Saturday, May 06, 2006

Moumental Core Framework

In 1992-1993, NCPC invited a team of prominent architects, urban designers, economists and transportation planners to review the staff's initial studies. Think about the whole city, the consultants urged, not just he federal enclave. While preserving Washington's ceremonial heart was commendable, the opportunity to address some of the city's other urgent needs -- jobs, housing, transit -- was unprecedented. What began as a federal facilities study gradually evolved into a vision for an expanded Monumental Core. A problem had been transformed into an opportunity.

NCPC conducted workshops and community meetings to hear the public's views about re-planning the Monumental Core. The sessions took place in schools, libraries and community centers, at night and on weekends.

Once again, consultants reviewed and commented on the staff's work and made several important suggestions. The most critical was a simple axial diagram showing the Capitol as the center of Washington, with bold lines radiating north, south, east and west. This single move redefined the plan, pushing it east and south toward the Anacostia River and enlarging the traditional boundaries of the Monumental Core. Unlike earlier plans, Extending the Legacy goes beyond the Mall and the ceremonial enclaves and expands the definition to "federal interest" to include adjacent neighborhoods, waterfronts, parks and gateways.

Like the earlier McMillan Commission, the consultants not only supplied design ideas, but also gave a fledging plan visibility, credibility and political clout. Their participation showed that Extending The Legacy was not just another busywork document written for the archives, but a unique collaboration among government agencies, community groups and some of America's most talented urban designers.

Extending the Legacy: Planning America's Capital for the 21st Century, at page 9

South Capitol (top and bottom left),
East Capitol Street (top right),
North Capitol Street (bottom right)

Five themes from Extending the Legacy

1 Building on the historic L'Enfant and McMillan plans, which are the foundation of modern Washington;

2 Unifying the city and the Monumental Core, with the Capitol at the center;

3 Use new memorials, museums and other public buildings to stimulate economic development;

4 Integrating the Potomac and Anacostia rivers into the city's public life and protecting the Mall and he adjacent historic landscape from future buildings; and

5 Developing a comprehensive, flexible and convenient transportation system that eliminates barriers and improves movement within the city.

The new plan for Washington expresses neither an imperial dream, nor only the wishes of Washington's political establishment. It derives instead from years of collaboration among federal agencies, local governments and community groups. NCPC returned to the community many times to review and refine the plan so that it would reflect the popular will. Extending the Legacy made its national debut in March 1996 at Washington's Union Station, complete with model, videos and dramatic graphics. The event was followed in June by a major exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

Over 2 million people visited the museum during the seven-month run. NCPC also received thousands of responses to its visitor questionnaires, many filled front and back with suggestions for improving the plan. Whatever their political views, Americans are unequivocally proud of their capital -- its beauty, its history and its power to symbolize their best aspirations. The plan has been widely reviewed by the popular and professional press and been the subject of several television programs. In both overall conception and specific details, Extending the Legacy can truthfully be called a "national plan" for the heart of our nation's capital.

Extending the Legacy: Planning America's Capital for the 21st Century, at page 10

At the same time, L'Enfant recognized that grandeur is never enough. So where his sweeping boulevards intersected the grid of local streets, he created circles and squares and proposed for them monuments and statues to symbolize the joining of federal and state interests. These public spaces were to be the focal points of neighborhoods to encourage the mixing of big and little, grand and ordinary.

Extending the Legacy enlarges L'Enfant's vision by protecting Washington’s open spaces and by distributing federal investment to all quadrants of the city. It increases public access to the waterfront, a key feature if L'Enfant's plan, by creating a new network of parks, playing fields, marinas and other attractions that enrich urban life. By removing the Southeast/Southwest Freeway near the Mall and relocating the railroad tracks from Maryland and Virginia Avenues, the plan allows the restoration of major L'Enfant thoroughfares, including Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware avenues and South Capitol Street.

The L'Enfant Plan laid the foundation for modern Washington. Yet in the decades that followed its adaptation, many of its bold ideas were ignored or subverted. The new Treasury Building cut off view of the White House from Capitol Hill. Railroad tracks sliced across the Mall near the present National Gallery of Art. The Mall itself became a hodgepodge of informal gardens, pastures and walkways that blocked the path from the Capitol to the Washington Monument.

The McMillan Plan of 1901 restored the Mall's historic sweep and framed it with impressive museums and monuments that celebrate our nation's achievements. It created Memorial Bridge to unite Washington and Virginia, symbolizing the reuniting of the North and the South at the end of the Civil War. By reclaiming the Anacostia River and reconnecting it to the heart of the city, Extending the Legacy builds on the McMillan Plan's precedents.

Extending the Legacy: Planning America's Capital for the 21st Century, at page 14

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