Greater Greater Washington

Posts about GSA


St. Elizabeths plan threatens South Capitol Trail

A Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Department of Homeland Security at St. Elizabeths is available for comment. It includes several improvements that should appeal to cyclists, but at least one alternative threatens the important, planned South Capitol Street trail.

The S. Capitol Street trail is the dotted orange line.

To accommodate the increase in jobs, the EIS primarily adds vehicular capacity by widening South Capitol Street, adding interchanges to I-295, and more. One area of such widening is at the interchange between 295 and Malcolm X Avenue. Alternative 1 rebuilds the I-295 S/South Capitol Street interchange to allow southbound traffic to use South Capitol and Malcolm X to reach the West Campus Access Road.

But to handle the added traffic, it would push South Capitol to the west using the same right-of-way that DDOT plans to use to build the South Capitol Street Trail (circled in black below). The EIS does make it clear that planners are aware of the trail, but it seems they are either unaware or unconcerned that these plans threaten it.

Alternative 1 of I-295/Malcolm X Avenue interchange expansion. Image from the EIS.

GSA should either pursue Alternative 2 or work to modify Alternative 1 to allow for the South Capitol Street Trail. If you contact GSA or go to the public hearing on Thursday night make sure they know how important this critical link is and that any alternative must not preclude construction of the South Capitol Street Trail.

But all is not gloom and doom. There are other more positive developments. As mentioned before, both alternatives for the West Campus Access Road include a 10-foot wide multi-use trail along the road from South Capitol Street (south end), across Malcolm X Avenue, and continuing to Firth Sterling Avenue/Defense Boulevard. This adds another north/south connection to the District's trail system. Even the No Build Alternative includes bike lanes and a sidewalk on the Access Road (but not all the way to Malcolm X Avenue).

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, Alternative 2 widens the street by 8 feet more than Alternative 1, from 78 to 86 feet wide, to make room for bicycle lanes. This will, unfortunately, involve removing 27 trees - as opposed to 21 for alternative 1. Still, this is the better alternative of the two, as new trees will be planted to mitigate the impact.

There are also plans to extend 13th Street on the east campus, and that extended street may include bike lanes.
Finally, the Great Streets initiative for MLK Avenue includes plans to add bike racks.

According to GSA, only about 1% of employees are expected to bike to work at the new facility. But the multi-use trail is expected to become a main route for the 8% of employees expected to walk from the Metro station. GSA notes that other steps can be taken to get more people to bike. For example, the EIS notes that by building a smaller parking lot to serve the FEMA building, employees would be encouraged to use public transit, bike or walk to work.

The EIS also recognizes that planned bicycle lanes on Howard Road and along the new MLK Avenue Bridge over Suitland Parkway, as well as unplanned improvements from the Wilson Bridge would do more to improve bike/ped access. This, along with the South Capitol Street Trailif they don't inadvertently kill itshould help the bicycle mode share to climb higher.

GSA will be holding a public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) for the amendment to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Headquarters Consolidation Master Plan at St. Elizabeths on January 13, 2011, from 6-8:30 pm at the Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, John H. Kearney, Sr. Fellowship Hall, located at 2616 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, SE, Washington, DC. You can also submit comments online.

Cross-posted on The WashCycle.


Security bollards could also provide bike parking

Security measures are often antithetical to good urban design and vibrant city streets. But instead of hoping for them to go away, we can at least push for them to serve other uses as well, like doubling as bike racks.

Image from Reliance Foundry Co.

Foggy Bottom, where I live, has high security neighbors like the State Department, Federal Reserve, several high profile embassies, the IMF and the World Bank. There's hardly a street corner you can stand on where there aren't security bollards visible in one direction or another.

For all the surplus of posts, planters and barriers of all kinds, there is a commensurate dearth of something else: bike racks. While many of these institutions provide bike parking in the building for their workers, there is little in the way to accommodate visitors to the area who come on bikes.

