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McMillan Two envisions a classical Anacostia

Images courtesy Nir Buras.

The public character of Washington has grown around two grand plans. First, Charles L'Enfant laid out the city as a sacred grove for the marking of America's history. One century later, the McMillan Commission restored and expanded upon that original design to include the history of the Nineteenth Century.

The city center has grown up in the second hundred years since, enough for Congress to declare the Mall closed to new development. Meanwhile, the rest of the city has built up or spread out into suburbs. In light of the last fifty years, a group of traditional Washingtonian architects have developed an audacious proposal for the next lifetime of growth, known as McMillan Two. Fulfilling some less-known intentions of the McMillan Plan with slight modifications, this plan essentially calls for bringing Paris, mansard, Seine and all, to the Capital of the United States.

Developed by the Build DC Initiative and architect Nir Buras in particular, the design has accumulated sponsors such as the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America, the National Civic Arts Society, and some support from the DC chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism.

Buras's philosophy draws hard from tradition: we know what is beautiful and what works, and we should follow that. Downplaying strident formal innovation, the relationship buildings have to precedents in a cultural tradition guides design. For McMillan Two, France provides that tradition, particularly L'Enfant's garden models and the Beaux-arts education of Burnham, McKim, and Olmsted. Though the partners have kept much of the project under wraps, Buras has recently begun sharing the outlines of this radical rethinking of DC's future.

Area around Poplar Point now (left) and proposed (right).

The keystone of the plan is a narrowed Anacostia, slimmed by half to the Seine's width of around 500 feet. And just as at the Seine, fourteen-foot-tall stone embankments would allow streets to pass over the river at grade, with street level above potential floods. Away from the river, McMillan Two calls for the elimination – or at least burial – of all freeways and rail lines south of the Mall that disconnect River East from the Federal City. In place of these marginal spaces, marshlands, and rivers of concrete, the grid would extend out onto reclaimed land. The new real estate would allow for the construction of thousands of new apartments and offices without directly displacing any individuals. Passing through lots and streets, new avenues would meet at open squares for future monuments after the style of L'Enfant and Haussmann.

Area around East Capitol Street now (left) and proposed (right).

The largest public area would be a vast basin just north of what is now Poplar Point that would serve as a plaza with around water. Upstream, East Capitol Street would cross over an island modeled on Île de la Cité with the Blue and Orange Lines underground. At the southern end of the project, a gateway of two large pillars on quays would visually separate the Potomac from its tributary.

Most buildings would stand six to eight stories tall, with the last two minimized behind a sloped roof. Large tree-lined promenades (Buras believes DC can improve on Paris by adding more trees) would pass throughout the reclaimed area, with particularly verdant ones running along the upper level of the embankment. Spaces created in the embankment promenades would house boat clubs, restaurants accessible from a lower-level embankment. Alternatively, infrastructure such as a Chicago-style service road or commuter rail might fill in the space made by raising the ground level, but again, there is flexibility.

Left: Section of the proposed embankment. Right: Seine embankment by cuellar on Flickr.

Additionally, the plan would improve the street infrastructure while also lessening the dominance of automobiles. The new avenues and side streets would support well more than the current freeways carry and pass over more bridges. An admirer of Hans Monderman, Buras emphasizes the importance of intuitive roads and shared space, citing the George Washington Parkway as a local example of both. In terms of transit infrastructure, Streetcars could also be added as needed, along with bus facilities, but Build DC have deliberately left transportation plans loose, open to long-term change.

This intentional vagueness contrasts with the programmatic specificity in the NCPC's 1997 Extending the Legacy plan and Comprehensive Plan program. These current successors to the McMillan Plan focus on adding large new public spaces for monuments. Because it sticks primarily to the grid and avenues, the McMillan Two Design appears much less grandiose, but also less green. For example, NCPC calls for East Capitol Street to pass under at an East Mall and then over the Anacostia. The McMillan Two plan would restore the boulevard straight across, with no new parkland. Considering the constant use of the athletic fields around the Mall, retaining the same acreage of useable parkland, or even increasing it, would be wise even if it departs from L'Enfant's vision. The Frenchman's genius notwithstanding, the outdoors interests of city dwellers have changed significantly from 1790 and even 1902. Accommodating more active recreation, uses that require substantial space, will enhance the quality of life of residents. Adding a few hundred thousand people while reducing recreation space would diminish the quality of city life and make urbanism less appealing to potential residents.

Of course, the trope is that the French don't exercise too much – so if people will soon be living in Point Peuplier, perhaps lifestyles will change as much as the built environment. But Paris is different than DC in many ways as well. Most importantly, the Seine had a similar, but not identical character. Until the 1700s, the Seine was a very small river except during rainfall, surrounded by mudflats and wetlands. The Anacostia, even in its current state is 1000 feet wide without any rain, even if it's very shallow in most parts. And even when builders channelized the Seine, its course was not as abstracted as the McMillan Two plan calls for. More generally, Washington's geology and climate do not totally resemble Paris's, and a respect for these characteristics of a region should be visible in a city based on the genius of place. In Paris and most of France, limestone is a local material and weather is more temperate; in DC, that material is brick and the humidity can be oppressive. The latter two differences are minor, so Buras argues that the form and style could be appropriately adapted to local needs.

However, Build DC needs to resolve several contentious issues before matters of style come up. First, they must clearly defend the need for such a bold, expensive undertaking. Currently, the area in question lacks important infrastructure, while other, unremarkable areas have access to those resources, but are themselves underdeveloped. Secondly, they need to prove that the environmental effects of eliminating wetlands and narrowing the channel will not adversely affect the river ecosystem or cause further innundation. The elimination of marshes and channelization in other cities has led to serious flooding and dangerous river conditions. Build DC needs to demonstrate that a scheme that remediates the habitat and adds density elsewhere would not work as well. As a secondary question, the known level of dioxin pollution in Anacostia sediment calls into question whether the dredged material could even be used for fill without risking serious contamination. Lastly, they need to settle the means of financing for such a project. Presently, the scheme calls for sale of townhouse-sized lots and the distribution of some lots to residents of Anacostia or other underprivileged groups. But the specifics are not yet set in stone, and Buras freely acknowledges this, even as he anticipates civic generosity from Congress.

Proposed Naval Museum on the Washington Channel.

That financial and political support will need to appear before any new Classical plan begins to guide the future of Washington. In regard to its lack of formal approval, the McMillan Two plan resembles the 1909 Plan of Chicago. Brought to the public realm by private figures, the Burnham Plan still guided planners and politicians. Some of the iconic structures never saw completion, but the beautiful parks along Lake Michigan, the transit infrastructure improvements, and the many bridges over the river would not have happened had Burnham and Bennett made only little plans. Unsurprisingly, Build DC is taking a long perspective for completion, one hundred years at least to really see major construction. But for now, the best thing to do with these plans is to debate them. The beauty of unsolicited architecture is that it encourages others react and form ideas in dialogue, so people have some centering when trying to imagine the future. McMillan Two is one such provocation, with brilliant and sound elements along side questionable and uncertain problems. What the region makes of it will depend on a serious consideration of its merits in public debate.

Cross-posted at цarьchitect.

Neil Flanagan grew up in Ward 3 before graduating from the Yale School of Architecture. He is pursuing an architecture license. He really likes walking around and looking at stuff.  


