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Development


Morgan Boulevard Metro is the best site for the FBI

Prince George's County has several Metro stations that could accommodate a new FBI headquarters. But to get the FBI, Prince George's County needs to pick a site quickly. The ideal site is the Morgan Boulevard Metro station.


Photo by tape on Flickr.

In a prior post, I argued that the Morgan Boulevard station is an ideal site for a new regional hospital that the county, state, and the University of Maryland Medical System plan to build in the next few years.

The station is within a mile of the Capital Beltway and has 56 acres of undeveloped land next to it—enough room to build an urban, walkable hospital campus and a host of other TOD projects.

While the FBI campus's security requirements and size would not make it a likely candidate for those 56 acres adjacent to the Metro station, another large area across Central Avenue (MD-214) would work perfectly.


Morgan Boulevard Metro. Image from Google Maps.

The yellow-shaded area, directly across Central Avenue from the station, is more than large enough to accommodate the FBI headquarters. The dark purple area, adjacent to the FBI, is ideal for the hospital, while mixed-use offices could occupy the lighter purple areas and mixed-use residential in the brown area. The county could create a pedestrian path with a Main Street character, lined with storefronts, from the station to Central Avenue where employees cross to get to the FBI.

Because it's across a major arterial from the station, the restrictive security constructs would not pose a problem with developing quality mixed-use TOD at the Metro station. Yet, because it is within ½ mile of the Metro station, it would be easily accessible to the thousands of federal employees who would be working at the FBI. Moreover, many of those same employees would have to pass through the station's core commercial area twice a day, thereby creating a natural patron base for any business located there.

Currently, the Morgan Boulevard Station's secondary area is populated with scattered automobile-oriented industrial uses. However, the county could quickly assemble and redevelop that land into a large-acre parcel suitable for the FBI headquarters facility. The existing industrial uses can be easily relocated to one of the many other nearby industrial office parks with vacant space. If there's one thing the county has plenty of (other than developable land around Metro stations), it's vacant industrial space.

Prince George's officials should make a compelling case to the GSA as to why a location like Morgan Boulevard would be a win-win for the federal government as well as the county and state governments, and specifically why it would be better than the GSA-owned property at Franconia-Springfield Metro Station in Fairfax County. Here are a few suggestions:

Morgan Boulevard is closer to DC. It is 9.5 miles from the DC core, while Franconia-Springfield is 15 miles from downtown. It is also inside the Beltway, while being equally as accessible via Metro's Blue Line.

It is one of the least-utilized Metro stations. In fact, in 2007, Morgan Boulevard had the fewest weekday riders of any Metro station. Unlike the Franconia-Springfield Station, a busy transit terminus in already-overcrowded Fairfax County, Morgan Boulevard could easily accommodate the influx of thousands of additional riders a day.

Ample roadway capacity already exists. Unlike the Beltway area around Franconia-Springfield, the roadways around Morgan Boulevard are able to accommodate the workers who would choose to drive to work. The same multiple paths that allow many thousands of fans to drive to FedEx Field for Redskins games would also accommodate the substantially fewer number of federal workers that would be driving to the new FBI headquarters during the work week. And the use of the same reversible lane technologies employed on game day should assist with traffic flow during the work week.

It would bring more parity to the region. From a policy standpoint, bringing the FBI headquarters to Morgan Boulevard would allow the federal government to better equalize the regional distribution of federal employment sites. Prince George's supplies more than a quarter of the region's federal workforce and is entitled to a fairer allocation of the job sites.

The area is comparatively less well-off economically. Unlike wealthy Fairfax County, the surrounding inner-Beltway community near this station is one that could more greatly benefit from urban revitalization, thus allowing the federal investment to accomplish multiple goals.

These are the type of specific, fact-based arguments and actions (among others) that will make a worthy case to the GSA for why it should bring the FBI headquarters to Prince George's County.

Make a specific site recommendation. Give specific justifications. Articulate a sensible TOD and neighborhood revitalization strategy. Provide quick, responsible, and decisive action by local officials.

Prince George's County deserves to attract the FBI headquarters and other large federal government offices. If it wants to do so, though, it needs to step up its game dramatically.

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Development


To lure the FBI, Prince George's must be more nimble

Prince George's officials are eager to attract the FBI headquarters to a Metro site in the county, and it's the right place for the FBI. But if they're going to win out over a competing proposal by Fairfax County, officials need to move quickly and lobby for a single, appropriate site.


Photo by Aude on Wikipedia.

On February 9, County Executive Rushern Baker signed a County Council resolution urging the gov­ern­ment to build the new FBI headquarters in the county.

But they're a bit late to the party. A month earlier, on January 10, Fairfax supervisors unanimously passed a resolution pushing for the FBI to locate on federal land near the Franconia-Springfield Metro station.

