Saturday, September 20, 2014

Stronghold resident Kirby Vining: create a conservancy to manage McMillan Park

Date: Sat, 20 Sep 2014 08:29:52 -0700
Subject: [HistoricWashington] Create a Conservancy to Manage McMillan Park

Recently my friend and Colleague Carole Lewis Anderson wrote a letter to the Washington Post responding to Roger Lewis' August 1st article in the Post about the city's proposed development of McMillan Park ("McMillan Plan Combines Preservation, Urban Design and Inventive Architecture") that will be the topic of a Zoning Commission meeting on September 29th.  The Post did not publish Ms. Anderson's letter (nor did it publish a letter I sent a while back), so with Ms. Anderson's permission I'd like to share her letter with you here as the Historic Washington readership may be more interested in her comments than the Post seems to have been. 
Kirby Vining.

Being a New York City transplant, only recently have I heard of Roger Lewis. When he was (self-) described as a real estate design expert, overseer of the real estate commentary for The Washington Post, and Professor Emeritus of The University of Maryland, I fell into line. I assumed that he must have earned position through knowledge, understanding and wisdom. 
Not so. I first heard him on the Kojo Nnamdi show, when they both were tittering and dismissive about citizen opposition to the development plan for McMillan.
I have been involved in that opposition effort for almost a year, outraged that this gem of the Emerald Necklace envisioned by L'Enfant, and implemented by former Senator McMillan with the involvement of Olmsted and St. Gaudens, among others, should be unfenced (finally!) only to be destroyed and re-bound by private buildings and roads. This was the only de facto integrated public space in all of Washington during segregation. This is a place to honor, not to defile.
On its face, no enlightened citizen would stand aside as the last public open space, sizing at 25 acres (with another 20 subterranean) in a national capital city, virtually disappears under the weight of dense, uninspired development. Thus over 7,000 such citizens have manually signed a petition to the Mayor to stop this plan and to open the site to a broad design and bid competition. Any other city worthy of a place on the map of great, exciting, forward-looking cities would have thrown wide such a competitive net.
Instead the Mayor (in fact, successive mayors) has chosen to partner with a consortium of developer/builders -- not a true design firm among them -- to "give" this public land to private use and profit.  This is not even a Council decision, this is the Mayor. And the Mayor talks about building a green city, and just last week about "boosting the creative sector". Here is a site worthy of proof.
Beyond the lack of transparency and citizen input are several truly discouraging facts: one component would be a 13-story medical office tower built on hope -- no tenants have lined up. The neighborhood is promised a large grocery store. Not one grocer has committed to the space. Most egregious is the developer's “desire" to achieve simple LEEDS standard of construction. No new development should be allowed that does not commit to Silver LEEDS and strive for Platinum LEEDS. At the least the plan should have called for solar-powered buildings, green roofs and adequate public transport to alleviate the problems that will be created by the estimated 6,000 increase in daily commuter vehicles.

Those few citizens in support are willing to trade clean, green air, high views over Federal Washington, open skies and quiet streets for two reasons: to have the fence removed so as to be able to cut through the site, and to have access to groceries. The beautiful Bloomingdale neighborhood, visually low rising and well-treed, has looked at the derelict fenced-off space since WWII -- way too long. 
Now we have a chance to re-open this high land to the people: envision community urban agriculture, bistros, grocers, shops and other subterranean uses, roofed with acres of play spaces,  performance spaces, community pools, playing courts and meeting places, star gazing and bike-riding. 
It is time we stop giving credence to the old, tired voices in the design space. This is a time for global thinking and citizen involvement. Others are doing it: London bomb shelters are being converted to urban agriculture; abandoned Paris Metro stations are being re-purposed into community swimming pools; and, most famously, a decayed urban railway has been converted into the New York City HighLine.
This site is listed on the Registry of National Historic Places -- what a travesty it would be to have the most recent District listing devolve into a dense collection of high rise office buildings and unaffordable townhouses. Which raises the question, "Where is the US Park Service in this discussion?". Truly shocking is the answer: the USPS designee to protect the interests of the Park Service and the District sits on the DC Zoning Board. (Hopefully) he is overwhelmed by the inherent conflict but shackled, nevertheless, by the narrow mandate of the Zoning Board.
The  citizens of the District are calling for the creation of a Conservancy to manage the Park, the raising of private funds to build and maintain the Park, and the establishment of an international ideas/design competition so that this beautiful site can be returned to the people for the best possible use.
Carole Lewis Anderson 

Here is the link to the Roger K. Lewis Washington Post column:

McMillan plan combines preservation, urban design and inventive architecture

 August 1 at 7:40 AM

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