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American Society of Landscape Architects


June 2005 Issue

A Canal Ran Through It
A park takes center stage in a waterfront neighborhood’s rebirth.

By George Hazelrigg, Associate ASLA

A Canal Ran Through It
Courtesy Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd.

The site for what will become the first park built in Washington, D.C., in more than 20 years is three narrow blocks in a neglected section of the city’s southeastern reaches, 1.8 acres near the likewise long-neglected and polluted Anacostia River. In the nineteenth century, a Washington canal system originally planned by Pierre L’Enfant ran along the three blocks, but the canal never really worked, became an eyesore and open sewer, and was filled in later that century. Now one block is an overgrown lot; the other two are used to park the District’s school buses. Together, they are surrounded by boarded-up public housing destined for removal, a closed trash transfer station, a newspaper’s abandoned warehouse, and construction cranes.

At a public forum last November, four design competition finalists—Atelier Dreiseitl working with Stephen Stimson Associates, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd. (GGN), Hood Design, and Sasaki Associates—presented their proposals for converting the three-block site into a new civic park. D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams announced the following month that GGN had been selected by the competition jury to design the new Washington Canal Park, a project that would become “the heart of the mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood that is emerging in what was once a forgotten part of our city.”

A member of one of the finalist teams recalls the first time he visited the site. He asked himself, “What in the world are we doing here?” And then he became familiar with the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative (AWI), of which the new Washington Canal Park is the first project. “I saw that the AWI presented a true vision for moving the city forward. The winning design team would have a chance to be part of it.”

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