Scenes like this are far too common, where bikes are locked to the occasional sign pole amid rows of barriers:

The only outdoor bike racks in the Federal Triangle I could find were not even on federal land but outside the Wilson Building, DC's state house/city hall. Those racks are behind an area that looks somewhat like a security checkpoint, and are absolutely packed while the sidewalks outside other buildings are barren:

Throughout the city there are entire neighborhoods completely devoid of bike racks yet filled with bollards, planters, jersey barriers and other security perimeter devices. These include Foggy Bottom, Federal Triangle, Judiciary Square, Union Station/SEC/Judiciary Building, Navy Yard/DOT, just to name a few.

Reliance Foundry, a manufacturer of bike parking infrastructure, sells a line of "bike bollards." We've all seen similar posts, but usually they appear in places where maybe there is not enough space to fit a larger rack, or they were chosen for aesthetic reasons.

Image from Reliance Foundry Co.

But the term bike bollard implies a mixed use that I have yet to see: security bollards that double as bike parking. Some of the bollards are as thick or thicker than those around federal buildings.

It may not be practical for every bollard around a building perimeter to have loops for securing a bike, lest they inhibit effective flow of foot traffic during major events. But around a building that covers an entire city block, why not incorporate bike parking into bollards on sections of the sidewalk that have already been rendered otherwise useless by the bollards?

The World Bank has already experimented some with multifunctional security measures by incorporating benches and trashcans around some buildings. Other buildings around the city have managed similar strategies using large planters or long, oversized flower pots as security barriers that at least to help beautify the streetscape.

Benches are nice, but at most high security buildings, they are rarely used by more than the occasional office smoker because there are no other streetscape amenities like shops or cafes that would give anyone a reason to sit around. In a city with an acknowledged dearth of bike parking, this compromise seems more ideal.

Another way to make security measures useful is creating a building perimeter with usable floor space. Say what you will about the compound as a whole, this has been accomplished with relative grace and success at the ATF Headquarters across the street from New York Avenue Metro.

Image from Google Maps.

This solution reduces the wasted space and dead streetscapes from huge building setbacks and security restrictions on ground floor uses.

What other practical applications are there for security infrastructure? As the General Services Administration and the National Capital Planning Commission work on "activating federal places," hopefully some of these ideas can make it into the design of future security barriers or renovated federal buildings.

Public Spaces

How can Obama really do more for DC?

Yesterday, President Obama and Mayor-Elect Gray met for lunch. According to Gray, Obama said he "wants to do more for the city."

Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

How can he do more? Obviously there are a number of federal programs that give out funding, whether discretionary or formula, and Obama could push for DC in many areas of the federal budget. But the President is very concerned about the deficit, and Congress makes the final budget decisions. What could Obama do for DC that doesn't involve large spending programs?

President Obama already controls a lot of what goes on in DC. He heads the largest employer in the District. Agencies control a great number of buildings downtown. The National Park Service (NPS) controls most of the parkland in the District, from the Mall to individual neighborhood pocket parks.

The President controls, either directly or indirectly, half of the 12 seats on the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC): 3 direct Presidential appointees and 3 ex officio seats for the Department of Defense, the Department of the Interior (handled by the Park Service), and General Services Administration (GSA). The Park Service also holds one of the seats on the Zoning Commission.

If these federal agencies, especially Interior and GSA, had strong guidance from the White House and coordinated closely to improve the vitality of DC on and around federal property, they could create some big change. All it really takes is the will to overcome bureucratic inertia.

Here are some specific steps Obama could take right now:

Appoint a high-level DC point person. The simplest item could be a very significant one. There is no one person in the White House in charge of working with the DC government. Obama should appoint such a person at a high enough level to give him or her the power to really coordinate the DC-related work of the cabinet departments and push them to make changes when necessary and when they fit with the President's vision.