The Prince George's resolution also calls for a task force to study potential sites. That will introduce even more delay at a time when Fairfax is already lobbying for a specific site.

Talk of relocating the FBI has been brewing since at least 2010, when Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) obtained funding for a study on that question. The Government Accountability Office issued a report to Congress on November 8, 2011, stating that relocating the FBI headquarters from the J. Edgar Hoover Building in DC to another transit-accessible location in the region was both the cheapest and quickest option to allow the FBI to consolidate its workforce and maintain operational security.

One month later, on December 8, 2011, the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee authorized the General Services Administration to move forward with finding a site for a new FBI headquarters. The committee required that the new headquarters occupy federally-owned land within 2 miles of a Metro station and within 2½ miles of the Capital Beltway, among other requirements.

Within a month, Fairfax made a specific pitch for a specific and highly competitive location that meets the requirements in the Senate EPW Committee's resolution.

By comparison, Prince George's resolution is rather amorphous. It provides that the county government has "strong support for relocating the FBI and other Federal agencies and acquiring other Federal leased space in Prince George's County" and "is prepared to be a partner with the GSA and the private sector in utilizing appropriate economic incentives, to facilitate the location or relocation of Federal agencies to Prince George's County, Maryland."

Okay, great. What county government wouldn't want a huge federal agency, with all its employees, coming to town?

The resolution also highlights that Prince George's has historically gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to federal employment sites. Though more than 25% of the federal employees in the National Capital region reside in Prince George's, the county has only 5% of the region's federal office space. Certainly true enough and worth pointing out.

But exactly where does the county want the facility to go? How would the GSA and the federal government benefit from locating the FBI headquarters in Prince George's rather than Fairfax or any other neighboring jurisdiction? The county's apparent answer thus far: we don't know yet.

The county's unfocused approach doesn't prioritize Metro station development

The County Executive's press release announced the formation of "an inter-agency task force that will regularly meet and analyze possible sites in the County that are in accordance to" the GSA and Senate EPW Committee specifications. That sounds like an excruciatingly long, bureaucratic nightmare of a process, especially given that Fairfax County is already bringing specific proposals to the table.

Time and time again, the ubiquitous "task force" is where many worthy proposals are sent to die a slow and painful death.

Prince George's formation of such a task force at this late date raises a more significant and troubling question: Why hasn't the county already done that basic site analysis groundwork if the idea of relocating the FBI's headquarters has been floating around since 2010?

The answer is simple, and probably best explains why the county doesn't already have more of its fair share of large employers (federal or otherwise), quality retail destinations, and attractive housing choices around its Metro stations. Despite all of its lofty pronouncements over several administrations, the county simply hasn't taken enough tangible action to prioritize Metro station development and revitalization of its existing, transit-rich urban core inside the Beltway.

Moreover, as I wrote recently, the county unfortunately often actively undermines its own stated transit-oriented development goals by advancing massive mixed-use projects that are too far away from existing Metro stations, thereby reducing the market for similar development at the Metro stations.

That's why in 2007, for example, we saw an elaborate master plan being developed for Westphalia, a sprawling greenfield development on rural farmland located outside of the Beltway and far from a Metro station.

Westphalia was the brainchild of former county executives Jack Johnson and Jim Estepp; former District 6 county councilman Samuel Dean; and two corrupt crony developers, Patrick Ricker and Daniel Colton. Johnson, Ricker, and Colton have all now pled guilty to federal corruption and bribery changes and are heading to prison.

Despite the ignominious legacy of corruption and misguided policy that underlies Westphalia, the Baker administration apparently remains committed to bringing the suburban sprawl project to fruition, even while claiming that "one of [its] top priorities will be maximizing the potential at our Metro stations." Baker's spokesperson, Scott Peterson, said in June 2011, "[T]he [Westphalia] development is important to the residents of the community and the county, and we'll be working hard to keep the project on line."

At the same time it develops and actively pursues detailed proposals for suburban sprawl developments like Westphalia and Woodmore Towne Center, the county lacks a coherent strategy for developing the four largely vacant Metro stations along its Blue Line corridor (Capitol Heights, Addison Road, Morgan Boulevard, and Largo Town Center), or the three stations along its Orange Line corridor (Cheverly, Landover, and New Carrollton).

Only recently has the county begun to turn its attention to those station areas, with such efforts as the Blue Line Corridor TOD Strategy Implementation Project and the New Carrollton Transit District Development Plan.

Richard Layman aptly captured Prince George's Metro station TOD dilemma in a comment to a previous post: "[M]ostly, developers won't be choosing to do speculative development in most of [Prince George's County], including at Metro stations[,] without superlative station plans and great incentive packages anytime soon." Richard's comment rings true both for private developers and for public ones, like the GSA.

