UPDATING THE COMPREHENSIVE PLAN FOR THE NATIONAL CAPITAL
There are few documents potentially more germane to NARPAC's raison d'etre than the Comprehensive Plan for the National Capital. This chapter summarizes the new draft of the Federal Elements half of the plan made available for comment in April, 2004. NARPAC then provides its own extensive analysis of what it found, both positive and negative. In conclusion, it provides its earlier summary and comments on the older DC Elements half of The Plan Where possible, this section provides actual quotes from the draft to protect the character of the document from NARPAC's not inconsiderable biases. It is important to understand from the outset that there are two separate and presumably equal parts of this plan:
The Comprehensive Plan for the National Capital is actually
comprised of two parts the Federal Elements and the District of Columbia
Elements. The Federal Elements address matters related to federal properties
and federal interests in the District and the region. The DC Elements
address citywide issues such as land use, human services, housing and
The Federal Elements Plan has nine chapters, followed by three sets of NARPAC comments:
NCPC UPDATES THE FEDERAL ELEMENTS
The draft begins with some broad statements that make it clear that the nation's capital is a special place, but it is somewhat ambiguous about what "the capital" includes area-wise, as well as what constitutes its image:
National capital cities have distinct planning and development needs
that distinguish them from other cities. While they share many traits
of other major cities, by virtue of their national constituency they have
unique qualities and requirements that must be accounted for in their
planning. The Federal Element (this plan) is based on the premise that
the nation's capital is more than a concentration of federal employees
and facilities. Washington, DC is the symbolic heart of the nation. It
provides a sense of permanence and centrality that extends well beyond
the National Capital Region (NCR) and our national borders. It represents
national power and promotes the country's shared history and traditions.
Through its architecture and physical design, it symbolizes national ideals
federal impact on the region
It provides some interesting "gee-whiz" statistics on its importance to the region:
o There are more than 230 memorials and museums in DC and surrounding environs. In 2001, the region attracted approximately 20 million visitors stimulating over $4 billion in regional economic activity....(NARPAC aside:) As NARPAC never tires of reminding its readers, the National Capital Region (NCR) is seriously skewed to the West by ignoring the more eastern Maryland counties of Howard, Anne Arundel (seat of Maryland's attractive capital, Annapolis), Calvert and Charles. This results in slowing the development of Prince George's County, and of DC itself, East of the Anacostia River).
NCPC role and responsibility
There are awkward divisions of planning responsibilities between the federal government, and the independent-minded local DC politicos, but they are hardly evident here:
"The significance of the federal presence in the region demands expert planning and coordination. As the central planning agency for the federal government in the NCR, the NCPC is charged with planning for the appropriate and orderly development of the national capital and the conservation of its important natural and historic features.planning framework: vision, goals, guiding principles
The plan goes on to describe the three century-long planning legacies of the L'Enfant Plan, the McMillan Commission Plan, and more recently the "Extending the Legacy Plan for 21st Century, and then turns to a summary of its overall vision and principles:
Vision:planning program: federal elements
The introduction concludes with the identification of the seven major planning elements (down from eleven in the 1984 Comprehensive plan). It should be understood that these sections that follow are almost entirely summary platitudes and policy statements to the effect that "the federal government should" do this or that. 32 specific "action plans" come at the end of the document. "Bulletized" versions of each facet are included in easy-to-read "boxes". As some indication of emphasis, NARPAC has duly counted the pages devoted to each of the topics, as well as the total included "policy bullets". For whatever it's worth; foreign ministries, international organization, and visitors get 28 pages and 52 policy bullets, while parks and open space, federal environment, and preservation and historic sites together get 59 pages and 179 policy bullets. The two sections of most interest to NARPAC concerning the federal workplace and its ramifications plus transportation, get 56 pages and 112 policy bullets.
These opening statements are worth repeating:
"From its beginning, the nation's capital has been planned for the special purpose of serving as the seat of the federal government. Conceived as a capital of a great nation, it was not intended to be completed in the life of one administration, or one generation, but to be built over time. As it developed, facilities to house the permanent offices of the government have been built to promote the efficient conduct of governmental functions. These buildings were also meant to serve as a source of national pride, providing testimony to the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of our system of government. These facilities have, through their location, guided much of the way the NCR has developed......"This opening section goes on to discuss the relationships between federal workplaces and a vibrant region, including federal procurements, employment, and facilities and their total regional impacts; current locations and needs of federal workplaces and their continued development in the NCR; and some general location considerations concerning use of existing resources, alternative modes of transportation, and meeting common goals and objectives.
Locating Federal Workplaces
with regard to DC and the Monumental Core:This section goes on to discuss existing facilities and resources, and the regional distribution of federal workplaces, complete with tables and diagrams.
Development of Workplaces with Communities
Coordination with the Communityand continues with policies re building and development codes and energy efficiency.
" When disposing of excess land, agencies should work with the community to undertake plans for economic development and/or to use the property or facilities for other public (including open space) and private spaces. The disposal of excess federally owned property should result in minimal adverse economic impacts on affected communities. Its future use should contribute towards solving existing community development problems. Guidance on the disposal of federally owned property can be found in......"and concludes with lengthy policies for the working environment, and physical security.
This section begins with an interesting analysis of the economics and fiscal impact of foreign missions, noting that they employ about 10,000 workers in DC, with an annual payroll of about $300M. The missions produce consumer spending about $32M, and non-payroll spending about $258M. They attract business/visitors who spend about $183M and DC collects $24M from taxes generated by leased space, rented homes. It goes on the describe historic sites as well as future building requirements, which may be substantial.
