Posts about NCPC
DC's 1941 master plan is available through the Library of Congress. Published just months before Pearl Harbor, the plan is a fascinating look at the future pre-war planners envisioned.
The National Mall extends eastward to the bank of the Anacostia and dominates the plan. "Semi-public buildings," parking garages, and much more highway-like Constitution and Independence Avenues line the new Mall. On the other hand, Southwest retains its historic street grid, and isn't cut off by I-395.
What else jumps out?
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Spring is here (or maybe it's just an early summer), and that means there's lots to do both inside and outside! Next week is an exciting Coalition for Smarter Growth forum on parking with guest Jeff Tumlin, and CSG has many great walking tours through June.
You can learn about DC's civil war forts, celebrate Earth Day on April 20 itself or at fairs before or after, go to happy hours and hear speakers on public space.
And if you can't wait to do something, tonight is a public meeting on the Union Station-Georgetown streetcar segment. DDOT will brief the public on its analysis of "premium transit" (i.e. streetcar) through downtown to Georgetown. DDOT director Terry Bellamy has also promised to update people on wireless technologies which can preserve clear viewsheds.
The meeting is tonight, Thursday, April 11 (or last night for those reading the daily email), 6-8 pm at the Carnegie Library in Mount Vernon Square, L'Enfant Map Room.
Learn about forts: BF Cooling and Gary Thompson, founders of an effort to preserve DC's civil war circle of forts, will give a talk about the forts and their history on Monday, April 15, 7-8:45 pm at the Tenley-Friendship Library.
Get parking right: Next Wednesday, the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG) is hosting national parking expert Jeff Tumlin to talk about ways cities are fix parking policy to match supply and demand and build a system that works better for everyone. Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT planning head, will talk about how DC might use Tumlin's ideas.
The forum is April 17 at the Center for American Progress, 1333 H St. NW. There are refreshments at 6 and then the program from 6:30-8:30. RSVP here before it fills up!
Be green around Earth Day: Saturday, April 20 is Earth Day, and there are a lot of great events to celebrate and learn more about how to help the environment. The Anacostia Watershed Society is having a cleanup and celebration, first helping clean up the river at 20 sites from 9 am to noon, followed by a celebration at Bladensburg Waterfront Park.
Be happy in Arlington: CSG and the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization are cosponsoring a happy hour in Arlington on Monday, April 22 from 6:30-8:30 pm at William Jeffrey's Tavern, 2301 Columbia Pike. Ask questions about what's going on down the Pike or just meet people and have fun!
Improve the public realm: That same day, NCPC is hosting a speaker from London, Helen Marriage, to discuss ways that city is making its public spaces better. A panel afterward will talk about how some of the ideas could come to DC. That's also 6:30-8:30 pm on Monday, April 22 at NCPC, 401 9th Street NW, Suite 500 North.
The RAC is listening: The WMATA Riders' Advisory Council wants to hear from more riders, especially about how upcoming Silver Line service and changes to buses and trains will affect riders. To that end, they're holding listening sessions outside WMATA HQ, starting with one on April 24, 6:30 pm in the Charles Houston Rec Center, 901 Wythe Street in Alexandria near Braddock Road Metro.
Walk and tour: CSG's spring walking tour series kicks off April 27 with a tour of White Flint, followed by 14th Street, Fairfax's Route 1, Wheaton, and Fort Totten in May and June. Space is limited, so RSVP for your favorite tour now!
The puzzling design for DDOT's South Capitol Street project has become much more clear as the DC Spors and Entertainment Commission rolled out a plan to host regular auto races on the track.
In a press conference today, Mayor Gray announced plans to host an IndyCar race as soon as the project is complete. "DC is joining the ranks of other world-class cities like Toronto and Monaco in hosting a race on our city streets," the mayor said. "The same cars and drivers that race at the Indianapolis 500 will be racing here."
IndyCar officials expressed surprise that a city would build what appears to be a purpose-built racetrack. "Usually for our street races, we make do with city streets that people use every day, like in Houston or Long Beach. To have a city build an oval for us is a real treat. I mean, clearly that circle can't be great for moving pedestrians or cars, can it?" said Mark Miles, CEO of IndyCar parent company Hulman & Company.