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I absolutely love all of the new bridges. If the number of bridges were dramatically increased as proposed, then no one bridge would have to be built primarily for automobiles. Rather, they could all make room for people to walk, ride bikes, or even ride streetcars across the river. That may not help "far" Anacostia, but it would certainly make the riverfront a reasonable place for people with jobs downtown to live or to visit.

by tom veil on Oct 14, 2009 1:08 pm • linkreport

the importance of intuitive roads and shared space, citing the George Washington Parkway as a local example of both.

Exactly how is the GW parkway a good example of shared space? While I do not want to dismiss its value, it is *not* shared space. It's a severely limited access highway with a bike path alongside, cutting of access of everybody who lives behind it from the waterfront.

That is not shared space according to Monderman.

by Jasper on Oct 14, 2009 1:14 pm • linkreport

According to Buras, it's intuitive in that it gives out hints about stopping and merging, but he never said it was shared space. Sorry for the confusion.

by цarьchitect on Oct 14, 2009 1:21 pm • linkreport

This plan is impressive.

by NikolasM on Oct 14, 2009 1:23 pm • linkreport

@ цarьchitect: I am getting besides the point of your cool article, but have you ever tried to navigate through the Arlington Cemetery (on the GW Parkway)? Nothing intuitive there. Not even the signs. Going through Alexandria is also somewhat confusing if you're a tourist looking for Mt Vernon.

I should add that I like great plans like this. Here's a guy with a great vision. We need more of those. I would love to see more bridges in DC. I've always missed them. I think it's a great plan to extend the downtown grid across the river. They missed a great opportunity doing that with Arlington and Alexandria.

However, with the clownesk leadership in this city (isn't that Barry's ward across the Anacostia there?), this plan will never happen.

Furthermore, I don't think DC and Paris have a lot in common. It would be better to find DCs own thing. Perhaps a new DHS could be used to start development there.

by Jasper on Oct 14, 2009 1:39 pm • linkreport


One thing I'm noticing is that despite the big move of narrowing the river, the plan doesn't really gain that much land from it - most of the gains in the new grid come from converting other land to the grid (Poplar Point, the Navy Yard, Bolling AFB, RFK, Anacostia Park).

That raises the question - why narrow the river at all? Why not just add more bridges?

by Alex B. on Oct 14, 2009 2:04 pm • linkreport

This plan is yet another nail in the coffin of the push to break the height limit in DC. It seems eminantly rational and with-in character. The issue of this being too French seems like saying our language is too British. It would be great to see this plan happen but I won't hold my breath.

"Buras's philosophy draws hard from tradition" How is drawing from working models "radical"? If radical is solving a serious problem with solutions that work well, then Roebling, Olmstead, and Pope where anarchists.

by Thayer-D on Oct 14, 2009 2:12 pm • linkreport

Thayer, you're cute. I described the plan as radical and Buras as traditional.

by цarьchitect on Oct 14, 2009 2:14 pm • linkreport

I really like the added bridges and added connectivity. I am no expert on the environment, but it seems like speeding up the speed of the river would at least make it less stagnant and move some of the flotsam down stream. Yes, I realize that just makes it a problem somewhere else. The narrowed river also makes a lot more land available for use. A professor used the phrase 'the highest and best use' which took to mean the best use for the most people. I am not a fan of the huge flood plain surrounding the Anacostia, as for the most part it is underused.

by dano on Oct 14, 2009 2:15 pm • linkreport

@ dano: You need to check your fluid mechanics. Narrowing doesn't just speed up the river. They need to think seriously about what happens during wet periods. I am sure it can be managed. But you do need to do it, or you will get wet feet.

by Jasper on Oct 14, 2009 2:27 pm • linkreport

Sorta serious question... Does the Anacostia flow at all anymore? It seems more like an arm in the Chesapeake or something...

by NikolasM on Oct 14, 2009 2:31 pm • linkreport

Before I start I'll admit right away I am pretty ignorant of DC's origins. That said, I've gathered from reading blogs and general gripes about the city that most of its problems stem from its original messed up design with the diagonal streets, innumerable circles and squares, and bizarre height restriction.

Why would continuing these old-timey practices be a good future design for an expanding city that _should be_ easy to use / get around in?

by James on Oct 14, 2009 2:37 pm • linkreport

Yes, it flows. But it's always been a low-flow river. The river is tidal from the Potomac up to about Bladensburg.

by Alex B. on Oct 14, 2009 2:42 pm • linkreport

More bridges and street connectivity are good.

Given that the lower Anacostia, like the Potomac at least up to Georgetown, is tidal, I fail to see how narrowing the channel is going to help any.

Along those same lines, removing wetlands is a *BAD* idea. Wetlands are natural water quality filters.

by Froggie on Oct 14, 2009 2:44 pm • linkreport

this is wonderful stuff.

what we do not need are starchitects doing our planning- they will totally wreck it.

One thing- and this really bothers me;

Lenfant did not get his inspiration from Paris or English Gardens- he said - quite often and very definitively- that his idea for DC's plan came from Karlsruhe Germany's plan.

This historical fact needs to be corrected- as much of our history has been distorted by the prejudices engendered by two world wars.

Ronald Lauder himself is on a crusade to try to abolish some of these idiotic revisionist mistakes- despite his family having been victimized during WW2- he understands the importance of the Germanic culture - a reason why he opened the Neues gallerie in NYC.He recognizes that the visual and plastic artists are still the unintended victims of WW2 even though it has been over for almost 3/4 of a century.

The planners of Karlsruhe had nothing to do with WW1 or WW2 and we need to acknowledge the incredible impact of this groundbreaking urban design actually had.

by w on Oct 14, 2009 2:44 pm • linkreport

The Anacostia and the Potomac both definitely do flow, however, they're both visibly affected by the tides.

The Anacostia used to be DC's main port because the Potomac was mostly abutted by the city as with the mall. When it silted up, it lost some importance, especially after the Navy Yard stopped serving as a factory.

by цarьchitect on Oct 14, 2009 2:49 pm • linkreport

The diagonal streets and circles are and have always been *wonderful* for pedestrians. They are only bad if your only concern is trying to navigate the city by car. I want more of them.

Anyway, I love this plan, and hope that architectural critics who want to see more modernism don't attack it on those grounds. Focus on the street grid. It's the main thing here.

by BeyondDC on Oct 14, 2009 2:49 pm • linkreport

>Along those same lines, removing wetlands is a *BAD* idea. Wetlands are natural water quality filters.

If we can focus a few hundred million square feet of development along the Anacostia by taking a few wetlands there, how many wetlands out in the suburbs will we save from development?

by BeyondDC on Oct 14, 2009 2:52 pm • linkreport

While I greatly appreciate you brining this article to everyone's attention, I'm not sure why you have to refer to me as cute when I quote your words directly.

"Thayer, you're cute. I described the plan as radical and Buras as traditional. "

Your saying that Buras draws hard from tradition to produce a radical plan. Sorry, but that just don't make sense no matter what you think of me personally.

by Thayer-D on Oct 14, 2009 3:03 pm • linkreport

I'm with those who want to see how this will lessen the impact of halving the Anacostia and its impact on wetlands. It is a relief to see all those highways gone. I wish the map had gone out a little further west so I could see how it really affected the Va. bridges though.

by Canaan on Oct 14, 2009 3:08 pm • linkreport

I'm sorry, but what's wrong with the current dimensions of the Anacostia? There are plenty of urban rivers its size, in places like Shanghai and London, and such wide rivers don't utterly disintegrate the urban fabric of such places.

