Paved walkways, small plazas, grassed areas, and indigenous plants and trees constitute the park landscape, much of which looks dead in winter. Vegetation will be better appreciated in spring. And Canal Park may win the prize for the most seating per acre with its artfully designed wooden benches deployed throughout the interior and around the perimeter of the park.
Less visible are Canal Park’s state-of-the-art sustainability tactics that earn points for LEED gold certification. For example, park architecture makes use of sustainably harvested wood, vegetated roofs and natural ventilation.
Reminiscent of the original canal, a row of rectangular rain gardens and water basins lines the eastern edge of the park’s center and north blocks. Rain gardens will collect, briefly retain and naturally filter rainfall.
The main stormwater system is underground, where cisterns will hold up to 80,000 gallons of runoff collected from the park as well as adjacent city blocks. As much as 1.5 million gallons of stormwater will be recycled annually to meet almost all the park’s water needs for irrigation, toilets, fountains and making ice. Also underground are 28 heat-exchanging, geothermal wells that will contribute to reducing the park’s energy consumption by nearly 40 percent.
In addition to ice skating and dining, the park will host numerous programmed events: concerts and other performances; holiday and seasonal festivals; farmers markets; and art exhibits. The Canal Park Development Association, the official park developer, and the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District will jointly manage the park and the park’s scheduled activities.
Although owned by the city, Canal Park is the result of an extensive public-private collaboration among diverse stakeholders who conceived, financed and built the park. Funding came not only from the District and federal governments, but also from developers actively investing in Capitol Riverfront real estate.
Large new development projects proposed or already underway in metropolitan Washington include areas planned for urban-style parks. Local governments, developers and citizens who are stakeholders in these projects would do well to check out Canal Park and learn from, if not emulate, its many creative ideas.
Roger K. Lewis is a practicing architect and a professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland. His cartoon may be seen at www.washingtonpost.com/realestate.