A view from Interstate-395 and the 14th Street Bridge that helps you visualize… (Hoffman-Madison Waterfront/ )
The land east of Nationals Park is already built up, and the pace is accelerating. An estimated 35,000 daytime visitors, workers and new residents are dressing up the Anacostia River front with restaurants and lofts. An upscale 50,000-square-foot grocery store is on the way.
Next up is a project called the Wharf, slated for 27 acres east of the 14th Street Bridge along Maine Avenue SW and Water Street near the Fish Market. Groundbreaking for the first phase is planned for spring; the ultimate aim is millions of square feet of buildings, 20 restaurants, three hotels, 500 boat slips, a concert hall and festival grounds.
All of the burgeoning development is being helped along by an agency that just years earlier might have been seen as an unlikely partner: the Metropolitan Police Department. Chief Cathy L. Lanier is embedding police commanders with developers in the belief that the way things are built can influence the behaviors of criminals and potential victims, much as speed bumps can slow cars.
Last month, Lanier; Daniel P. Hickson, commander of the department’s First District; and developers met at the future site of the Wharf to pore over a scale model and discuss surveillance cameras and sight lines. Hickson called the model “very impressive” even as he contemplated finding a contingent of officers to patrol an area that, at present, requires relatively little attention.
The concept of police working with developers is not unique to Washington, but experts say Lanier’s department is ahead of many of its peers. While some offer a stock list of design recommendations, D.C. police make specific suggestions about safety measures as blueprints are being drawn, well before the first buckets of concrete are poured.
The District learned its lesson with Gallery Place. The explosion of entertainment, restaurants and night life in the area is seen as a cornerstone of the District’s redevelopment. But the crowds and traffic have challenged police, who bemoan a missed opportunity to help design a more safety-oriented downtown when it was first envisioned decades ago.
Bernard Melekian, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, said such efforts take “community policing to the next level.”
“It’s not going on everywhere, and it should,” said Melekian, former police chief of Pasadena, Calif. “Once these projects are done, the police are purely reactionary.”
Police have long sought to promote public safety through design, encouraging such common-sense features as bright streetlights, discouraging secluded footpaths and laying out roads to make it difficult to circle a block.
Today, however, police across the country offer even more detailed ideas.
In Los Angeles, police encourage gardeners to plant blackberry bushes because the spiny branches are hard for burglars to crawl through. Seattle police urge bank managers to trim hedges so that the front door is visible from the street. And in San Diego, police warn against street planters that, while visually appealing, might clog sidewalks if used as stools.
The idea, Melekian says, is to merge the goals of developers, who want to know, for example, how many people can fit onto a sidewalk, and police, who want to know whether a building’s doors swing in or out and how that will affect the flow of pedestrians.
The District goes a step further, putting officers at the table with developers as projects are being designed. The process is informal, with the department reaching out to developers of major initiatives to request a seat at the table. When developers agree, Lanier says, police can contribute while changes can still be made with the stroke of a pen instead of the rumble of a bulldozer.
“The meetings are critical,” Lanier said in an e-mail. “Having discussions with those who are leading the development allows us to identify issues on both sides before they arise. That is our best chance for success.”
The packed Gallery
Minutes after 9 p.m. on a recent Saturday, Gallery Place is already on its way to capacity. A police commander, stuck in traffic outside the Verizon Center, is watching the bulging crowd spill onto Seventh Street NW with a worried eye.
People pile out of the Metro station; they stream in and out of movies and restaurants; they try to walk where others want to hang out. They are everywhere. It’s a recipe for trouble, where a bump can turn into a shove that can turn into a punch that can turn into a fight.
“The sidewalk is too small,” explains Hickson. A 37-year veteran of the force, Hickson runs a small army of officers taxed with safety in many of the city’s burgeoning neighborhoods, from the Southwest Waterfront north through Capitol Hill into NoMa, the H Street corridor and Gallery Place.