Appoint a DC resident to NCPC. Of the 3 Presidential appointees, the law requires one to be from Maryland and one from Virginia. The third appointee is currently Herbert Ames, a real estate agent from South Carolina appointed by President Bush. His term ends next year. The President should pick someone who lives in DC and who truly cares about making the District a better place.

Restrain excessive fortress design at federal facilities. Many federal agencies seem to want their building to be a fortress, partly because everyone is particularly sensitive to security, and partly because it makes agencies feel like they are more important.

Fortunately, NCPC and GSA have been pushing for more federal buildings to engage the street, like the upcoming GSA headquarters modernization which will include ground-floor retail. Require all new or renovated federal facilities in urban areas to contain publicly-accessible retail or food spaces, and avoid a bunker mentality unless it really, truly is necessary.

Direct federal agencies to encourage multimodalism. The President already issued an executive order instructing agencies to try to reduce their carbon footprint. He could specifically push agencies to accommodate bike parking inside their buildings and to put Capital Bikeshare stations outside, for example.

Encouraging transit use is not as simple as encouraging bicycle use. The best thing would be for Congress to extend the increased ceiling for pretax transit benefits, keeping it on an equal footing with the parking benefit. That also means federal workers get a higher transit benefit, helping workers better afford to take transit. Unfortunately, this isn't something Obama can do on his own.

Make St. Elizabeth's a good neighbor. The biggest immediate opportunity for making federal design fit with a community will come at St. Elizabeth's, where DHS is consolidating operations. That will have a lot of security, but there are many ways DHS can also encourage employees to interact with the surrounding community, foster nearby restaurants that are also open to the public, and take transit, streetcar, bike or walk to the complex.

Direct NPS to allow the Circulator and Capital Bikeshare. NPS has exclusive concession contracts for the National Mall and Memorial Parks, including ones for the Tourmobile and for bike rentals. They have been interpreting these contracts to prohibit allowing transit services, including bike transit (Capital Bikeshare), on the Mall.

However, $1 transit service doesn't compete with a $23 tour bus, and a bike meant for under 30 minutes of use to get from one place to another doesn't compete with an all-day bike rental. The White House should instruct NPS to find a way to allow these services immediately.

Direct NPS to treat urban parks differently from rural parks. NPS manages its parks in dense urban areas with the same philosophies as a natural wilderness like Yosemite. People from Colorado primarily wrote the National Mall Plan. But keeping spaces wild is not as paramount of a concern for urban parkland, which needs to contribute to the health of residents.

For example, NPS recently denied permission for DDOT to build a wooden walkway across a part of Fort Totten Park to help people walk to the Metro station. NPS needs a separate division with separate management policies for urban parks, staffed by people with expertise running parks in cities and a passion for making parks good public spaces.

Give DC control over local neighborhood parks. NPS plays a valuable role in our nation (some of my fondest childhood memories are from Minute Man National Historical Park), but it makes no sense that they decide all policy, handle all law enforcement, and have to plow the sidewalks (which they don't do) around most small neighborhood square, circle, and triangle parks throughout the District.

The President could instruct the Park Service to work out a way to turn day to day maintenance and policy of the small parks over to DC while maintaining ownership of the land and NCPC review for permanent changes to the parks. For example, NPS could essentially work out a contract with DC where it outsources park management to DC for these parks.

NPS could pay DC what it spends on those parks, including policing, snow and more. DPR could take over those duties, and handle things like permits for events or retail concessions, but DC wouldn't be able to decide to develop the park into housing, for example.

Local BIDs may also want to contribute to park beautification or "adopt" parks, as they do in many other cities. NPS is currently fairly hostile to public-private partnerships. Turning over the parks' immediate control would make such arrangements possible.

Unify management of lands around the Mall. The National Coalition to Save Our Mall keeps pointing out that nobody can really plan for the contiguous park space people generally call the Mall because control is fragmented between the Park Service, the Smithsonian, the Architect of the Capitol, the Secret Service, the National Gallery, the Commission on Fine Arts, NCPC, DDOT, DC DPR, the various memorial commissions, and more.

