Betting Big on Near Southeast
Not surprisingly, both the city and the federal plans call for the street to be rebuilt as a handsome, ground-level urban boulevard. The city's plan advocates digging a tunnel under the new bridge to alleviate commuter traffic. Even more radically, the federal plan foresees the tunnelization of the entire Southeast Freeway, thus eliminating a massive barrier between Capitol Hill neighborhoods and the Near Southeast.
In addition to these huge, long-term infrastructure improvements, the Anacostia initiative, as it must, focuses much attention on projects that can be built in increments -- extending a street here, providing new sidewalks there, or building the river walk segment by segment.
Connections between neighborhoods and access to the river's edge are key elements of the city's plan. In the Near Southeast, this means reestablishing an urban street system that has been erased over the years.
The construction of South Capitol Street and its bridge, for instance, cut off most of the direct east-west connections between the two sides of the street. The plan proposes to rebuild these crosstown streets and to transform beleaguered M Street into a "pedestrian friendly urban boulevard."
North-south connections play an even larger role. Today the Near Southeast suffers from a double whammy -- while it is almost impossible to get to the waterfront, once you reach it there isn't much to admire. The Anacostia plan proposes to alter both conditions, the first by pushing through streets and avenues that have long been shut off, and the second by making the riverfront a place one would like to be.
Both of these moves, like practically everything in the plan, require careful coordination among the many players with a stake in the outcome.
For its new headquarters the federal Department of Transportation, for example, initially wanted a single building extending more than 700 feet along M Street SE -- the equivalent of an enormous wall. Washington's urban planners, on the other hand, badly wanted Third Street to pass through the site, and for good reason: The street is an important opening to the river.
Time was when the outcome would hardly have been in doubt: The feds arrogantly would have done what they wanted on federal property. But this time around, city officials came armed with a compelling plan that had to be taken seriously, and a compromise was reached. An extension of Third Street will be built through the site, but it will be closed to cars for security reasons indefinitely.
In olden days, lots of things would have been different. For instance, the Navy most likely would have said a simple no to a public river walk coursing through the military reservation.
Today, however, even with heightened security concerns, Navy Yard officials welcome outsiders to its museums and riverside walk. They've even expressed a willingness to rebuild the yard's waterside esplanade to better accommodate the city's river walk needs.
That's quite a turnaround, one of hundreds that will have to occur if the city's bold plans for a new Near Southeast are to bear fruit.
NEXT: The Other Side
Benjamin Forgey will be online to discuss this series Friday at noon at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company