As President and Chair of the ANC 6D and Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, we’ve seen no shortage of discussions about Southwest’s open spaces, whether it’s the loss of open spaces along the Waterfront, the leaking roof at King Greenleaf, the exciting addition of new playgrounds or the emerging dog-park initiative. Indeed, our open spaces represent some of Southwest’s greatest resources. But these resources, however attractive, are finite. With tens of thousands of new residents, workers and visitors coming to Southwest, not to mention the existing inadequacies, Ron and I have been working on improving access to and use of these spaces. As such, we thought it’d be a good time to recap what’s in the pipeline.

First, to better understand our open-space opportunities, we invited historian and archivist Hayden Wetzel to undertake a documentation effort. Initial findings range from the significant to the trivial.

Wetzel discovered, in regards to Southwest’s Waterfront parks, that “the broad, informal expanse of lawn and tree-lined promenade…was among the first riverfront reclamation projects for public recreational use to be realized in a U.S. city and equally pioneering in its integration with residential development.” One bit of trivia for example is that Lansburgh Park is named after Mark Lansburgh, a department store owner and chair of the Revitalization Land Authority in Southwest.

Related research by Southwest resident Gita Morris is guiding the efforts of the Friends of the Southwest Duck Pond. The group, led by ANC Commissioner Bob Craycraft, are continuing their laudatory efforts to restore and maintain the Duck Pond. Earlier this summer, the pump room flooded, causing the pond to take on a florescent, swamp-like appearance. But thanks to the efforts of the volunteer group and D.C.’s Department of Parks and Recreation, the Pond is returning to its normal state.

The group is now looking at securing available year-end money from the city to repair some of the crumbling brickwork. There have also been discussions about partnering with the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly to facilitate larger rehabilitation projects.

Speaking of water, we’d be remiss if we didn’t note the waterfront open spaces. The Hoffman-Madison Waterfront development plan will carve up the largely undeveloped waterfront and establish a number of high-quality open spaces. The design of the largest open space will be determined through a community-led process. Currently, the park located between M and N streets is included in the development team’s Phase 1 construction, which is scheduled to be completed as early as 2012.

Playgrounds have been another hot topic. The SW Playground Project, lead by Felicia Couts, is working on converting the poorly-maintained Town Center East Park into a playground. Buoyed by the support of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Safeway, and Station 4, the group has made remarkable strides toward its goal of raising $1 million for the program. Carolyn Mitchell, board member and former president of the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, is currently working with the American Society of Landscape Architects to secure pro bono assistance to develop a successful design.

Meanwhile, Amidon-Bowen Elementary School’s renovation plans will result in a new elementary-age playground by 2014. School officials are now working to accelerate the playground component in hopes of delivering it in 2012.

With the increasing popularity of dogs in Southwest, Jessica Blond has organized a Google Group to coordinate related efforts, including dog walks. Unfortunately recent discussions with Councilmember Tommy Wells revealed that fencing, drainage and other required improvements would place the cost of a dog park at between $2 million and $4 million. In addition, we learned that temporary solutions do not have enough political support.

Another burgeoning initiative is community gardens. Southwest has a number of community gardens, but unfortunately most of these, including those at St. Augustine’s and St. Matthews churches, are at risk due to redevelopment. Southwest resident David Suls is leading the effort to identify a replacement. The undeveloped Waterfront Station sites were quickly identified as the best near-term alternatives. Unfortunately, neither landowners (Vornado) nor the Deputy Mayor’s Office for Economic Development is supporting short-term community improvements. Although a handful of other sites like Lansburgh Park may be available, securing and/or funding water access remains the principal challenge.

Recognizing that Lansburgh Park represents perhaps the greatest underutilized yet challenging open space opportunity, Ron and I have made a concerted effort to galvanize discussions and efforts around this space. We’ve held a number of meetings with individuals and groups to explore how to best improve the park and integrate multiple community uses. With increased awareness and interest, and Councilmember Tommy Wells’ new post as chair of the D.C. Council committee overseeing parks, Ron was able to secure his commitment to light Lansburgh Park. This should go a long way toward making the park more usable and safe.

Kael, also a SW ArtsFest board member, is exploring how to better facilitate special event permitting at Lansburgh. Regarding near-term recreation uses, we’re looking at “pop-up play areas.” This model, already popular in New York City, embraces recreational outlets that require little or no capital improvements. Ron is floating the idea with Councilmember Wells of a skateboard area on nonfunctional tennis courts. Such an effort to positively engage area youth has successfully worked in the Shaw neighborhood.

We are also looking forward to progress at Southwest’s recreation centers. For several months King Greenleaf’s roof has been leaking because the flashing at the roof’s joints prematurely peeled away. The Mayor’s Office of Community Engagement is now looking into securing an insurance payment to fund a replacement roof. In addition, D.C. Water is currently installing King Greenleaf’s first outdoor drinking fountain.

Southwest’s other recreation center, Randall Recreation, has long been predominately used as a city-wide recreation center by the non-profit United Planning Organization. Southwest community leaders are looking to identify how this resource could be more used by Southwesters. We are also looking forward to the District carrying out a Memorandum of Agreement with Telesis/Rubell to develop the Randall School area. If the agreement is finalized, the Randall Recreation Center may benefit from a new pool, overhead lights, dedicated parking spaces and new landscaping.

Last but not least, the emerging Buzzard Point area is very much in play. Plans for the area were captured in a recent community visioning process organized by the American Planning Association. The final report called for a substantial amount of waterfront public spaces, anchored by a re-envisioned Pepco Generation not unlike London’s Tate Modern museum.

Of course, connecting these local gathering places equally important, and we’re happy to see such progress:

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is improving Maine Avenue’s pinch point north of the Fish Market by replacing the 4-foot wide sidewalk with a 14-foot wide trail accommodating both pedestrians and bicyclists.

DDOT commenced construction of a long-awaited floating bridge between Diamond Teague Park and the Yards Park this spring and intends to conclude construction by October.

Multiple Federal and District agencies are working on what’s called the Southwest EcoDistrict. Among the primary objectives, the team is looking to reconstruct the Tenth Street corridor from the Fish Market to the National Mall, install decking over a portion of the SW/SE Freeway and restore Maryland Avenue SW to better mirror the feeling of Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, its sister avenue across the National Mall. All of these initiatives would improve the view shed and make the streets more pedestrian-friendly.

There has also been unconfirmed talk of a soccer stadium for D.C. United being built on a large centrally located site owned by Akridge. Although posing some circulation concerns, such plans generally represented a positive development for Southwest. More recently, Tommy Wells floated the idea of moving the D.C. Jail to Buzzard Point in Southwest and is asking Akridge to consider swapping its Southwest land for a site in Capitol Hill East. To explore what the construction of a jail would mean for our community, the Southwest Neighborhood Association is considering holding a town hall meeting with the Capitol Riverfront BID.

We look forward to continued progress and invite all Southwesters to help plan and implement the future of Southwest’s open spaces.

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