County should make detailed proposals for specific Metro sites, and soon

Fortunately for Prince George's, its past history of poor focus on Metro station TOD does not have to constrain its future course. The Baker administration and the current County Council are much better equipped and, by and large, more willing to embrace and pursue true TOD than Jack Johnson & Crew. But if they're going to do so, they need to adjust their thinking and sharpen their focus, so that the county's actions match its policy goals.

The task of identifying suitable space for the FBI headquarters building does not have to be made that difficult and should not entail endless deliberation by an ad hoc task force. The county already has a stated policy that assigns "top priority" to transit-oriented development around Metro stations.

This county policy priority also comports with the GSA requirement for the new FBI headquarters site to be located within 2 miles of a Metro station. So the first decision point in the selection process should be clear: locate and recommend an available site near a Metro station if at all possible.

By my count, there are only 5 Metro stations in Prince George's County that are within 2½ miles of the Beltway: Branch Avenue, Largo Town Center, Morgan Boulevard, New Carrollton, and Greenbelt. The goal should be to find a suitable site around one of those 5 stations. Within a span of a few hours, anyone working with the county's GIS mapping system and Google Earth should be able to identify which of those 5 locations has the 55 acres of developable or re-developable land the FBI needs.

Matt Johnson argued several weeks ago that putting a high-security fortress like the FBI headquarters directly on top of a Metro station site was not ideal, because such a complex would not be conducive to creating the type of walkable, open, and public environment that should define TOD at a Metro station.

He suggested a couple of alternate greenfield sites near the federal courthouse in Greenbelt, which is about a mile away from the Greenbelt Metro station. However, it appears that one of those sites is not large enough to meet the GSA requirements, and the other site is already committed for another use.

Ideally, the best location for the new FBI building would be in the "secondary area" of a Metro station. In his book The Next American Metropolis, famed architect and urban planner Peter Calthorpe explains that the secondary area of a transit station area is located within a mile of the station, often across a major arterial street.

The secondary area is an appropriate location for uses that should ordinarily not be located in the principal commercial core of a transit area, like lower-density single-family homes, automobile-oriented uses like gas stations and repair shops, and large employment-generating uses that may not fit within the compact, walkable block structure that is essential for proper pedestrian circulation in a TOD—such as a 55-acre FBI headquarters campus that requires a massive security moat around it.

Tomorrow, I'll suggest the ideal site in Prince George's County for the FBI headquarters, one that's large enough, meets the Senate committee's requirements, and lies within the secondary area of a Metro station.

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Bicycling


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 Trail—if they don't inadvertently kill it—should 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.

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Bicycling


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.

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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.

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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) 
12:48
David Alpert: 
Welcome to our live chat on activating federal places.
Thursday September 16, 2010 12:48 David Alpert
12:49
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
12:51
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
12:51
Thursday September 16, 2010 12:51 
12:57
Do you find federal public buildings in Washington to be welcoming and accessible to the public?
Yes
 ( 9% )
No
 ( 91% )

Thursday September 16, 2010 12:57 
1:01
David Alpert: 
Shane and David are now with us. Welcome!
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:01 David Alpert
1:03
Shane Dettman: 
Hello there.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:03 Shane Dettman
1:03
David Z: 
Hello eveyone. Welcome to the on-line chat!
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:03 David Z
1:04
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
1:06
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
1:07
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
1:07
[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
1:07
[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
1:07
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
1:13
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
1:14
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
1:18
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
1:18
David Alpert: 
OK, let's move on to talking about ground-floor uses of federal buildings.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:18 David Alpert
1:18
[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
1:19
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 
1:24
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
1:25
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
1:26
[Comment From HerschelHerschel: ] 
Constitution Avenue must be our greatest wasted space. It should be lined with caf├ęs, 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
1:26
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
1:26
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
1:27
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
1:27
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 
1:29
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
1:30
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
1:30
[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
1:31
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
1:31
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 
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
1:35
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
1:36
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
1:36
David Alpert: 
Great. Let's move on to activity that's more than just physical retail.
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:36 David Alpert
1:36
[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
1:39
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
1:40
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
1:41
Would you consider living in housing at a federal facility? I.e.: Newseum Residences
Yes
 ( 78% )
No
 ( 11% )
Unsure
 ( 11% )

Thursday September 16, 2010 1:41 
1:47
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
1:48
[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
1:49
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
1:50
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
1:51
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:51 
1:53
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: http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/104461
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
1:54
David Alpert: 
I really hope this comes to fruition!
Thursday September 16, 2010 1:54 David Alpert
1:54
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
1:54
[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
2:01
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
2:01
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
2:01
[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
2:02
David Alpert: 
Shane?
Thursday September 16, 2010 2:02 David Alpert
2:06
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
2:07
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
2:07
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
2:08
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
2:09
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
2:09
 

 
 
 
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