Retro-Future Washington, DC

 

View of street in SW Washington

When I visit Washington, DC, I generally stay in the quiet, friendly, tree-lined neighborhood known as Southwest.

View of SW

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.

Old and new building together

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.

 

Building on stilts

Buildings on stilts with highways running under them!

 

Underground parking zone

Soulless, creepy zones devoted entirely to automobiles!

 

More stilts

More stilts on top of crumbling overpasses!

 

Ugly structures and Smithsonian

… 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.

 

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