Create a board composed of federal, DC and citizen representatives to coordinate policy for the and work with NCPC, which could perhaps staff the commission.

And of course:

Publicly support voting rights. This was one of the primary asks from Gray at the lunch. Obama may have said he supports voting rights, but he has done little to make that a part of the national conversation, and most Americans still don't know that DC residents have no vote in Congress.

Obama should take public steps, whether symbolic like restoring the "Taxation without representation" plates to his limousine or meaningful like asking Congress for legislation, that will generate news cycles around DC voting rights. The Post also editorialized for the President to promise to veto Congressional measures that step on DC home rule.

It's great that President Obama wants to have a positive effect on DC. Fortunately, he is in a position to do so, easily and immediately. He can get started on the above initiatives right away.

Public Spaces

Live chat with NCPC on activating federal places

Welcome to our live chat with NCPC planners Shane Dettman and David Zaidan, to discuss the federal government's effort to better activate the plazas and street facades of their buildings in and around Washington, DC.

 Live chat: Activating Federal Places with NCPC(09/16/2010) 
David Alpert: 
Welcome to our live chat on activating federal places.
Thursday September 16, 2010 12:48 David Alpert
David Alpert: 
Shane Dettman and David Zaidan will be with us in a few minutes. In the meantime, feel free to submit your questions. We'll get to as many of them as we can in the hour.
Thursday September 16, 2010 12:49 David Alpert
David Alpert: 
Also, while you wait, take a look at NCPC's video about current efforts to activate places like the courtyard at the Reagan Building
Thursday September 16, 2010 12:51 David Alpert
Thursday September 16, 2010 12:51 
Do you find federal public buildings in Washington to be welcoming and accessible to the public?
 ( 9% )
 ( 91% )

Thursday September 16, 2010 12:57 
David Alpert: 
Shane and David are now with us. Welcome!
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:01 David Alpert
Shane Dettman: 
Hello there.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:03 Shane Dettman
David Z: 
Hello eveyone. Welcome to the on-line chat!
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:03 David Z
David Alpert: 
The video talks about the GSA's desire to expand their building in a way that includes a ground floor that engages the public more. When it came before NCPC there was a question whether they would do it or need more security. Have they decided whether they are able to do that?
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:04 David Alpert
Shane Dettman: 
I believe the project that you are referring to is GSA's initiative ot modernize its headquarters in the Northwest Rectangle. Currently, NCPC staff is working with GSA to determine whether perimeter security will be required at the building. No determination has been made as of yet.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:06 Shane Dettman
David Alpert: 
Thanks. A lot of readers wanted to talk about security, which drives a lot of the design decisions in federal buildings:
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:07 David Alpert
[Comment From JasperJasper: ] 
Why do they think that the securitization of buildings has become so bezerk? Why is the government so afraid of the general public?
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:07 Jasper
[Comment From andrewandrew: ] 
Why can I walk into Congress with nothing more than a metal detector sweep, or into Walter Reed or the Navy Yard with nothing more than an ID check, while some of the more minor and innocuous federal agencies are locked up tighter than Fort Knox? The security priorities seem extremely jumbled.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:07 andrew
Shane Dettman: 
In NCPC's review of the concept staff commended GSA for its effort to explore retail and supported this idea.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:07 Shane Dettman
David Zaidain: 
That is a great question and really is the crux of the issue. I don't believe that there is a fear of the general public it is more a proliferation of concerns stemming from a host of events, particularly Oklahoma City and 9/11. Beyond general fear, a central issue is that there is no one coherent security policy and many agencies, such as DoD, Architect of the Capitol, State Department, etc who have their own security policies and do their own assessments. To address this NCPC has established an interagency security task force and we have tried to move improve security solutions and designs.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:13 David Zaidain
David Alpert: 
A lot of people aren't that familiar with NCPC. Can you explain what NCPC's role is in terms of these interagency decisions? Does NCPC have any ability to push agencies to do the right thing, or is it all just a matter of convening meetings and trying to gently persuade?
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:14 David Alpert
Shane Dettman: 

NCPC is involved in the planning and design of security at several levels. For projects located in the District, we work very closely with federal and District agencies on trying to find a design that meets both the federal agency's needs while being consistent with local regulations intended to protect public space, one of Wahsington's most important assets. For these types of projects, NCPC has approval authority.

