residential or office building on top of the existing garage that included a rooftop park/garden, then you definitely wouldn't have any public access. So, enjoy the park now.

BTW, the relaxing of the height limits isn't really much of a change. It's just officially allowing "penthouse" development on rooftops, which has kind of been going on anyway. Otherwise, the height act prevails.

by CJ on May 28, 2014 12:48 pm • linkreport

According to the Post today, there's a gay congressman who seems to enjoy the park.

by Jack on May 28, 2014 12:55 pm • linkreport

But this entire comment thread is hysterical in its pointlessness.

And yet supporters of the park keep coming out of the woodwork, some commenting adding as many as four comments to this pointless thread.

shouldn't the AOC be applauded for that?

It's better than a fenced off concrete lid. I'll concede that. But doesn't Dan have some valid points about the lack of access points, lack of trees, limited usability. Does anyone really think that this park is perfect as is? It's not even ADA compliant as near as I can tell.

Before you respond...have never even been to.

No need. Many of us have been to it. Myself included.

@CJ

should they all be examined for their level of "usefulness"? And who defines what is useful?

Sure. Reviewing parks for possible improvements is a good exercise. The community and various stakeholders can define useful, just as with every thing else.

If somehow, residential development was allowed on top of that garage - those units wouldn't be marketed for cheap.

They don't have to be cheap to lower prices. They increase supply. Ergo, they lower prices unless they somehow also increase demand. It's called the Law of Supply and Demand for a reason.

then you definitely wouldn't have any public access.

I think people recognize this as an either/or situation.

the relaxing of the height limits isn't really much of a change.

Most of us here are aware of that. But the point is that is would still have been hard to predict in 2010. And more noteworthy is that the Republican house appeared to be willing to go farther, but the DC council asked them not to. That is also quite a surprise. My point being that people who are saying that there is no way Congress will do this or that are not building enough doubt into those predictions.

by David C on May 28, 2014 1:18 pm • linkreport

more trees?

That was one thing Dan mentioned. Yes.

this article is about as original as tjmax.

Burn. Maybe this line should have been left out of the 2nd posting of this comment. It would make it less ironic.

By the way these aren't dc parks. they are on Federal land.

Right. No one said otherwise. It's right there in the original post.

by David C on May 28, 2014 1:21 pm • linkreport

Is the idea here to pave this area over with yet more buildings?

The entire South Capital Street corridor could use a good makeover, and should get it once the 'King of the World' accepts that he and his farnese political influence is over:

http://wwwsouthcapitolstreet.blogspot.com/2014/01/nationals-stadium-likely-culprit-is.html

http://wwwfreespeechbeneathushs.blogspot.com/2006_10_01_archive.html

by Douglas Andrew Willinger on May 28, 2014 1:23 pm • linkreport

Congress has no need for additional space, but the Goevernment does.

Actually, I'm pretty sure the government doesn't need additional space because GSA has an initiative to consolidate its real estate footprint and get rid of under-utilized space.

My idea: work with the senators from Missouri to rename it Harry S. Truman Park (instead of renaming Union Station like they want) and as part of that, ask for funds for improvements like additional entrances, landscaping/trees, etc.

Only problem is that Truman park will have to be re-located whenever this site is developed into Congressional offices but you could just make one of the surface lots underground and re-locate Truman Park on top of that.

by Falls Church on May 28, 2014 1:23 pm • linkreport

Also, I agree with the general gist of commenters who say that calling it "DC's most useless park" is hyperbole. Instead, I'd say this is the park within DC that has the most potential for improvement and increased utilization.

by Falls Church on May 28, 2014 1:29 pm • linkreport

'calling it "DC's most useless park" is hyperbole'

Okay, so now I'm curious. What other parks in DC are comparably useless, if not more useless? Or is each park it a little snowflake, useless and flawed in its own special way? Or is uselessness not so well defined? Useless, given its size/location potential, or useless on an absolute scale?

by dr2chase on May 28, 2014 1:49 pm • linkreport

but there are federal and city parks all over the city so should they all be examined for their level of "usefulness"?