And why are the wetlands and public parks gone? I thot this had the makings of a good plan, but it's turning into a Leon Krieresque nightmare of quasipublic corporatized spaces and Speerian lines. I mean, is this much destruction really necessary to bring about useful transformation?

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 14, 2009 3:14 pm • linkreport

Yes, how many more wetlands could be saved by building in the city? I would think as primarily a tidal river, the Anacostia pretty much just fills whatever basin it is given. This means that the river could easily be narrowed with little to no effect at all.

The embankment section showing tunnels along the side would also allow for flood level water a little more room to expand and given that the embankment is quite high, flooding would be a non issue.

I've never been to Paris, but I'm headed there next month, and I'll be checking out the riverside and planning as for sure (on top of seeing the top notch architecture). As far as DC being based on Karlsruhe, I'm not so sure that that city's form is conclusively the same as DC. While there may be similarities, and there are many Baroque cities that are similar, looking at the plans, Versailles is clearly more like DC, with the added superimposed grid.

by Boots on Oct 14, 2009 3:22 pm • linkreport

Thayer, if you had spent the past 15 years planning to make a river nicer by improving the parks, and then someone came along with a plan to spend billions to narrow that river, build on those parks, demolish all of the local highways, and then sell the land in a lottery, what would you call it? You're projecting some kind of gestalt-shifting metaphysical deconstructionist starchitecture onto the word.

Whether or not the model is radical is beside the point, the politics and conditions of the site make the particular proposal revolutionary. It also changes the focus of DC's planning culture from a conservative postdmodern plan of making more land for monuments to one that's much more urban.

w: Jefferson loaned L'Enfant a plan of Karlsruhe, that's true. He also gave him books about Rome, French Neoclassicism, and other cities undergoing transformation. But L'Enfant grew up at Versailles and was interested in the Enlightenment Baroque (and vaguely masonic) idea of a formal Sacred Grove. They're all there, so unless you can definitively point me to a book or quotation, I don't agree that it was the model.

BDC: Agreed. There's a clear preference for Greco-Roman classical architecture here, but that shouldn't distract from the other point. The style/architecture spat already poisoned a lot of minds against New Urbanist ideas for no good reason.

by цarьchitect on Oct 14, 2009 3:23 pm • linkreport

the Anacostia wetlands are gone mostly because DC, like most other large northeastern US cities in the 1800's and early 1900's, had horrible problems with malaria and yellow fever incubated in tidal marshes - DC not being the only such city. In addition to this- the shallows were cleared out for navigation purposes- the Navy Yard & it's gigantic steel gun casting facilities being a vital port facility right up until the Vietnam War when it was finally closed down. Philadelphia and New York also had problem marshy areas like these- and in some places they still do.

The Army Corps of Engineers, starting in the 1870's began to slowly change the river profiles around the port areas of DC. One of the changes made being the large shoal that held up navigation near the mouth of the Anacostia- once this was gone, large ships were more easily brought to the Navy Yard. West Potomac Park is another result of this large scale dredging and land reclaimation by the ACE.

How many people are aware that the first USA aircraft carrier was tested in the Anacostia river?
The engineers at the Navy Yard designed , built & tested the new catapult system and there are photos at the Navy Archives showing the early biplanes taking off from it's deck with the Capitol in the background, etc.

Malaria and yellow fever could still make a comeback in the USA- especially with our super complacent anti- spraying mentality and lack of concern for controlling the voracious mosquito populations here.

The dredging for the deepwater channel was halted when super high levels of PCBs were found in the sediments on the river bottom and the EPA did not want them disturbed so that the important downstream shellfish industries were aversely affected. PCBs were used to lubricate the lathes and milling machines that bored and formed the giant 16 inch naval cannons made at the gun factory- the world's largest. The PEPCO plant upriver at Benning Road also contributed their own PCBs to the river.

Mosquitos and navigation were principal reasons for clearing out these marshy areas- and historically- the Anacostia- like the Potomac- was both much much deeper and wider.

by w on Oct 14, 2009 3:31 pm • linkreport

If Robert Moses and the Corps of Engineers had a baby, this would be it. It is an incredibly bad idea premised on questionable assumptions. The basic idea is that we need more land in the District to provide housing (every objection to the plan is answered by “you must want more suburban development”). The few acres that this plan would provide would add very little to the buildable space – right now there are at least 4 big sites available: Poplar Point, Res 13, McMillan Filtration and the Old Solders Home plus developments in SE sitting empty. So adding this land will do nothing to either create jobs or replace suburban development. Channeling the river and removing the wetlands is a huge step back in land management. Adding more bridges would be fine if they are one-lane pedestrian bridges – otherwise they simply bring more commuter traffic to neighborhood streets. It seems that is all based on. I think Washington is a grand enough city without having to slavishly fall victim to Paris envy.

by Skeptic on Oct 14, 2009 3:32 pm • linkreport


yes indeed these other places like Versailles were important to Lenfant- but they were also not stricken from the historical record because of ingrained repulsion for everything German that at least two generations of US & UK scholars perpetuated. Karlsruhe deserves it's rightful place and has NOT been acknowledged by the powers that be who control what is said about DC's history.

by w on Oct 14, 2009 3:38 pm • linkreport

Taking away parkland in a poor, mostly black part of the city to sell it off to private developers to build housing for the well-off?

Nice try, but I'm not sure how many people in Wards 7 and 8 would view this as an improvement.

Welcome to Washington.

by Capitol Dome on Oct 14, 2009 3:46 pm • linkreport

This is true: what about the social justice implications of a plan like this?

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 14, 2009 3:54 pm • linkreport

Why is widening the river such an issue? Let's say the river is left mostly alone, despite w's and Boot's great points. The idea is how to plan/plat the remaining land and much like L'Enfant's plan or any other plan, when it meets reality, it should be organically modified. If more park land is needed, then add it. If some highways are too important to be demoed, then don't, but to call it a "Leon Krieresque nightmare of quasipublic corporatized spaces and Speerian lines" might be a bit of an over-reaction.

by Thayer-D on Oct 14, 2009 3:54 pm • linkreport

Capitol Dome, ward 8 has been in favor of developing Poplar Point ever since DC United first started circulating drawings of a soccer stadium. They are very much in favor of getting some new development. They want a Bright Shiny Object that would bring in new visitors from around the region and a new reputation for their part of the region. They saw the success of redeveloping a small part of Silver Spring and want some of that.

by Cavan on Oct 14, 2009 3:57 pm • linkreport

Oh, come on, Thayer. This fits in exactly with Krier's neo-con/neo-trad aesthetic - replace as much parkland as possible with gigantic and imposing architecture, possibly with a canal or other smallish hemmed-in water feature. Remember that he wanted to replace Ground Zero in lower Manhattan with a tiny, scowling, militaristic memorial to "Remembrance" flanked by a canyon of outsized New York Life Buildings. It's like putting up a Statue of Nothing Will Ever Be Normal Again.

Incidentally, I never said anything about 295/395, but I agree that there should be organic growth extending from the original L'Enfant and Banneker plans. This just isn't that.

