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Redevelopment Contest Targets South Capitol

A student team from Harvard University won $50,000 for its proposal to redevelop a site along the South Capitol Street corridor, near the Anacostia River waterfront, just as planning officials in D.C and in Congress are throwing around ideas to strengthen the southern gateway to Capitol Hill.

“This hit at the perfect moment,” said Andy Altman, the D.C. director of planning. “We won’t take this as a finished proposal, but it’s good for us to think outside the box and have a fresh perspective.”

The judging of the Urban Land Institute’s Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition comes at a time when legislation to improve the area is under way and will likely be introduced in the next few months, Altman said.

In the past, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has been a driving force behind redevelopment in this area.

The lawmaker said it’s important to address how to develop a more efficient and aesthetically pleasing southeast gateway to the nation’s capital city for residents, commuters and tourists. The redevelopment will provide much-needed relief in traffic congestion for commuters who travel the South Capitol Street corridor, Hoyer said.

“[The student competition] provided students with an excellent opportunity to face real challenges in urban planning using,” Hoyer said.

Specifically, the Harvard team was asked to prepare a redevelopment scheme for 16 blocks encompassing the South Capitol and M Street Southeast intersection and the Navy Yard Metro station, an area that holds a neighborhood of low-density subsidized and market-rate residential units. The light industrial facilities and small commercial buildings there are cut off from each other by the busy South Capitol Street corridor and from surrounding neighborhoods by the elevated Southeast Freeway.

The students’ design, “City Beautiful + City Real,” would extend the neoclassical “City Beautiful” of Washington’s monumental core into the South Capitol study area, where the core collides with the “City Real.”

Harvard team members were Kirstin Garcia, Jeff Baxter, Omar Brownson, Cathy Lynch and Seth Riseman. They said their overall intent is to create a live-work community that appeals to a “creative class” of residents.

This collision is marked by the intersection of South Capitol and M streets, which becomes a fulcrum around which a transit-oriented, mixed-use neighborhood would develop. The team’s first phase focused on the creation of a vibrant 15-acre core containing loft residential units and live-work spaces; neighborhood-oriented retail, bar and restaurant, and community arts space; a grocery store; and public space along a section off the South Capitol Street corridor.

While Altman says many of the ideas generated by the students contain interesting direction, the fact still remains that the project was completed very quickly. However, he said the team really seemed to grasp the energy of the redevelopment process.

“The students really understood that this is one of the largest waterfront redevelopment projects in the country,” he said. “We are taking this inspiration they gave us. They really understood that we are trying to build a neighborhood here.”

This competition is available to graduate students who are pursuing real estate-related studies at a North American university, including programs in real estate development, urban planning, urban design, architecture and landscape architecture.

Each team submitted an entry based on their own master plan, which included use of a $50 million hypothetical appropriation of public funds to cover the first phase of the project and spur private investment for the initial phase and subsequent phases. The Harvard team was one of four finalists chosen.

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