A New Urbanist (edit: see comments for update) proposal to channelize the Anacostia and extend a modified version of the L’Enfant Plan to its newly narrowed banks, summarized here, is attracting a bit of attention here in DC (also here, here, and here).
Setting aside both the plan’s lack of interest in even hinting at mechanisms for dealing with the legal and regulatory challenges it would surely encounter (though, to be fair, I think its legitimate and even instructive to do so at times) and tone-deaf approach to social justice1, I find the plan’s approach to the nature/city interface deeply troubling, as the plan claims to create a great deal of new land through the channelization of the river, but a quick comparison of the before-and-after plans shows that the vast majority of the “new land” is actually acquired by altering land-use patterns on existing land, which makes it hard not to think that the plan (a) expresses a deep-seated distaste for wetlands (exactly the sort of retrograde classicism which New Urbanists work hard to assure us their opponents are projecting onto them) and (b) is interested in channelizing the river for the sake of channelizing the river (because, that way, it looks more like cities built in the heyday of classicism look).
A comparison with Michael Van Valkenburgh’s Toronto Port Lands project, which also adds a great deal of density at the mouth of a river, but does so while “balancing.. the needs of the environment and the needs of the city” (in the words of Andrew Blum’s excellent essay) is not favorable. The Van Valkenburgh team arrived at urban form through intensive collaboration with ecologists and hydrologists; fans of the Anacostia plan seem to assume that ecology and hydrology can be safely ignored in the design of cities, thinking that so long as the overall density of the metropolitan area increases, the plan must have beneficial environmental impacts. Density is, broadly speaking, good, but there’s no reason to think that all density is equivalent in effect upon environmental systems, and every reason to think that incorporating the insights of scientists who specialize in the environmental systems urban designs impact into the design process will result in better density. The problem with fetishizing the past in reaction to the problems of the present is that it easily obscures lessons learned in the present.
[via the bellows]