We meet Dionne Reeder, a business owner running for D.C. Council, and the new chair of Virginia's Republican Party, Jack Wilson.
Washington is experiencing an ongoing development boom, with parking lots and empty storefronts giving way to multi-story apartment buildings and big-box retail all over the region. But does a hot real estate market allow for unbuilt spaces like public plazas, community gardens and single-story structures? We explore how city planners, residents, and private developers negotiate what does — and doesn’t — get built.
- Roger Lewis Architect; Columnist, "Shaping the City," Washington Post; and Professor Emeritus of Architecture, University of Maryland College Park
- Scott Kratz Director, 11th Street Bridge Park Project
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Washington is experiencing a development boom with parking lots and empty storefronts giving way to multi-story apartment buildings and big-box retail everywhere you turn. And city planners' vision for the city is heavily focused on more building. But does our hot real estate market mean there will be no more unbuilt spaces? Are there enough public plazas included in new developments?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIs there still room for empty lots turned into community gardens? And what about low-rent buildings that could attract artists? Joining us to discuss all of this is Roger Lewis. He's a Professor Emeritus of Architecture at the University of Maryland. Roger also writes the "Shaping the City," column for the Washington Post. Roger, good to see you again.
MR. ROGER LEWISThank you for inviting me once again.
NNAMDIIf you would like to join the conversation, give us a call, 800-433-8850. What would you like to see happen in the unbuilt areas around the city? 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@WAMU.org or send us a tweet at kojoshow. Roger, let's start with the idea, which is not a new one in architectural circles, what is an empty space in architectural terms? You, yourself, wrote a piece on this back in -- when, 1985?
LEWISMarch of 1985.
NNAMDIAlmost 20 years ago.
LEWISTwenty years ago. I had no...
NNAMDIThe title alone says a lot: "The Art of Omission, Public Squares." Tell us about that.
LEWISOkay. Well, I'm going to read, if you will indulge me, the...
LEWIS...the few opening lines here. What I wrote was: In creating a work of art, knowing what to omit is no less important than knowing what to include. Sometimes it is the voids, blank spaces or meaningful pauses woven into artful compositions that acquire the greatest significance. The same is true of cities. Their potentially continuous, uninterrupted fabric of streets, blocks and buildings is enriched by periodic perforation, distortion and subtraction.
LEWISOmitting buildings or parts of buildings, or arranging buildings to surround or shape a space, introduced needed exceptions into urban street block patterns. Washington has many such spaces: the mall, squares, plazas and circles, responsible for much of the city's visual character. What makes these public spaces -- formed and functioning in so many different ways -- what makes these public spaces worthwhile omissions?
NNAMDIPlease answer the question you posed yourself. What does make these spaces worthwhile omissions?
LEWISWell, of course, one could start with the fact that they're exceptions, that they are the absence of development in the sense of buildings and other things. And, of course, if they've been well designed, well proportioned, if they have adjacent to them the right kinds of activity in terms of built development, they can be very animated. They can be, you know, sometimes we think of them as the lungs of the city or the breathing spaces that allow people to actually see the sun and the sky and vegetation, depending on the design. And not all spaces are the same.
LEWISWe talk generally about open spaces, but there are spaces that are quite diverse as open spaces, ranging from the intimate pocket park or the hard-scaped plaza, to very extensive, highly vegetated places that are more passive, that are more bucolic. So not all open spaces are the same. But almost all of them, I think most people would agree, are both necessary and pleasurable to experience, even when the weather isn't terrific.
NNAMDIIt's interesting because a lot of architects have weighed-in on this idea, what an empty space means. Here's a quote from the internationally known architect, Rem Koolhaas: "Where there is nothing, everything is possible. Where there is architecture, nothing else can occur." What do you think of when you hear that?
LEWISWell, I think that one of the things that we architects do when we make a civic space or an open space that is not really simply a garden -- I mean, some open spaces are meant to be just seen. They're ornamental. They're -- and parts of parks are like that. Certainly Rock Creek Park is a place is a place where there are places to move through and occupy. But there are other places where you really should just take a look at it, either because of the thickness of the vegetation or the topography.
LEWISBut I think Koolhaas, what he's -- I don't completely agree with his comment. I think there are many works of architecture, buildings that do accommodate many functions, many activities.
NNAMDIYeah, because he's embracing the idea that development closes off possibility and opportunity.