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 14, 2009 4:01 pm • linkreport

I'm not convinced that building what is essentially a small city is comparable to one proposed soccer stadium. Furthermore, there was sizable opposition to the streetcar line in Anacostia.

Also, you have to remember that this is DC, an overwhelming liberal and majority-black city. As such, political decisions are always viewed through the prisms of race and class, thus rendering this project politically impossible by those political standards.

by Capitol Dome on Oct 14, 2009 4:13 pm • linkreport

Does anyone here actually use that "parkland" along the Anacostia as it is? Do visitors to DC? I would venture no. I would think this plan would allow for some space for a decently sized park, if I'm reading the plan at Poplar Point correctly. What's there now is a disorganized green swath with a freeway. I fail to see how that is more pleasant than more urban living with a pleasant riverside that actually gets used.

by Boots on Oct 14, 2009 4:14 pm • linkreport

JD, do the monuments constructed in the existing L'Enfant squares mean anything to you? They don't to me, I just see them as all other public sculpture...'thanks for the effort to make the public realm more attractive.' And if this plan is neo-con (?) how is L'Enfant's plan or for that matter Christopher Wren's London plan not neo-con either? This is the kind of usless ideological "spat" that turns people off to architecture and planning. Politicians can ascribe any political interpretation they want on architecture (and planning), it dosen't make it so. Stripped down classicism in the 30's is seen by some as fascist (Speer), by some as Communist (Stalin) and some as democratic (Federal Triangle). As the esteemed philosoph Chuck-D said once, don't believe the hype.

by Thayer-D on Oct 14, 2009 4:15 pm • linkreport

Oh and BTW Karlsruhe does look wonderful and interesting and I will visit it someday. However, as much as it is nice and does have an interesting grid, it probably isn't THE inspiration, given that L'Enfant actually lived in Versailles.

by Boots on Oct 14, 2009 4:18 pm • linkreport


Do people use Poplar Point? No. Do people use Anacostia Park? Yes, most definitely.

Neil mentioned it earlier, but DC has a strong lack of athletic field space - general, active open space. Anacostia Park will get overwhelmed at times with flag football, softball, ultimate frisbee, etc. That park's problem is the connections (or lack thereof) both to the neighborhood and to the other side of the river.

by Alex B. on Oct 14, 2009 4:19 pm • linkreport

Does anyone here actually use that "parkland" along the Anacostia as it is? Do visitors to DC? I would venture no.
That's where Marion Barry was arrested on July 4th. Many residents had gathered at the park that night to watch the fireworks. I have been to the park numerous times and have seen many other people there.

Isn't it interesting that nobody is proposing building over remote parts of Rock Creek Park but when it comes to Anacostia Park, it's suddenly ok?

by Capitol Dome on Oct 14, 2009 4:20 pm • linkreport

Thayer-D: So why doesn't anyone who lives here go out of their way to visit those supposedly more "attractive" parts of the city? The complexes of symbolic architecture in the center of the city are interesting to tourists, sure, but they empty out at night. They're certainly not organic, and the programmatic nature of these buildings is apparent to people who are familiar with them. It's not much different from Seahaven, or a shopping mall. It's good to have plans for a rudimentary fabric upon which the city can be established, but once you make architectural decisions for entire swaths of a city, it becomes less of a neighborhood and more of a subdivision.

Capitol Dome: Oh hay sup MPC? I see what you did thar.

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 14, 2009 4:22 pm • linkreport

Thayer-D: So why doesn't anyone who lives here go out of their way to visit those supposedly more "attractive" parts of the city? The complexes of symbolic architecture in the center of the city are interesting to tourists, sure, but they empty out at night. They're certainly not organic, and the programmatic nature of these buildings is apparent to people who are familiar with them. It's not much different from Seahaven, or a shopping mall. It's good to have plans for infrastructure and for a rudimentary fabric upon which the city can be established, but once you make architectural decisions for entire swaths of a city, it becomes less of a neighborhood and more of a subdivision.

Capitol Dome: Oh hay sup MPC? I see what you did thar.

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 14, 2009 4:22 pm • linkreport

Global warming could bring back malaria and dengue fever. Spraying won't do anything for malaria--the mosquitoes adapted to DDT decades ago.

Narrowing the river would be expensive, but keeping the marshes makes more ecological sense and would differ some unique environments.

Much of the plan could be implemented w/o doing much to the Anacostia. I also wouldn't worry too much about fantasy museums--institutions like that take forever to get funded.
As for social justice--eastern Capitol Hill is largely middle class, although it's been undergoing gradual gentrification for the past couple decades. Anacostia center would be a different matter. One consideration is that poverty is a regional issue and not just the responsibility of DC government.

by Rich on Oct 14, 2009 4:39 pm • linkreport

Its not about PAVING over a section of park, its about making a better more urban park and a parklike city instead of unprogrammed and empty space that is little used apart from some times of the year. There seems to be in this plan ample parkland, partitioned out and in reasonable sizes, like in L'Enfant's original. Not only that but the promenade along the river would be preserved and celebrated rather than just left as a mud flat.

You don't need swaths of land to have outdoor recreation, there's no reason that you cant play softball in places as big as Lincoln park, its just they are set up differently.

by Boots on Oct 14, 2009 4:40 pm • linkreport


there are some new items out on Karlsruhe.

There has most definietly been an ingrained prejudice against admitting Karlsruhe's importance in developing Lenfant's plan. It is probably hard for some people to accept this because of so much of the orthodoxy and re-writing of history following WW2.

Did you know that Peter Paul Rubens was born in Germany and spent his first 20 some years there, and he is considered German in Europe- but Flemish in the USA? His first language was German and he studied art in Koln [ Cologne].

Another example of this WW1, WW2 era rewriting of history.

by w on Oct 14, 2009 4:44 pm • linkreport

Boots, that's true - you can play softball in a smaller space. You see it all the time on the Mall - but those games on the Mall also show the issues involved with such space. Overuse is a constant concern, and the overuse is also indicative of the demand for such spaces.

The larger point is, however, that these considerations need to be addressed. You can't just take that space away and expect that replacing it with more wannabe Lincoln Parks will solve everything.

by Alex B. on Oct 14, 2009 4:49 pm • linkreport

Another caveat I have about this plan. Are we sure we want to box another river when several cities (Seoul, Tempe, Denver, even Los Angeles) are trying to unbox theirs? I actually touched on that a little the last time this plan was in the news:

I didn't write a lot at the time, so maybe I should go back and crystallize my thoughts some more, but still, I worry about the Los Angeles effect here - turning what was a presence into a void.

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 14, 2009 5:01 pm • linkreport

It's thought that L'Enfant based his plan for the City of Washington on Versailles ... which was in turn based on the city of Bordeaux in the 18th century.

In any case, it couldn't have been based on Paris, because the Paris we know today (with its bridges, grand avenues, and vistas) didn't exist back when Washington was designed and first settled. It was created by Baron Haussmann for Napoleon III between 1852 and 1870.'s_renovation_of_Paris

Now, is it possible that Paris was based on Washington? Perhaps yes ... in a roundabout way ...

by Lance on Oct 14, 2009 5:10 pm • linkreport

JD, I clicked your link, but to my eyes it makes exactly the opposite point.