There are extensive guideline for chanceries, both programmatic, location and siting, and about urban design, historic preservation, access, and open space and parkland. These are followed by policies for ambassadors' residences and for international organizations (very few!). The most interesting policy to NARPAC is the concept of promoting new chancery areas in high density "foreign mission centers".
(NARPAC Aside:) NARPAC retains its high interest in developing much larger resources for DC by encouraging foreign missions to participate in a federally-sponsored "International Mall" to match the National Mall. It would include permanent displays by major countries, as well as residential accommodations for foreign visitors and students: the equivalent of a permanent "world's fair" setting to significantly increase tourist visits and stay-time.
"It is the goal of the federal government to develop and maintain a multi-modal transportation system that meets the travel needs of residents, workers, and visitors, while improving regional mobility and air quality through expanded transportation alternatives and transit-oriented development".Policies
Commuter Rail, Rail Transit, and Bus Transit
the federal government should support:Parking
the federal government should:Parking Ratios
the federaql government should provide no more than: * 1 space per 5 employees within (downtown) CEA;This section goes on to discuss policies for transportation management plans and demand management, shuttles and circulators, other infrastructure and transportation services, and includes exhaustive guidelines for bicycle facilities. Here there are policies for travel lanes on major roads, secure racks, lockers/showers in federal buildings, safe entry to garages, usage promotion, continuous trails from beyond beltway, and lockers/racks for stations and buses.
The section concludes with six investment priorities summarized as follows:
o fix it first, maintain existing facilities;
(NARPAC Aside:)we believe this is the only instance in the entire comprehensive plan in which investment priorities are mentioned or ranked.
It is the goal of the federal government to conserve the park and open space of the NCR, ensure that adequate resources are available for future generations, and promote an appropriate balance between open space resources and the built environment.policies
General Policies include a) expansion and enhancement, which includes planning for new parks as part of the park system in the region, acquiring parks and open space as necessary, and acquiring land for parks and open space by easement, donation, purchase, exchange, or other means; and b) preservation and maintenance, which includes conserving portions of military reservations that add significantly to the inventory of park, open space, and natural areas and should, to the extent possible, be used by the public for recreation. Examples include Andrews Air Force Base, Fort Belvoir, US Soldiers' and Airmen's Home, Fort Meade, and Marine Corps Base, Quantico, and c) efforts to assure access and connectivity.
Parks and Landscape Policies include monumental and designed landscape parks as well as natural, waterfront and historic parks as important legacies of national, historic, architectural, and landscape significance, including.....Fort Circle Parks.....Manassas National Battlefield Park......C&O Canal National Historic Park......Mount Vernon National Historic Site....etc.
Terrain Features Policies include general policies, as well 46 policy bullets dealing with palisades and gorges, greenways and greenbelts, rivers and waterways, trails, gateways and parkways. Of special interest to NARPAC, there is also an educational section, largely unchanged from the 1984 Plan, describing and proscribing:
DC's Topographic Bowl
From L'Enfant's time onward, topography has defined and characterized the capital, resulting in thoughtful relationships between urbanized areas and natural terrain. (Therefore:)(NARPAC Aside:)NARPAC, appalled by its own corporate ignorance of the existence of this major (?) topographic feature of the nation's capital, sees this on the one hand as an extraordinary constraint on the future economic development of the nation's capital city, but on the other hand as a natural limit to the arbitrary imposition of development constraints "beyond the rim". This is discussed further below
It is the goal of the federal government to conduct its activities and manage its property in a manner that promotes the NCR as a leader in environmental stewardship and preserves, protects, and enhances the quality of the region's natural resources, providing a setting that befits the local community, provides a model for the country, and is worthy of the nation's capital.(NARPAC Aside:) It is to NARPAC's keen disappointment that there is no equivalent statement in this Comprehensive Plan setting forth the same goals for the quality of life of many residents of the nation's capital.
There follow here 55 policy bullets concerning general policies; air
quality; water resources, including water quality and supply; land resources,
including floodplains, wetlands, soils, vegetation and wildlife habitats;
and human activities which are limited to environmental justice, solid
waste management, hazardous materials management, noise, and radio frequency
radiation and electromagnetic fields PRESERVATION AND HISTORIC FEATURES
It is the goal of the federal government to preserve and enhance the image and identity of the NCR through design and development respectful of the guiding principals of the L'Enfant and McMillan Plans, the enduring value of historic buildings and places, and the symbolic character of the capital's setting.policies
National Capital Image
o express the dignity befitting the image of the federal government in the nationasl capital. Federal development should adhere to the high aesthetic standards already established.....The section continues with dozens of policy bullets on the stewardship of historic properties and the historic plan of Washington, DC.
It is the goal of the federal government to accommodate visitors in a way that ensures an enjoyable and educational experience, showcases the institutions of American culture and democracy, and supports federal and regional planning goals.policies
This section sets forth policies concerning federal visitor attractions, programs ans special events, but focuses on:
o encourage federal visitor attractions within walking distance of public transportation.....THE PLAN IN ACTION
(19 pages, 32 action plans)
In an interesting attempt to cross reference the seven federal elements with more general goals, the NCPC planners have adapted four seemingly more general themes against which to array their specific "action plans". This seems, in fact, to be the only few pages of this 200 page document that relates to planned actions, presumably by their own staff members in conjunction with other appropriate federal agencies. The four overarching themes are described by quotes from the report, and the 32 planned actions are distributed between each, both in terms of the involved planning element and in terms of their 16-each short- (*) or long- (o) term nature.
