Stories: The Smallest Quadrant
The Smallest Quadrant
Despite being a longtime resident of Washington, D.C., until recently, I had only stepped foot into the Southwest Quadrant a handful of times. Perhaps I overlooked it due to the highway that slices through the city’s underbelly, which cuts off the quadrant from its Northern half and squeezes it alongside the confluence of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. Or perhaps I stayed out because I first have to traverse the vast empty space on the Mall before arriving at a few dark underpasses beneath the SE-SW freeway, fixed portals from which pedestrians and vehicles emerge into Southwest’s otherworld- a sea of midcentury-style iconic buildings and town-home-ridged cul-de-sacs nestled along quiet, verdant streets.
Southwest D.C. interests me because of its prominence in the history of urban development--serving as a case study in massive architectural changes and residential displacement that shifted its demographics in the 1940s and 50s—and a reimaging of how it can again change in present day, given the current development efforts already underway or slated to occur. Southwest is unique in D.C. because of its socio-economic mix of residents, where middle-income, low-income and wealthier residents live in close proximity to each other, frequenting the same public amenities, churches, parks and local businesses. Any changes to the neighborhood will impact everyone in some way and may either shift or reinforce the current community dynamic birthed from renewal efforts past.
I reside in another part of the city, one that is nearly unrecognizable from how it looked a decade ago, due to a flurry of development. Attractive and vibrant streets have replaced derelict swaths of D.C. and have connected neighborhoods to each other, such that people can safely access, live in, play in, and travel through previously forbidding stretches of town. However as a more moneyed clientele and glossy buildings populate freshly minted parts of the city, how do newcomers and longtime residents interact with each other, or do they remain in separate spheres? How do the new changes, both structural and economic, impact longtime residents? What happens to lower income residents when housing prices rise? Does the new infrastructure bring opportunity for all, and if so, what does that opportunity look like? Who benefits from how public spaces are designed? How can the design of public space encourage healthy community dynamics, the fabric of any thriving city? How will new developments change the architectural character of Southwest D.C.?
As Southwest undergoes changes-- only half a century after recovering from its first major overhaul-- I plan to explore these questions, capturing viewpoints from residents, developers, local civic leaders and others with a stake in the littlest quadrant. An urbanite since birth, I seek to live in places that allow for a diverse demographic to flourish and am curious as to how the southwest pocket of Washington, D.C., will evolve. Over the next few years, I will focus on the shifts facing the neighborhood bordered by the SE-SW freeway to the north, Ft. McNair to the south, Maine Avenue to the west and South Capital Street to the east. I will also look at three other sections in Southwest that each have their distinct character and planned changes: The Wharf and historic Fish Market along the waterfront; L’Enfant Promenade, which is slated become an “eco-district”; and the planned developments at Buzzard Point. My aim is to capture this section of the city as it currently appears and as it changes so that we can look back on what it was, where we are now, and what it will become.