A Vision for the Southwest
All of these preliminary studies will be heartening to the architects who end up designing the buildings, for the studies encourage the notion that something truly excellent can and should happen here. Altman has made this ambition explicit: "We'd like to see interesting, innovative modern architecture that'll be an attraction in and of itself," he says.
Likewise, design studies of the esplanade show a sophisticated grasp of what went wrong and how to correct it.
Today, the waterside walkway is divided into two 20-foot-wide paved paths separated by a five-foot-high concrete wall and intermittent stairwells. The plan proposes to widen the overall width to 60 feet to accommodate walkers, joggers, bicyclists and outdoor restaurant seating. It also provides two options to improve connections between the two segments, both employing gentle, stepped transitions.
As for direct public access to the water, practically nonexistent today, the plan proposes to construct new public piers at Seventh, Ninth and M streets, where folks can fish, launch small boats or simply relax. Cafes or other small eating facilities might be placed on one or all of the piers.
The M Street Pier, labeled as "grand" in the plan, would be an extension of the splendid new Civic Park, and would be one more reason for neighbors and people from all over the region to make the Southwest waterfront a destination.
At this point, of course, a lot remains uncertain. By far the biggest challenge to the plan is the possible location of a major league ballpark on the 10th Street Overlook site and atop the Southeast Freeway -- a sci-fi idea in the wrong location.
If Washington does get its long-deserved team, it definitely ought to find a home elsewhere in the city. The overlook location comes with all sorts of problems.
Aesthetically, it would rival the Capitol on the Washington skyline and would tower over the new waterfront, reducing it to being a mere foreground for a large, unpleasant wall. Functionally, the baseball crowds (and their cars) would upset the plan's delicate balance between urban neighborhood and tourist attraction.
The Anacostia Waterfront Initiative's proposed treatment of the 10th Street Overlook is far superior to the behemoth baseball park idea. For one thing, it keeps the overlook open, as an overlook, and thus in visual and psychological touch with the Mall and downtown.
And the proposed "grand civic staircase," cascading down the hill like the Spanish Steps in Rome, is a simple, potentially elegant solution to a long-standing problem.
On the other hand, the idea of a Visitor and Transportation Center -- a parking lot for cars and tourist buses buried under the overlook -- deserves more study. Actually, questions abound up and down this one-mile waterfront line.
Will the fish market improve enough to become the regional jewel that it ought to be?
Is sufficient attention being paid to the important pedestrian connection between the waterfront and the Jefferson Memorial, now a dangerous little sidewalk under a narrow bridge?
Is moving the cruise ship platforms north to the new Market Square really a smart idea?
Will the new Maine Avenue make a vital contribution, with the same old suburbanesque potpourri of office buildings on its eastern edge?
The truth is, anyone who looks carefully at the details of the new Southwest Waterfront Plan can come up with his own list of questions. But the plan is big enough to absorb any necessary changes. In large measure it is doable, and ought to be done.
NEXT: The Near Southeast
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