Developer Financed, Community Designed

A 4.2-acre park is slowly taking shape where a huge parking lot now exists on the southwest waterfront in Washington, D.C. Interestingly, the park, which is just a tiny piece of the $1.5 billion, 51-acre redevelopment project moving forward along the Washington Channel, is developer financed but community designed. Developers PN Hoffman and MadisonMarquette responded to community demands for their park to be moved up in the queue. Now part of the first phase of development, the park is getting expedited treatment, with designs completed by the beginning of 2013 and the official opening expected a few years later.

The new redevelopment along the waterfront will use a denser development strategy for the buildings and wharfs, with some 50 percent open space, said Elinor Bacon, a representative of the developers. “We will use five different landscape architecture firms. The firms all have different talents so will address different zones.” The waterfront community park, which is still unnamed, is just one of four “distinctive” public parks in the works.

Nelson Byrd Woltz and Jeff Lee & Associates are turning community input into actual park concepts and designs. Warren Byrd, FASLA, award-winning designer of CityGarden in St. Louis, said he started to understand what the community wanted during his first community meeting last December. The second community meeting then resulted in a set of very early concepts. Then, 5-6 concepts were boiled down to two through a design charrette with some 40 southwest community leaders. Listening to the group, which was separated into two teams in order to generate even more ideas, Byrd found that the community wanted to preserve the great views across the Channel, keep the 50-year old Willow Oak trees, create quiet spaces with sitting areas and gardens, and use sustainable best practices. Byrd also advised the community to extend the park up to the National Park Service waterfront promenade in order to “gain as much land as possible” and leverage the site’s natural 10-feet grade for stormwater management.

The eventual concept agreed upon by the community members (above) features an oval lawn surrounded by a pergola, with multiple paths. The lawn itself will be an “open formal green,” set amid diverse trees that will help create seasonal effects. An interactive water element will be added along one of the lawn’s curves. Shrubs will be set at a lower height for security reasons. Byrd said there may be a distinct “horticultural area” among the bioswales, rain gardens, and porous pavements (see image below). To be even more sustainable, the pergola may function as a sort of green wall or be solar-powered.

Parts of the park’s grade will be increased to 19-feet to enhance the power of the views. In addition, there will be a new pavilion closer to the access road, which, unfortunately, needs to be there for the police and fire departments and nearby condo residents. To preserve the sight lines, the pavilion may be covered in a green roof, effectively hiding it from those sitting above it. A separate children’s play area will also be added.

Carolyn Mitchell, former president of the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly and charrette participant, said “Nelson Byrd Woltz is first class. These are people of integrity.” She said community input yielded results: there are separate zones for kids and adults, and the pavilion is closer to the water. This design provides “something for everyone.” She added that Nelson Byrd Woltz was willing to go farther than the requirements of their contract in order to create something the community really wanted: a park all the way up to the waterfront. The landscape architects will now work the National Park Service to find ways to repair their broken sidewalks lining the edges of the park.

K Williams, President, Harbour Square, added that a “beautiful landscape is art, our living art,” in this case even more valuable because the community designed it. Also a plus: to ensure they sell condos, the developers are going to maintain the park, keeping it at a “very high standard,” and have agreed to do this over the long-term.

Image credits: Nelson Byrd Woltz

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