D.C. Loosens Up its Tie

Amanda Kolson Hurley surveys the innovative architecture and urban planning transforming America's notoriously stodgy capital into a model of progressive urbanism.
June 22, 2012, 7am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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When one thinks of D.C.'s built environment, the first thing to come to mind isn't likely daring architecture or cutting-edge planning. At least partly due to its restrictive zoning and tradition of classically inspired architecture, Washington has long been considered, "one of the most traditional and risk-averse cities in the country," writes Hurley. But a number of recent and planned projects from world-renowned architecture and planning firms are poised to set the city on a different course.

Not surprisingly, in a city that serves as the seat of the federal government and a cornucopia of public institutions, Hurley credits public leadership (and the projects they've commissioned) with facilitating the city's change of ethos. 

One example of such leadership is the recently unveiled Sustainable DC effort. "For years, city leaders have been working to shape a different Washington: dense, diverse, green, and wholly urban in a way that the Washington of the 1980s and early 1990s-starkly divided by income and race, and bereft of people downtown after office hours-wasn't. In April, Mayor Gray unveiled what may be the signature initiative of his administration, Sustainable DC, which aims to make D.C. the greenest city in the United States over the next 20 years....Much of the vision behind Sustainable D.C. comes from Harriet Tregoning, the rock-star planning director and a founder of the Smart Growth movement."

"The district leadership has actively engaged in urban improvements, despite the oddness of having all these multiple jurisdictions in control," says Lionel Lynch, head of the new D.C. office of HR&A Advisors. "They've tried to make sure there's a quality public realm. You definitely feel that the District is getting its own identity, or that it's becoming a lot more dominant over the federal government, in a way that is self-reinforcing."

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Published on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 in The Architect's Newspaper
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