The picture you show of the "boxed" LA River looks like the Anacostia today - bounded on both sides by utterly unusable, wasted space. Conversely, the picture you show of Seoul looks very much like what is being proposed in this plan - a sunken esplanade surrounded by fully urban uses.

Is that Seoul picture *really* what you see when you look at the Anacostia today?

by BeyondDC on Oct 14, 2009 5:20 pm • linkreport


"Baron Haussmann, a long-time prefect of Bordeaux, used Bordeaux's 18th century big-scale rebuilding as a model when he was asked by Emperor Napoleon III to transform a then still quasi-medieval Paris into a "modern" capital that would make France proud."

by Lance on Oct 14, 2009 5:38 pm • linkreport

What do you plan to do with the people who live on the East side of Anacostia River? You are talking about a permanent underclass, uneducated, addicted, overly reliant on government programs, and infiltrated with a violent criminal element.

Ship them south to Charles County and beyond?

This is a serious question. Until you get rid of this permanent underclass, the SE quadrant of the city will remain largely unliveable, no matter how much urban planning takes place.

by realist on Oct 14, 2009 5:39 pm • linkreport

No, but I see what it could be in Seoul.

The Anacostia today is mostly a wild river, not a concrete trough whose purpose is to regulate its own floods. That is the ultimate outcome of a boxed river. That, more than the attendant uselessness of the public space, is the tragedy many in Los Angeles wish to undo.

Maybe it isn't a terrible idea to make the Anacostia into a somewhat more programmatic public amenity. I just want to make sure that some of its natural function is maintained, which will inevitably make it a more interesting and integral space than if it were engineered into a pseudo-Seine-avec-MRGO-that-isn't-quite.

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 14, 2009 5:41 pm • linkreport

realist: Oh hay sup Capitol Dome/MPC/Ricardo/Economic Geography.

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 14, 2009 5:41 pm • linkreport

>but I see what it could be in Seoul

What you see in Seoul is exactly what's proposed - a sunken esplanade surrounded by fully urban blocks. There's nothing natural about those walls and concrete walkways you see on either side of the Seoul stream. That thing is every bit as engineered as the LA River.

Would you feel better about the Anacostia plan if we lined one side of it with a 10-foot embankment of reeds?

Explain how the Seoul picture is different than what's proposed.

by BeyondDC on Oct 14, 2009 6:14 pm • linkreport

Would you feel better about the Anacostia plan if we lined one side of it with a 10-foot embankment of reeds?


Explain how the Seoul picture is different than what's proposed.

There's vegetation in the river. There's vegetation on the side of the river. I'm not arguing that landscaping is impossible - I'm arguing that there should be landscaping whatsoever.

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 14, 2009 6:23 pm • linkreport

Also, I think the Navy Yard bend should be preserved rather than fanning it out into a rectangular basin, particularly given that the architecture in that area is already historic. I find it deeply ironic that a committed "classicist" would tear down that entire complex to substitute it with a pseudo-historic complex of similar architectural model.

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 14, 2009 6:27 pm • linkreport

This is absolutely beautiful. It should have been built years ago.

It's sad to see that the old environmentalist canard of thou shalt not build a normal city in a drainage basin has reared its ugly head, when the government itself has shown how low-site-coverage solutions that result from this crazy obsession with SUDS inevitably result in higher basin coverage. The environmentalist fantasy world would never allow Paris to be built: they'd end up with a Plan Voisin without the merits of modern conveniences.

Then there's the other canard that America would do better by emulating England by controlling development to the point that poor people cannot afford housing on the basis that "we" (meaning upper middle class people of a certain age) "don't need any more houses": this is a recipe for massively reduced economic opportunities and eventual stagnation.

But although we all know (and presumably love) Paris, it does not have a monopoly on embanked waterfronts. Is the Vltava through the centre of Prague a pseudo-Seine? Of course not: it's a river with a wholly different cultural identity. Equally, the McMillan plan could only possibly be Washington, DC.

by James D on Oct 14, 2009 6:36 pm • linkreport

Ah, yes, those wicked environmentalists.

Is the Vltava through the centre of Prague a pseudo-Seine? Of course not: it's a river with a wholly different cultural identity.

That's true, except this isn't the Vltava, either. If it isn't the Seine, it's the Olmsted-Burnham Chicago lakefront superimposed on pre-existing cultural artifacts that it erases. And they say neo-traditionalists abhor the irony of (other) postmodernists....

Besides, if we're going to be looking to other capitals as models to emulate, why stay with western Europe? Why not look at Tokyo, or Beijing, or any number of east Asian cities whose waterfront areas are beautiful and frenetic and contemporary at the same time?

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 14, 2009 7:00 pm • linkreport

Incidentally, James: I'm not sure where anyone was arguing that we "don't need anymore houses". If anything, I'd like to argue that we need skyscrapers on the south bank of the Anacostia. Is this the argument that you presume other people are having when anyone questions neotraditional aesthetics?

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 14, 2009 7:03 pm • linkreport

Every square inch of land created by narrowing the Anacostia River would immediately and forever be the property of the National Park Service. That's the law. So forget any plans for new housing along the narrower, boxed-in Anacostia.

by Trulee Pist on Oct 14, 2009 7:47 pm • linkreport


JD, I clicked your link, but to my eyes it makes exactly the opposite point.
The picture you show of the "boxed" LA River looks like the Anacostia today - bounded on both sides by utterly unusable, wasted space.

If I'm looking at the same picture of the Los Angeles River, that "wasted space" is rail lines responsible for serving the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach, which happens to be the busiest port in the US, moving hundreds of billions of dollars worth of cargo. They are responsible for a large part of LA's past and future prosperity.

Granted, the rail lines don't have to go right beside the river (and there's interesting relocation work going on with stuff like the Alameda Corridor), but they have to go somewhere. Just because we're not looking at blocks of mixed-use, multiple-unit buildings doesn't mean wasted space.

DC, of course, is not LA. The relevant debate isn't really the LA River - try Ballona Creek and the development of marshlands around its mouth, for a closer model. It's highly contentious because there are precious few tidal wetlands left in Southern California.

Tidal wetlands, like the lower reaches of the Anacostia, are tricky. They only occur where the ocean meets fresh water. This is a rare environment indeed, however damaged. Any suburban development that this plan might replace is not going to be in a place with such rare geological circumstances. We've got plenty of piedmont forest - go build on it - but few places with the potential value of the Anacostia.

by David R. on Oct 14, 2009 10:02 pm • linkreport

Talking about Burnham - I ran the Chicago Marathon pretty much exactly a year ago. Unlike this year, that was a hot day - up to 90 degrees on bank thermometers - and a slow race. The second half was the hardest part, because there's precious little shade on that part of the course, south and west of the Loop. Few street trees. No parks to speak of.

In all its fixation on the lake and river crossings, the plan's vision did a remarkably poor job of ensuring access to parks for people inland, especially on the poor South and West Sides. It's emblematic of one of the Burnham Plan's weaknesses: a nasty habit of eliding the small-scale problems of the people who happen to live there, particularly the ones far from the lake, by covering the little details in a wash of gorgeous watercolor.

I usually support big-picture thinking. The city needs vision. I can't abide the way we've frittered away opportunities to make a greater, more legible city, in the interest of short-term tax base expansion.

