Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Un-Reporting: 1996-

How the largest newspapers and magazines reported the 21st century planning for the U.S. Capital City, Washington, D.C.
and did NOT explicitly report on the South Capitol Mall

Extending the Legacy, South Capitol Mall at Virginia Avenue, featured in Time magazine's reporting on Extending the Legacy, and in The Washington Post with the vague and incorrect description:

"The NCPC plan envisions a South Capitol Street transformed from what it is today into a pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined boulevard. M Street is in the foreground."

Despite its significance as part of a lineage including the National Mall, the South Capitol Street Mall was not explicitly reported, right from the start with the reporting following the initial public announcement of the Extending the Legacy effort cir 1996-97, and follows with later reporting about South Capitol area planning, either during the 2002 stadium study, the subsequent 2003 abandonment of the South Capitol Mall, nor that about the South Capitol Street stadium site's public announcement in September 2004.

The Washington Times, March 26, 1996 `Better' capital city often leaves residents out Author: Adrienne T. Washington; THE WASHINGTON TIMES Edition: 2 Section: METROPOLITAN TIMES METROPOLITAN LIFE; Page: C2

Text provided by library on line service.

Adrienne T. Washington

The National Capital Planning Commission today, amid much fanfare at Union Station, officially unveils its futuristic plan, "Extending the Legacy: Planning America's Capital for the 21st Century."

Disney may get its American history theme park on the banks of the Potomac after all, judging from an initial and cursory glance at the grandiose design.

It may take the entertainment conglomerate 20, 30, 50, even 100 years to get exclusive logo rights to Washington's monuments - and thank goodness I won't be around to see it - but the NCPC plan should give us all great pause.

Any time anyone starts talking about a "plan" for a "new capital," as NCPC executive Reginald Griffith did yesterday with editors and reporters of The Washington Times, it makes me more than ! a little nervous. I am not alone.

As a native Washingtonian, I've been around long enough to see the best-laid plans turn into major displacement nightmares for long-standing neighborhoods. What is touted as something to improve the quality of life for an area often translates into that area's total transformation for newcomers.

Many longtime Washington residents can remember when Southwest, Capitol Hill, Foggy Bottom, Old Town Alexandria - to name a few areas - were populated by working-class blacks. They were later priced out of those neighborhoods. T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria bears my old address. I spent many summers with my mother in a Southwest that bears no resemblance to the yuppieville of today.

So when planners, especially those working with the federal government's blessing, start presenting bold, new and radical designs and development initiatives, local folks here know all too well what those plans can porten! We've been down that road of no return before.

For years, native Washingtonians - who've never heard a conspiracy theory they didn't like - have talked about a sinister "plan" by the white establishment to displace the city's black population and diminish its political clout.

That sort of unproductive rhetoric is rearing its ugly head again with the advent of the congressionally mandated control board, the slow but steady dissolution of local autonomy, and the flight of the black middle class as city services are allowed to deteriorate.

This sad state of affairs is in part due to years of benign neglect of Congress and the president.

The predominantly black population of Prince George's County today just didn't occur by happenstance. Now comes this grand NCPC design that seeks to expand the federal presence beyond the Mall. The plan would extend the federal city into local neighborhoods "as economic generators," ostensibly creating "market corridors" and "opportunity areas" anchored by new government offices and tourist attractions that would supposedly revitalize depressed areas of the District.

Redesigned and increased mass-transit avenues are on the drawing board to accommodate an influx of commuters and tourists. We all know that this is the Tale of Two Cities - one, the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.; the other, the local city, the District to us.

In 1791, it was Pierre L'Enfant's plan that laid the groundwork. In 1901, it was the McMillan plan with its federal enclave, which is primarily responsible for the city's current divided, bifurcated status.

Now comes the NCPC and the danger of wiping out a local presence all together. It would appear that someone comes up with a new plan for the nation's capital every 100 years or so.

If history is a barometer, the locals will lose. Invariably the question arises: When and where should the needs of local residents be given priority over the desires of those who view! These special 60-odd square miles as America's town? Six years in the making, the NCPC's draft development plan would create a Washington vastly different from the one 600,000 residents call home today. Still, Mr. Griffith emphatically states that "there is nothing in this mission that speaks to displacement" and that the NCPC "will not permit the displacement of people" as the number of federal monuments and museums in the city doubles by the middle of the next century.

A longtime Anacostia resident with ties to Howard University's architectural school, Mr. Griffith is no stranger to the former proposals and plans that were supposedly designed to improve life in the nation's capital but essentially removed life from it.

He is sensitive to the skepticism this plan presents, despite his contention of extensive local comment.

He insists that the NCPC's draft proposal is a "people plan" and will provide a successful role model to other cities. Nonetheless, this plan, which is big on vision and short on specifics, has been criticized as "loopy" and "a collection of geometric fantasies." It is characterized as an "outdated, top-down, Olympian approach to planning of the nation's capital" by some area planners.

