Mount Vernon Square has the potential to be a really great place in the District of Columbia. With the Carnegie Library and its surrounding park land, the square already is a beautiful space, but it could -- and should -- be much more. The D.C. Office of Planning and former Shaw resident Rob Goodspeed both studied and prepared reports Mount Vernon Square.
First, in 2004, the DC Office of Planning produced Mount Vernon Square: A Design Workbook for the Mount Vernon Square District, Washington, DC. The Office of Planning proffers a flashy makeover of the Square that I don't really like. That said, the Workbook advances some suggestions that are intriguing, such as enlivening 8th Street and the tech world sky bridge, making over the facades of the glass buildings framing the south of the square, placing interesting and eye-catching public art throughout the area, and creating and enforcing a Mt. Vernon Square brand through street furniture and other urban elements.
Second, in 2007, Rob Goodspeed studied the square and made several recommendations for improving it. Most notably, he posits that the square needs better architectural definition; its surrounding buildings need to "articulate reflect the overall square shape of the space." Among other things, he also suggests that 1) 8th Street be opened to automobile traffic; The visibility of the retail on 8th Street between I and K Streets be improved; and 3) The city should create programming to better utilize square space.
As echoed in both studies, I think enlivening the edges of the square is key to the square itself achieving its potential as a great public space in D.C. Several things are needed to accomplish this. The buildings to its south need ground floor retail and restaurants. The sidewalks in front of these buildings should be widened to accommodate outdoor cafe seating. Additionally, 8th Street between I and K Streets needs commercial vibrancy. I agree with Rob Goodspeed's assessment that the street should be re-opened to automobile traffic, as doing so would create greater connectivity wiht points south. I also agree with Rob that when new buildings are constructed along 7th and 9th Streets near the square, their frontage should be as close to the square as possible to create better definition of the square.
I also think that pedestrian safety needs to be enhanced around the square. Better-marked cross walks (perhaps even cross-walks made with pavers) and traffic calming devices would provide easier access to the space. Restoring 9th Street to two way traffic in this area could enhance the pedestrian experience.
Finally, the square needs more consistent and visible programming. Significantly, the Carnegie Library needs a raison d'etre (other than being primarily a for-rent event space). Recurring events -- such as farmers' markets, festivals, and/or Fridays at Five -- would be a great draw to the square.
Image credits: Office of Planning (top) and Rob Goodspeed (bottom)