“Urban renewal” originally described a progressive, well-executed approach to remaking ailing cities in the 1960s. Today it is equated with wholesale destruction of urban neighborhoods and displacement of thousands of citizens. In Washington, the epicenter for this phenomenon was a large swath of Southwest, D.C. Yet although the results of such projects elsewhere were soulless superblocks punctuated by bland architecture, the new Southwest was of a remarkably high quality. Architects like Chloethiel Woodard Smith used the vocabulary of modernism to design enduring residential communities. Urban renewal may have forced stark elimination of 19th-century Southwest, yet Woodward Smith’s designs exemplify why planners placed great hope in redevelopment. As these buildings come of age and are eligible for landmark status, this is the perfect opportunity to explore what might be worth preserving and gain inspiration from the successful restorations of Arena Stage and the former Marina View Towers. We’ll also identify what has already been lost, noting the tension between preserving urban renewal landscape plans and developing densely near public transit hubs.
Led by Carolyn