LEWISWell, it can. I mean excessive development can. I was just in the City of Dallas, where they have recently decked over a depressed highway because downtown Dallas has almost no open spaces. There are almost no parks or plazas or circles like we have in Washington. It's absolutely the opposite of Washington in many ways. They decided they needed to create some new real estate by decking over a highway -- a depressed highway, interstate highway -- and made it a park.
LEWISAnd the same thing happened, of course, in Boston, with the big dig, where they decked over the old Central Artery to make mostly park space. I think the -- it's not either/or. I mean Koolhaas is being rhetorical. But I think one of the great things about Washington, and like a lot of American cities, is we have a lot of open space and a lot of park space.
NNAMDINeighborhood residents, public opinion in general, tend to see unbuilt spaces differently from city planners, not to mention developers. Isn't that often the case?
LEWISYeah, I think part of it is just living with a space. If you are residing in a place where adjacent to you or near you for decades has been an undeveloped property -- whether it's just a lot or a space with no building -- this is what happened on Connecticut Avenue up at Military Road...
LEWIS...and where there is now an apartment building being developed by the (unintelligible)
NNAMDIWe talked about that before.
LEWISBut, you know, that -- I mean, the fact is a developer is, under the city's policy and zoning regulations, is actually doing what is a matter of rite. But that space has been empty and undeveloped for so long, people get used to it and they assume it's there forever. And they kind of assume or take ownership. And, of course, that's problematic when it's time to develop. And the timing of development, of course, is driven by all kinds of other factors that we could talk about.
NNAMDIWhich brings us to this -- an empty lot looks to some like a great opportunity for a community garden or a pocket park. It's a space that, as you described, that's been there for a while, and so people just assume that it's going to be there permanently. What are some of the challenges -- the balancing of what the neighborhood might want and where the market pressure is?
LEWISWell, the way we like to think we're going it is that we're following a plan -- that we have, D.C., for example, and Montgomery County and Alexandria and all the jurisdictions around there -- we have comprehensive plans. Presumably, those plans have been -- have gone through a public process in which open spaces are included in the plan. Places that you, as a matter of public policy, say, we will not build here, we will not build here, we will not build here. That doesn't mean that everybody -- all the voters agree that those are all that's needed, or in some cases that they're not too much.
LEWISBut, I think, the general approach is to create a plan where you design the open-space pattern as distinct from the built-up pattern and then you follow that plan. Now, all plans are changeable. I mean, circumstances can change. And, in fact, most plans have built into them a mechanism for amending the plan. But, I think, generally, I mean, my own belief as a designer is that we should normally be following a plan which anticipates development here, open-space park, civic space here.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Roger Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Architecture at the University of Maryland. He joins us on a regular basis. Roger also writes the "Shaping the City" column for the Washington Post. Today we're talking about the value of empty spaces and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think our hot real estate market is resulting in too few unbuilt areas? Or, do you think our booming region needs more residential and office buildings? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Or shoot us a tweet at kojoshow. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org and join the conversation there.
NNAMDIRoger, as I mentioned, real estate in this area is hot. We've got new developments going up all over, including in areas that just a few years ago were full of abandoned buildings, empty lots. What kind of pressure does that put to develop and build?
LEWISWell, I think the pressures have to do with growth -- mostly with growth. And the last few years, the population of the District of Columbia has been increasing. And that creates demand for apartments or demand for retail or demand for office space. That's the pressure. I mean I think there were many years -- I know I've lived in Washington since the late 60s, and I remember many years when that wasn't happening, you know, when getting -- building vacancy rates were high. And if you've got that situation, you're not going to get a loan from a bank or lending institution to build.
LEWISSo those are parts of the pressure pattern. I think what is happening right now is Washington has become, in effect, a busier city. There is much more going on here. People are moving into the city, I guess, what -- 1,500 people a week -- some very large number. There are desirable place in some parts of the city where there is no -- there are no more empty lots.
LEWISBut, in fact, where they're creating new real estate -- I just, you may remember, they're going to deck over 395 near -- just south of Mass Avenue and create a deck -- unlike Dallas, which was to be a park, or is a park -- this is going to have buildings on it. There's a proposal to create this incredible air-rights development over the tracks behind Union Station, basically creating what we architects call a reconstituted ground plain -- new real estate to build millions of square feet of new building. But these are places that are very desirable.
LEWISI mean these are places that are very near the heart of the city. Nevertheless, the same thing is happening, I think, outside of that area, where there are neighborhoods where people want to live and are looking to space to live. And the pressures are there, again, because of population and market demand. I think the other thing that is interesting, though, that we're going to talk about a little more is there are some things in the city...
