Urban planners envision a plan to connect the Kennedy Center to the National Mall

For decades, urban planners This rolling park stretches along the western edge of the nation’s capital, from the Kennedy Center to the Lincoln Memorial.

Families spread picnic blankets on grassy knolls and bicycles ride safely along car-free paths. Constitution Avenue and E Street expand into grander boulevards, connecting national monuments and tree-lined city blocks with sidewalk cafes in Foggy Bottom and the West End.

For the past 18 months, planners from the National Capital Planning Commission, the District government and the private sector have been working to document these visions, circulating conceptual designs to spur discussion in the hopes of bringing these ideas to fruition. An important goal is to extend the National Mall to the northwest, using the Kennedy Center as an anchor on the western side.

Last month, the planning committee presented the idea to the United States Commission on Fine Arts, one of several groups needed to gain support for such a monumental relocation. Matthew Frith, senior urban architect at the National Capital Planning Commission, said “unmasking” the current transport infrastructure would create more green space and “recover” the area’s natural beauty.

“The urban design concept was a way to add more ideas to the plan and show that there could be a better way for this part of the district,” Frith said.

Frith said discussions to develop the concept began about 18 months ago. The sketches are based on an existing long-range plan from 2009. The concept was devised in collaboration with the District Planning Agency, the Kennedy Center and the National Park Service, which manages land in the proposed area.

The planners also worked with technical experts, who provided recommendations.The sketches are designed to be a call to action rather than to provide a concrete, specific plan.

“This is definitely a long-term effort. It’s not something that’s going to happen right away, but it’s something that’s part of this design work and thinking about what this part of the neighborhood needs,” Frith said in an interview. “This is just kind of keeping the conversation going, keeping the excitement going, keeping the momentum going.”

Planners aim to create more efficient transportation infrastructure that will better connect the Foggy Bottom and West End neighborhoods, while also providing more land for cultural and commemorative uses, Frith said.

Such an idea has been floating around since the Kennedy Center was built, said Thomas Luebke, executive director of the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts.

One advantage of the latest design proposal is the land A reclamation project offering approximately 30 acres of rare real estate.

“[Commissioners] “There’s been general support for the idea,” Luebke said. “It’s one of those ideas that’s hard not to like because it brings so many good things. There’s a lot of competition for that monumental spot on the mall.”

The corridor includes a winding collection of freeway ramps leading to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, and such a major redesign is likely to face scrutiny from traffic engineers and commuters alike.

Frith said existing highway infrastructure physically separates the Kennedy Center and neighboring neighborhoods from the mall, and officials hope to improve both aesthetics and utility while maintaining current traffic flow.

“For this to take the next step, we’re going to need a transportation analysis,” Frith said. “The transportation infrastructure is not really efficient.”

The presentation offered key recommendations for planners and technical advisors to move forward from this preliminary stage.

  • A “Cultural District Development Authority to Promote the Vision” will be established.
  • Lobbying for Congressional support, including legislation to allow for federally led infrastructure reform and the redesign of federally managed lands.
  • Design an “E Street boulevard” as part of a “new cultural district.”

The report doesn’t provide specifics on how to implement those recommendations or even a timeline for when more serious discussions might begin, but for now, planners are hopeful that the conceptual designs will spark action.

“It’s a logical and necessary step for the city to consider,” Luebke said, “but someone has to drive it. That’s the key.”

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