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D.C., National Park Service Unveil Designs For New Franklin Park

Franklin Park occupies five acres of land in downtown D.C., but it's rundown and underused. 
WAMU/Martin Austermuhle
Franklin Park occupies five acres of land in downtown D.C., but it's rundown and underused. 


Franklin Park occupies five acres in the heart of downtown D.C., but on any given day, it's often devoid of people. Now the D.C. Office of Planning, Downtown Business Improvement District and National Park Service are hoping that a long-overdue redesign and rehabilitation of the park will serve to revitalize it.

On Wednesday, preliminary designs for a new Franklin Park were unveiled, marking the first step in a long process to transform the federal park bounded by I and K streets NW and 13th and 14th streets NW. The three proposed designs would largely keep Franklin Park's current shape and structure, fix paths, renovate the central fountain and find new ways to draw visitors to the middle of the park.

But in a somewhat dramatic shift for the Park Service, the proposed designs also envision a children's play area that would serve local residents, a terrace or plaza where visitors could sit, a café, and a new interactive fountain. According to Bob Vogel, the Park Service's Superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, the idea is to make Franklin Park a draw for the locals that live closest to it.

"We do a great job on the National Mall being a place for visitors to come from around the world and the nation, but Franklin Park and all of our uptown parks are very important to District residents, so we want to connect with them. We hope this will be a great place for tourists to come, but really we're looking at focusing on D.C. residents and how we can make this a fun, exciting place," he says.

Vogel said Franklin Park would serve as an example of the Park Service's Urban Parks Initiative, which seeks to transform federal parks located in cities across the country. That weighs especially heavily on D.C., where the federal government controls over 6,700 acres of parkland, fully 88 percent of all parks within the city.

It is also a reflection of the reality of how D.C. is growing: from 2000 to 2010, more than half of the 30,000 new residents in D.C. settled in downtown areas, according to the D.C. Office of Revenue Analysis.

"We're seeing that the transition in the community of D.C., there's a great need for recreation for young people. We started talking about that, and the need for playgrounds and where we could do that, and Franklin Park seemed like a great place to look," says Vogel.

Bryant Square Park and Madison Square Park in New York City, along with other parks in cities across the country, serve as examples of how urban parks can be revitalized, according to staff from the D.C. Office of Planning and Park Service. Any changes to Franklin Park won't come quickly, though — a federally mandated environmental assessment will take the majority of 2014, and then funding will have to be identified for the project.

Still, advocates for a new Franklin Park are happy to see that the process has started, and expect that the final result will help transform how people view and use the area.

"We want to not only get it back to where it should be, but even aspire slightly higher to make this a real destination park. It is the largest green space in D.C., and it needs to rise to its potential," says Ellen Jones, the director of infrastructure and sustainability at the Downtown BID.

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