IndyCar drivers on hand for the announcement praised the course layout. "It looks to be fast and very wide, which should make for some great racing," said driver Will Power. "It's almost perfectly built for us."
Indeed the course has a very similar shape to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire, which is known as a "paper clip" oval as its long straights and tight turns resemble a paper clip.
This is actually not the city's first foray into auto racing. In 2002, DC hosted an American Le Mans Series race in the parking lot of RFK Stadium. You can still make out the outline of the track today. The race only ran one year after noise complaints from neighbors. "We don't think that will be an issue here," said Gray. "People here are used to cars whizzing by."
National Park Service representatives said they should have no objection to using federal land for the racetrack, as their regulations only make it very difficult to place playgrounds, food vendors, or pleasant places to sit in federal parkland, none of which the racetrack requires.
Meanwhile, the National Capital Planning Commission chairman Bryan Preston said the race will work well with their plans to put another memorial in the circle, which will probably be unappealing for people to interact with as a city park but will be perfect for cars to drive around and around all day.
The National Capital Planning Commission has invited experts on building height from European capital cities to come to Washington for a forum about our height limit. I'm moderating a chat with two of them today.
Update: The archived video is now available here and embedded below.
Robert Tavernor is Emeritus Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at the London School of Economics, and was previously professor of architecture at Edinburgh and Bath. He has been involved in the planning for several key London development sites.
You can tweet questions using the hashtag #HeighteneDConversations.
Our chat leads into NCPC's panel discussion tonight from 7-9 with these two gentlemen and a few others from elsewhere in Europe.-->
Are you coming to the party to celebrate 5 years (and one month) of Greater Greater Washington? We hope you can!
We'll be celebrating from 6-10 pm at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D Street, NW near Archives Metro and not far from Gallery Place. Besides a great chance to meet your fellow readers, some elected officials from DC and elsewhere in the region will be joining us.
Unfortunately, it's impossible to schedule any event without conflicting with some other great stuff. In Montgomery County, the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan hearing is also Tuesday, so some of our Montgomery readers will be testifying. It also means our friends on the County Council won't be able to join us.
Plus, there are many more important forums and workshops coming up in DC, Maryland, and Virginia:
Live chat on building heights: The National Capital Planning Commission is also having a forum from 7-9 Tuesday on building heights, with speakers from 3 other capital cities, London, Paris, and Berlin.
Fortunately, there's another chance to engage in the conversation: I'll be moderating a live chat with some of the panelists at 12:30 Tuesday. More details will come soon. If you have questions about how other capital cities deal with building heights, post them in the comments.
Outer Beltway community meetings: Smart growth and environmental groups are holding three community meetings about VDOT's efforts to build an Outer Beltway in Virginia. The meetings are on successive Mondays: March 4 in Middleburg, March 11 in Chantilly, and March 18 in Ashburn.
ACT with Ken Ulman: This month's Action Committee for Transit meeting will feature Ken Ulman, Howard County Executive and a likely candidate for governor. He'll talk about how Route 29 fits into the future of transit in Maryland. The meeting is Tuesday, March 12, 7:30 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Center, One Veterans Place.
MoveDC workshops: As it moves into the next phase of designing a citywide transportation plan, the MoveDC project will hold 4 workshops in the evening of Wednesday, March 20 (at Minnesota Avenue), Thursday, March 21 (in Anacostia), Tuesday, March 26 (on Capitol Hill), and Thursday, March 28 (in Tenleytown).
Have an event we missed? Post it in the comments or email email@example.com.
Commenters had almost universally negative reactions to DDOT's South Capitol Street project, which would build a new Frederick Douglass Bridge with a circle and "racetrack" on each end. The project team responded to some questions I sent along. While they have understandable reasons for choosing what they have, it doesn't persuade me this is a good idea worthy of the high price tag.
The "racetrack" and circle do not come from a traffic engineer's desire to speed up traffic, DDOT spokesman John Lisle noted. To the contrary, they make it more difficult to move all of the cars through the area. That's why the circles have to be so wide.
