When I visit Washington, DC, I generally stay in the quiet, friendly, tree-lined neighborhood known as Southwest.
It’s not the well-known Washington of stately neoclassic buildings, famous monuments, and cherry trees.
Much of Southwest was wiped out by so-called urban renewal in the 1950s and 60s, when planners were in love with the idea of destroying the old-fashioned urban grid, with its pedestrians and human-scaled buildings and street life, and replacing it all with freeways, giant buildings, and parking lots.
Such a freeway separates Southwest from the very heart of Washington — from the National Mall, in fact — and the result is incoherent and strange. The zone between Southwest and the Mall is a sort of demented, brutalist Radiant City gone dark.
Buildings on stilts with highways running under them!
Soulless, creepy zones devoted entirely to automobiles!
More stilts on top of crumbling overpasses!
… All within a few minutes’ stroll of the Smithsonian Castle, the other museums, and the Mall.
It’s the result of a conscious decision by planners and politicians to favor the automobile over people — a bias that is still very much evident in the Washington metro area today. I hope that some of my future posts will examine the consequences of that decision.