But this is a draftsman's geometric fantasy. Classical perfection's wonderful and everything, but this kind of tabula rasa bulldozer fest has more of a place in greenfield development.

by David R. on Oct 14, 2009 10:23 pm • linkreport

I love the idea of all those bridges crossing the Anacostia. Like a few others, I think these could be built and successfully serve the intended purpose without narrowing the river.

I don't think it is fair to condemn architecture as a profession for being incapable of producing thoughtful logical urban plans. Obviously these architects have done so. L'Enfant was an architect. So is Jaime Lerner, and look what he's done for Curitiba.

by ogden on Oct 14, 2009 11:11 pm • linkreport

BDC, the key difference between this plan and Seoul is that this plan calls for narrowing the river by half. By half. Anyway you slice it, that's a huge intervention with seriouc hydrologic consequences.

by Alex B. on Oct 14, 2009 11:17 pm • linkreport

Can we stop bringing up Seoul? The Cheonggyecheon river is maybe 200 feet wide. And the water is filtered before going into the daylight. There are creeks that flow into the Anacostia where a similar design is possible, but Seoul is not a great example.

by цarьchitect on Oct 15, 2009 4:10 am • linkreport

How about the Tiber in Rome? How about the Back Bay infill in the Charles River? You can spend all day long bemoning the subjugation of nature in favor of settlements, but that is what a settlement is. This argument reminds me of people who go on about the virtues of "green" buildings in the middle of no where. As the Atlantic article earlier this year spelled out, the Greenest city in America is New York. We might as well say all of the mall destroyed the marshy wetlands it was before L'Enfant first drew up his plan. Save your fire for subdivisions far afield from existing infrastructure that continues to slice up ecosystems we desperatley rely on to live.

@JD "Is this the argument that you presume other people are having when anyone questions neotraditional aesthetics?"

How are modernist styles not neotraditional too? They've been doing them for the last 90 years.

"I find it deeply ironic that a committed "classicist" would tear down that entire complex to substitute it with a pseudo-historic complex of similar architectural model"

Again, don't let the "language" of the buildings get in the way of an honest assesment of this plan. Baron Von Hausman was a comitted classicist, one assumes. (I guess he tore down medieval fabric) The reason one might wonder why a "traditionalist" would contemplate tearing down historic fabric for what their sketches portray is because they assume what will be built will be better than what's there. In fact, that was always the assumption by the public until the "Modernists" proposed the trully radical trashing of our entire history in favor of their hyper intellectualized visions.

If one preferrs modernism is completely besides the point. How wide the river or how many parks it ultimatley has are details to be left to the actual implementation of what is a simple extension of an existing street pattern that seems to be universally accepted as a preaty niffty plan.

by Thayer-D on Oct 15, 2009 6:44 am • linkreport

Well, technically the Charles River and the Back Bay is a reservoir behind a dam.

This doesn't need to be an either/or proposition. I think it's both possible and desirable to manipulate the river into a more urban context, but do so in an ecologically friendly way. The notion that we need to build here to save wetlands someplace else is true, but it also presents a false dichotomy. Sure, we should build here - but what we build ought to be environmentally friendly.

DC is already a pretty green and environmentally friendly place, yet the water quality in the Anacostia sucks. Correlation is not causation.

by Alex B. on Oct 15, 2009 8:52 am • linkreport

I too, really love plans like this. Most of the components of this plan will never see the light of day, but it is nice to see people having "grand" aesthetic ideas about this city. DC has had a rough go of it for most of the last ~45 years...I hope the progress being made continues.

As a practical, civil engineer however, I wince every time I see people adding tunnels, building more bridges, burying highways. It all looks and sounds grand, but no one thinks of the long term maintenance and upkeep costs of these expensive and complicated projects. Bridges, tunnels etc cost a bloody fortune to maintain and I would like to see DC's public works evolve in a way that works in a grand way, but in responsible fiscal fashion.

For example...the 14th street bridge is actually a group of 5 bridges connecting VA to DC. The distance separating the two furthers bridges is a ~ mile. Why is it that we need 5 bridges within a mile span. DC-DOT is currently in the long term planning for their replacement. They will replace 5 bridges, with 5 more. I'd rather see a mega bridge, designed in the beautiful Memorial Bridge way, rather that 5 utilitarian bridges that just take up more space.

The combined bridge could accommodate all the traffic currently accommodated by the 5, and a sub-deck metro rail.

Cheaper to build and much cheaper to maintain than 5 separate bridges, that also frees up lots of space on both banks of the Potomac where the bridges used to be.

Alas...I doubt this will ever come to fruition, but thats the kind of long term fiscal planning we need with DC public works.

by DC Engineer on Oct 15, 2009 9:09 am • linkreport

I think Thayer-D beat me to the punch mentioning the Tiber and other urban rivers as being what settlement is. I think his point is, and I agree, that cities should be cities, and that countryside should be countryside. It is the admixture of these two things, trying to mix country into the city is what creates sprawl, leaving you with neither.

If you leave the Anacostia as it is now, as a decidedly T1 zone in between two parts of the city, they remain just that, two SEPARATE parts. The plan given here weaves both of these parts together to create one city. Also look to how the plan eliminates the 395 cutting a swath across the city. The entire effort is to create a unified city north and south of the river.

It is not about boxing the river like LA, or as London did, with many of its streams. Instead it's about about celebrating and enhancing the river making it open for people to use.

LA boxed the river to control the flash flooding that occurs when it rains there. Having lived there its a frightening thing seeing a trickle of a stream turn into a rolling 20 foot deep torrent that smashes the hillsides.

Allow me to put on my art historian hat W - I still don't see the connection other than the general connection of Baroque city planning.

I think yes, Karlsruhe and others do have some influence on DC, as being part of a larger tradition of Baroque planning, but given the formal dissimilarities, I say there is not a direct influence. The influence is more of general one, an influence that also includes the Renaissance planning of Rome, with it's tridents and long straight vistas, and other French and Italian precedent.

I don't think that I come from, nor do most scholars I know of, exhibit an anti-German bias. I love Germany, and I jumped at the chance to spend three weeks there studying architecture and planning, Schinkel is still one of my favorites and as many of my professors at Notre Dame put it, one the most influential architects even in American Grecian architecture (the Patent Building for instance).

by Boots on Oct 15, 2009 9:24 am • linkreport

If one preferrs modernism is completely besides the point.

That statement is preceded immediately by this statement:

The "Modernists" proposed the trully radical trashing of our entire history in favor of their hyper intellectualized visions.

And yet even that statement is for whatever reason preceded by a defensive justification that minimizes Haussmann's real destruction of historic context in favor of a contemporary style. Not just something that you "guess" happened; it actually did happen, it's in the historical record.

So I think a question of aesthetic tastes that inform an aesthetic project of this scale is entirely up for discussion, yes.

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 15, 2009 9:25 am • linkreport

LA boxed the river to control the flash flooding that occurs when it rains there. Having lived there its a frightening thing seeing a trickle of a stream turn into a rolling 20 foot deep torrent that smashes the hillsides.

This flooding has become significantly worse since the 1950s, when effectively the entire river system was redesigned to be its own storm drain. Certainly when the Manzanares or the Tiber or the Ayalon or most other urban arid rivers were channelized (regardless of whether modernism was en vogue at the time, Thayer), they didn't start to behave like the L.A. River does today. It's an exceptionally bad piece of hydrological engineering.

