Southwest Ecodistrict visions take shape
The National Capital Planning Commission's "Southwest Ecodistrict" initiative seeks to redefine life along 10th Street and Maryland Avenue SW through new multi-modal, mixed-use development that will seamlessly connect the Mall and the Southwest Waterfront.
Last night, NCPC held its second public scoping meeting to flesh out more details of of the initiative.Though the presentation was short on specifics, this would be a positive step for the neighborhood.
Today, both the 10th Street SW and Maryland Avenue corridors suffer from a high density of government office buildings that fail to engage the street. Furthermore, the area's lack of connectivity to the surrounding neighborhoods creates a severe hindrance to pedestrians.
Hungry government employees will often walk down the steep hill from Benjamin Banneker Park and cross busy Maine Avenue SW to reach the Waterfront for lunch. Physical and psychological barriers including the nearby CSX tracks, the Southwest Freeway, and the unnerving presence of supersized federal office buildings gives the area a disjointed feel that makes walking around the area quite demoralizing.
In spite of these challenges, this part of DC has quite a bit to recommend. The area is one of the most transit-accessible locations in the Washington region. L'Enfant Plaza Metro station provides four entrances to four of the system's most heavily used lines.
The area also benefits from a direct commuter rail link to Virginia along with dozens of commuter buses, Metrobus, and the DC Circulator. The Ecodistrict's proximity to the National Mall and important job centers downtown and in emerging areas of employment around the Waterfront and Navy Yard make this area especially attractive.
The Southwest Ecodistrict task force seeks to enhance this strong foundation with a complete facelift of the neighborhood. Comprising 15 federal and local agencies including the National Capital Planning Commission and the DC Office of Planning, the task force is actively working to finalize their design for the area.
The heart of the plan works to reshape both 10th Street and Maryland Avenue. These two streets will form the new "heart" of the Southwest Ecodistrict. Current proposals seek to examine the feasibility of morphing the current ramshackle collection of federal office buildings into unique pedestrian-friendly corridors that complement the federal offices nearby with extra retail and housing options. Current plans also emphasize the importance of establishing a strong physical and visual connection between the National Mall and the Southwest Waterfront.
To achieve these goals, the task force will examine the feasibility of infill development and complete redevelopment of existing structures along the corridor. The task force is also investigating the potential to deck over a portion of the Southwest Freeway to spur new development along 10th Street SW.
They are also proposing to deck over the CSX rail line, to reestablish Maryland Avenue SW according to the original L'Enfant plan. This proposal will provide a direct connection from the Southwest Ecodistrict to the Capitol and restore the grand view sheds of the Capitol Building along a restored urban boulevard.
Last, the task force intends the redesigned neighborhood to be a showcase in sustainability and eco-friendly practices. Currently, many of the buildings in the Ecodistrict utilize inefficient power and rainwater disposal methods.
The task force has proposed making the existing buildings more energy efficient through retrofitting or simply demolishing and rebuilding if appropriate. The proposed solution to water runoff includes a number of potential solutions to trap and store water whether in green roofs or even in vast storage tanks underneath 10th Street SW.
If any one of these proposals manages to make it though the difficult planning process ahead, DC will be in store for a vastly different neighborhood just south of the Mall. The sheer potential to remake one of the most incoherent parts of the city is very exciting and a great move forward for the city.
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