Thursday September 16, 2010 1:18 Shane Dettman
David Alpert: 
OK, let's move on to talking about ground-floor uses of federal buildings.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:18 David Alpert
[Comment From TeyoTeyo: ] 
I remember reading somewhere that the FBI building was originally designed to have retail on its ground floor but that the plan was scrapped in the interest of security. Granted, that building is so hideous I don't think a row of sidewalk cafes would save it, but it would be interesting if it was converted to have retail on its ground floor, as it has prime retail space on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:18 Teyo
Which active uses are most important to integrate into federal facilities?
Retail shops and services
 ( 18% )
Dining and sidewalk cafes
 ( 55% )
Cultural attractions, museums, and theaters
 ( 9% )
Parks and plazas
 ( 18% )
Special events
 ( 0% )

Thursday September 16, 2010 1:19 
David Zaidain: 
We agree that the FBI isn't contributing to the vitality of Penn Ave and our Monumental Core Framework Plan provides a vision for redeveloping that block. The building is pretty inefficient and may not meet future needs of the FBI, so we think something could happen on this site in the not so distant future. Given the current design of the building, it would be a challange to alter it with successful retail without redeveloping the site. We are optimistic that something could happen in the future to improve this critical site.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:24 David Zaidain
David Alpert: 
That raises an interesting question. How many of our federal buildings could be adapted to include things like ground-floor cafes without completely redoing them?
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:25 David Alpert
[Comment From HerschelHerschel: ] 
Constitution Avenue must be our greatest wasted space. It should be lined with cafés, shops, restaurants, and even theatres, but instead, the only commercial activity carried on there is the sale of t-shirts and hot dogs from trashy carts. Will the NCPC be looking at enlivening Washington's grandest boulevard?
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:26 Herschel
David Alpert: 
Many people wouldn't miss the FBI building, but the Federal Triangle buildings like those on Constitution are just as dead to the street, but are much more attractive and surely wouldn't be razed. Can these be retrofitted in some way?
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:26 David Alpert
Shane Dettman: 

During our work on developing the Framework Plan, we looked closely at Constitution Avenue and specifically at finding ways to enliven the avenue through programming and landscape improvements. The Framework Plan envisions Constitution Avenue as a sustainable linear park with not only public amenities such as seating and vending, but also sustainable features designed to address stormwater management. In addition, NCPC is also interested in developing a Federal Triangle Heritage Trail which will run along Constituion Avenue and throughout the Federal Triangle. NCPC recently completed a Federal Triangle Heritage Trail Assessment Report which can be found on our website.

Thursday September 16, 2010 1:26 Shane Dettman
David Alpert: 
Thanks. Does that mean ground-floor uses are not really in the cards for Constitution?
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:27 David Alpert
What information would you most like to see incorporated into a Federal Triangle Heritage Trail?
Art and architecture
 ( 33% )
History of the area before the Federal Triangle
 ( 56% )
History and mission of the federal agencies
 ( 0% )
Stories of notable figures throughout time
 ( 11% )

Thursday September 16, 2010 1:27 
David Zaidain: 
We believe federal buildings generally can be retrofitted. There are many techniques such as building wraps or facade adjustments that could be utilized if designed properly.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:29 David Zaidain
David Alpert: 
Are there some specific buildings that you think are good candidates for this in the relatively near future? David asks:
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:30 David Alpert
[Comment From DavidDavid: ] 
Which Federal Buildings would you consider to be the Worst Offenders? Also will you prioritize an action plan based upon location? (HHS since it is near the mall versus a HUD that is further away?
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:30 David
David Alpert: 
While they're answering, let's actually ask the flip side question to all the readers:
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:31 David Alpert
Which new federal facility in Washington do you find the most inviting?
U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (NoMa)
 ( 0% )
E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse Annex (downtown)
 ( 0% )
U.S. Department of Transportation (SE Washington/Navy Yard)
 ( 67% )
United States Institute of Peace (National Mall/Foggy Bottom)
 ( 33% )

