On April 22nd, the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, in cooperation with DC Preservation League, presented the second of a three-part lecture series entitled “Shaping Southwest: Understanding the Past and Envisioning the Future.” As a follow-up to the first lecture, which discussed the history of our neighborhood, the second lecture focused on the future of Southwest in light of numerous planned development projects throughout our community. Arena Stage graciously hosted the event in their rehearsal hall, which was filled to capacity. The five-person panel included officials from the Office of Planning, the Historic Preservation Office, and architects with expertise in Southwest.

Tarek Bolden and Steve Cochran from the Office of Planning discussed the Southwest Small Area Plan, a process that would provide public and private stakeholders a land use and urban design framework for guiding development in our neighborhood. The project aims to develop strategies for multiple District-owned sites in our community and determine more efficient uses or redevelopment of these properties. In addition, it seeks to promote greater pedestrian access and improved connectivity with increased transportation choices.

David Maloney, DC’s Preservation Officer, emphasized the importance of conserving neighborhood character. He cited the development of infill buildings at Potomac Place as an example of a project that disrupted the original design of the property, which seamlessly integrated landscape and buildings. Although Potomac Place received landmark designation, it was too late to save the reflecting pool and pavilion that afforded a park-like setting to residents. In order to avoid losing our valuable green spaces, he emphasized that residents need to advocate for the preservation of the unique character of our neighborhood.

Todd Ray of Studio 27 Architecture provided a vision for Southwest’s future by presenting a study completed by his firm in collaboration with architecture students at Catholic University. The studio analyzed current physical conditions in Southwest, and proposed innovative solutions such as burying the freeway underground and creating surface parks for pedestrians, as well as adding multi-modal transportation systems and a bridge to Hains Point.

Eric Jenkins, an architecture professor at Catholic University, decided to make his home in Southwest because he was attracted to the modernist architecture in our community. In light of various impending development projects, he urged residents to become more engaged in the planning process in Southwest. He emphasized the value of our green spaces and questioned the notion that an empty space should always be filled in. The danger in giving up all our green spaces is that we would lose the unique character of our community, becoming as anonymous as K Street or Rosslyn.

A lively Q&A session with the audience followed, and concerns regarding over-development emerged as a main theme. In response, the panelists urged residents to participate in the Small Area Plan and to testify at ANC and Zoning hearings to demand better planning and design for our community.

By Cecille Chen

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