LEWIS...that are worth saving or at least finding, you know, repurposing. You know, the McMillan Reservoir, we know is a piece of infrastructure, a large property owned by the city and there's been much controversy about how much of that to build on and how much to make into a park.
NNAMDIYou know you're going to get a gazillion calls as soon as you mention McMillan Reservoir...
LEWISI had to mention it.
NNAMDI...all this controversy around that. But I want to go to the phones. Let's start with John in Mt. Rainier, Maryland. John has an idea for open space. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNAll right, thanks. Well, I can't claim credit for it, because it was in New York City. I'm sure everybody who's been up there knows that recently they've closed down a big part of like Times Square and around there to vehicular traffic, so you can just go and wander around and appreciate the buildings and relax. And I'm wondering, you know, as a former bike courier who is still alive, I wonder if there's any, you know, possibility of doing some of that downtown in D.C.? That it's a much friendlier place to be, you know, maybe around U Street or whatever, at night -- and how that process comes about?
LEWISWell, I'm a biker. And I'm not biking these days, because it's -- five degrees is not my idea of the time to bike. But I happen to be one of those designers who believes that we need to design streetscapes to accommodate not only cars but bikers and pedestrians. I'm reluctant to support the idea of closing streets in a network like we have in Washington, so that only pedestrians and bikers can use them.
LEWISSo again, there's not one size-fits-all strategy that works. I think we -- I think in Washington, because we have a very strong networked city in terms of streetscapes, it's generally better to do what they've been doing, which is dedicating part of the streets as bike lanes. And you can argue as to whether that should be next to the curb or outboard of the parked cars. But I think that what's most important is to get people to understand that biking is one of the transportation modes of a city like Washington, D.C.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, John. We move on to Adrian in Riverdale, Md. Adrian, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ADRIANYes. Good afternoon, Kojo. And I'm really happy to hear from your guests. The comment that I wanted to make is that Prince Georges and Montgomery Counties are connected to the district in many ways, one of which is historical. And that has to do with the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission. That's the agency that I work for.
NNAMDIYou're the general council?
ADRIANYes, I am.
NNAMDIGo right ahead.
ADRIANAnd the history of that is so important but the reason there are so many open spaces and a phenomenal park system in both of our counties really dates back to the idea it's not an accident. It was designed that way so that you wouldn't wake up and need to close Time Square. If Time Square should be a park, the idea is that the development has to be coordinated with that. And it's kind of interesting to wonder what both of these counties might look like had an independent kind of agency not been at the forefront trying to keep that connection together.
ADRIANAnd so that was the idea in the district and that was the idea in both of our jurisdictions as well. And by all accounts, we have the blessings of one of the best regional park systems in the country.
NNAMDII get the impression, Roger, that that was not quite the idea in Dallas where you just visited.
LEWISThat's right. No, I mean, well, that's Texas. You know, it's...
NNAMDIWell, you're from Houston so you know this.
LEWISBut Adrian -- I mean, I've done a lot of work with MNCPPC both in Montgomery and Prince Georges county and I think his points are very well taken. This is a metropolitan area where I think the citizenry has long been committed to the idea that setting aside part of the landscape for public parks and public use is absolutely indispensible. And we've done, I think, a very good job of it. I mean, it's again -- I can't think of any other city that has quite the intensity, if you will, of such spaces as metropolitan Washington.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation and take your calls, 800-433-8850. Do you see empty lots and un-renovated buildings as eyesores or as a break from too much development? You can send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org. There's another way cities create public spaces and that's by reclaiming and repurposing infrastructure. That's what we're going to be talking about when we come back, on a specific project here in Washington, D.C. You can also go to our website kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Roger Lewis about the value of empty spaces. Roger is professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland and he writes the "Shaping the City" column for the Washington Post. Roger, before the break I mentioned there's another way cities can create public spaces by reclaiming and repurposing infrastructure. Presumably that's not a new trend in architecture either, is it?
LEWISNo, no. And, you know, obviously in recent times one of the most visible and most well known such projects is the highline in New York City.
NNAMDITell us about that.
LEWISAnd I think perhaps people will know it was -- the highline is an elevated -- a former elevated rail line that snaked through on the west side of lower Manhattan. It sat derelict for many years. It was about to be torn down. It was not being used any longer for rail movement. They had built it to get trains off the street level. And thanks to actually a couple of guys with the National Building Museum recently cited as the people who were the catalysts for this, the highline was saved.
LEWISIt was repurposed. It was made into a park, a linear park that stretches for, gosh, a couple miles. Fabulous design work done. It's an extraordinary piece of work. I mean, I think -- and it's worth a trip to New York just to see the highline.
