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Planned Waterfront Park in Georgetown Lacks Some Crucial Elements

Monday night's discussion revealed clearly that both God and the devil are in the details. The park's design is still very schematic, and its ultimate aesthetic success depends a great deal on things not yet resolved, precisely formed or specified -- paving materials and patterns, fountains, the pergola, light fixtures, guard rails, outdoor seating, plantings and sculptures.

I also wondered why this park was without a place to buy a cup of coffee or sandwich, a waterside destination where one could sit at a table chatting with friends, sipping a drink or reading a newspaper. Why isn't there a sensitively designed pavilion or two in this architecture-free zone? Certainly it's not because Washington lacks riverside parks. In fact, what the city most lacks are places to occupy, not just to stroll, next to the river.

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Blumenthal also reminded attendees of additional projects underway or anticipated along the waterfront, beyond the park, including: the new Swedish embassy between Washington Harbour and Rock Creek; refurbishing of Thompson's Boat Center near the mouth of Rock Creek; and a properly lighted, well-landscaped riverfront walkway creating a safe, continuous promenade from Georgetown all the way to the Kennedy Center.

Discussion touched on one other significant potential transformation: demolition of the Whitehurst Freeway, one of America's few urban, waterfront freeway fragments still standing.

About 15 years ago, many planning advocates called for demolition of the Whitehurst Freeway, which was scheduled for refurbishing at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. Nevertheless, the city's Department of Public Works decided to keep and rehabilitate the freeway, in part motivated by the anxiety of commuters and Georgetown residents who feared that traffic moving through Georgetown during rush hours would be horrendous without the elevated freeway, no matter how attractive and well engineered a waterfront boulevard might be.

Happily, the city is showing renewed interest in taking down the freeway and replacing it with an aesthetically appropriate, wisely engineered, multilane boulevard linking Canal Road and Key Bridge to K Street and Rock Creek Parkway. The D.C. Department of Transportation and its consultants are studying the technical and economic feasibility of removing the Whitehurst, a prospect enthusiastically supported by D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), whose district includes Georgetown.

With the noisy, unsightly Whitehurst gone, Blumenthal observed, Georgetown's waterfront park would be even better, as would the views and values of properties abutting K Street. Properly develop the park's design, add a cafe and get rid of the freeway, and this D.C. real estate would be priceless.

Roger K. Lewis is a practicing architect and a professor of architecture at the University of Maryland.

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