D.C.'s Canal Park Serves Up History and Hot Dogs

Though it had rained all day on Monday of the 2016 Policy and Advocacy Conference, skies began to clear as the afternoon sessions wrapped up. A little policy conference magic, just in time for the evening reception at Canal Park.

Canal Park was one of the first parks built as part of the District of Columbia’s Anacostia Waterfront Initiative. The city park has served as an economic catalyst for developments in the area, beautifying the urban landscape for hotels and apartment complexes in the area. The ideal location at M and Second Streets SE a few blocks from the Anacostia Riverfront and Nationals Ballpark — and only half a block away from the Navy Yard Metro Station, where our Metro-riding attendees were able to find it easily.

Mike Stevens, AICP, kicked off the reception. He praised the instrumental work of planners in making public spaces like Canal Park possible. Stevens marveled at the turnaround the Southwest quadrant of D.C. has been able to make over the past decade.

Michael Stevens, AICP, president of the Capitol Riverfront BID, kicks off the evening reception in Canal Park. Photo by Samantha Schipani.

The three-acre park’s design pays homage to its heritage as a waterfront park, with a linear rain garden and three pavilions evoking the floating barges that once meandered down the canal. Twisting David Hess sculptures punctuate the lawn areas, and multicolored stairs lead up to cloudy translucent cubes on the pavilions on the mezzanine. A 9,000-square-foot pavilion hosts a cafe dining area, utilities for the park and winter ice rink, and the occasional hot dog feast for hungry planners.

The park gets its name from the Washington City Canal, which connected to the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers via the National Mall. As urban water systems transformed in the early 1900s, the canal was paved over to form Canal Street. For years, the area that eventually became the park was used as a district bus parking lot.

Since its opening in 2012, Canal Park has served as a model of sustainable design. It has obtained both SITES and LEED Gold certifications. The rain garden serves as a stormwater system estimated to save the city 1.5 million gallons of potable water every year. The stormwater, which is treated on site, is also used for 95 percent of the park’s water needs, including irrigation, fountains, and an ice rink.

Twenty-eight geothermal wells beneath the ice rink provide energy supplies to all the park’s utilities, reducing park energy consumption by 40 percent. The recycled materials that make up the park diverted 1,782 tons of material from landfills by recycling 100 percent of the concrete, brick, block, and asphalt during construction and demolition

And that just scratches the surface: dark-sky lighting elements, high-albedo pavement, traffic-calming strategies, native vegetation, green roofs, electric charging stations, bike racks, and recycling bins all make Canal Park a model of sustainability in planning urban parks.

Sunset at the Canal Park reception at the 2016 Policy and Advocacy Conference. Photo by Samantha Schipani.

Most of all, the park is an integral space for the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood, with over 10,000 office workers and 2,000 mixed market-rate and affordable housing units. During the summer, the plaza springs to life with dancing water fountains and movie nights on warm Washington, D.C., evenings. In the winter, the park embraces the seasonal spirit with ice skating and a holiday market.

After a long, intellectually stimulating day of plenaries and panels, policy conference attendees were delighted to spend their evening in Canal Park. Many took walking tours of the space and enjoyed the space as it was intended — with good conversation and great food on a beautiful evening in a city filled with promise.

About the Author

Samantha Schipani is APA's Great Places in America communications intern.

Top image: Policy and Advocacy Conference attendees at the Monday evening reception in Canal Park. Photo by Samantha Schipani.


September 21, 2016

By Samantha Schipani