Theme 1: Image of the National Capital Region
" The Commission has been a strong advocate in maintaining the Nation's Capital and Region as one of the most beautiful capitals in the world. The symbolism and image that Washington conveys are immediately recognizable and unequaled. The Commission's work......speaks to its continued commitment to hold the Nation's Capital in high esteem....and to protect the city's character....."Action Plans:
* Parks and Open Spaces: update 1976 master plan of National
"A commitment to enhancing the operational efficiency of the federal government is a primary goal of the Plan. Understanding the current conditions of federal activities and the future needs of federal employees is paramount to improving efficiency....."Action Plans:
* FM/IO: revise DC zoning regulations
"Closely linked to federal operational efficiency is the mobility of the federal workforce. Improving mobility provides advantages to federal workers and the federal government generally, as well as all who reside in or visit the region. Mobility goes well beyond putting more cars on already overflowing roads....."Action Plans:
* Transportation/Federal Workplace/Visitors: design downtown
" The region's beauty is exemplified not only in the stone, marble and granite found in its manmade structures, but also in the natural beauty in its open spaces and parks, its forests, its waterways, its topography and its views and vistas. The federal government has been a vigilant steward in the preservation and enhancement of these natural resources...."Action Plans:
* Parks/Open Spaces: develop central database for collecting/analyzing
NARPAC was given the opportunity to make brief verbal comments to the NCPC planners and developed the following short, concise lift of specific suggestions:
PRELIMINARY NARPAC COMMENTS ON NCPC COMPREHENSIVE PLAN
Good afternoon. At NARPAC , we aren't trying to make over the world in our image. We just want to make over DC's global image as a symbol of American prowess.
We seek a thriving metro area that supports a dynamic core city that supports the world's greatest capital. We do not seek a white marble theme park surrounded by camp followers.
We find it shameful to have 1,000 acres of pure greed, and 18,000 acres of pure squalor within 4 miles of the capitol and no local, regional, or federal help in erasing DC's Third World image!
Footnote:DC's root problem is simple: too few taxpayers for too many tax-takers living too close together, with too many marginal bureaucrats ministering to their welfare: like many other older US cities.
Your draft document is full of great stuff some of it could have been lifted directly from our web site. Most of the material is necessary, but sadly, not sufficient. For us, the real questions are:
a) could this document really help our capital city's distress? (and
it is a city, not a "community")?
o You need a theme about federal participation in city, not community,
Federal Workplace: Location, Impact, and the Community:
o No policy to use education to rid poverty: job training, mentor kids,
run military high schools;
o No policy to press FM/IO to provide substantial tourist/visitor attractions;
o No policy to beef up Metro in-town: improve commuter rail/busways
to the outer suburbs;
o No plans to "swap" excess in-town parkland for more suburban parkland;
o No plan for adopting hybrid vehicles for federal agencies, FM/IO and
their support contractors;
o No policy to "de-access" outdated historic features, monuments, etc.;
o Wrong policy to farm out important attractions to far suburbs like
Dulles and Quantico);
NARPAC was also given the opportunity to submit longer written comments, and did not hesitate to do so. It is using this version to provide references to the various parts of this web site where further exposition can be found.
The more closely NARPAC looks at this draft update of the Federal Elements half of the Comprehensive Plan for the National Capital, the less satisfied we become. While we do not reverse any of the truncated verbal comments provided at your second public hearing, there are several substantive issues that need to be confronted more broadly.. These formal comments are therefore somewhat longer, somewhat more negative, and somewhat more at risk of offending the plan's authors. We try to walk the line between pussyfooting and eye-poking in order to provide constructive comments that will catch your attention.. We strongly believe that good planning is essential to "restoring pride in America's capital": our sole raison d'etre.
The present draft appears to be a smooth conglomeration of platitudes on the one hand, and enthusiastic support for virtually all special interests on the other. At the general long-range end, NARPAC finds the projections for the long-range future of this (and other) metro areas inadequate, and far too focused on federal property development with virtually no attention to the metro area's quality of life and discrepancies therein. At the specific, short-range end, the "action plans" themselves seem rather weak and the four "themes" do not fully accomplish their cross- cutting objective. Here are several very basic issues that we believe need further consideration:
o it is not consistently clear whether NCPC considers "the capital" to be a region, a city, or a cluster of federal properties;
o the frequent references to "the community", apparently meaning everything-but-federal- property-and-workers, can easily be interpreted as condescending if not arrogant. The quality of life in some parts of that community severely tarnishes the national capital image;
o two free-standing component plans are not sufficient to provide a comprehensive regional plan that clearly spells out the common aims and the several major areas of interdependence;
o the NCPC "image" of "the capital" is weighted far too much on the world-class quality of federal property and too little on the capital city's Third World quality of life;
o the plan over-emphasizes historic preservation and green space, while underplaying the American focus on the future and high-mobility, high-speed, high density living;
o to be comprehensive, this long-range plan needs more broad projections of the economic, sociological, and technological trends already changing the role and face of US "core cities" and metro areas. The notion of a single core city with a single downtown may well become obsolete.
o the total absence of cost estimates for the proposed improvements compared to the real-world, but also undefined, limitations on resources, established land uses, and usable volume (3-D space), reduces the plan to a catalogue of unconstrained special interests without priorities;
o from NARPAC's viewpoint, virtually none of the top priority actions needed to improve DC's globally-evident below-par quality of life are included: more unencumbered revenue-producing land area under DC control; and more regional and federal sharing of the growing jurisdictional inequities in wealth, health, poverty, and education that mar the national capital's image;
o there is no apparent correlation between this plan and key federal/congressional legislative time tables. 2004 is a key time in preparing for the infrequent release of under-utilized military properties through the accepted "BRAC" (Base Realignment and Closure?) process. There are well over one thousand acres of extinct airfields and outdated specialty headquarters and laboratories within DC, but no plans to gradually convert them to contribute to the capital image.