Thursday September 16, 2010 1:31 
Shane Dettman: 

As you just noted, the buildings in the Federal Triangle are notable for their art and architecture and surely could not be razed. That's not to say it would be impossible to incorporate ground-floor retail in the area, it would just have to be thoroughly studied and done very carefully. However, if it is determined that it would be too intrusive on the historic fabric there are other alternatives. The Federal Triangle has an enormous amount of public space and can be programmed with food vendors, concerts, and farmers markets. Some of this is already going on such as the farmers market and concert series in Woodrow Wilson Plaza.

Thursday September 16, 2010 1:31 Shane Dettman
David Zaidain: 
Worst Offenders? Well, in developing the Framework Plan, during the public comment phase, we frequently heard interest in redeveloping the FBI, Department of Energy, and enlivening the Old Post Office Building's Glass Annex.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:35 David Zaidain
Shane Dettman: 
As to the previous question about Constitution Avneue, I neglected to mention that GSA is currently in the process of modernizing the Department of Commerce Building. Part of that project includes the relocation of the National Aquarium to the south side of the building and the construction of a modern, much more visible entrance along Constitution Avenue. This will help to enliven the avenue as well.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:36 Shane Dettman
David Alpert: 
Great. Let's move on to activity that's more than just physical retail.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:36 David Alpert
[Comment From Eric FidlerEric Fidler: ] 
There are several Federal office districts in the city that go dead at night since nobody lives there. Does the NCPC have a master plan or will the NCPC develop a plan to guide the revival of these districts into "18-hour" neighborhoods?
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:36 Eric Fidler
Shane Dettman: 
The concept of the "18-hour neighborhood" is exactly what we call for in the Framework Plan. For example, we recommend redevelopment of the 10th Street corridor in Southwest to include a mixture of office, residential, and retail. NCPC is also working with several federal agencies to recreate C Street, SW to be a walkable, inviting public park that connects two future memorials.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:39 Shane Dettman
David Alpert: 
You mention housing, which is a clear obvious idea. Are federal agencies generally receptive to having people actually live in part of their buildings? Is being a residential landlord something GSA is ready and willing to manage?
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:40 David Alpert
Would you consider living in housing at a federal facility? I.e.: Newseum Residences
 ( 78% )
 ( 11% )
 ( 11% )

Thursday September 16, 2010 1:41 
David Zaidain: 
Given the legality of federal property ownership and the fact that housing is such a new idea, it's a challenge to push for this. But, NCPC thinks it's an important concept and we discuss it in our Active Spaces Publication. There are good examples of how institutional type uses are integrating residential units (Newseum) and how Federal property can be retained but used for private purposes (Hotel Monaco). So, there is some movement in making this idea a reality.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:47 David Zaidain
[Comment From Adam LewisAdam Lewis: ] 
What level of involvement does NCPC with the new DHS facility at St. Elizabeth's? That is arguably one of the most prominent open areas in Washington and has magnificent views of the city. What types of considerations are being made preserve public access to the property?
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:48 Adam Lewis
Shane Dettman: 

NCPC was very much involved in the master planning process for the west campus of St. Elizabeths and continues to be involved in the design review of individual projects contained in the master plan. This process was carried out in close consultation with a host of federal and District agencies including the DC Office of Planning. As for public access to the campus, DHS has committed to maintaining public access to the historic civil war cemetery through scheduled tours.

