The federal government’s planning agency for the D.C. region today accepted a new redevelopment plan for the 15-block area between the Mall and Potomac River near L’Enfant Plaza in southwest D.C. The “SW Ecodistrict Plan” would transform this largely dismal portion of the city into a vibrant, sustainable, mixed-use destination.
The 20-year plan reflects the culmination of a joint task force created in 2010 and comprised of representatives from 17 key federal and D.C. government offices.
Southwest D.C. exists today largely as a home to a number of major federal agencies walking distance from museums on the Mall and within sight of the Capitol dome. Thousands of early-morning workers commute to jobs at eight federal agencies. Like ants, these employees largely use cafeterias and child-care buried deep inside massive buildings. On weekends, museum visitors looking for parking turn off Independence Avenue and meander through near-deserted streets. Eight private office buildings also dot this 110-acre area, which borders 12th and 4th Streets. But this private office space represents far less square footage than the federal buildings, and there is little hotel and public retail activity.
If implemented as proposed, southwest D.C. would become a neighborhood with shops, restaurants and residences similar to Penn Quarter, U Street and 14th Streets. The plan calls for transforming 10th Street into “an inviting civic corridor connecting the National Mall and Smithsonian Museums to the southwest waterfront.” It seeks to reestablish Maryland Avenue as “[a]n urban boulevard centered on a signature park and an expanded L’Enfant Station intermodal center.” It proposes to develop residences and retail shops, which would be anchored by nearby museums and a new Department of Energy headquarters. It also contemplates mixed-use development in the air rights over the Southwest Freeway.
The new design concept includes forward-thinking ideas of using electricity generated near its use, installing significant green stormwater infrastructures and expanding alternative transportation access.
“The plan will help federal agencies achieve the President’s sustainability goals,” said National Capital Planning Commission Chairman L. Preston Bryant.
“The plan’s proposal to develop a coordinated approach to land use, transportation, and energy systems would result in a majority of the area’s energy, water, and waste being captured, managed, and then reused,” the Commission said in a statement. “Achieving the plan’s sustainability measures and mixed-use vision will require partnerships between the federal government, the District of Columbia, private landowners, and real estate developers.”
Diane Sullivan, an urban planner on the Commission staff, who presented the plan at today’s meeting, noted a handful of ongoing and immediate actions by different entities, including D.C. zoning code review and a General Services Administration initiative on long-term use of federal facilities.
Most, but not all, members of the National Capital Planning Commission expressed wide and complete support. Even with its acceptance by the Commission, implementation of this long-range framework will require the work of numerous agencies or the creation of a new one.
Notwithstanding the implementation uncertainties, acceptance of the task force’s efforts marks a significant step.
The National Capital Planning Commission “will utilize the plan when evaluating and making recommendations for development proposals in the SW ecodistrict, as well as use it to guide input on federal, local, and private planning studies and reports prepared for the area,” the Commission said in a prepared statement.
Even though the plan does not formally control D.C.'s actions, it reflects the city's efforts to revitalize Maryland Avenue as well as the participation of D.C. representatives on the task force.
“We are pleased to have partnered with NCPC to reimagine the Southwest federal enclave into a mixed-use and walkable neighborhood that will reconnect the National Mall to the Southwest community and waterfront redevelopment,” said Harriet Tregoning, Director of D.C.'s Office of Planning.
Approval of the SW Ecodistrict Plan signals a major design shift in this part of the city. Southwest D.C. fit within the city's original grand blueprint. The L’Enfant Plan, named after the French artist who designed it, evidenced wide diagonal avenues radiating from the Capitol with an interconnecting grid-like system of streets, together with monuments and fountains on large open spaces. The area near the Mall and Capitol changed during the early 1900s as the ideas of the McMillan Commission, a Senate Commission headed by Senator James McMillan, became realized. The Commission sought to preserve L’Enfant’s ideas by restoring large areas of green space within the center of the city. Then, in the 1940s, southwest D.C. suffered a further evolution with construction of the Southwest Freeway and creation of larger “super-blocks.” Today’s new SW Ecodistrict Plan represents a significant new redesign.