Federal buildings don’t have to be forbidding fortresses whose only engagement with the city is to create traffic in and out each day. Yet many of our federal buildings fail to interact with the city around them, adding nothing except sometimes-attractive architecture to the streetscape.

The National Capital Planning Commission has been pushing for federal buildings to better connect with the city where they sit, and the General Services Administration, which controls most federal buildings, has established a Good Neighbor Program to use federal property to benefit the community.

The Reagan Building has hosted many events in its plaza, and the new USDOT headquarters has a “transportation walk” showcasing transportation-related art (though security guards have sometimes hassled photographers trying to enjoy and take pictures of the art).

GSA is also now pushing agencies to incorporate more ground-floor retail into their buildings. Security considerations, whether real or imagined, have led to many recent buildings that look more like military compounds than office buildings. More recently, planners have been pushing for designs that contain a secure area “wrapped” by an outer area which could include shops open to the public. And GSA is exploring such a design for its own headquarters in Foggy Bottom.

NCPC planners Shane Dettman and David Zaidain will be joining us next Thursday at 1 pm for our next live chat to talk about this issue. You can also peruse NCPC’s video and report on these initiatives.

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David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.