Pennsylvania Avenue from 3rd to 15th Streets, NW
Dear Mr. Acosta:
In its meeting of 17 May, the Commission of Fine Arts was pleased to hear an information presentation by the National Capital Planning Commission staff on the Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative to provide planning guidance for the area of Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, between the U.S. Capitol and the White House. The Commission welcomed this effort to update the planning work of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation from several decades ago, and provided the following comments to assist in the development of the initiative.
The Commission members recognized the inherent tension between the everyday use of this dense urban area and the special national role of the avenue; given the larger scale of this national setting, they suggested that some conventional planning goals for urban streets may not be appropriate throughout the study area. Understanding that the initiative is intended to enliven the everyday experience of the study area’s workers, residents, and visitors, they commented that the presented design analysis was overly focused on the iconic axial view along Pennsylvania Avenue toward the U.S. Capitol, which will likely not be significantly affected by this initiative. They instead recommended further analysis and planning of the area’s sidewalk spaces, including section and perspective drawings, to develop a concept of zones for pedestrians to gather, walk, or linger. They supported the strategy of reintroducing small retail kiosks along the sidewalks, commenting that a relatively large number of kiosks would be more effective than only a few scattered across the study area. They emphasized that innovative programming and use of the public realm is essential—both for everyday activities and for civic events, which include protests as well as celebratory gatherings. They encouraged the improved maintenance and repair of public spaces, while commenting that the improved physical condition will be only a partial solution; they suggested more creative programming of underused spaces, such as promoting outdoor events in John Marshall Park.
The Commission members acknowledged that the planning challenges of this area have origins dating back many decades and even centuries, including the wide public rights-of-way, the large scale and single use of buildings such as those in the Federal Triangle, and the presence of internal cafeterias within institutional buildings that reduce the lunchtime customer base for the public retail spaces. They noted that the high rental rates in the area may also discourage further retail growth, and they suggested considering how to attract the visitors and vendors who are prevalent nearby along the National Mall. They expressed regret that the segment of Pennsylvania Avenue within the U.S. Capitol Grounds is used as a parking lot, inevitably hindering the treatment of the southeastern portion of the study area.
The Commission looks forward to further consultation as the Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative moves forward; the Commission’s role in the study area also extends to design review of federal and D.C. Government projects, as well as private-sector projects under the Shipstead-Luce Act jurisdiction. Please continue to coordinate with the staff in the preparation of future submissions and throughout the planning process.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Marcel Acosta, Executive Director
National Capital Planning Commission
401 9th Street, NW, Suite 500-N
Washington, DC 20004
cc: Peter May, National Park Service
Mina Wright, General Services Administration
Eric Shaw, D.C. Office of Planning
Jeff Marootian, D.C. Department of Transportation