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No Matter How They Are Pitched, Parking Solutions Often Fall Short

What about parking dispersal? City officials have identified thousands of parking spaces that exist or will exist within walking distance of the stadium.

Nevertheless the city is still obligated to provide parking next to the stadium on opening day. The Nationals' owners believe only one strategy -- free-standing, above-ground garages -- can meet that obligation and keep the District from incurring enormous financial penalties. They also say that without adequate, adjacent parking when the stadium opens, fans will stay away and the team will lose money.

The mayor, city planners and real estate developers advocate constructing parking garages within mixed-use buildings on the blocks north of the stadium. This would enliven streets, enhance neighborhood revitalization and hide parking behind and below new retail, entertainment, hotel and residential uses. But it also could produce buildings higher than the stadium.

As Washington Post sports writer Thomas Boswell observed in a recent column, tall buildings could block views of the Capitol dome and city skyline from seats overlooking the stadium's right field. Cityscape views are an essential aesthetic aim of the stadium's placement and configuration. Expressing skepticism about the architectural quality of 13-story buildings yet to be designed, Boswell fears that such buildings would "dwarf the new stadium . . . just to settle a fuss over 925 parking spaces."

All options entail risk. Free-standing garages, easier to build and lower than the stadium, could be unattractive and deaden the streetscape. A pair of mixed-use, 13-story buildings with parking garages inside would be functionally and economically desirable, and they might even be award-winning architecture. If not properly designed, though, they could compromise views from inside the stadium and also take longer to build.

The least-risky option is a compromise: Embed garages within mixed-use buildings whose scale and composition are in harmony with the stadium, the neighborhood and the city beyond.

With Green Line Metro stations near the stadium, Washington could have contemplated adopting the parking policy of midtown Manhattan, where high density and high buildings are allowed but where garages under buildings are restricted to relatively few parking spaces. Because parking is so limited in New York, people have to use mass transit and taxis, as well as their feet.

Perhaps this will happen someday in Washington. If it does, it may not be because of parking-space limitations or parking fees, but rather because gasoline will have become unaffordable or even unavailable.

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

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