Two of the skinny blocks are now used as parking lots for school buses. A third is overgrown with weeds. But the land, 1.8 acres near the Anacostia waterfront, would be transformed into a model urban park with gardens, fountains and promenades under proposals by four teams of nationally and internationally known landscape architects.
Tonight, the teams will gather at a crumbling D.C. elementary school near the site to present to the public their visions for the narrow stretch of land that borders Second Street SE between I and M streets.
A total of 35 applicants from around the world sought to design what will be called Washington Canal Park, after the waterway that flowed there through much of the 19th century. Located a few blocks from the proposed site of a Major League Baseball stadium, it will be the first park created as part of the city's $8 billion Anacostia Waterfront Initiative.
Those chosen to submit proposals are "the leading and cutting-edge firms in landscape design," D.C. Planning Director Andrew Altman said. Their past projects include Lurie Garden in Chicago's Millennium Park, Charlestown Waterfront Park near Boston, Potsdamer Platz in Berlin and the Queens Botanical Garden in New York.
One design features a futuristic-looking information kiosk and cafe with an oversize, conical roof and, on the next block, a children's play area with a slide in the same unusual shape. Another offers space for a community garden and neighborhood barbecues, as well as a "rain pavilion," the roof of which collects rainwater and directs it into a sheer waterfall.
There are gardens designed to trap and filter storm water before it reaches the city's overburdened sewer system, natural amphitheaters and grassy open spaces.
"Here's a chance to create what will be, you might say, the symbolic center of this new neighborhood," said Alan Ward, a principal with Sasaki Associates of Watertown, Mass., which submitted the cone-themed design. "We felt that this was a very significant, highly visible site that will become part of the legacy of great planned spaces in Washington."
Ward and other competitors said they were drawn to the opportunity to create a community oasis in what is known to city planners as Near Southeast, a long-blighted area that will be almost completely rebuilt over the next five years.
Just east of the park site, boarded-up public housing will be replaced with subsidized and market-rate apartments and townhouses. To the west, a gleaming new office building stands next to a construction site where a hotel and apartment complex are being built, followed by a vacant lot where more housing and retail are planned.
To the south, across M Street, a new headquarters for the U.S. Department of Transportation is rising. To the north, a building and a vacant lot have been bought by a developer and will eventually be converted into a mix of residential, retail and commercial uses.
"There's a lot of potential," said Alma Luisa du Solier, who visited the site a few weeks ago as part of the team headed by Hood Design, which is based in Oakland, Calif.
The design teams will answer questions from members of the public tonight after detailing their proposals in the auditorium of Van Ness Elementary School, Fifth and M streets SE. The program starts at 5:30 p.m.
Drawings of each proposal will be on display during business hours at the Arthur Capper Community Center, at Fifth and K streets SE, through Friday.
A jury that includes experts in urban planning and landscape design will rank the entries tomorrow and recommend a finalist to Mayor Anthony A. Williams, city officials said. A winner should be announced within weeks.
The park is expected to cost about $6 million, which will come almost entirely from private and federal funds that have already been pledged or allocated. Officials said the winning design will be finalized and the park constructed over the next two to three years.
In addition to Hood and Sasaki, the other finalists are Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd. of Seattle and a joint effort by Atelier Dreiseitl of Germany and Stephen Stimson Associates of Falmouth, Mass.