Thursday September 16, 2010 1:49 Shane Dettman
David Alpert: 
At the beginning, I asked about the planned modernization of the GSA headquarters. NCPC sent a little video about that:
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:50 David Alpert
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:51 
David Zaidain: 
In advancing this issue of federal building design and better public space, NCPC has been working with GSA's Good Neighbor Program which is dedicated to improving federal buildings nationwide. They have been successful in improving design and putting public space to good use around federal buildings. Info is available here:
and one of the recent success stories from this collaboration is the GSA Headquarters Building and the addition of ground floor retail. The video above illustrates this.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:53 David Zaidain
David Alpert: 
I really hope this comes to fruition!
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:54 David Alpert
David Alpert: 
GSA clearly cares about good buildings, but how about other agencies that aren't themselves about real estate?
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:54 David Alpert
[Comment From GuestGuest: ] 
I'm curious how we can get those who control these spaces to care... [about activating their facades/plazas]. I think many feel it just isn't their concern.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:54 Guest
David Zaidain: 
Most federal agencies are not involved in real estate, that is true. But, most have facility or real estate managers that are responsible for their properties. Having better federal buildings not only helps the surrounding community but also promotes a better workforce and this is something that the Administration recognizes and many agencies are beginning to understand.
Thursday September 16, 2010 2:01 David Zaidain
David Alpert: 
Thanks. Before we stop, Adam Lewis wanted to follow up about the answer concerning public access at St. Elizabeth's:
Thursday September 16, 2010 2:01 David Alpert
[Comment From Adam LewisAdam Lewis: ] 
"Public access to historic civil war cemetery through scheduled tours" is bureaucratic speak for no public access. That's like saying that the White House is open to the public, when it's clearly not. Thanks for the clarification.
Thursday September 16, 2010 2:01 Adam Lewis
David Alpert: 
Thursday September 16, 2010 2:02 David Alpert
Shane Dettman: 
To respond to the follow up comment regarding St. Elizabeths ...

In any project that has a security component as well as a public access / amenity component we work hard to try to find an appropriate balance. With regard to St. Elizabeths, making the cemetery available to members of the public is not the ideal solution to public accessibility but it is a good start while still taking into consideration the security needs of DHS. Hopefully, in the future we might be able to identify a way to provide additional access to areas of the campus without overly compromising security. We might one day be able to visit historic areas of the campus or "the Point." In general, in every security project NCPC works very closely with federal and District agencies to find a way to provide for the federal agency while protecting access to public space. This close coordination has led to big successes on recent projects such as Federal Office Building 8 in Southwest, DC.
Thursday September 16, 2010 2:06 Shane Dettman
David Alpert: 
That's all the time we have. Thanks so much to David and Shane for joining us today!
Thursday September 16, 2010 2:07 David Alpert
Shane Dettman: 
Thanks to David for setting up this chat and to all the members of the public for participating.
Thursday September 16, 2010 2:07 Shane Dettman
David Zaidain: 
Thanks to GGW for setting up the discussion of this important issue. We are hoping to shift the paradigm of our federal buildings to being open, accessible and exciting buildings that are befitting of America's capital. We look foward to addressing this issue more as we develop the new Urban Design element for the Federal Elements of the Comp Plan. Thanks to everyone!
Thursday September 16, 2010 2:08 David Zaidain
David Alpert: 
Feel free to post your reactions to these issues and to our chat in the comment section.
Thursday September 16, 2010 2:09 David Alpert


Public Spaces

Live chat on activating federal places next Thursday

Federal buildings don't have to be forbidding fortresses whose only engagement with the city is to create traffic in and out each day. Yet many of our federal buildings fail to interact with the city around them, adding nothing except sometimes-attractive architecture to the streetscape.

Image from NCPC.

The National Capital Planning Commission has been pushing for federal buildings to better connect with the city where they sit, and the General Services Administration, which controls most federal buildings, has established a Good Neighbor Program to use federal property to benefit the community.

