Yesterday afternoon, four men planted their feet, lowered their center of gravity, and heaved their collective weight into a van stuck in the mud in the middle of Franklin Park. The men were employees of the National Park Service, which manages the bulk of D.C.’s green space, including the downtown square that’s fallen into a messy state of disrepair. The van, bearing the Park Service’s green and brown coat of arms, didn’t budge.
The symbolism couldn’t have been better timed. Just a few hours later, the Park Service and D.C.’s Office of Planning held a public meeting to reveal four possible designs for an overhauled Franklin Park.
Park Service regulations have generally restricted amenities like cafes, playgrounds, and restrooms on D.C.’s federally owned squares and circles—-the kinds of amenities that would inject needed life into Franklin Park, which often feels desolate outside of work hours. But the Park Service has indicated that it might be willing to go beyond its usual bounds in sprucing up Franklin Park. The proposals unveiled yesterday reflect that newfound flexibility.
Bob Vogel, the Park Service’s superintendent for the National Mall and memorial parks, said the proposals took into account feedback from the public, which asked for restrooms, food service, and the restoration of historic resources. “And did I mention playgrounds?” he added, referring to a design element common to all the proposals.
The first two proposals, both iterations of a concept called “The Center,” leave the park mostly unchanged, with a focus on the center of the park, including a “refurbished quatrefoil fountain, framed by seasonal plantings.” This concept also includes a children’s play area on the east side and a slightly moved Commodore John Barry statue. At the north end would be a new terrace; the two proposals differ in that one includes a building there to house restrooms and information.
The next proposal is called “The Edge.” Like the other proposals, it includes a children’s play area in the eastern part of the park, a shifted Barry statue, and a restored fountain. Here, though, the terrace, or “plaza,” would move to the south side of the park, flanked by two buildings, one for a cafe and restrooms and the other for park information. There would also be a water feature at the north end of the park that would extend across to the children’s play area.
Finally, there’s “The Diagonal Concept,” so named because of the diagonal path cutting from the park’s southwest corner to its northeast corner. This proposal involves some slightly bigger changes, including moving the Barry statue to the north side of the park and creating a plaza with a cafe in its place on 14th Street. An interactive fountain at the center of the park could be turned off to accommodate events there. There would also be a paved pedestrian mall to “allow park users to promenade along the southern edge of the park.”
The plans would have differing effects on the park’s existing tree canopy: The first plan would preserve 90 percent of the trees, while the last plan would preserve just 49 percent.
The Park Service will be accepting public comments on the designs until March 14 at this website.
Renderings from the National Park Service, the D.C. Office of Planning, and the Downtown Business Improvement District