Instead, the designs come from studies 10 years ago that predated the current EIS. The Purpose and Need for the EIS, which defines the objectives of the project and guides the designers as they consider tradeoffs, says:
The Gateway Study (DDOT 2003) proposed that South Capitol Street become a gracious urban boulevard consistent with the past goals defined in the L'Enfant and Macmillan Commission plans, which would accommodate bicycles, pedestrians, and transit vehicles, as well as automobiles and commerce.Project officials disputed my contention that the 5-year-old EIS is out of date with DC's needs. They said that, in fact, the EIS was only finally approved in March 2011, and the team has been continuing to refine the design. So criticizing the EIS as 5 years old was the wrong way to make the point; in fact, this design is arising from a 10-year-old set of decisions that put formal design at the top of the priority list.
A number of DC boulevards end in circles. Massachusetts and Connecticut Avenues pass through circles as they leave the District, for instance. Creating some circles on South Capitol is indeed a more L'Enfant-esque design.
However, Westmoreland Circle and Chevy Chase Circle aren't as wide as these will be, and they don't really create usable neighborhood public spaces. Nobody uses the interiors, and they're in much more suburban neighborhoods than this. Circles like Dupont and Logan, which serve more as public space, are far smaller.
The "racetrack" looks like an ugly compromise between a motivation to create a Washingtonian boulevard look and the practical needs to move a lot of cars. L'Enfant designed circles in an era with far less traffic. This project is merging the geometric form of L'Enfant's circles with the traffic demands of today and ending up with a "camel is a horse designed by a committee" design, with some of the worst of both elements.
We end up with places that don't move cars particularly well, and a place that's not especially pleasant to walk or bike around. It would make a great spot for some memorials, though. As the terminus of a L'Enfant street, the National Capital Planning Commission is going to want to site some commemorative works there.
Maybe a really great memorial design could successfully create some kind of public space. Perhaps this is the perfect spot for the Eisenhower Memorial and its large metal tapestries. Here, you'll need to block out the surroundings, and for a President with road-building as one of his most notable achievements, being in what feels like a sort of highway median could be perfect.
These places won't feel pleasant on foot or by bike
The same applies to the I-295 interchange. The draft EIS called for a diamond, which is a far more walkable design. According to the project team,
Traffic analysis of the diamond interchange indicated queuing of traffic on the ramp from SB I-295 to SB Suitland Parkway may back up onto the mainline of I-295, creating a safety concerns. The Final EIS preferred alternative resolved this concern by addition of a loop ramp for this movement.In addition, the original diamond had all 4 ramps meeting Suitland Parkway at nearly right-angle intersections. The new interchange has several "slip ramps" and angles more of the ramps to facilitate driving at higher speeds between Suitland and 295. That might be sensible for the traffic here, but won't make for any kind of place that feels safe to walk through.
The project team also emphasized that they're not forgetting pedestrians and bicycles:
As preliminary design has progressed, we are also making sure that there are continuous connections for bicycle and pedestrian travel. The new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge will have shared use paths on both sides of the bridge that connect to bicycle and pedestrian facilities on either side of the Anacostia. We have also extended the joint use path on the east side of Suitland Parkway from Pomeroy Road SE to Firth Sterling Ave SE.That's great, but it reminds me a little bit of the people who are so excited about how "diverging diamond" interchanges are safe for pedestrians, or how many Montgomery County upcounty mega-road projects include sidepaths and the DOT calls them "multimodal." It's nice to design your large-scale transportation infrastructure element to have a bike and pedestrian path, but any very large, open space with lots of 5-lane one-way segments and high-speed slip lanes is going to feel oppressive to people outside cars.
We know how to build spaces that feel comfortable outside a metal box: a grid of streets with buildings containing ground-floor detailing. In fairness, the collection of ramps on the east side of the river is not really pleasant for anyone today, and if the bridge has to move anyway, they'll have to put in some new design on the Poplar Point end, but this is feels like more of an improvement from the aerial view than on the ground.
circles circles or half-circles on both ends of the (Lincoln) Arlington Memorial Bridge as well, and those are terrible places for anyone not driving. The Park Service feels it can't really do what it would take to make those circles walkable and bikeable, such as adding traffic signals for people to cross, because of the high priority to accommodate heavy traffic.