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 15, 2009 9:32 am • linkreport

That said, I know that the flooding was highly unpredictable before the channelization occurred, and needed to happen. I just think it was a botched channelization, is all.

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 15, 2009 9:55 am • linkreport

Well, technically the Charles River and the Back Bay is a reservoir behind a dam.

I know that Mass. set out 30+ years ago to make the river "swimmable" (hi, Bill Weld!), but now it's drinkable too?

Technically the dam eliminates tidal flows in the river that created flooding and prevents salt water from going too far "upstream".

by ah on Oct 15, 2009 10:10 am • linkreport

My understanding is that a reservoir is merely a body of water behind a dam of some sort, regardless of purpose (flood control, drinking water, irrigation, etc.)

My only point was that portion of the Charles River isn't so much a river as it is a lake.

by Alex B. on Oct 15, 2009 10:13 am • linkreport

As someone who regularly walks and bikes along both banks of the Anacostia and Kayaks it during warmer weather, I see this plan as a disaster. The only parts of the plan I agree with are to remove the freeways and trains (or put them underground).

We have something incredibly unique and amazing here in Washington: a nature preserve in the middle of the city. Parisians and other Europeans city dwellers would kill to have something like this. Europeans are always stunned when the come to Washington and see how "wild" our river banks are.

I already hear the snearing of some readers of this post "the Anacostia, a nature preserve- come on". Really. Walk along the paths by RFK and go to the Heritage Islands in middle of the Anacostia. Go to the Arboretum and the Aquatic gardens. They are filled with beautiful flora, herons, egrets, osprey, bald eagles and many other birds. (It would be great to upload photos w/comments). To pave over these beautiful marshes and replace them with concrete would be criminal.

On paper this plan looks fantastic. But go see for yourselves how amazing this place is right now and how beautiful it would be if it were cleaned it up further and manage as an urban wilderness preserve with parks, bike trails and boat houses.

by PH on Oct 15, 2009 11:53 am • linkreport

So what happened to the Alexandria Extension railroad line? Did it become tunneled in this proposed/fantasy scenario? Or was the line taken out because freight was diverted elsewhere?

by Zac on Oct 15, 2009 12:02 pm • linkreport

J.D. Hammond:

This flooding has become significantly worse since the 1950s, when effectively the entire river system was redesigned to be its own storm drain. Certainly when the Manzanares or the Tiber or the Ayalon or most other urban arid rivers were channelized (regardless of whether modernism was en vogue at the time, Thayer), they didn't start to behave like the L.A. River does today. It's an exceptionally bad piece of hydrological engineering.

The Tiber does flood. The Seine has flooded to the extent that the water filled the Metro system, and this after the construction of the embankments.

Channelization has precisely one effect on flooding: it makes flooding the problem of someone downstream. That is, provided that upstream channelization hasn't rendered your own flood walls useless.

As a rule, channelized rivers experience higher flood levels than ones free to spread out in their flood plains. Natural and restored floodplains let water move more slowly, spreading flow over a longer period. Channelization upstream does move water more quickly - it concentrates flood peaks, worsening the problem.

by David R. on Oct 15, 2009 12:58 pm • linkreport


LA boxed the river to control the flash flooding that occurs when it rains there. Having lived there its a frightening thing seeing a trickle of a stream turn into a rolling 20 foot deep torrent that smashes the hillsides.

Are you talking about flash flood and landslide events up in the hills? LA County's response, a more progressive engineering answer, is the exact opposite of channelization. The County builds empty dams to contain water and mud - to HOLD material rather than to move it faster - and has purchased the most vulnerable floodways, forbidding permanent construction there.


We might as well say all of the mall destroyed the marshy wetlands it was before L'Enfant first drew up his plan. Save your fire for subdivisions far afield from existing infrastructure that continues to slice up ecosystems we desperatley rely on to live.

You brought up Boston.

The Colonial era city suffered from an exceptionally limited land area. THe city was just a nub approximately the size of Downtown and the North End, tenuously connected to the mainland by a thin neck. It was also a port with a compelling need to increase land adjacent to salt water. And those marshes did present a health problem, because yes, if you use tidal marshes as dumping grounds for garbage and sewage- which is precisely what Boston did - those marshes tend to become public nuisances.

The natural condition of an estuary is not to be clogged with shit. That only happens if a settlement's density exceeds its crude ability to dispose of its own waste.

Tidal marshes are precious, as habitat, as amenities, as filters. I'll say it again: they can only exist in the boundary between fresh water and salt. By building the city, by grooming the edges of the Potomac, we've managed to destroy nearly all of the salt marshes that once were here. And you'd have us fill the rest?

The old excuses no longer apply. It's not 1850, and Washington is not a major port. We've figured out how to dispose of sewage other than piping it directly into the marsh next door, CSOs aside. And there's a whole region to build on.

Save your fire? Why not scream louder about St. Elizabeths, for instance?

by David R. on Oct 15, 2009 1:18 pm • linkreport

Anyone know what's under the Thames Embankment? Sewers. The new sewers were the main cause for the project - any civic-beauty effects were secondary to solving the very serious problem of London being awash in its own excrement.

In order to understand the conditions that inspired riverside embankments in these great cities, you have to know what rivers were like then. I've read historical accounts that talk about the Thames blistering paint on ships moored in the Pool of London. The bottom in Boston was, quite literally, a few feet of solidified human waste, garbage, and offal.

by David R. on Oct 15, 2009 1:25 pm • linkreport

The map doesn't show the area south of Navy Yard. Are there more bridges down there?

This brings up something I've been thinking about for awhile. The DC area is constrained by the need to occasionally bring large boats to the Navy Yard. This means that there are only two regional bridges across the Potomac/Anacostia downstream of the Navy Yard. What are these boars doing that is so important that it has to add billions to the cost of these bridges and limits connectivity in the region? And can it be moved elsewhere? Couldn't we move these "big ship" projects to Fort Belvoir? Why did BRAC miss that?

by David C on Oct 15, 2009 1:29 pm • linkreport

David C, The plan calls for four bridges south of the Navy Yard. The Navy's insistence on navigability is odd - but all this is irrelevant since the Navy Yard would be substantially gone.

by цarьchitect on Oct 15, 2009 2:01 pm • linkreport

Keeping some navigability is a fair point, however. Do we need to allow capital ships to access the Navy Yard? Probably not. Do we want enough clearance (either by higher bridges or by draw spans) to allow taller sailing ships to use the river as a harbor? I'd say yes

by Alex B. on Oct 15, 2009 2:15 pm • linkreport

Despite it's name, the Navy Yard stopped being a shipyard decades ago (and even then, it was limited). It has no ship repair function or, for that matter, any other industrial use. It's purely administrative. The ex-USS Barry, pictured above, is simply a museum ship. Put simply, there is no operational capacity at WNY.

I know the Navy has a bridge height requirement, but at most this is an anachronism. Even if if there was no bridge, the depth is way too shallow to allow pretty much any current Navy ship. It would have to have a draft of around 5 feet!


by TimK on Oct 15, 2009 2:32 pm • linkreport

I can't believe no one mentioned this yet, but isn't there a very recently constructed stadium in the vicinity of this plan? I can't find it on either map. So given that a recent construction project, not to mention tons of new overpriced, block-size, ugly luxury condos, already exist in part of the area under question, it's hard to imaging most of this plan seeing the light of day.