NNAMDIThat kind of architecture or repurposing is not new in the architectural world. It seems an especially creative way to use an old railroad line. The 11th Street Bridge Park Project is based on a similar idea. And joining us now to talk about that is Scott Kratz. He is director of the aforementioned 11th Street Bridge Park Project. Scott is now transitioning from his full time job as the vice president of education at the National Building Museum. Scott Kratz, good to see you again.
MR. SCOTT KRATZThanks for having me.
NNAMDITell us a little bit about this idea and what sparked it.
KRATZSure. Well, in the capacity of running the education department at the Building Museum I've gotten to know a frequent guest to this program, Harriet Tregoning, the director of Office of Planning.
KRATZAnd I asked the -- what I thought was an innocent question at the time to Harriet, which is what's happening with all that construction on the 11th Street Bridges?
NNAMDIAn innocent question that thousands of Washingtonians ask when they drive by there every day, but go ahead.
KRATZIndeed. And I asked because I live near there and this is my neighborhood. And Harriet sort of looked across the table and said, it's interesting you ask that question, Scott, because I have a plan to use this unique point in time while the bridges are being replaced to transform part of the old spans into a new space for active recreation, for environmental education and the arts. But I need some help. So what do you think? You want to help me? And this was 7:00 in the morning and so I needed to think a little more of what's going to happen.
KRATZThat was about two-and-a-half years ago. And now I've actually just left my full time position at the National Building Museum to focus on this full time.
NNAMDIYeah, I was about to say, you started out volunteering. Now you're transitioning to direct this project full time. What do you hope -- what is your hope about what this project will do for Washington, D.C.?
KRATZWell, what's key is making sure that it's community-driven from the beginning. So in those two-and-a-half years that I was volunteering, my wife called this the I-clearly-have-too-much -free-time-on-my-hands project. Lots of nights and weekends, we went out to the community and asked the community A., is this something that the community wants? And to date we've heard nothing but enthusiastic responses. And B., what is it that the community would like as some of the programming that we can build into the design competition?
KRATZAnd two weekends ago I counted how many meetings we've had. We've had a little more than 185 meetings, lots of feedback that we're continuing with. And interestingly we're hearing the same programming concept from residents on both sides of the bridge, whether that's people that live in Capitol Hill or Berry Farms or historic Anacostia. And those are concepts for an environmental education center that can inspire the next generation of river stewards.
KRATZUrban agriculture keeps coming up again and again. Performance spaces where people can gather on both sides of the bridge for gospel concerts or the what-have-you. The public art that tells the riches of the region and kayak and canoe launches on the river below.
NNAMDIIn case you don't know what we're talking about, when the city build the new 11th Street Bridge across the Anacostia River, it left three concrete piers standing beside the stretch of road that now carries local traffic between the Navy Yard and historic Anacostia. Two were turned into lookout points for bicyclists or pedestrians who want to pause for a moment over the water, accessible from the bridge via narrow gray walkways. What we're talking about is the other plans for the towering concrete columns, foundations for the city's first elevated park.
NNAMDIWhat do you think about that? Give us a call, 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. Roger, what do you think?
LEWISWell, I think it's very important for the listeners to focus on what Scott just talked about, that is to say, the activation of that space. It's not enough to save the space and create a deck or a pedestrian way. We've seen that, for example, one that didn't really work was a piece of a freeway that was left in Roslyn that got turned into a park, I forget how many years ago. It never really quite got off the ground. It wasn't large enough. I think what's going to happen on the 11th Street Bridge is a number -- if you will, a menu of activities, a menu of destinations that are very much driven by what the community is interested in and what the community wants to do. There might even be some places up there to get something to eat or drink. No fancy restaurants.
LEWISI think that's absolutely vital. And it gets back to what makes open spaces work and active and animated, which is, you know, if you build a plaza in the middle of a city and the only thing that's surrounding the plaza are banks and real estate offices, that plaza will be dead. It will not be animated. If you surround an open space with restaurants and cafes and so forth, it makes all the difference in the world.
LEWISI think the same thing is true of a park, like Scott's envisioning here, which is that if you've got the stuff, if you build it and you build on it, people will come. They will come if there are reasons why people would want to be there. And I'm talking 24/7 maybe even. Not just 9:00 to 5:00.
KRATZAnd if we're successful with that I would add that we can achieve one of the key goals for this project which is the river has been a dividing line for generations in the city.
NNAMDIThat's what I was about to bring up. Go ahead.
