Even the challenge of servicing pavilions — deliveries and trash removal — can be met and managed unobtrusively. Small electric, off-road vehicles, parked at each pavilion, could periodically transport materials to and from pickup and delivery points in loading zones on nearby streets.
The lack of eateries or other services in the capital’s waterfront parks is in part attributable to National Park Service policies concerning urban parks, especially along the rivers. For many decades, the predominant NPS approach to managing shoreline real estate and federal parkland in Washington has been a combination of natural resource conservation and quasi-natural landscaping, along with keeping parkland operation and maintenance costs to a minimum.
Most NPS officials have long opposed the idea of allowing privately operated commercial structures to be built on federal parkland. Some of their reluctance stems from practical concerns: how to fairly select concessionaires; how to allocate operational and financial responsibilities; how to ensure that structures are well designed, built, operated and maintained; and where to put cars and service vehicles.
But reluctance also is attributable to a desire, wherever possible, to keep federally managed parks relatively pure and pristine. To some, pavilions serving food and drink within parks, even urban parks, seems blasphemous.
This NPS ethos makes sense for America’s extraordinary, ecologically fragile national parks, and for unique, topographically complex stream valley parks such as Rock Creek Park and Battery Kemble Park. It also makes sense for certain parts of the Potomac and Anacostia River shorelines. But it is not necessarily the right approach for most inner-city urban parks or squares, nor for many segments of Washington’s riverfronts.
The National Park Service should reconsider its riverfront park policies. Georgetown’s waterfront park and promenades are visually delightful. But it would be really nice to grab a bite from time to time at a place along the river other than Washington Harbour.
Roger K. Lewis is a practicing architect and a professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland.