The National Capital Planning Commission unveiled plans for a new Southwest Ecodistrict last week, which aims to extend the reach of the National Mall and connect the area with the L’Enfant Promenade as well as the waterfront.
Anyone who’s walked around the area south of the National Mall after the 9-5ers have cleared out understands why the NCPC wants to breathe fresh life into the space. Strolling along the empty stretches of sidewalk—surrounded by rusty railroad tracks and bleak buildings—can be a pretty eerie experience. Occasionally, a car drifts by or a flustered tourist asks which way to the White House, but for the most part, it’s just you and L’Enfant’s unrealized dreams.
A Modernist design built in the 1960s, the Southwest District today mainly consists of dreary Federal buildings bounded by the Smithsonian Museums to the north and Interstate-395 to the south. The new plan for the area is built off the 2009 Monumental Core Framework Plan and calls for the redevelopment of the area, which will be a mixed-use, energy neutral eco-district.
As a Washington, D.C., resident, the city isn’t the first urban area that comes to mind when I hear the word “green.” Generally, West Coast cities get all the green glory: Portland, San Francisco, Seattle. But D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is looking to flip the capital’s reputation on its head and turn it into a model of sustainability. We will be the greenest, healthiest, most livable city in the nation, he says.
NCPC planners hope to attract new businesses and residents by overhauling the entire area at once, instead of trying to do it piecemeal. “Right now the National Mall and the waterfront feel like they’re worlds apart,” urban planner Sarah Moulton says in a video. One goal of the new eco-district is to create a more visually appealing space by doing away with any obstructions to capital landmarks so that passerby can enjoy the surrounding architecture.
“Tenth Street, which is also known as the L’Enfant Promenade, features nearly 200 feet of space between building faces. A wide expanse of pavement, a lack of amenities, and minimal tree canopy—all of this contributes to an unwelcoming pedestrian environment,” Moulton says. Opening up the space, she said, will encourage tourists and locals to spend time near and along the water, instead of just passing through on their way to somewhere more stimulating.