KRATZSorry, I didn't mean to jump in. The river's been a dividing line for generations in this city. And this can be a place that can build social capital and help stitch together the city, and indeed stitch together a larger constellation of activities up and down the river. And that's why it's been so important that we've had this community-led effort for programming. And all of those programming ideas will be baked into a nationwide design competition, which we're launching in March.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Let's see if this is what Olivia in Washington, D.C. is looking for in this city. Olivia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
OLIVIAHi. I'm an architect as well and I come from Greece. And I feel that our American cities sorely miss urban spaces that are for socializing. Not necessarily a dedicated park like we have with a playground set but a place where a mother can take her children and maybe there's a café or a gathering space that's integrated with the urban fabric rather than isolated. And I see there's a value to, you know, urban renewal and taking abandoned infrastructure and creating parks there. But a way to make a city safer is to put more life, more energy, more people.
LEWISAnd Roger mentioned that you can't surround a public space with a non-permeable structure, that is office buildings. You need to have cafes. You need to have outdoors spaces. I even think of Paris where families can take their young children and sail their little boats on a little pond or something. And there's nothing like that. And every time we would come back from vacations abroad I would be struggling like, where can I go for a little promenade with my kids in a stroller and maybe run into people. And it feels very, very separated the public...
NNAMDIWell, you know, Olivia, Scott Kratz has been holding lots of meetings about this. And there are oh, maybe about 75,000 people who live within two miles of this proposed area. What have you been hearing from them so far?
KRATZWell, we haven't had a chance to meet with every one of the 75,000 people yet, but I say yet because this is going to be a continued effort. Recently we held a day-long or two half-day community design (word?) at the beginning of December where we asked the members of the public, A, to help prioritize some of these programming concepts that we've had to date and, B, to share if we've missed something. And interestingly -- and we had over 100 people show up at a morning session (unintelligible) and an afternoon session over in Capitol Hill.
KRATZAnd they said that those concepts of performance spaces and environmental education center was really important. But they asked for something more. They asked to make sure that A., we build in flexibility for the space. It's something that you all were talking about earlier. How do we -- if this bridge park is going to be open for the next 50, 75 years, how do we make sure we have those open spaces that the caller was talking about to build the social capital, to take in those views?
KRATZI think the last thing I'll say is that the cities are increasingly being defined by their civic spaces, whether it's the highline, whether it's Millennium Park in Chicago, whether it's the amazing Clyde Warren Park in Dallas that you were mentioning. And we see that the 11th Street Bridge Park can play that role of having a space where the entire city can come and gather and meet each other, that they otherwise might not cross paths.
NNAMDIAnd I guess, Roger, that's an important part of design because we got an email from John on Capitol Hill who says, "The 11th Street Bridge Project sounds great but how do you ensure that the revitalization happening on the Navy Yard side will carry over to Anacostia, which doesn't seem to be enjoying the boom you're talking about." And I guess that would be one of the purposes of this design.
LEWISYeah, I mean, I think exactly what Scott said earlier, which is that, you know, this is a bridge. It's turning the Anacostia River, as we sometimes say, from being a boundary or border into a seam. A seam is where two things are tied together -- come together. And I think that's one of the great things. In fact, I'm thinking about Olivia -- I wanted to say to Olivia, I can't think of a better place to go strolling than what Scott is planning to build, which is this pedestrian environment spanning the Anacostia River with these fabulous things...
NNAMDIOlivia's still here. Would you stroll there, Olivia?
OLIVIAIt's a little far. I guess what I'm talking about requires almost like a new zoning law that requires that parks are in each area. There should be a small park, public space and zoned for possible cafes or something nearby. And you've got to scatter this across the city. It should be within a two- or three-block walk for a mother and a stroller...
LEWISBut, you know, I would -- let me address that. I've always believed that part of the challenge for cities is to make sure that the streetscapes are strollable. I mean, there are many places -- and she mentioned cities in Europe -- where you see people strolling not only in civic spaces and parks but on sidewalks, you know, just going along beautiful streetscapes because they're great places to stroll.
LEWISI mean, this has to do again with how it's designed. And if you do it right people can -- mothers with children or fathers with children and strollers can promenade.
NNAMDIThis is not an expensive proposal, Scott. What about financing it?
KRATZThat's a great question, Kojo. So over the summer we launched a million dollar pre-capital campaign to help fund a nationwide design competition, to help fund full time staff because we quickly matured out of a volunteer organization. And we need to make sure we're measuring some of our key goals. So we're looking at implementing an economic development analysis, which is key because this -- I mean, the highline itself has spurred $2 billion of economic growth, right. We're not anticipating that kind of growth for a project like this. But it can be a catalyst for economic development.