What is "the capital"?
NARPAC views our national capital as "a thriving metro area (rapidly becoming the basic American economic subdivision), that supports (doesn't ignore, or compete against) a dynamic core city (a self-sufficient, growing, proud collection of residents, workers, and visitors), that supports the world's greatest capital (the physical and human infrastructure that houses and supports the federal government, and would move if the capitol moved).
While there are some grand statements like "The result is a city and region that comprise one of the world's most recognizable and appealing capitals" (last sentence, Introduction), the rest of the plan is often ambivalent about whether it is referring to a region, a city, or just federal property. One of the most egregious shortcomings of the plan is that it almost never refers to the people that populate those areas. They are apparently subsumed in "the community" (below).
NCPC's Use of the Word "Community"
While this may seem to be an oversensitive detail, NARPAC finds the frequent references to the "communities" surrounding the federal presence to be somewhat trivializing, if not demeaning. It not only underrates the role of the capital city (600,000 people), and the region (2,600,000 people), it appears condescending. To those who refer to the more than 140 "neighborhoods" in DC as communities, the use of that word in its broader, but rarer, sense adds to the suspicions that the federal government looks down on its surrounds. We would prefer greater use of the words "capital city" for DC, and "neighboring jurisdictions" for the rest of the region.
Two Elements Aren't Enough
Recognizing the petty political sensitivities between city and federal government, this plan does not try to minimize them. It is patently silly to expect the city to "address city wide issues such as land use (why first in line?), human services (oh, them), housing and economic development" in a separate "DC Elements" when DC is overwhelmed and constrained not only by the 300-pound (and growing) Federal Gorilla, but also by the indifferent, if not downright exclusionary, policies of the more prosperous, faster growing, uninhibited inner and outer suburbs.
Although giving lip-service to a defined "region", there is no document for "Regional Elements". It would raise basic issues which are properly the domain of regional authorities that do exist (WMATA, MWAA, etc.) or which should exist (viz., regional highway, housing, and health authorities). In fact, the Plan does not acknowledge the existence of a regional Council of Governments (COG), or of the need to give it some teeth and accountability. The National Capital Region (NCR) is smaller in area coverage than either the MSA or the CMSA used by the Census Bureau, and smaller than the official afrea of the COG. Nevertheless, it remains strangely skewed to the west, thereby ignoring valuable, growing areas to the east. This is shown on the chart below by the green areas, thereby biasing development away from Baltimore, Annapolis, or the shores of the Chesapeake, as shown by the additional yellow counties. (Click-up to see county detail):
Whether there are two or preferably three Elements documents, there must be some overarching planning elements that address common (or at least overlapping) city and regional problems, constraints, and inequities. We will never have a first class metro area unless some serious efforts are made to level the quality of life playing field, eliminating inequities that serve as sumps, filters, or magnets for the disadvantaged and the blight that thrives on their concentration.
Lastly, there are certain to be shared or overlapping responsibilities and planning opportunities that need to be jointly addressed. As a few typical examples, why should the major efforts for providing adequate tour bus facilities fall on the District when the vast majority of tourists are visiting federal sites? Why should federal facilities be planned with clearly insufficient parking accommodations, forcing the overflow into city facilities? Why should federal parks and open spaces fail to provide underground facilities (or "dirt rights") of value to the city, and why shouldn't federal highways encourage the exercise of "air rights" for either federal or city use?
NCPC's Capital Image Is Much Too Narrow
NCPC seems to be treating the concept of "world image" as something that fits on a postcard, or even a postage stamp, including little more than the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, White House, and Capitol Building, surrounded by greenery and stuffed with the memorabilia of the past we selective choose to honor. NARPAC exists because its founders had been embarrassed by the sneers of national and international observers who got their information not from postcards but from daily media reports about poverty, ignorance, drug use, homicides, ill health, inefficient, if not dishonest, (local) government, etc. Our web site records a short summary of every Washington Post article about DC over the past six years. It summarizes the clearly visible, widely derided, ugly graffiti on the capital's white marble buildings.
NCPC may well assume that such issues should be treated within the "human services" section of the DC Elements (and/or Regional Elements?) if those authors so desire. But deciding what factors impact on the capital's image should be an NCPC responsibility, and NARPAC feels strongly that it is wrong to separate the quality of federal properties from the quality of city life. In fact, DC's resources both human, physical, and economic are significantly impacted by being under the shadows of, the actions and intentions of, and, at least partially, the thumbs of the federal government and the autonomous regional jurisdictions as well.