However well-intentioned, the NCPC's futuristic plan to make the nation's capital what House Speaker Newt Gingrich calls "an urban jewel" requires close, careful scrutiny by Washingtonians, even as the American people weigh in with their opinions

The Washington Times, March 31, 1996 Commission lays out plans for 21st-century Washington `Extending the Legacy': Visionary project would radically change city Author: Thomas D. Sullivan; THE WASHINGTON TIMES Edition: 2, Section: DARTSARCHITECTURE; Page: D3

On Tuesday, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the federal body charged with planning for the District, formally unveiled its vision for the future of Washington. Called "Extending the Legacy: Planning America's Capital for the 21st Century," the NCPC plan is the third grand plan for Washington. It follows Pierre L'Enfant's 1791 vision of a grid of streets divided by diagonal avenues, and the 1901 McMillan Plan, which uncluttered and extended the Mall and established a system of parks for the District. Readers can get a good overview of the legacy proposal by dropping in at Union Station through April 7, where they can see the 20-by-11-foot model of the city, plus panels and videos explaining the plan. Best of all, viewers of the displays are asked for their comments about the proposals.

The commission's "Monumental Core Plan" for the District is based on five "key ideas," which include specific proposals:

* Building on the L'Enfant and McMillan plans. Proposals include preserving the Mall by locating future museums and memorials elsewhere; restoring Maryland and Virginia avenues; reclaiming the Potomac and Anacostia waterfronts.

* Unifying the city and the core, with the Capitol as the center. Proposals include redeveloping North and South Capitol streets as major urban boulevards; making East Capitol Street a new gateway to Washington with museums and parks; reviving the Anacostia waterfront with museums and housing.

* Using new memorials, museums and other public buildings to stimulate economic development. Proposals include creating public-private development corporations, first focusing on South Capitol Street; using new federal buildings to anchor mixed-use developments that welcome the public after 5 p.m.; developing North and South Capitol streets as major urban boulevards lined with shops, offices, restaurants and housing.

I call this poor reporting for its lack of specifics and its reliance on vagueness.

Note the lack of any specific reference to a "Mall", "promenade", "linear park" nor "green way" for South Capitol Street, or anything about it's right of way being widened.

Note the substitution instead of more vague terms -- less useful for informing readers -- which I addressed in my earlier entry to this blog, "Definitions and the politically useful sloppy use of words"; the favorite such vague term being "boulevard".

“Boulevard” is the term used to describe both North and South Capitol Streets, even though only South Capitol Street is illustrated with a widened continuous right of way, with any widening at North Capitol Street shown confined to a traffic circle at New York Avenue.

Although this is strangely also true with the text within Extending the Legacy, that document clearly showcases the South Capitol Mall on its very front cover.

This is likewise true with the contemporaneous reporting from Washington, D.C.'s other largest circulation newspaper, The Washington Post.

An article by The Washington Post staff writer Benjamin Forgery "A Capital that improves with age" proposal's unblinking vision brings the future into focus" features an illustration that shows the South Capitol Mall with the description (7) :

"North and South Capitol Street remade as broad tree-lined boulevards"

Roger K. Lewis

An article by The Washington Post staff writer Roger K. Lewis "Fine-Tuning a Vision For D.C.'s Next Century"

"Unifying the city and the core. North and South Capitol streets would be transformed into tree-lined urban boulevards linked to the city's nearby residential neighborhoods, especially Old Anacostia. A relocated Supreme Court finally would occupy a proper place in the geometric scheme of things at the southern terminus of South Capitol Boulevard near the river's edge. At the east end of East Capitol Street, a new gateway complex devoted to educational, cultural, recreational and entertainment functions would replace RFK Stadium."

This Roger Lewis article, like the Benjamin Forgery articles and that by Adrienne Washington, can not bring itself to explicitly report the widened South Capitol Mall corridor right of way. But it goes further in effectively mis-reporting the proposal by featuring the following illustration with the incorrect caption:

"The NCPC plan envisions a South Capitol Street transformed from what it is today into a pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined boulevard. M Street is in the foreground."

Actually, this is South Capitol Street with M Street in the foreground. This illustration is a vantage further to the south

This conveniently vague sort of reporting permeates the mass media "reporting."

Time magazine, in its reporting on this planning effort, features the above nighttime image of the northern end of the South Capitol Mall at its traffic circle with Virginia Avenue (this is the current site of the elevated SW/SE Freeway viaduct), but not any of the illustrations that show this South Capitol Mall's broad green way .

Newsweek magazine, owned by The Washington Post Company, and Time's main competitor, did not run any accounts at all of this planning, IIRC.

The Los Angeles Times August 8, 1996 Washington dateline " Album American" article "D.C. planners come up with a capital idea; Panel envisions a future where Washington is a city served by water taxis and the Supreme Court gets a new home" ends with the photo description:

" With the removal of a major freeway, Washington's South Capitol Street could be another picturesque Pennsylvania Avenue."

This is telling as Pennsylvania Avenue is simply a wide boulevard with sidewalks, but without a promenade, with a total building line to building line right of way width of 160'- which is what happened with the post 2001 planning for the South Capitol Street 'Gateway'.

Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.
looking towards the Old Post Office at right and the U.S. Capitol at left,
presumably from the 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue
Covington & Burling building
at the intersection with 12th Street

National Capital Planning Commission Deputy Executive Director MARCEL ACOSTA's published letter to the editor in The Washington Post, March 27, 2006, which I wrote about in my earlier post "Definitions and the politically useful sloppy use of words" does not set but rather follows in this tradition.

So did something, quite plausibly, in ensuring that none of these lame stream media accounts actually reported the SCM.

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