The National Capital Planning Commission released the draft of the “SW Ecodistrict Plan” for public comment on July 12. It is the first major product of the Southwest Ecodistrict Initiative, a joint effort of 17 federal and district agencies led by the Commission which is billed as “a comprehensive effort to transform a 15-block federal precinct just south of the National Mall into a showcase of sustainable urban development.” The Commission anticipates approving the draft plan in January 2013.
The proposed ecodistrict is a roughly triangular area with one side extending along Independence Avenue from 4th Street to 12th Street and another side running down 12th Street from Independence Avenue to Maine Avenue and Banneker Circle. The third leg runs from Banneker Circle towards the Museum of the American Indian, following first 9th Street, then I-395, then 7th, D, 6th, C, and 4th streets in a “step” pattern. This area encompasses the headquarters of U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Postal Service, and the departments of Energy, Education and Housing and Urban Development; and facilities housing portions of the General Services Administration, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Homeland Security, among others.
One of the areas the plan proposes significantly altering is 10th St. SW, which runs between Smithsonian Castle and Banneker Circle and is commonly referred to as the “L’Enfant Promenade.” Currently an unadorned roadway which sees little activity in the evening or on weekends, 10th St. is re-imagined as a tree-lined boulevard which would run from a redesigned Banneker Park past the repurposed Postal Service headquarters with unobstructed views of Smithsonian Castle — the plan recommends demolishing and replacing the Department of Energy’s Forrestal Building.
In addition to 10th St.,the plan proposes the construction of several new buildings, some on decking over I-395 between 9th St. and 12th St. and others on the current site of the Forrestal Building. The plan does not suggest eliminating the area’s federal presence, however; federal agency headquarters would move north towards the National Mall, allowing the southern section of the ecodistrict to focus more on mixed-use, possibly residential buildings. The plan also suggests restoring the length of Maryland Avenue, adding a southern entrance to the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station, and providing a designated location for tour bus parking. Banneker Circle might eventually house a museum.
For more information and an opportunity to view and comment on the draft plan, visit ncpc.gov/swecodistrict. The public comment period runs until Sept. 10.
–By James Duncan-Welke, The Southwester editor-in-chief