Wanted: A comprehensive plan for the "Anacostia River East" corridor
Will H. commented in my earlier post on the proposed Redskins training facility, "Appropriate development proximate to subway stations: Sports edition," suggesting the Pepco site on Benning Road, the location of the now closed electric power generation site, as an alternative.
I had a kind of rambling response in the comment thread. What I was trying to say is that (1) I don't think that a professional football team's minimally used practice facility is a desirable use for DC, especially in potentially high-value well-connected locations; (2) but rather than me pronouncing what type of development should go where, more importantly, clearly, all this talk about various sites and various proposals is an indication that a much more serious and wide-ranging planning process is necessary for the Anacostia River corridor between Pennsylvania Avenue (the Hill East area) and "New York Avenue".
The map above shows that corridor, with various "separate" areas indicated that should be included in a more "comprehensive" planning effort.
Outside of the part that abuts Capitol Hill, the so-called "Capitol Riverfront" business improvement district, the Anacostia River isn't seen as the kind of incredible civic asset that it ought to be, considering how many communities make recapturing river and waterfront assets a fundamental element of revitalization planning. It's time to capture the opportunity of the Anacostia River beyond the area of the Washington Nationals stadium.
Page from the Fall River plan, Massachusetts Urban River Visions program.
Note that a good example of such a planning effort is the Massachusetts Urban River Visions project, not that DC didn't get started with the Anacostia Waterfront revitalization program, late in the tenure of Mayor Williams. I'd argue that the planning didn't go far enough.
(Note that the links in the right sidebar under "Parks, Waterfronts, & Rivers Planning" list other good resources.) Also see the Maryland state heritage area, the Maryland Milestones program (formerly called the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area) in Prince George's County, as a heritage and revitalization planning program that can be leveraged and linked to as well.
A heritage and wayfinding interpretation sign for the "Maryland Milestones" area, located at the College Park Metro Station.
I've indicated these areas as needing to be components in such a plan, but you can extend this idea further east and include the Minnesota Avenue corridor and the proposed revitalization of the Skyland Shopping Center as well.
The red line is the streetcar line, the blue line is the Anacostia River, and the black line is a proposed continuation of Massachusetts Avenue across the Anacostia River.
A. The Hill East area -- which frankly has already been planned. It's just Mayor Gray, CM Jack Evans, and others want to give half the land to the Washington Redskins, in hopes they'll relocate their stadium--used fewer than 20 times each year--back to DC. See "Unstrategy for Economic Development in DC."
Original diagram from the Reservation 13 Master Plan.
B. The RFK Stadium area. This area is a dump. It should be re-planned and re-used. People say "DC only has the privilege to use this National Park Service land as a stadium." Well, agreements can be changed.
Postcard, date unknown, but before 1969 when the stadium was renamed. Note all the parking lots. Caption: D.C. Stadium located at 22nd Street, N.E. and Capitol Street Bridge. In season, the Washington Redskins and Washington Senators play home games here. Stadium features parking for 12,00 automobiles and has a seating capacity of 43,500 for baseball games and 50,000 for football games.
C. The Spingarn campus. This educational campus, with a high school, vocational education high school, junior high, and elementary school, did go through a planning exercise around 2003, conducted by the urban design studio of the University of Michigan architecture school. Of course, in the frequent changes in administration of the DC Public Schools, those plans are probably lost. One of the scenarios was to add mixed use housing development to the area, because the campus has much more space than is necessary to support all the education functions.
D. Langston Golf Course. Interest in golf is declining (witness the failure of public golf courses in Montgomery County) but the historical connections with the course and African-Americans mean that the course likely will remain in use. Still, it can probably be improved.
E. The former Pepco power generating plant. It's big, it's mostly empty. It's an opportunity, as Geoff Hatchard pointed out in this GGW post, "Pepco Benning Road site is perfect for the NFL or FBI," even if I think that neither of his proposed uses is "perfect" for that site.
The Dominion Energy power plant next to Alexandria is being decommissioned and the site will be adaptively reused. Why not the same for the site in DC--granted there will be big remediation issues, but if they can build housing on the site of a former chromium plant in Baltimore's harbor, they can fix this site too.
F. Hatchard's entry also pointed out that the area north of the Pepco plant is a National Park Service maintenance yard. Maybe it's being underutilized too and could be redeveloped as part of a more comprehensive plan.
G. The Mayfair Mansions-Parkside neighborhoods. This GGW piece, "Little-known Kenilworth-Parkside is neighborhood to watch," discusses a revitalization effort there.
I'd bet good money that this planning initiative will fail, because "planning" for the improvement of this comparatively small place without working to connect the efforts to a more comprehensive plan for the entire area isn't likely to succeed.
No, I'm not being mean, it's an assessment (granted I'd have to learn a lot more about the specific initiative) based on a lot of study of various revitalization projects in the city and elsewhere that have been attempted over the past few decades.
And speaking of connection, the fact that the neighborhood is isolated--blocked off by the freeway and the site of Pepco's former generating plant makes successful revitalization that much harder.
Then there are these transportation ideas, recognizing that the area is already served by the Stadium Armory Station (blue and orange lines) and the Minnesota Avenue Station (orange line), the Anacostia River, and there are plans for a continuous walking and biking trail, the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail from the Southwest Waterfront up to the Bladensburg Waterfront Park in Prince George's County, Maryland.
W. The "H Street-Benning Road" streetcar. All of us smart growth types talk up the impact of the streetcar on H Street, but service on Benning Road allows us to reconceptualize how these large properties abutting Benning Road--the Spingarn campus, the RFK Stadium parking lots, the Pepco site--can be energized by resuse and reconnection and the streetcar can help realize this.
X. I've written before about putting in an infill subway station at Benning Road, a kind of bringing back of the proposed but defeated "Oklahoma Avenue Station" as conceptualized in the original plan for the subway system. See "Update: Bring back the Oklahoma Avenue Metro Station (but at Benning Road)." (The station was opposed by residents because it was designed to serve commuters, who would park in the otherwise empty stadium parking lots.)
Y. Maybe it's crazy, but consider putting in two stations, one to reposition the use of the RFK parking lots and Spingarn, the other for the Pepco/NPS yard/Mayfair area.
Z/1. Last September, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago proposed a series of boathouses along the Chicago River, in order to reconnect residents to the River and to help make the River "get used." Maybe we need a similar kind of program here. See "Rahm Emanuel: City to build boathouses on Chicago River" from the Chicago Sun-Times.
Veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan learn adaptive kayaking on the Chicago River at the 2011 Wounded Warrior Adventure Sports Camp. Friday, August 19, 2011 |Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
Z/2. While the Hill East planning process proposed building an extension of Massachusetts Avenue SE with a bridge over the Anacostia River, Capitol Hill residents forced the removal of that item from the final plan. Maybe that decision needs to be reconsidered. While I understand legitimate concerns about traffic, at the same time, more connectedness is better than less connectedness. The reason the area is derelict now is that the River acts as a barrier and without the continuation of Massachusetts Avenue, the area is further disconnected.
If you don't want Reservation 13 to be "a dumping ground," make sure it's connected to the city beyond its borders, rather than acting as an edge. (cf. Kevin Lynch, Image of the City)
Page from the book, Image of the City, explaining how district "edges" serve as barriers.
If the DC Office of Planning can weigh in on the appropriateness of food trucks having access to the National Mall ("Food trucks could bring more flavor to National Mall" from the Washington Examiner, and of course, I agree), certainly it should step up and push a far more comprehensive planning effort for these key parcels than is capable of being envisioned by people like Vincent Gray and Jack Evans.