Yes. One of the longest running themes on this blog at least is how Federal land owners (notably NPS but definitely AOC as well) should recognize and plan for the diversity of the parks they manage. The Mall is different from Rock Creek Park which is different from DuPont Circle.

And who defines what is useful? Dog park vs. meditative vs. family picnic, etc. Different parks are used for different things.

Exactly, except I think Dan's point is that this park is only useful to a pretty small group of people and I think the comments that disagree with him don't dispute it outright but just claim that the number is bigger than Dan thinks or implies.

Regardless, I think any park that takes up two city blocks in the middle of a downtown area should probably be multi-functional.

by drumz on May 28, 2014 1:49 pm • linkreport

These parks are used, if lightly, ergo they are not useless.

by David C on May 28, 2014 1:55 pm • linkreport

It's not the best park, but it's a great rallying spot to protest Congressional inactivity, as unions have been doing for years.

by Omar on May 28, 2014 1:55 pm • linkreport

Okay, so now I'm curious. What other parks in DC are comparably useless, if not more useless?... Or is uselessness not so well defined?

Uselessness is very well defined. It means it is not used. This park does not meet that definition because it is used by a number of people that is not insignificant.

That said, my use of the word "hyperbole" is probably inaccurate. It would be more accurate to say that calling the park useless is simply inaccurate. The park has a lot of room for improvement but it is in fact used.

by Falls Church on May 28, 2014 1:59 pm • linkreport

The latter concept is a bit fraught in light of drumz' earlier comment stating that "we" (society, generally) should expect certain people (referred to as "them") to walk several blocks farther than they need to for enjoyment of a quiet space.

Well, I think that's a real stretch in terms of my frame of mind when writing everything I wrote. But maybe I was unclear, it certainly wasn't my intention to frame it as some sort of "us vs them".

Us being the people who simply know better, and them being the prestigious government bureaucrats who should just go away already.

Again, not my intention. But I do dispute the notion that because some people use it doesn't mean the parks flaws aren't present or apparent.

Even if you make the park more attractive or accessible (something that I doubt even people who use and enjoy the park would object to), it must still consider the people who are most likely to use it.

And I think that many of the suggested changes would allow the current users of the park to do so and probably entice more people to check it out.

by drumz on May 28, 2014 2:18 pm • linkreport

Just to clarify a number of erroneous belief. First, this is not a "downtown" or commercial area. It is adjacent to the Capitol Hill Historic District and R-4 zoned row houses along D Steet, South Capitol Street and New Jersey Avenue. Second, the idea of constructing commercial office space on the site is preposterous, for any number of reasons, not the least of which being the current rush hour gridlock associated with hoards of Congressional staffers commuting from Maryland and Virginia who tie up the Freeway and 395 on their way to free on- and off-street parking. Third, the AOC already has commissioned a study which envisions building yet more Comgressional parking garages and office space in the air rights space over the 395 tunnel. If Congress saw fit, the GSA could easily sell the surface parking lot (used principally by AOC workers and Capitol Police) and adjoining properties situated between Washington Avenue and 395, as well as the long vacant Page dorm on First Street SE.

In fairness, the Park was a more welcoming space prior to the extensive renovations to the underground parking facilities, during which more mature crepe mytle trees and other landscaping were removed. just ask the homeless who camp under the Freeway and use the fountain for bathing.

by DisgruntledInDC on May 28, 2014 2:23 pm • linkreport

@DisgruntledInDC

1) How do we get Congress to sell the dorm building off of New Jersey Ave if it is not currently used?
2) Some, if not all, of the parking lots around the perimeter of this park should be developed to the extent that security concerns allow for this.
3) The Spirit of the Justice park should be redesigned to make it more accessible and present less of a blank wall along D Street SE.

These seem like reasonable steps that people should be able to agree on.

by 202_Cyclist on May 28, 2014 2:43 pm • linkreport

Actually, I'm pretty sure the government doesn't need additional space because GSA has an initiative to consolidate its real estate footprint and get rid of under-utilized space.