KRATZTo date we've raised a little more than half of that, so we've raised about $545,000, which is enough for us to launch this design competition. And that brings us to selecting a final design in October. And at that point when we have a final design, we're planning on launching a $35 million capital campaign, 25 million for construction and $10 million for an endowment.
NNAMDIWhat's the timeline for an opening date?
KRATZThe earliest opening date would be 2017, 2018, all contingent on funding. And I will say one more thing, that this has been a public private partnership to date. So the idea started with Harriet at the Office of Planning. But we've been working with the amazing Ward 8 nonprofit appropriately named for this project, Building Bridges Across the River at the Arc. And so now I'm a full time employee of the Arc and they have been wonderful to embrace this project. And it's closely aligned with our mission as well.
NNAMDIScott Kratz is director of the 11th Street Bridge Park Project. He joins us in studio with Roger Lewis, professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland. Roger writes the "Shaping the City" column for the Washington Post. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Roger, this idea has sparked a lot of discussion about open spaces here in D.C. There are few examples of places in D.C. that are unexpectedly opening up for redevelopment, and that many see as an opportunity to think about what we want the city to look like. I'm thinking about the former Walter Reed Hospital on upper Georgia Avenue, which is in my neighborhood.
LEWISWell, I mean, that's of course a large piece of real estate. I'm not an expert on it. I haven't studied it at all but I do know they're facing challenges there that have to do with historic preservation. There's some buildings that probably should be saved, which of course is a sustainability strategy. It's one of the greenest ways you can behave to make new buildings -- is to take old buildings and repurpose them. That's going to have to be master planned very, very, very carefully, with a lot of community input. I think it's -- I haven't followed it closely, as I said, but I think it's one of those places that is waiting to find a new kind of life.
LEWISAnd I suspect it'll be a mixture of new residential opportunities, some retail opportunities, some recreational, cultural, I mean it's big enough that it can have a fairly meaty menu.
NNAMDIBack to the 11th Street Bridge project, here's Denise, in Washington, D.C. And Olivia, thank you for your call. Denise, you're now on the air. Go ahead, please.
DENISEThank you. I live right adjacent to Southeast Boulevard on L Street on the Capitol Hill side of the Anacostia River. And there's a whole development of stuff, that old freeway section there, that's been being discussed for a few years. And I wonder how this is going to -- the part you're talking about is going to tie in with that development. I mean, my point is I think all of these should tie in somehow and be related to each other because hopefully there will be a lot of green space in that development, as well. And access to, you know, recreational facilities and stuff like that along the Anacostia River.
DENISEAlso the question of parking. You know, the Greek architect said, it's a little far. I mean it's going to be stuck there in the middle of the river. How are people going to get to it if they have to drive to it or public transportation isn't all that close to that area either?
NNAMDIScott Kratz, the question of tie-in, the question of parking.
KRATZThose are great questions. Thank you very much. What's key and essential is that for the Bridge Park to be successful we need to make sure that it's deeply stitched into the adjoining neighborhoods and that there's as many ways as possible to get there. And one of the key ways that we envision is the next generation of the streetcar will go from Anacostia -- actually from Boling Air Force Base, across the new 11th Street local bridge. The bridge was constructed to hold the streetcar. And it's current iteration, as I understand it, take a left down M Street all the way to the southwest waterfront.
KRATZWhat we're talking to some of the engineers at DDOT about is then can there be a streetcar stop on the local bridge where you could exit and go to the bridge park. That doesn't handle all of our access issues, but it handles about 85 percent of them because that streetcar will go by not one, but three different existing Metro stops. To your other point about -- nonetheless, we'll want to encourage people to bike and walk and take public access where possible, but we do need to make sure that there's adequate parking and that's something we're working on.
LEWISTo answer your other question, there's a lot of development that's happening, as you mentioned. The Boulevard Project, there's the D.C. Clean Rivers Project, there's the 11th Street Bridges is now into phase two of the construction project. There will eventually be Poplar Point, that's under development. And all of that we need to make sure we're synchronized and coordinated with.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. There are a lot of people who'd like to join the conversation. But you can, too, by just calling 800-433-8850. Is there a place in your neighborhood where you'd like to see a community garden, a park? Or does your neighborhood need more housing, a supermarket or other retail? You can also send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have called, stay on the line, we'll try to get to your calls. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Roger Lewis about the value of empty spaces. Roger is professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland and writes the "Shaping the City" column for the Washington Post. Joining us in studio is Scott Kratz. He is director of the 11th Street Bridge Park Project, which we've been talking about. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. We got an email from Bill, in Annandale, Roger, who says, "What D.C. really needs is new legislation that would prevent what happened a few years ago on a prime lot on K Street, where a couple of buildings were torn down with the expectation that a new firm would be building a building there.