Also, WashCycle notes that the bike path connections to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail are pretty circuitous. Some designs from the last decade would have connected the bridge to the trail more directly.
Ultimately, this project is the end of a 10-year chain of choices. Each one had some pros and cons, and at each step officials may have been trying to best balance competing needs, but the end result is not pretty. The alternative of kicking the can down the road a while, fix up the bridge, and see how traffic patterns change with the 11th Street bridge seems more appealing.
If it's possible to reduce vehicle capacity as a counterweight to the 11th Street bridge, maybe a variant of this design could work with thinner roads along the circles, not such a huge racetrack, and a real diamond at 295. If not, we're all probably better off taking a fresh look at what to do in this area to keep moving cars but create spaces that feel more like parts of neighborhoods.
Is it in the federal government's interest to prevent tall buildings barely visible on the horizon from the monumental core of Washington? Or near a river? Or dictate the widths of sidewalks?
At its November 1, members of the National Capital Planning Commission engaged in this longstanding debate. This time, the subject came up around a new Urban Design Element to the Federal Comprehensive Plan.
The District of Columbia has a Comprehensive Plan which includes two halves: the Federal Elements, covering federal buildings and property and issues that affect the federal government's interest, and the District Elements, which address local neighborhoods and other issues under DC control.
The National Capital Planning Commission took its current form when DC got home rule. Before that, the federal government controlled all planning and zoning functions. Much of that transitioned to the DC Office of Planning and Zoning Commission, but Congress wanted NCPC to look out for the federal government's needs.
The question which comes up in meeting after meeting, project after project, is what exactly constitutes the "federal interest." How much of the form of the District should the federal government, and NCPC, dictate? Is everything you can see from any federal building the federal interest, or just policies which actually could impede the working of the federal government in the capital?
Federal facility policies push good design
Clearly, the design of federal buildings is under NCPC's purview, and here they push federal agencies to do much better than they often have. The proposed Comprehensive Plan chapter calls for the "highest quality" of design and construction," with sustainable buildings that integrate well into the surrounding urban fabric, sometimes standing out with an iconic design but sometimes just blending in.
NCPC pushes agencies to include ground-floor "retail and/or cultural resources" in their buildings. The General Services Administration plans this for their headquarters modernization, but many agencies are more fearful that it could represent a security risk, or are reluctant to pay for extra design features that protect the building against any kind of explosion in the public areas.
Other policies push for campuses to allow people on foot or bicycle to travel through, rather than walling off large areas, and to connect to surrounding streets. They prioritize public seating and art in the public space, and urge agencies to keep security features or loading docks as unobtrusive as possible.
At the NCPC meeting, Harriet Tregoning, who represents the Mayor on the commission, said, "This is a huge service ... in terms of providing very explicit guidance to federal agencies in terms of what's being sought and how it integrates with the rest of the city."
"Character of the Capital" policies reach far outside the federal realm
The other (first) section, entitled "Character of the Capital," speak more about the degree the city should feel like a city, even in areas far from federal properties. This section talks about maintaining a "horizontal skyline character," keeping public buildings visible from the waterfront, and maintaining views along major street rights-of-way (read: no pesky wires).
There are also some really important policies here, such as to "promote and maintain Pennsylvania Avenue ... as a multi-modal street bordered by an actively programmed, lively, pedestrian-oriented public realm." That's a goal which perhaps needs more of the "promote" and less of the "maintain" as it has a ways to go, especially to be "actively programmed." Also very important is the policy to re-establish "original L'Enfant Plan rights-of-way wherever possible."