That may be true. But the government still leases millions of square feet of office space in the DC area, much of it in far away areas and at enormous cost.

http://www.npr.org/2014/02/12/275555163/to-rent-or-buy-for-the-federal-government-its-complicated

by David C on May 28, 2014 4:14 pm • linkreport

this is not a "downtown"

It's not exactly a sleepy neighborhood either. And it's only a few blocks from the CBD.

Third, the AOC already has commissioned a study which envisions building yet more Comgressional parking garages and office space in the air rights space over the 395 tunnel.

That would be a mistake.

by David C on May 28, 2014 4:18 pm • linkreport

@202_Cyclist
Congress is not selling the old page dorm. Congress and other legislative branch agencies will eventually use it whenever there is funding available to renovate the building from a dormitory.

A park is not the draw. the surrounding areas bring the people. I don't know anyone that hangs out at tortilla coast on the weekends. the only people in close proximity are the few neighbors and workers. if you build it they will not come. it is not worth the expense to make a better park with shading when there are no tourists and very few residents around.

If there was an above ground parking deck we wouldn't be having this conversation. that's what AOC gets for trying to appease everyone.

by laniyoung on May 28, 2014 4:52 pm • linkreport

@David C and the author
I totally agree the entire concept of this article misses the boat. These are not parks in the traditional sense. These are as much parks as they are buffer zones for security and potential spaces for equipment or modular buildings or permanent buildings. Tourists and residents don't flock to these "parks" because there is NOTHING else to do in the area. Making more than small improvements is a bridge to nowhere and waste of taxpayer dollars. I've seen horrible parks that get tones of usage because people live around them and they will take them in whatever form they come. I am amazed at the lack of utilization of the Botanic Garden's Bartholdi Park. It is gorgeous and also run by the AOC (the BG is a part of AOC). So you want to spend money to fix up a "park" that is a five minute walk to one of the nicest parks in DC that is barely used. I'd rather fix the stone on the buildings.

by laniyoung on May 28, 2014 5:04 pm • linkreport

I agree they could do better. And they eventually will so I'll wax nostalgic.

For those who live close by (and for DC old timers) these parks are a hidden gem. And hidden gems are getting harder to come. Where else can you go on a hot summer night and have a park all to yourself for hours, let your dog wade in the fountain, and feel removed from the city streets all while being safe on Capitol grounds.

It's a great place, and the benefit to those who know, is that not many know. Is that good for the city? No. Is it good for a few of us? Yes.

I suggest you go at night (if you see me there, leave!) and enjoy it while you can.

by PK on May 28, 2014 7:19 pm • linkreport

it's got benches, water, it just needs to be easier for passers-by to get into and to know it's there.

by asffa on May 28, 2014 8:51 pm • linkreport

A park is only as good as the urban fabric that surrounds it.

by Neil Flanagan on May 28, 2014 11:46 pm • linkreport

A park is only as good as the park is, and it might be limited by the urban fabric around it, unless it is not in an urban area or it overcomes that urban fabric problem in the way that other parks do (like the Sculpture Garden), but we certainly won't know if we just throw up our hands or jealously guard the low utility of it.

by David C on May 29, 2014 12:33 am • linkreport

Grand Circus Park in downtown Detroit is basically off the same concept as Spirit of Justice (SOJ) Park, but is done much better. Ramps access the parking structure underneath, which is completely below street level and thus invisible:

http://goo.gl/maps/k8a8i

It's also much more easily accessed by foot and bike than SOJ is, and is clearly a more natural central focus for that part of downtown Detroit.

by DaveG on May 29, 2014 9:24 am • linkreport

But the government still leases millions of square feet of office space in the DC area, much of it in far away areas and at enormous cost.

There are often good reasons why federal facilities are located in far away areas, requirements for security and setbacks being just one and politics being another.

While the government leases space at enormous cost, building space isn't necessarily cheaper and more importantly, leasing allows for greater flexibility when needs change. Shifting needs is what's led to GSA's excess space problem. That wouldn't have been nearly as big of a problem if they were just leasing space.

There are actually smart people at GSA who look at the economics of leasing vs. buying and the answer of which to do is more nuanced than a blanket statement that the government should build more or lease more. Horses for courses as they say.

