Imagine the Future of Riverfront

The Capitol Riverfront

Canoeing and kayaking on the Anacostia River.

Happy New Year to the Hill Rag community of readers! I wish you a prosperous and successful 2017, a year filled with surprises and exceeded expectations.

Tradition has it that we make a list of personal resolutions for the New Year and try to live them throughout the year. I want to take a slightly different course and practice some poetic license by playing a game I call “What If?” It is always of interest to consider the “art of the possible” for your life, your neighborhood, and your city. The following musings are thoughts on what is possible for a number of areas in or adjacent to the Anacostia River corridor.

In honor of the start of the New Year, let’s examine a series of What Ifs and their impacts on the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood.

Anacostia River
Imagine a swimmable and fishable Anacostia River that allows full human contact with the water, not just on surface craft. The goal of DC Water’s Clean River’s Project is to create just such a high-quality water environment, one that allows swimming and the consumption of fish from the river. I like to think of public beaches along the river’s edge, being able to have innertube “float” trips down the river on a hot summer day, and being able to swim off of powerboats and sailboats. A fully implemented riverwalk trail system would connect the Tidal Basin to Bladensburg County Park, and major renovations would make the National Park Service’s Anacostia Park even more user-friendly and water-accessible. There would be a bicycle/pedestrian bridge to the National Arboretum, as well as larger boat dock facilities there. The river corridor and its string of destinations would become the Rock Creek Park on our side of the city.

Anacostia Riverwalk Trail
The extension of the riverwalk trail to Buzzard Point and beyond to The Wharf is a critical improvement that provides additional access. What if this trail system was designed as floating boardwalks that interact with the river’s edge, and new wetlands that also serve to mitigate tidal surges while naturally filtering storm water runoff? The trail could become the attraction at the water’s edge everyone has envisioned, while connecting Southeast to Southwest and giving users a close and personal view of the river.

More Marinas and Boathouses
Boathouse Row east of the 11th Street Bridge and the new Yards Park Marina illustrate how marinas and boathouses bring people to the river and allow access. What if there were more boathouses, docks, and marinas along the riverfront? What if there were more kayak and canoe docking facilities, and water taxi stops that connected to a larger river taxi system?

Poplar Point
This assemblage of public and private lands could become an additional park anchor and riverfront destination. Part of the site is already being considered for the Department of Labor’s new office building, and it could house residential and retail development as well. While located across the river and not in the Capitol Riverfront, Poplar Point can be an exciting neighborhood and major open space system that dramatically engages the Anacostia. What if the environmental remediation and infrastructure work were completed, the land was transferred to the District, and a master developer for the site was selected? We could see an additional park and wetlands of over 80 acres with frontage on the river, and a new community of several million square feet.

Lower Barracks Row
This sub-area of the Capitol Riverfront has languished from a development standpoint but has great potential and a rich inventory of historic structures. Two proposed condominium projects at 801 Virginia Ave. and 818 Potomac Ave. SE can provide a total of approximately 85 new condo units and jump start new development. National Community Church is a large landowner, with the Car Barn property and other holdings at the southwest corner of Virginia Avenue and Eighth Street. It could develop two signature projects that would anchor the area. The Humane Rescue Alliance could build its consolidated headquarters building on the old Exxon site at M and 11th streets; it would be a multi-use animal care facility with training classes, a retail storefront, and vet services. Lower Barracks Row could become a destination in its own right, as well as a transition from Capitol Hill to the Capitol Riverfront.

Virginia Avenue Park
A large portion of Virginia Avenue Park is being used for the Virginia Avenue Tunnel construction staging. The park will be rebuilt, and Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B member Kirsten Oldenburg is working with the DC Parks and Recreation Department, the Riverfront Business Improvement District (BID), and other stakeholders on a redesign based on the community’s vision. Some early goals have been for play space for children, athletic field space, a dog park that would front on 11th Street, and the protection of the existing community gardens. The park could be an open space anchor and amenity in the eastern section of the Capitol Riverfront.

Buzzard Point
The new DC United Soccer stadium is seen as a catalytic anchor for Buzzard Point and mixed-use development. Two office buildings where the Coast Guard once was located are being renovated as residential buildings with ground-floor retail. This could prove the value of Buzzard Point as a new neighborhood on the river and encourage additional development. Streets could be rebuilt as linear parks that connect to the river and other smaller open spaces. Retail would follow the residential, as well as the soccer stadium.

North/South Connectivity
Connections to other activity and employment centers are important for any neighborhood, especially with transit. The Southwest BID, ANC6D, and the Capitol Riverfront BID have expressed a desire for better transit connections with the soccer stadium, as well as more direct north/south connections to downtown. What if we had a dedicated rapid bus transit lane from the soccer stadium through the US Capitol complex to Union Station? This would connect visitors, residents, and employees to the Green, Blue/Orange/Silver, and Red Lines. What if a similar line was implemented from The Wharf up to the Mall and the Chinatown area? Both Southwest and Southeast would have enhanced north/south access and connectivity to other centers of activity and Metro transit stations.

M Street as a Boulevard
M Street is a major east/west connection between the Southwest Waterfront and the Capitol Riverfront neighborhoods. It functions largely as a vehicular movement corridor, but what if it could be redesigned to be a beautiful linear park space that also accommodates dedicated bus lanes, tree shaded sidewalks for pedestrians, and vehicular travel? It could also be a display place for new public art and offer rain gardens and bio-swales for storm water management. Nearby I Street could become the bicycle connection between our communities, and the intersection of I Street and South Capitol Street could be redesigned with safer crossing for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Many of these scenarios could occur over the next 5-10 years, but it will take vision, political will, and public investment. Then again, that is how the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative started over 15 years ago. We must dream big and advocate for new ideas.

Best wishes for a successful and happy new year! Come and see all the new activity in the Capitol Riverfront and join us for some ice skating at Canal Park.


Michael Stevens is president of the Capitol Riverfront BID.