But one section jumps out as of potential concern, which reads:
8. Maintain the prominence of the topographic bowl formed by lowland and rim features of the L'Enfant City and environs by controlling the urban and natural skylines in the Anacostia, Florida Avenue, and Arlington County portions of the bowl as follows:Is it really a fundamental piece of the federal interest to keep from having to look at buildings farther away in the distance? Mayoral appointee Rob Miller asked at the meeting about the fact that Arlington has plenty of quite tall buildings between the "topographic bowl" and the monumental core, and some commissioners noted that they had tried to stop some of that; NCPC even asked the FAA to block the first tall buildings in Rosslyn.
a. Preserve as much as possible the green setting of the Anacostia hills and integrate building masses with, and subordinate to, the natural topography.
b. Maintain the Florida Avenue escarpment's natural definition of the L'Enfant Plan boundaries by retaining developments that are fitted to the landforms and by promoting low-rise development that can be distinguished from the greater height of the L'Enfant City's core areas.
c. Within the western portion of the bowl, retain a horizontal skyline by relating building heights to the natural slope and rim areas of Arlington Ridge as viewed from the Capitol, the Mall, and other riverside outlooks.
Many people do feel that having low buildings even downtown is a really special part of the District's character. Others argue that it just fosters a city filled with boxy-looking buildings, and that tall buildings with appropriate setbacks can maintain light and air, and create beauty, even more than the current boxes do while also bringing more economic activity.
When it comes to the federal height limit and the downtown core, whatever you believe about urban design, it's clear that the federal government has a role to play in this discussion. When it comes to buildings that don't violate federal law out on the slopes surrounding the L'Enfant City, NCPC planners and commissioners might have opinions, but it's not clear this is an appropriate realm for federal officials to meddle.
Tregoning said that some of the principles "seem to be a stake in the ground when it comes to dictating how private development occurs in the city, including "things that limit height outside of the L'Enfant City."
She pointed to a provision that says that buildings near the shoreline should not block views of , suggesting that a policy which could control "building height in proximity to the shoreline in all waters throughout our region ... is a local determination and not the federal interest."
The issue of the federal interest came to a head when Bradley Provancha, the commissioner representing the Department of Defense, suggested that the on-street parking on M Street in Georgetown prevents wider sidewalks, and perhaps things like sidewalk widths should be part of the urban design element.
This is an example of what we don't want this urban design element to authorize, for NCPC to be weighing in about how we manage traffic and travel in Georgetown. Part of the difficulty for us [NCPC] is trying to determine what is the federal interest. That's our charge as the Commission, not what would be nice, or enhancing to the city or helpful to the city. This document is still imperfect in terms of how it divines that line and needs a little work.Provancha, mostly jokingly, suggested the federal government "put a large federal building in Georgetown, and then we would have an anchor and a legitimate interest in that portion." On the video, you can hear someone quipping, "Federalize Georgetown!"
This points out exactly the challenge and the problem. Provancha is there to represent the Department of Defense. Sometimes planning choices affect national security and sometimes they affect DoD in particular. But by dint of having this post on NCPC, he wants to comment on sidewalk width, and while he's right that wider sidewalks are really important, it's not a federal matter, nor should NCPC be eager to find a way to make it a federal matter.
Our hybrid system of federal and local control will always yield fault lines at the boundaries of the federal interest and the local interest. NCPC's planners and commissioners need to keep in mind their mission to safeguard the federal interest while also remembering that Congress explicitly chose to give local voters control of most aspects of the government, including planning and a 3/5 majority on the zoning board for non-federal issues. That makes it important to discuss the appropriate boundary of the federal interest and to then respect that line.
The law restricts buildings to 20 feet taller than the adjacent street, up to a maximum of 90 feet on residential streets, 130 feet on commercial streets, and 160 feet on Pennsylvania Avenue downtown. In most neighborhoods, local zoning is more restrictive.
Completely repealing the height limit is almost surely not on the table, but should it have some limited exceptions? Here are some of the major arguments for and against the limit.
Arguments for changes
Supply is too low, making the rent too damn high. Downtown DC has the lowest office vacancies in the nation and very high rents. This means that some high-revenue businesses, like law firms, take up a lot of space while technology startups might have a very hard time finding offices.
It's arbitrary. Someone (maybe Matt Yglesias) made a good point on Twitter recently: If the height limit had been 200 feet, would many people insist that 200 is the perfect height for DC? It's a myth that the limit has anything to do with the height of the Capitol dome or any other structure.
It impedes good design. Most attractive buildings have some variation in their shape. The base might come all the way to the street, but then farther up, the building is set farther back, and has interesting cut-outs and curves. With a height limit, it creates an enormous economic incentive to build a box filling the lot.