In fact, the 1984 DC Elements half of the Comprehensive Plan does have a section on Human Services. It is 10th of 11th sections, and ties with Housing as the shortest. The words "education" and "crime" do not appear in the document, but the third and last objective in this section is "to provide income maintenance and support services where needed to the maximum extent possible and to assist families and individuals to achieve or maintain economic self-support." The first and only relevant policy bullet is to:
"Develop a self-support and self-sufficiency task force (!) to make recommendations and to devise a plan geared toward the improvement and enhancement of service delivery capabilities, in order to foster client self-sufficiency and to promote measures to assist recipients of income assistance in gaining skills necessary for full-time employment;"
Lastly, it is quite conceivable that the highest priority for each of the three planning subdivisions may be set by the related needs of another. For instance, the District sorely needs to be assured of the gradual but steady transfer of under-utilized federal properties (mostly military) for its own revenue-producing purposes. Similarly, DC sorely needs the cooperation of the entire region in alleviating its disproportionately large populations of underprivileged adults and special ed kids. The region, on the other hand, needs strong federal support for alleviating its transportation and affordable housing shortfalls, and the federal government needs DC to eliminate its image- damaging reputation as the murder capital of the world. Such interdependencies make it unwise to compartmentalize federal, city, and regional planning. Those plans are inextricably interrelated.
Unbalanced Emphasis on Historic Preservation and Green Space
NARPAC is somewhat offended by the over-emphasis on historic preservation, environment, and parks and open space, compared to the lack of emphasis on the lagging quality of life. There is no acknowledgment of the abuse of historic preservation for devious purposes such as preventing gentrification and urbanization in progress-resisting neighborhoods (viz., memorializing a gas station or a concrete building). Resource-constrained museums recognize their space and financial limitations and "de-access" memorabilia that no longer seem relevant. But the federal and local governments seem bent on unlimited acquisition regardless of the negative impact on economic growth and quality of life. How can DC, for instance, possibly justify more than one historic relic per acre of total District land, and why would NCPC feel obliged to encourage it?
The same applies to the urge to acquire more and more parkland as an end in itself, and regardless of its impact on the fundamental needs of "the community". The draft plan acknowledges that DC already has almost 2.5 times as much parkland per acre as the average large American city. Why push for more? The District lacks the resources to reduce its residential blight at least in part because it lacks sufficient "high-revenue-producing" acreage. Why not instead generate additional parkland just outside DC's borders in jurisdictions that sustain less than 5% of DC's "poverty per acre"? And, in fact, why not give up or swap away some of DC's excessive parklands which have no genuine historic, cultural, or topographic background (viz., most of Ft. DuPont Park)?
While NCPC appears to worship the past, there are few references to its unwanted characteristics. We note that there are no monuments to the internal combustion engine, whose airborne fumes replaced horse manure on unpaved city streets; to concrete and macadam street paving that replaced mud; to flush toilets, internal plumbing and underground sewers that reduced smell and disease; to elevators, electricity, central heating, air conditioning that made taller buildings practical, and so on. We also note that today's enthusiasts for preservation, environment and green space do not advocate eliminating any of these conveniences. Nevertheless, plan implies that none of these major innovations should impact on 200- or 100-yr old plans. Is it really likely that the L'Enfant (or McMillan Plans) would have been unchanged by all these innovations, and especially by the automobile, Americans' second most prized possession?
A 30-50 Year Plan Without Projecting the Future?
NARPAC is concerned that there are no references to the role of technology in further changing the nature of our society and our urban areas. While NARPAC claims no special crystal ball, it is clear that there are going to be major changes in the way our world lives over the next 30-50 years. Surely the nation's capital region (which, outside the capital city itself, is helping to develop that future) should be particularly configured to nurture and adopt these changes. Surely the American image remains forward-looking, and not inhibited or consumed by its past.
multiple core cities?
To begin with, the basic nature and rationale for cities, particularly inner cities is changing. The central core cities have already ceased to be the focal point for manufacturing, commerce, communications, transportation, or self-defense. It seems evident (and is acknowledged in the region's shaky transportation planning) that metro areas will gradually spawn a number of high density, well-interconnected, "sub-cities" throughout the region. Already well-established in the national capital metro area are Arlington, Alexandria, Bethesda, Gaithersburg, Georgetown, Rockville, Silver Spring, and Tyson's Corner. All but one of them are outside the District of Columbia.
The chart below illustrates the current amount of office space in various centers (and corridors) around the region. While downtown DC, including Capital Hill, and Southwest, is still the largest by a factor of two, it is also true that 42% of the area's total office space is in various centers in the Virginia suburbs, and another 28% is in the Maryland suburbs. Trends favor faster expansion away from the historic "core city".
The assumption that "federal workplaces with related activities will benefit from being located near each other, where interactions can occur more easily" is becoming anachronistic. We doubt there is much face-to-face interaction, for instance, between the Pentagon and the IRS, or between either of them and the Department of Agriculture. It is not clear, in fact, that we will long resist out-sourcing many routine government functions to the Third World! National and global connectivity by fiber-optics and satellite has only just begun.
Indeed, federal buildings outside the national capital city are almost invariably more efficient users of space than those handicapped by the city's historic height limitations. One has only to look to the new Patent and Trademark Office headquarters in Alexandria (once part of the District) to find a non-compliant set of buildings (still under construction as "anchor" to a very large new urban development. These buildings, shown below, would have broken all the rules if located within "L'Enfant's topographic bowl . This whole new development, located between two Metro stations, would easily have fit within the wasted space on Bolling Air Force Base, and brought tremendous revenues to DC's needy coffers. (Click image for larger version.)
