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Region's Parks Are a Source of Pride, but Can There Be There Too Much Green?

Happily, Washington has few dysfunctional parks.

However, one park policy affecting the nation's capital is questionable. Much of the District's Potomac River frontage is federal parkland. Consequently, the city and its architecture have been unable to engage the Potomac shoreline at appropriate places, where concentrated waterfront development would enhance both the cityscape and riverside landscape.

In fact, Washington needs more venues, other than vegetated river banks, where people can sit, dine, socialize and stroll near the water's edge. This is possible in only a few places now -- Old Town Alexandria, Georgetown and the District's Southwest waterfront.

Fortunately, change is in the air. Redevelopment of the District's Southwest and Southeast waterfronts, further development of the Georgetown waterfront, and new development planned for both sides of the Anacostia River promise to expand the number of structured riverside destinations. Maybe the National Park Service can be persuaded to relax its rules and allow additional, well-located concessions to be erected on federal parkland abutting the river.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. cities are spending billions of dollars to build parks "at a rate not seen for 100 years." The article observed that park development in numerous cities -- Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Houston -- is motivated by economic, marketing, environmental, symbolic and, of course, functional considerations.

Reading the Wall Street Journal article, I had boastful thoughts: These cities aspire to catch up with metropolitan Washington. How nice to already be one of the best.

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


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