Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A good reason (for the city) to let FBI leave DC

Image of the FBI Building from the Parenthetic Life.

The Post advocates in an editorial today, "The next FBI HQ," for the FBI leaving the city, because their modern building on Pennsylvania Avenue in the heart of Downtown is falling apart.

From the editorial:

As it turns out, the GAO seems to agree. The report all but rules out the idea of modernizing the current structure, which would be both the most time-consuming option (14 years, minimum) and the costliest ($1.7 billion). Tearing it down and rebuilding at the same site would be faster and cheaper but would not resolve security concerns or, most critically, the agency’s desperate need to consolidate its still-growing headquarters staff under one roof.

A sensible course is to move the FBI to a campus-style site — think of the CIA, but with better access to mass transit — in the suburbs. Prince George’s County, which has plenty of available space near Metro stations, is one obvious place to look. (As it happens, the FBI eyed a site in the county near the Greenbelt station, the northern terminus of the Green Line, several years ago.) At a stroke, that would solve the FBI’s space problems, rid the District of a damnable eyesore and open the way for the creative redevelopment of a prime site along “America’s Main Street.”

While normally I advocate for retaining federal buildings in the city, I should more sensitively outline the argument, as the desire for maintaining federal buildings in the city is an inverse relationship related to the security requirements for the building.

The FBI has the highest requirements. Therefore the building is supposed to be closed, for all intents and purposes, to the public. And it is. From the website:

The FBI Tour is presently closed. No date has been set for its reopening. In the meantime, please learn all about the FBI on this website. You can also visit other museums in the nation’s capital featuring FBI exhibits and information, including the Newseum and “G-Men and Journalists” exhibit, the National Crime and Punishment Museum, and the International Spy Museum.

So if you have a building like this in an otherwise (potentially) connected area of the city it becomes a hole, a vacuum of negative presence. So if you have the opportunity to get rid of it, seize the day!

Let the suburbs have it. And let us redevelop that block in a way that strengthens the declining urbanism of Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

The Post is right, let the building go to the suburbs. The suburbs will think they win when they get the complex, but instead, they'll get the negatives--a federal complex that has limited spillover benefit. DC has plenty of those negatives already.

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