The Ripple Effect
• New wetlands added to the already splendid impact of the nature preserves in the river's bucolic northern reaches.
• And, not least, beaches on a river clean enough to swim in.
Of course, the distance from theory to reality is very great, and it is the quality of the results that will count in the long run. But it becomes clear, after due consideration, that this cumbersome-seeming plan represents a thoughtful, hopeful, sophisticated vision for the city's future. It's a guarantee that we'll have at least a decent shot at attaining high-quality results.
Simply put, the river's potential is too great for the city to allow business as usual. The D.C. Council recognized this June 29 with its emphatic 12 to 1 vote approving Mayor Anthony Williams's proposal that a public corporation be set up to oversee the plan's implementation. (A required second vote is scheduled for tomorrow.)
This is good news, indeed. Like the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp., the federal agency that presided over the renewal of the "nation's Main Street," this District body will have the power to set standards, assemble properties, issue bonds and assist private developers with financial incentives. It'll have, in other words, the tools to oversee a vast, complex, long-term operation.
Plus, it passes what Dick Rigby, co-founder 23 years ago of the Waterfront Center, an independent, Washington-based planning organization, refers to as the "wake-up test." That is, a strong, single-issue agency such as this gives us reasonable assurance "that every day there is somebody who wakes up and whose total focus is the river -- the river is his or her exclusive mission."
Of course, even a powerful local agency can't go it alone. Like almost every important initiative in the capital city, the Anacostia plan desperately needs the cooperation and active support of the federal government.
Fortunately, there is lots of evidence that the feds and the locals are cooperating. City officials have conferred with federal counterparts on a regular basis. Important federal agencies appear to be on board.
In some cases, this coordination already has attained an unusual degree of sophistication. The proposed 20-mile River Walk, for example, will be built largely on National Park Service land by the District's Department of Transportation, mainly with money earmarked by Congress. So far, about $6 million has been appropriated.
Undoubtedly, much of this goodwill is a result of the federal government's own ambitious, enlightened planning exercise. Called "Extending the Legacy: Planning America's Capital for the 21st Century" -- the Legacy plan, for short -- this was initiated by the National Capital Planning Commission and published in 1997.
The two plans are in basic agreement. Both call for new, mixed-use neighborhoods in the city's eastern segments. Both emphasize mass transit and new transportation infrastructure. Both advocate an active, urbane Anacostia waterfront.
The Legacy plan foresees spreading the cultural wealth of memorials and museums beyond Washington's monumental core. The Anacostia planners rightfully embraced this inspired idea in proposals for major parks on both sides of the river at either end of the South Capitol Street Bridge.
The federal plan even advocates things that the local planners didn't dare do: such as "burying divisive freeways" -- namely the one that segregates much of the Southwest and Southeast quadrants from neighborhoods to the north.
And relocating the CSX rail line that currently crosses the Anacostia on a structure that's more like a military barrier than a bridge. Local planners didn't dare because it would've seemed like tilting at windmills -- these are huge endeavors that only the federal government can undertake. And, my, wouldn't it be loverly.
So, the spirit of harmony seems to prevail where it matters most. In working with the city, says NCPC Chairman John Cogbill, "we try to complement each other in everything we do."
But a potentially divisive disagreement exists on how to get things done. The feds, like the locals, want their own agency to call the shots.
In particular, the NCPC has proposed the creation of a South Capitol Street Development Corp. to govern the redevelopment of that key street and its environs. This is understandable, up to a point. After all, like most planning agencies, these two do not have the authority to say "Do it" and expect that anything much will get done.
Still, there ought to be some other way to guarantee federal interests. Two corporations are one too many.
Having two powerful, complementary visions for the city's second river, however, is our good fortune. Together, the local and federal initiatives present a galvanizing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform large, unbeautiful sections of a city widely -- and rightfully -- known for its beauty.
NEXT: The river and its edges
© 2004 The Washington Post Company