The Reagan Building has hosted many events in its plaza, and the new USDOT headquarters has a "transportation walk" showcasing transportation-related art (though security guards have sometimes hassled photographers trying to enjoy and take pictures of the art).

GSA is also now pushing agencies to incorporate more ground-floor retail into their buildings. Security considerations, whether real or imagined, have led to many recent buildings that look more like military compounds than office buildings. More recently, planners have been pushing for designs that contain a secure area "wrapped" by an outer area which could include shops open to the public. And GSA is exploring such a design for its own headquarters in Foggy Bottom.

NCPC planners Shane Dettman and David Zaidain will be joining us next Thursday at 1 pm for our next live chat to talk about this issue. You can also peruse NCPC's video and report on these initiatives.

What questions do you have for our guests?


Public Spaces

Where should the Latino museum go?

Congress has declared the National Mall a "completed work of civic art" and declared that future museums and memorials should go on sites outside the Mall, but that hasn't stopped them from making exception after exception. Now, the planned National Museum of the American Latino wants to be on the Mall, too, and looks likely to get it.

After all, the National Museum of the American Indian is on the Mall (before the moratorium was enacted), and the National Museum of African-American Art and Culture got to be on the Mall even after the moratorium. Therefore, Latino groups ruled out all non-Mall sites originally proposed, reports the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, leaving four:

Image from NCPC.

Some of the Mall sites under consideration wouldn't require building new structures in open space, or would at least reuse parts of existing structures. One (green oval, above) would be to use the currently-vacant yet beautiful Arts and Industries Building. However, it's too small and can't facilitate exhibits, so the suggestion is to also replace part of the Forrestal Building across Independence Avenue and connect the two with a tunnel.

Photo by cliff1066 on Flickr.
I consider the Forrestal Building to be the ugliest building in DC, and hopefully one modern structure preservationists won't try to keep. NCPC's long-term plan calls for redeveloping the site as well. However, the GSA representative told NCPC they aren't ready to redevelop it right now, making that site potentially infeasible.

Another option would be to use the Whitten Building (blue oval), which currenly houses the Department of Agriculture. The museum would add two stories atop on of the building's wings and build a structure in an adjacent surface parking lot. Filling in a parking lot is appealing, but the Coalition wonders if altering one wing of this "symmetrical, beaux-arts building" would pass historic muster.

The other two options involve building in what is currently open space. One site (purple oval, above) is adjacent to the Capitol between Pennsylvania, Constitution, and 1st NW, the site directly opposite the Botanic Garden. DCmud notes that this was originally envisioned to house a museum by the McMillan Plan. However, the Architect of the Capitol controls this land, and rejected it for the African-American museum.

Finally, there's the land between 14th and 15th, SW along Independence, opposite the site for the African-American museum. A new building would be built here, and offices would go in the historic Yates Building across Independence. The Coalition sees that as the most likely but also very undesirable, because it's considered part of the Washington Monument grounds. However, NPS didn't object to this site at the NCPC meeting.

What do you think of these sites? The Coalition also notes that NCPC only held an "informational" presentation, which afforded no opportunity for public comment, and urged NCPC to engage in a public discussion about this issue.

While Mall proliferation is a real problem, now that the American Indians and African-Americans are getting a museum, it seems not unreasonable for Latinos to get one as well, as one of the US's largest minority groups. But it's important to resist further proliferation, because there is an endless list of other groups as well.

As DCmud jokingly notes, "Fear not, Lithuanians and Samoans, you too may someday have your chance." That would be disastrous. It's also perhaps somewhat unlikely, but what about non-ethnic minorities? Should there be a women's museum and a museum about elderly people and one for persons with disabilities?

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Visitors center was more troubling because it opened the door to visitors' centers for veterans of every war. I'm less disturbed by more cultural museums on the Mall than memorials or memorial visitors' centers. There are always going to be more wars and more great leaders, and unless we start retiring memorials as Philip Kennicott suggested, they threaten to clutter the Mall up without pause for every historic event or figure that has a number of dedicated adherents.

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