It impedes other amenities. NoMA has no parks. Why? Because all of the landowners say that they can't afford not to fill their whole lots. If DC could give a couple of buildings permission to build taller if they give up some of their land for a park, it could make the neighborhood much more livable.has suggested taller buildings east of the river. There are tall buildings right across the Potomac in Rosslyn. Why not across the Anacostia too?
Arguments for the limit
It encourages more infill. Go to a lot of midsize US cities and the downtowns have a few big towers with lots of empty space for parking in between. Those empty spaces create walking dead zones. The District has almost no empty lots downtown, and even space on top of freeways like the Center Leg I-395, or the Union Station railyards, will be covered over. That's because land is so valuable (thanks to the height limit) that it's economical to build decks for buildings.
It pushes growth to other neighborhoods. Near Southeast and NoMA are booming because downtown had to spread somewhere. Without a height limit, there might never have been an incentive to transform them. Anacostia, Saint Elizabeths, Minnesota-Benning, and Rhode Island Avenue could see new growth as well. The companies that can't afford to locate downtown can go to these neighborhoods and bring new residents, amenities, and jobs.
However, the growth in other neighborhoods is a double-edged sword. NoMA's growth is bringing more gentrification to Bloomingdale and Eckington, and potentially pushing out the Florida Market wholesale food market. With limited supply, more neighborhoods become unaffordable.
It can also make neighborhoods more office-heavy and less residential. Foggy Bottom has changed enormously from a generation ago. Dupont Circle was moving aggressively in that direction before some strict zoning and historic preservation limits halted the trend. Reduce the pressure to develop outside the core, and fewer legal restrictions would be necessary or desirable.
Rosslyn is damn ugly at ground level. The flip side of the Rosslyn argument is that as an urban place, Rosslyn is not the most exemplary. Most of this is actually a consequence of its buildings dating to an era when towers set far back from the street, with large concrete plazas, was in vogue, so it suffers not from too-tall buildings but from bad urban design. Still, there's less incentive to fill in those plazas than there would be in downtown DC with the height limit.
It gives the monuments more emphasis. This is the main argument from the National Capital Planning Commission. DC should focus on the monuments, and a lower, more horizontal skyline means that the Washington Monument, Capitol, and National Cathedral and National Shrine dominate the skyline instead of a striking private sector tower of some kind.
How can it change?
Are there ways to change the height limit that don't spoil its positive effects? Here are a few that have come up in previous debates:some careful design.
The federal government transferred the land to the District, with the proviso that most of the site stay parkland. That means there's no reason to want the economic incentive to spread out the development; instead, it's better to have an incentive to focus it.
More growth there would house a lot of residents and jobs, bring people across the river, create a customer base for businesses in Historic Anacostia where the buildings won't get tall, and ease demand elsewhere.
Grant a few exceptions for exceptional design and amenities (the Malouff plan). Let some buildings go just a little bit higher, but not by right. Instead, they could do it if that allows a really interesting, attractive architectural design, and if the building provides some amenities, like parks or daycares or libraries or something that won't otherwise be economically viable in the tight downtown market.
Auction off height waivers (the Avent plan). Define a set of zones where a few taller buildings might be okay and a few where they're not, like key viewsheds. Auction off a limited number of permits per year for building up to a somewhat higher limit. This would prevent a stampede to tear down perfectly good buildings just to add a few floors, but would also create a more varied skyline with a few taller buildings, which would be much more aesthetically interesting.
What do you think?
DC Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning and Councilmember Tommy Wells criticized the design for the planned memorial to the Ukrainian Manmade Famine of 1932-1933 on Massachusetts Avenue near Union Station, primarily for of the way it turns a blank wall to F Street.
Both ultimately voted against the design at yesterday's meeting of the National Capital Planning Commission, but were the only dissenters. Tregoning said,
Even though a crowd of people might be on the other side of that wall, interacting with the memorial, talking about their experiences in the Ukraine, talking about hunger problems, whatever it might be, if you're on the other side of that wall, nothing is going on.Wells worried about the potential for the blank wall to attract crime at night:
I think we suggested at the time of the commission meeting that it might be ameliorated with a lower hight so that you can see that there are people on the other side of that wall, or maybe some porosity or transparency, so that it wasn't just a blank wall. I think the pattern that was picked is very lovely; I like the interplay of the shadows of the trees on the wall, but it doesn't really take away from the fact that it's a public space deadening element.