(Clockwise from upper left: main building with 12-story atrium; view of as yet unfinished south face on Eisenhower Avenue; view f complex from Duke Street approach; colorless view from east side open space)
And in the new era of American world domination and pre-emptive enforcement, the clustering of its vital services is almost certainly more of a vulnerability than a virtue. Moreover, why should the new headquarters for Homeland Security occupy a 30-acre low density campus in the most residentially-productive section of DC? Why does the Navy's odd Bureau of Medicine and Surgery occupy five prime acres between the State Department and the Kennedy Center? Why is military housing or a naval research laboratory the "best use" for two extinct airfields on the banks of the capital's rivers within sight of the capitol? Why doesn't the plan address directly the well-established "BRAC" (base realignment and closing) procedures, and propose an orderly reduction in the military properties within DC?
are virtual tours more realistic?
In a different vein, the presentation of history is also changing significantly. The ubiquity of television, computer screens, life-like animation, interactive information systems, and high- definition wrap-around visual and sound presentations is rapidly making many museums and historic sites largely obsolete. Musty relics in glass cases and static displays behind velvet ropes are no match for the information transferred and retained by visual simulation and 3-D animation. And the advent of digital data storage, transmission, and presentation means that any relic, event, or cultural subject can be viewed by virtually any group anywhere in the world.
There may well be a gradual change from getting all Americans out of their living rooms and into Washington, DC, to getting more of what Washington DC stands for into American living rooms, and living rooms around the world. For instance, why ever should we immortalize the crumbling ruins of DC's first sprawling insane asylum, rather than making an honest and lifelike digital documentary of what really went on at St. Elizabeth's , and using that extraordinarily valuable space to, say, further the rapidly unfolding biotechnology field of mental health?
inevitable transportation growth
Equivalent projections can be made in other primary areas such as transportation, where there is little indication that progress is keeping up with need. As the American population grows, and grows faster in metro areas, and has fewer children or other dependents, and lives healthier, longer, and more independently, the demands for mobility can only will increase. Many jurisdictions now average more than two cars per household, and no one can project how rapidly "personal vehicles" (i.e., "segways") will catch on and usurp sidewalks.
The need to embrace "transit-oriented development" (TOD) throughout the metro area will become far more pronounced. Given the extraordinary cost and difficulty of building new metrorail stations, particularly in already-urbanized areas, the present influence of neighborhood activists in trying to protect their backyards will have to be restrained. If local jurisdictions are unable to stand up to their noisiest constituents for the greater good of the metro area, the control of zoning near those stations may have to be transferred to regional or federal authorities. The District's recent decision to approve relatively low new building height at the Georgia Ave/Petworth Station (as shown below in artist's sketches, courtesy of Donatelli and Klein, Inc.) may well become unacceptable. NARPAC pointed out the desolation around the stations along the Green Line North several years ago.
New tagging systems (viz., "E-Z Pass"), navigation systems (viz., GPS), and surveillance systems (viz., red light cameras) will revolutionize traffic control and enforcement, as well as parking systems , and provide a new source of municipal revenues.. Moving stairs, ramps, and sidewalks will be used more broadly, and surely vehicular and pedestrian traffic will eventually be vertically separated. Meanwhile, heavy trucks for the delivery of new materials and removal of used materials , and the ubiquitous delivery trucks that now replace local stores and post offices, continue to block city travel and parking lanes without penalty and without providing sorely needed urban revenues. None of the above are recognized in the comprehensive plan.
The only major area where little progress appears on the horizon is in the crucial business of alleviating poverty. There are no magic cures, and no alluring incentives for the underprivileged to gain the needed skills to work their way up the economic ladder. But even in this area, one powerful new tool may very well substantially reduce the numbers of unwanted (and often imperfect) pregnancies, particularly among unready teenage girls forced thereby to drop out of school. Almost without question, the ratio of kids to adults will continue to decline, and the total need for public schools within the core city will continue to decline, perhaps at a faster rate.
"re-calling" the under-educated
To NARPAC, the more immediate problem is try again to educate school drop-outs of both sexes to the level they can be self-sufficient. It is odd that public education obligations cease whenever the kids leave school and no matter how inadequately educated, and responsibilities immediately shift to public welfare agencies that are obliged only to support, but not to alleviate the life-long deficiencies of these barely adult (and very often incarcerated ) youngsters. As the region's largest single employer, shouldn't the federal government actively assist its communities in "re-calling" these "defective" human products that provide life- long real and present threats to the nation's overall quality of life? For instance, why did federal agencies stop "adopting" DC high schools, and why don't they operate local government employment training centers?
Plans Without Financial and Space Implications Are Just Wish-lists
NARPAC has great difficulty accepting the notion of a "comprehensive plan" unconstrained by absolute or relative costs, or by real world space limits. Such a plan ignores real-world limitations, and avoids the key planning element of prioritizing its visions. Surely there should be some projections of resources and land areas available for public sector use as opposed to private sector use, and some idea of the needs of other claimants on those limited commodities.
It would not be unreasonable for the Federal Government to begin to quantify the burdens placed on the private sector both by its current needs and its future aspirations. This is particularly germane to the federal city and, to a lesser extent, to the region's inner suburbs that are also becoming seriously space- (but not revenue-) limited. Urban areas are as dependent on the "productivity" of their fixed available acreage as are farms in the countryside. And urban problems are magnified by the inability of their governments to control their "cash crops".
