Creating a sense of place: Inspiration from DC's riverfronts

Updated: Sep 8, 2021

On September 29 Andrew Trueblood, chief of Washington DC’s planning department will participate in the Power of Ten along with Carol Coletta of the Memphis River Parks Partnership and Senator Bob Corker, who served as Mayor of Chattanooga. Trueblood will discuss DC's impressive transformation of its Potomac and Anacostia riverfronts and share best practices and lessons for our region. In lead up to the Power of Ten, we'll be sharing some background on the efforts in DC, Memphis, and Chattanooga.


Over the past decade DC has undertaken an effort to develop neighborhoods that embrace their riverfronts and create a strong sense of place.


The Wharf DC’s Southwest Waterfront, scarred by the building of I-395 and the urban renewal projects of the 1950-60s, was underdeveloped and disconnected from the heart of the city. In the early 2000s city leaders began laying the groundwork to correct the mistakes of the past and remake the area into a destination that was also a great place to work and live. Today The Wharf is a vibrant neighborhood of residences, restaurants, offices, entertainment venues, and public space. Embracing its waterfront location, The Wharf invites people to engage with the river. Visitors can rent kayaks and paddleboards, buy seafood from the century-old Municipal Fish Market, and take water taxis and sightseeing boat tours. The Wharf Marina welcome boaters with more than 400 slips.

From its conception The Wharf was designed to be a place for people to gather and interact. This effort went beyond the architectural challenge of creating spaces for people to congregate naturally to include programming to build community. Free concerts, festivals, giant games of Scrabble and Connect Four, and community yoga classes are just a few of the elements that invite visitors to engage. The Southwest Business Improvement District manages and programs the public spaces. Phase 1 of The Wharf opened in 2017 and Phase 2 is under way. When complete the total redevelopment cost is expected to be $2.5 billion, encompass 24 acres of land and contain 3.2 million square feet of retail, residential, entertainment, office, and hotel space along 1 mile of the Potomac River shoreline.

The Yards The Anacostia River has long been Washington DC’s second river. A slow moving, polluted little brother to the Potomac. But with a great deal of effort, the river is cleaner and DC is no longer turning its back to the Anacostia. The river is now a place for recreation and the heart of new, vibrant neighborhood.

The Yards neighborhood is a 42-acre development that features 2.2 million square feet of office space, 2,800 residences, and numerous restaurants, shops, and markets. The Yards abuts the MLB stadium, Nationals Park, and is centered around Yards Park, an award-winning public space that features a wading pool, pedestrian bridge, and entertainment space. The Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District manages and programs Yards Park.

Phase 2 of The Yards is underway. It will add 3.4 million square feet of office, mixed-income residential offerings, restaurants, retail, and public amenities. New, public green spaces throughout the neighborhood and 43,000 square feet of new and reclaimed park space will be added to the waterfront.

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