One thing that might make a difference is in the new design, the deeper landscaping is also clearly a front and a back. So you have a low wall, but people are not going to be inclined to be facing out toward F Street because it seems like in that landscaped area, no feet should be in that area, no people should be sitting and facing that direction.
I am a strong believer and agree that we use public space when we can as teaching spaces, especially in the nations capital, and this fits into a vision for what our city should be. But I am also concerned this is an area where we have a lot of tourists, where folks are walking at night. There are not a lot of eyes on the street as you have in some other areas. This clearly creates potentially a nice hiding space.Peter May, of the National Park Service, defended the design:
I understand the concern, but don't necessarily agree that it is as negative an effect as Ms. Tregoning suggests. Given the full range of things we have looked at for this memorial, this is by far the best concept. Some of the suggestions for making it more porous or lowering the height would significantly diminish the concept.May wasn't the only person less concerned about blank walls; Presidential appointee John Hart said, "Having a blank wall is not necessarily a detraction."
Given the expanse of F Street, and the liveliness of what happens along F Street along its entire length, particularly across the street, I don't think this is particularly deadining.
It's certainly not without precedent to have a 1-sided memorial ... it does exist in other circumstances with memorials in certain settings. This is a lot more successful than those in setting the memorial confortably on the site.
It is admittedly a 1-sided experience, but frankly, the concept doesn't work when you try to make some of the changes that were suggested. I think it is an excellent design and am very very pleased with it as it is.
Tregoning took exception to May's point:
I am underwhelmed by the argument that we've done worse in other parts of the city. I'm sure that's true, but I think that by creating a back to this memorial that's hidden from everything that happens on the other side, it does create not just safety issues.Another commissioner noted that there are homeless shelters in the area, and Tregoning added that she was referring to the two Irish pubs nearby.
These are areas where people can undertake activities unobserved by people on the other side of the wall, whatever those activities might be. If you create a blank wall that's clearly the back of something, given the other activities that take place in the area, you will find that it attracts some amount of disamenity in terms of how it ends up getting used.
Tregoning also suggested the applicant use a lighter colored stone for the paving and benches. That would keep the surfaces cooler in the summer, she noted, and make it a more enjoyable place to sit for lunch.
Former DC Councilmember and mayoral NCPC appointee Arrington Dixon suggested a translucent wall to create less of a barrier, and noted that "wheat grows in sunlight." Architect Mary Kay Lanzillotta, from Hartman Cox Architects in DC, replied that the design came out of a design competition, and the entry called for a bronze sculpture, so her firm did not explore that type of option.
Lanzillotta gave some insight into her thinking around the issue:
I think the prominent elevation here, and the way that people will experience thisWe can certainly hope Lanzillotta was not saying that she was more concerned with the experience for those driving through the area than those walking through the site or trying to use the plaza. A design philosophy centered around a "drive-by" experience instead of the pedestrian scale was responsible for many of the worst planning mistakes of the past, like L'Enfant Plaza, mistakes NCPC is now trying to correct.
— many people — will be driving down Mass Ave and North Capitol. Those are the 2 prominent streets here, and that is why the memorial was turned towards that direction as well.
Urban designers have learned through painful experience that blank walls can be some of the most destructive elements that get created with good intentions. This isn't a very large blank wall, but it's a blank wall just the same, and it's disappointing to see this level of unconcern from NCPC staff, NPS, the architect and others.
The empty public reservations in DC will turn into memorials over time. That's appropriate. These can be memorials that either contribute to the urban experience or detract from it. Each piece matters, even small ones, because they add up to a whole. NCPC and the federal commissioners will rightly put interpretive experiences foremost in their priorities, but they should also take great care to respect and enhance the pedestrian experience as they review and approve new memorials.
Here is the video from the meeting. The presentation about the memorial starts at 14:48 in the video and the question and answer period starts at 26:55.
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