It's doubtful the AOC is going to change the use from a park to something else. However, there are simple improvements that would have an outsized impact on utilization that could be made to the park -- essentially lowering the cost per user of the park. That's the lowing hanging fruit one could reasonably convince the AOC to pluck.

If Amy Poehler from Parks and Rec was a real person, that's what she'd do. That character isn't afraid to play small ball to make simple, common sense improvements.

by Falls Church on May 29, 2014 10:34 am • linkreport

One that could be done right away with SOJ Park is adding signage to direct users from D St, and the Metro Station, into the park itself.

by DaveG on May 29, 2014 10:37 am • linkreport

Who owns the small parcel of land on the corner of D St and New Jersey Ave, SE? I think the Amtrak tunnel is underneath this, limiting what could be done here but if this is public land, this hss the potential to become a nice pocket park.

The federal government, of course, is doing the Southwest Ecodistrict visioning and redevelopment at L'Enfant Plaza. The debate about the Spirit of Justice park, aside, it seems like a small area plan or similar planning exercise for the Capitol South area, to include all of the surface parking lots, could be helpful.

Federal Center is developing, there is a lot of development at the Navy Yard. A small area plan for here could also focus on how to better integrate these separate areas.

by 202_Cyclist on May 29, 2014 11:11 am • linkreport

While we are on the topic, how exactly does the Capitol subway system connect to the Metro? If it doesn't, it should...giving Capitol workers an alternative to driving.

by DaveG on May 29, 2014 11:33 am • linkreport

There are often good reasons why federal facilities are located in far away areas

There are. But not always.

While the government leases space at enormous cost, building space isn't necessarily cheaper.

Actually, it is. Especially when they already own the land. But it does give one less flexibility. But flexibility isn't the only reason why the government leases so much land. Often it's because CBO scores a purchase such that it has to be allocated in the first year, but a lease is scored every year, creating a bureaucratic incentive to lease. So agencies lease buildings even if they know they will be there for decades. For example, HHS has leased a building in Rockville for 60 years.

There are actually smart people at GSA who look at the economics of leasing vs. buying and the answer of which to do is more nuanced than a blanket statement that the government should build more or lease more.

Actually, GAO says we should build more.

"The GAO found in its reports that the government rarely has the money to cover the costs of buying land and buildings, even if that means the agencies will end up paying 10 times as much in rent over the years."

And at Tangherlini's confirmation hearing, Senator Carper said

"Our government also relies too much on costly leases, when the cheaper option over the long run would be to own the property."

It's doubtful the AOC is going to change the use from a park to something else.

We've discussed a lot of issues. No one has seriously advoacted building on the park site. I think most talk of developing land has focused on the parking lots, which are land-banked for future office buildings. So the AOC is clearly open to building office space on the land they set aside for office space.

However, there are simple improvements that would have an outsized impact on utilization that could be made to the park -- essentially lowering the cost per user of the park.

Yep. This is another issue people have talked about, and they are not mutually exclusive. There are things that could be done to improve this park. And Congress should be open to doing those things. It doesn't hurt to talk about those things, and I'd be surprised if any of the defenders of the park really think that there is no room for improvement along the lines of what Dan has suggested.

by David C on May 29, 2014 1:46 pm • linkreport

As to the ownership of the orphan parcel over the tunnel portal, if I had to guess, I would say it was originally owned by the Washington Terminal Co., the outfit that owned Union Station. Right now, your guess is as good as mine. I think security is a consideration here,too: that area was wide open, with easy access to the tunnel, until a few years ago.

by Publius Washingtoniensis on May 29, 2014 3:00 pm • linkreport

@202_Cyclist @Publius Washingtoniensis

Why guess when you can look it up on the zoning map? http://zmap.dcoz.dc.gov/

The parcel in question, square 0693 lot 0813, is in fact owned by the Washington Terminal Company. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_Terminal_Company

Other lots on that block such as 0853, 0841, 0857, are owned by the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (d/b/a Amtrak)

by EatBaoBaoEat on Jul 3, 2014 10:53 pm • linkreport

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