For instance, there is little DC can do to increase its available revenue-producing acreage. Perhaps 20% of that acreage is occupied by relatively well-off, home-owning residents stridently opposed to urbanization of their pleasantly suburban neighborhoods. A much larger acreage is occupied with poverty-ridden residents dependent on public or subsidized rented housing, and who, together with their activist civic and religious leaders, are adamantly opposed to the scourge of "gentrification". In the small areas populated by very well-off, apartment- and condo-owning residents, productivity is limited by indiscriminate building height limits. As a result, the 12,000- odd residential acres across DC generate in toto less revenues than they consume in city services. The snapshot below shows the private residence at 2929 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, identified in the 2003 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) as bearing one of the highest residential property assessments in DC. It produces $143,000 in annual property taxes per acre:
DC's commercially- and industrially- zoned land area amounts to less than three thousand acres, but generates considerably more revenues than its consumes in city services. It too is constrained by building height limitations well beyond the sacrosanct downtown area. NARPAC is frustrated to see buildings twice as tall on the Maryland and Virginia sides of DC's borders, predominantly in the vicinity of "the edge cities" that are growing up just beyond DC's revenue reach. The building shown below on 13th Street in downtown DC produces more than 20 times the annual property tax revenues (about $3,400,000) per acre than the best residential acre, and could easily produce twice as much without building height limits.
reality in transportation needs
On the other hand, resources for capital projects are substantially constrained both within the federal city and throughout the metro area. The most egregious example is the failure to expand major transportation systems in proportion to the growth in need. A very real part of the nation's capital image is that it has the second worst traffic jams in the US, and is likely to move into first place. It also has the nation's second busiest subway system, which is now in real danger of not only running out of capital investment funding, but of essential maintenance funding as well. That too will make headlines. Why then, would NCPC advocate tearing down existing freeways or interstate railroad lines for aesthetic purposes? Why not devise means to "assimilate" such arteries and apply limited funds to needed highways, connectors, and DC's first-class Metrorail system? Why should NCPC ordain that modern transportation systems are not an inherent part of modern American cities?
building height limits
It is not unrealistic for NCPC to have an unshakable interest in maintaining the majesty of the federal enclave and that portion of the District included within the original L'Enfant plan, and the barely visible "topographic bowl" (is it really part of DC's image?). However, beyond that elliptical depression, which occupies no more than one-half of the District's land (and water) area, why support outdated legislation restricting building height that denies the federal city's ability to resolve its own marginal financial problems (70% of which support DC's disproportionate share of the region's poor)? Why deny the core city the right to share the benefits of "edge cities" like Friendship Heights? Why legislate against the economic development of some of the city's most squalid areas on the high ground East of the Anacostia?
The stated goal of the "Federal Environment" element of the Comprehensive Plan for the National Capital is that:
"It is the goal of the federal government to conduct its activities
and manage its property in a manner that promotes the NCR
as a leader in environmental stewardship and preserves, protects, and
enhances the quality of the region's natural resources, providing
a setting that befits the local community, provides a model for the country,
and is worthy of the nation's capital"
"It is the goal of the federal government to conduct its activities
and manage its property in a manner that promotes the NCR
as a leader in urban and regional development that preserves, protects,
and enhances the quality of life for the region's human resources,
providing a setting that befits the local community, provides a model
for the country, and is worthy of the nation's capital.
Every once in a while NARPAC's leadership is totally surprised by a fact about the nation's capital city it has blissfully ignored. This time it is to learn of the significance of the NCR's terrain features, which includes everything from the Anacostia, Suitland, and Rock Creek valleys, to the natural floodplain and wetland areas of the Anacostia River. But of particular note is the proclaimed "topographic bowl" formed by lowland and rim features of the L'Enfant City and environs.
The Plan places very significant terrain feature constraints not only on the floor of the bowl, but on its slopes and rims as well. One policy guideline suggests that developments along the "Florida Avenue Escarpment" should be constrained to low-rise buildings in order to distinguish that boundary "from the greater height of the L'Enfant City's core area". Another asserts that "the green background of the Anacostia Hills should be preserved". The poor quality topographic map of the District reproduced below, with a tiny yellow star at the site of the Washington Monument, depicts how the terrain would appear totally stripped of its natural and manmade coverings.
That giant sitzmark on the floodplain between the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers (in the center of the map) will never rank with Crater National Park, and those steep ravines along Rock Creek Parkway are surely no match for the Grand Canyon. In fact, there is no point within DC with an altitude greater than 300 feet, and no marker on its highest hilltop. Major avenues and roads traverse the slopes and rims without requiring trucks to shift to low gear. And smog does not appear to settle in the bowl itself. In fact, those rims provide what could potentially be the most valuable currently under-developed properties in DC.
On the one hand, this modest terrain feature quite clearly explains the otherwise seemingly arbitrary boundaries of L'Enfant City 200 years ago. On the other hand, it could now be used to describe a limited area within the District that can be subjected to economic development constraints, or perhaps become the boundaries of a smaller core capital city. To better describe the impact of these and other constraints, NARPAC has doctored up a chart from the earlier Federal Elements Plan. It combines the limits imposed by the L'Enfant City outline, the slopes and rims of the bowl, the extent of non-military federal properties, and, in red, the major under- utilized military properties.
The yellow area, currently almost entirely residential, represents the major areas that could be used for generating additional municipal revenues, were the residents to suddenly turn cooperative about urbanization. It does, however, include border areas (to the northwest and northeast) where edge cities are currently sprouting just outside the city limits and its building height limits. For greater details on this subject, please refer to NARPAC's analysis in the Upper Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Study.
District laws require that the mayor update the city's "Comprehensive Plan" at regular intervals. Under the pressure of other business, and with an evident lack of interest in long-range planning, this task was neglected during 2002, when the latest version was stipulated to be produced. The city is now undertaking a belated, but orderly process to produce a major revision to this key long-range plan, using outside consultants, and a group of interested experts and stakeholders. As is often the case, NARPAC has taken on a peripheral role in commenting on this process, and presents an informal summary of its analysis to date.