NNAMDI"That company pulled out leaving a gaping, ugly hole for several years and a prime spot on K Street Northwest." Some people don't like to see gaping, ugly holes as open spaces.
LEWISWell, others see them as opportunities.
LEWISYou know, if I had a little more data I might know where this is. Those kinds of sites are unlikely to stay as vacant sites for very long. One thing I did want to point out -- and I'm not sure this is to Bill's point -- which is that sometimes we do see citizens opposing development by advocating we need green space, give us a park. We want a park. When in fact, there's not really the need for a park, necessarily, but rather the advocacy for park or open space is simply the strategy for opposing whatever development is being proposed. I've seen that a lot in my practice as an architect. So sometimes the park advocacy is really -- the motivation is other than just we're surely in need of park space. Anyway…
NNAMDIBut a lot of people see these projects, especially when you talk about the Walter Reed Project or the McMillan Project, as big developers versus residents. But it's a little more complicated than that isn't it.
LEWISOh, yeah. I think it's an unfair -- I think making out developers as villains is overdone. There was just a letter in the Post a couple of days ago that was just dripping with this kind of -- all developers are evil and all they care about is the bottom line. It's not that the bottom line isn't important, but I think that what people forget is that 99 percent of development that's done is done according to public policy. It's done in accordance with extant, comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance and regulations. And what most developers really want is something, you know, what are the rules of the game?
LEWISWhat is it that the public has said to us through these regulations and through these laws? What's to be done here and we will do it. Also, in most of the projects I've been involved with there's almost always been a mandate for a certain amount of open space along with the development. And that open space, again, can have different character. But most developers are happy to do it. I know in all of these new developments that we've been talking about, for example the Burnham Place development proposal behind Union Station -- there's a tremendous amount of civic space that's going to be provided with that development.
NNAMDIWe got an email from someone who said, "Can your guests explain why this McMillan site is creating such controversy? We need the services planned, including a covered pool. We need more life on that long section of North Capitol Street. What gives?" And an email from Anna, who said, "I walk past the McMillan site every day, pushing stroller along those barren sidewalks. That place is a hole in the urban fabric, while the nearby community has no services neighbors can walk to." On now to Walter, in Washington, D.C. Walter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WALTERYeah, thank you, Kojo. I appreciate your show. The reason I was calling is I'm actually an outdoor education teacher. I just retired from Baltimore County. I just moved down to the Tacoma, D.C. area, and so I'm listening to your show and it sounds like a project that I'd like to get involved in. So I was just wondering who I might contact. I got Scott's name, but I'm not sure I got the last name correct or if there's an email or something that I could talk -- I've got about 20 years of outdoor education programming behind me.
NNAMDIYou can find a link on our website, kojoshow.org. Scott's last name is spelled K-R-A-T-Z. And I don't know if there's anything Scott would like to add.
KRATZJust the one thing that I would add is that as we're thinking about each of these different programming, the potential spots on the Bridge Park, we are looking at -- in a similar way that the Ark, as they went through a large capital campaign in 2004. They identified existing nonprofits, such as the Washington Ballet and the Boys and Girls Club and the Washington National Children Medical Center. We're looking at identifying existing nonprofits that can help manage and program each of these different spots on the Bridge Park.
KRATZAnd building in some of their ideas and concepts into this design competition we're launching in mid-March. Ultimately, that's going to make this project a little more complicated, but it's going to make it much more successful by not having just us, but a whole team of nonprofits. And I'd say one other thing, just to the previous conversation, I think one of the large challenges of these large-scale developments is creating a sense of place. I think that's really hard. But I think a great example of that can be the Yards Project down by the Anacostia River that started with a park. And it was because of financing. It wasn't their goal, but the Yards Park is now packed. They've got concerts in the summer and there's 1,500 people that show up on Fridays.
NNAMDII have been by there, yes. Here now is Matt, in Bethesda, Md. Matt, your turn.
