Rivers of Concrete, Lovely and Not

Spencer Lepler commented on Buras Classical‘s plan to redevelop the Anacostia waterfront in the style of the Seine (or more likely the Thames):

I have to say, that this is something I could really get behind. I’ve always felt that the waterfront on the Potomac was wasted. The river is too wide to be a focus for development, not to mention that there is the hurdle of getting two different municipal planning bodies to agree. In addition, currently the Rock Creek Parkway extension does a tremendous job of cutting the steps at the end of the mall off from the river. The South bank of the Anacostia, on the other hand, is ripe for development as a new urban node, with its easy access to downtown through the Green Line and the proposed streetcar lines in Southeast. This part of the city has maybe suffered the worst from mid-century urban renewal, with the destruction of the historic waterfront and creation of interstate 295 this strip of land has been effectively cut off from both near Southeast and the rest of Anacostia for decades. With some decent planning and effort I can see Anacostia becoming the next Columbia Heights.

The major issue I can see with Mr Buras’s Porposal, besides drumming up enough political will and public support for something this extreme, would be creating a method to mitigate possible flooding from constricting the river. By changing the topography and constricting the river, this plan faces many of the same challenges that currently plague the Mall and West Potomac Park. In addition, I can see there being a lot of backlash if the current green buffer is lost in place of more urban developed.

I’m generally in agreement, but I’d just like to add two things to what he said:

1)It’s Kojo Nnamdi (two “n”s) and

2)I do worry about flooding.

“Classical” and other neotrad architects jump at the chance at eschewing contemporary environmental standards in order to propagate 19th century building standards which, while timelessly cute, were also highly problematic in their attempts to mitigate physical site characteristics they didn’t much like. We didn’t begin to learn those lessons until the second half of the 20th century, which is why the Los Angeles River is now a presence that suggests a terrifying void, and why Seoul dug out and restored a stream that had previously been piped, covered and buried under a freeway through the heart of its downtown.

It’s possible for modern cities to enjoy and participate in their rivers while also loving them for what they’re supposed to do.

Edit: this is somewhat of a digression but Alex Block has given me the completely awesome concept of a Shanghai-style Anacostia. Though a river more like the Thames would do in a pinch, given its massing and tidal properties.


~ by J.D. Hammond on September 10, 2009.

3 Responses to “Rivers of Concrete, Lovely and Not”

  1. […] bloggers have already chimed in – And Now, Anacostia, JD Hammond, […]

  2. […] narrowed banks, summarized here, is attracting a bit of attention here in DC (also here, here, and here). 1As commentator “Capitol Dome” notes at Greater Greater Washington, the plan proposes […]

  3. […] Anacostia riverfront, the more skittish I get, even though everyone seems to love it and I admit I tepidly supported it before. The plan has a number of deep social and ecological flaws that are coming out of the woodwork, as […]

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