Of particular interest to NARPAC are the basic statements of the city's intentions for its own growth, and the interrelations between various documents, of which there is no shortage. In this case, the Comprehensive Plan, with its several separate detailed sections, the more detailed DC Transportation Plan (now also under review for a major periodic update), and the just-published Washington Metro Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) plan, all deal extensively with DC's future transportation plans and their economic consequences. Pertinent references from all of these documents will be summarized here, noting NARPAC's running comments in italics as appropriate.
INTRODUCTION TO THE OLD COMPREHENSIVE PLAN
In the process of developing the District elements of the Comprehensive Plan ("the Plan") and coordinating the widespread citizens review, the following ten (10) major themes were discerned:
(a) Stabilizing and improving the District's neighborhoods;
NOTE that there is no direct reference to the all-important, permanent presence of the nation's capital; the inseparable linkage to the burgeoning national capital metro area; or the need to ensure the financial viability of the city.
The Comprehensive Plan then presents a short section on the following subjects (each summarized loosely by NARPAC in parentheses below):
o Stabilizing and Improving the District's Neighborhoods
Eighteen chapters follow varying in length from 10 to 40 pages, including:
2. Economic Development
Chapters 2 and 5 are summarized below:
OLD CHAPTER 2: ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
This 19-page chapter presents a rational approach to the city's future. It appears to have been recently updated in some aspects. It's "declaration of major policies" includes the following excepts:
o The purpose of the economic development policies is to build upon
the District's role as the Nation's Capital and the economic center of
the National Capital region.
This chapter then goes on with separate sections on each of the following areas. (Excerpts in parentheses are chosen for their particular interest to NARPAC):
o Economic Development Goals
Continued NARPAC Commentary
NARPAC find the vast majority of the goals and objectives set out in the first half of this chapter to be "desirable, if not sufficient". Nevertheless, several important elements appear to be missing:
o The economic relationship between the shrinking (relatively) "core city" and its burgeoning suburbs is not developed. How should DC distinguish itself from the suburbs, while still offering attractions which keep it a "vibrant" centerpiece of the national capital metro area?
o There is little if any direct correlation between the attraction of new businesses, the retention of existing businesses; and the city's taxation policies. The current tax policies (and breaks) seem to attract marginal businesses that might not otherwise come into the city, while retaining tax exemptions and breaks on businesses for whom a Washington address is a sine qua non. Shouldn't DC seek to attract businesses willing to pay a premium to locate here, rather than demanding a subsidy?
o There is no attempt to settle the continuing debate over whether one more acre of commercial properties will bring in more net revenues to the city than one more acre of residential properties. NARPAC believes that there should be a conscious trend towards favoring businesses over residents, while city fathers seem to prefer the opposite. Why has the mayor suddenly set forth an objection to pull in 100,000 more residents by 2010, when the average DC household now costs the city more in services than it generates in revenues?
o These various economic development goals are entirely qualitative, and suffer from the lack of general quantitative objectives. How fast would DC like to increase the assessed value of its tax-paying commercial properties? How many additional day-time jobs would DC like to create by 2010?
OLD CHAPTER 5: TRANSPORTATION
In comparison to the economic development chapter (above), the transportation chapter seems to have more words, less substance, and no updates. It follows the same format, beginning with a "declaration of major policies", excerpted below:
o The District's transportation network strives to meet the diverse
needs of those who reside in, work in, or visit the District. It consists
of a modern transit system with subway and bus service, a highway, street,
and alley system, and special services for the elderly and handicapped
to move people within the District and throughout the metropolitan area.
The District's transportation network also includes transcontinental rail
service provided by Amtrak, commuter rail service....provided by Amtrak....VRE...and
MARC, ....and three airports.
o Today the District has a transportation system that meets its needs
generally. There are aspects of this system, however, that must be improved
and enhanced in order to comply with CAAA, ADA, and ISTEA, as well as
meet the mobility needs of the elderly and of school age children between
school and after school programs....
Individual sections bear the following titles, and include subsections excerpted parenthetically below both for substance and lack of it:
o Transportation Goal
o Transportation: General
o Use of Mass Transit
o Private Passenger Automobiles
o Streets and Alleys
o Air Transportation
o Waterfront Transportation
o Intermodal Transportation Facilities
o Public Action
Continued NARPAC Commentary
o There is no clear vision that available and efficient transportation drives the economic vitality and growth of the nation's capital city;
o There is (as yet) no mention of the new federal requirements for emergency evacuations;
o There are no quantitative long-term goals for expanding/improving DC's transportation network;
o There is no emphasis on the role of parking facilities, or of fare and parking fee structures, in providing incentives to switch from cars to public transit;
o There is no explicit support for the notion of adding new forms of "signature transportation systems" (as in amusement parks and trolleys?), and certainly no support for adding fixed-guideway systems to already crowded surface rights of way.
o There is virtually no mention of the existence of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) as there is for MWAA. There is therefore no correlation whatsoever between the WMATA ten-year plan and DC's inputs to it, or outputs from it.
o In all fairness, it appears obvious that this chapter of the Comprehensive Plan, unlike the Economic Development chapter, has received virtually no upgrading since it was written years ago. Nevertheless, in its existing version, it provided little if any basis for the existing Transportation Vision, Strategy and Action Plan (TVSAP).
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This page was updated on Jan 5, 2004
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