MATTYes. Thanks for taking my call, Kojo. Given the scarcity and cost of acquiring land for open space, I'd like to know are there any plans or discussions afoot about actually using our waterways, in terms of maybe building a floating dock, for example, as a resource for open space and being able to bring people closer to the waterways? I don't know if that opens up all sorts of regulatory nightmares for the Corps of Engineers, etcetera, but I would think that might be a creative idea or opportunity.
NNAMDIRoger, floating docks? Anacostia, Potomac?
LEWISWell, I think that's a very good question. First of all, a lot of the riverfronts of this city are already parks. Most of it federal land, but some of it civilian. So we have a lot of river-fronting parks. We also have some docks. We have them and the Southwest's waterfront is about to be redeveloped and all of that docking -- everything that's there now is to continue. They're going to build some new docks, but that's going to continue. If you go down to National Harbor in Prince George's County, near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, you'll see, again, some new docks. There's a lot of space along the river.
LEWISI think your point is well taken. I think there is certainly a lot of space where Washingtonians can get to the riverfronts, can get to water, not necessarily being on docks. I think the problem we have in Washington, which I've written about and we've talked about on this show, is we don't have a whole lot of non-park destinations at the rivers' edges. And one of the things that I think Scott's project -- I think the 11th Street Bridge is fabulous because not only are we getting -- we're getting beyond the river's edge, we're over the river. You know, people will be able to actually stay in a place, go to a place that they haven't been able to go.
LEWISI mean you can walk across the Memorial Bridge, but it's not a place that you can occupy and do things. So I don't know that we need a whole lot more floating docks. I would like to see a few more destinations where I can go and get a hamburger or a soft drink, other than the few that now exist.
NNAMDILarry, in Potomac, Md. Larry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LARRYThanks very much. My question has to do with the services that open space and green space provide, even if no one showed up. I'm speaking specifically of eco system services like storm water management, air quality control, energy conservation, reduction of the heat island effect if you have adequate tree canopy. To what extent does the architecture profession and the urban planning profession factor these kinds of elements into their planning at the front end? Most of the talk has been about parks and people. And I understand that's what architecture is about, the relationship between space and people, but what about these eco system functions?
KRATZI can speak specifically about what our plans are for the Bridge Park. In the sense we are physically over or will be physically over the Anacostia River, what an amazing opportunity to talk about watersheds, to talk about the permeable landscapes, to talk about the pollution that either goes into the river or what we can do to prevent it. And so I think we can do that through some educational opportunities, through this environmental education center that we mentioned, but we also need to demonstrate it. So we anticipate that there'll be as much green-scape as possible that can help filter the water and capture the water before it reenters into the Anacostia.
KRATZAnd remember that right now the city does have plans to make the Anacostia swimmable and fishable, I think by the year 2032. That line always elicits sort of giggles in the community meetings I'm in, but can you imagine if the Anacostia, you could actually swim and fish on a regular basis? We're seeing that in the Potomac. Where people 20 years ago would never dream of actually getting in the Potomac and now I know people that windsurf there on a regular basis. So I think that could completely change our outlook for the city.
NNAMDILet's see if you've answered the question that Eileen in Washington, D.C. wanted to pose. Eileen, did he answer your question?
EILEENNo. He hasn't. There's a pervasive, dependable stench in the vicinity of Exits 1 and 2 on 295. And I don't think it's associated with the speed camera, but talk about that. How are you going to get people in the water if it stinks? And it does.
NNAMDIHere's Scott and Roger.
KRATZSo we have not done a very good job of taking care of our waterfronts and the water itself. Our sewer system dates back to the 1880s. And when it rains now more than about an inch, you've been guaranteed what's -- and you've talked about it on previous shows, Kojo -- a combined sewer overflow incident.
NNAMDIWe only have about a minute left.
KRATZSo D.C. water is currently building huge metro-sized tunnels to take care of those combined sewer overflow incidents. And when those are complete in the next five to ten years that will handle 95 percent of the CSO incidents and make the river a lot cleaner.
NNAMDIThis is a problem we can solve, Roger.
LEWISWell, in a way answering Larry's question a minute ago, I think that 30 years ago we didn't know what to do about protecting our environment. I think now it's pretty universal that agencies, architects, planners, landscape architects are paying a lot of attention to making more sustainable environments. And MNCPPC, the city, the counties around here, they're all paying great attention to this.
NNAMDIRoger Lewis, he's professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland and writes the "Shaping the City" column for the Washington Post. Roger, good to see you again. Always a pleasure.
LEWISThank you very much.
NNAMDIScott Kratz is director of the 11th Street Bridge Park Project. Scott Kratz, good luck to you.
KRATZThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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