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Sure, there’s the $150 million for D.C.-based firms, the 676 units of housing, the corner park, the 4,000 permanent jobs that the massive new development at 10th and H Streets NW is expected to generate. But the thing that gets me most excited about CityCenterDC? The pedestrian-oriented “alleys” that will trace their way behind the buildings, providing a place for people to walk without having to compete with cars.
D.C.’s neighborhoods, of course, are blessed with many wide alleys, many of which are lovely private spaces for the denizens of the buildings that surround them. But the ones downtown are mostly inaccessible and unpleasant, used only for loading and trash. What Shalom Baranes has created in his master plan for the 10-acre campus is a grid of pathways intersecting in a central plaza that could become one of the city’s nicest public spaces—think the Portrait Gallery’s courtyard without the guarded doors, or Dupont Circle without the moat of cars.
But they won’t become active and welcoming places automatically. Eighth street just south of Mt. Vernon square is closed to cars, but could hardly be called a welcoming space; it’s more disorienting, and few people even realize it’s there. In the interest of giving people a reason to walk through, the project team is planning a mix of “specialty retail” and casual dining to line those interior spaces. And according to Hines executive Howard Riker, they’ve also budgeted over a million dollars a year to program those areas, which may involve temporarily closing the newly-reopened I Street for special events. So grit your teeth for the next three years while it’s under construction, and thank Qatar when it’s done—it may look like Bethesda, but it’s probably the best we can expect.