That said, I do like the idea of more pedestrian-bike-and- transit-focused bridges connecting the two sides of the river. I can see something like this being developed in the area around RFK, eventually. But don't think for a second that local environmentalists would let Kingman Island and surrounding wetlands be completely developed without a long, hard fight. As for Anacostia Park, it's as @Alex B. said: "That park's problem is the connections (or lack thereof) both to the neighborhood and to the other side of the river."

We do need to provide bridges, literal and metaphorical, between the two sides of the river, and some well-planned development is better than a hodgepodge of condos on one side and underutilized, limited access space on the other. I like the vision this plan presents, even as I disagree with some of the specifics. I'd rather see something like this, carefully planned, with adequate green space for recreation and conservation, than just going with the status quo and a hodgepodge of individually planned development projects.

by Grace on Oct 15, 2009 3:18 pm • linkreport

So, and pardon my ignorance, when they open the Wilson Bridge/Douglas Bridge for ships, which ships are those?

by David C on Oct 15, 2009 4:27 pm • linkreport

Well, there's a lot more stuff upstream of the Wilson Bridge than there is for the Douglass bridge. The new clearance for the Wilson Bridge is 70 feet. The old bridge was 50 ft. There are plenty of sailboats with 50+ foot tall masts, and a whole lot of boat slips north of the bridge...

by Alex B. on Oct 15, 2009 4:34 pm • linkreport

70 feet? Looks taller. And 50 foot masts? Wow, much taller than the little Dolphin I learned to sail with. You learn something new every day.

by David C on Oct 15, 2009 5:22 pm • linkreport

Well, I'm sure the actual clearance is more than 70 feet at the peak of the arch. Also, the total structure is obviously taller than just the clearance.

The Wikipedia article on the bridge says the old bridge (at 50 feet) was raised 260 times a year. They expected that to drop to 60 times a year with the 70 ft clearance. So, take that for what it's worth.

by Alex B. on Oct 15, 2009 5:31 pm • linkreport


With the bridge in the closed position, the Federal Channel has a vertical clearance of 75 feet (MHW) at the Federal channel edges and 83 feet (MHW) at center channel from the bottom of the northernmost (upstream) steel girder. The navigation light posts hang down five feet from the bottom of the girders. These posts are offset 15' from the centerline of the Federal Channel. Channel width and depth remains unchanged at 175' and 28' (MLW), respectively.

by TimK on Oct 15, 2009 6:41 pm • linkreport

Ships carrying paper for the Washington Post to print on come up to Robinson Terminal in Alexandria. The old bridge used to open for them. I don't know if the new bridge has to. When the bridge was being discussed, every so often the WaPo would print a disclaimer noting its possible conflict of interest.

by jim on Oct 15, 2009 6:49 pm • linkreport

What could go wrong with paving significant wetlands in the Chesapeake watershed and impeding the flow of stormwater out of the Bladensburg area?

Sorry Mr Buras, we don't just shaft people like 19th Century France did. Say what you will about our political / civic system but an idea this bad won't go anywhere.

It depresses me that anyone would actually publish this. The only thing innovative about this fantasy is that it brazenly ignores all that we have learned about wetlands and their importance in the past decades, and all the urgency that has emerged to improve the health of the Chesapeake.

Sadly it is not surprising that the plan implies that the welfare of people in Bladensburg, Edmonston, etc., is of no concern. People in that part of PG are apparently invisible to bureaucrats, politicians... and architects.

Other than that, if the city magically gets all this land back from the military (I'm sure the Navy won't care) and the freeways (no big deal there), sure, extend the grid. Does that make me a visionary?

by DavidDuck on Oct 15, 2009 9:28 pm • linkreport

This plan looks amazing. I'm sympathetic to the lack of large-scale recreation areas, I think more of these should be incorporated into the larger parks (that is, Fort Dupont, Rock Creek, etc). I can't wrap my head around "wetland" enthusiasts, maybe growing up in the country insulates one from the tendency to romanticize weeds and mud.

by Steve on Oct 16, 2009 5:55 pm • linkreport

Steve, it's not so much romance as utility. I don't like mud, but I do see that it provides a service.

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 19, 2009 2:51 pm • linkreport

I am a member of a local crew rowing club based out of the Anacostia Community Boat Center (next to the Navy Yard). We often see wildlife including Bald Eagles while rowing along the river, and folks from East of the river using the parks for fishing, biking, playing ball etc. While I support the goals to make more effective use of our waterfront space in DC, I think it would be a travesty to narrow the river, lose marshlands, and negatively impact the natural beauty of the river. We should be finding solutions that respect and maintain the natural beauty and improve the overall usage of the waterfront space for everyone. Why does it have to be one or the other?

by T. Smith on Nov 16, 2009 2:30 pm • linkreport

While the idea of narrowing the Anacostia River is very intriguing, the classicist context of the proposal is utterly absurd. The article mentions various differences between Washington and Paris, but fails to point out the obvious: that the Seine as we know it today is appropriately a product of the 18th and 19th centuries. Its bridges and embankments reflect the ages in which they were built. No matter how nostalgic people like Mr. Buras may be for those days, they are gone. We do not, cannot, and should not attempt to build today as people did 100 or 200 years ago. To do so would be wasteful, environmentally irresponsible, horrifyingly expensive, and above all, culturally false. I LOVE Paris, and I LOVE good 19th-century architecture. I also know that to try to replicate such architecture today can only lead to hollow, bizarre structures. If you are not comfortable with the current state of architecture, then you should be working to find and implement a new beauty that is of our era. All that said, I still DO think the idea of narrowing the Anacostia is worthy of serious discussion.

by Nathaniel Martin on Nov 17, 2009 1:25 am • linkreport

Nathaniel, I've rarely seen someone dismiss classical architecture by using all of the standard arguments in such a succinct manner.

What is absurd is the belief that human nature is so malleable that it requires people to live in ugly, poorly built and yes, expensive, experiments.

by Boots on Nov 17, 2009 7:46 am • linkreport

I don't think questioning the idea of narrowing a river is to question all of classical architecture, Boots.

The simple fact is that Buras is proposing to narrow the river for the sake of narrowing the river. It's a solution looking for a problem, in my mind. That critique says nothing of the style of architecture he has in mind or any of the other planning principles he'd like to see (restoration and extension of the L'Enfant grid/avenues, etc).

by Alex B. on Nov 17, 2009 9:11 am • linkreport

I don't think Nathaniel questions narrowing the river...

One of the flaws in both Classical and Modernist philosophies is an assumption that you have to achieve perfect order and perfect consistency at most levels of design. Often, when faced with a complex, fluid situation, both architectures just engineer the hell out of it until it works, rather than making the city or building adapt or respond. That's a generalization, but it's not surprising that a hard line modern and a classicist would both be okay with the narrowing of the river.

Both however, may be wrong.

by Neil Flanagan on Nov 17, 2009 9:42 am • linkreport

No, it's clear that Nathaniel does not - but I am, and I think that critique falls into the same boat as Nathaniel's - that of a solution looking for a problem.

by Alex B. on Nov 17, 2009 9:47 am • linkreport

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