This article was first published in May 27, 2014. We're publishing it again because it's still interesting!
Capping an underground parking garage with a public park is such a nice idea. It’s a shame DC’s most prominent example is such a terrible park.
The South Capitol parking crater is undeniably one of DC’s most inappropriately underused plots of land. It’s six complete blocks of parking lots, all in a cluster mere steps from the US Capitol.
By all rights these blocks should be active and vital parts of downtown DC. Instead, they’re under the jurisdiction of the Architect of the Capitol, and thus off-limits to the normal rules of city building. In the vacuum of capitol complex land management, vast parking lots for Congresspeople and their staffs are a higher priority than housing, amenities, or attractive streetscapes.
So it’s nice that federal planners at least tried to spruce up this neighborhood-sized sea of asphalt with Spirit of Justice Park, a cap atop a two-block section of parking that’s covered with green space.
Unfortunately, it’s a lousy park.
The biggest problem is that rather than sink the parking below grade, the park is raised a level above the sidewalk. As a result, many people only see an imposing wall, and have no idea the park behind it even exists.
People who actually want to enter and use the park must find one of only four entrances over the entire two-block area. Of the four entrances, two face the congressional office buildings and one faces the street between the two park blocks (though you can’t walk between them directly), leaving only a single entrance on the south side facing away from the capitol complex towards the public city.
Meanwhile, there are no visible entrances facing east nor west.
That’s not the only problem. With a parking garage directly beneath the grass, the park’s soil is too shallow to support trees large enough to provide shade or protection against wind. The park is uncomfortably hot in the summer, and cold in winter.
Finally, management apparently only cares about capitol complex workers, because the fountains at the center of each block are switched off over the weekend.
The overall message is that the public is barely tolerated in this park, not really welcome, and certainly not a priority. As a result, the public mostly stays away.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.