America’s Civic Stage

A Vision to Celebrate Pennsylvania Avenue
September 02, 2021
Washington, DC’s Pennsylvania Avenue has offered the public a place “to protest, cheer, mourn, or simply gather,” with varying levels of success, over its extensive history.

The Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative–whose partners include the National Capital Planning Commission, the National Park Service, the General Services Administration, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, and the government of the District of Columbia–represents a holistic effort to culturally re-envision, physically reshape, and ultimately reactivate “America’s Main Street.” Approximately three years ago, these partners gathered six thought leaders for an in-depth exploration of the avenue that connects the White House and U.S. Capitol. 

Recognizing the multifaceted challenges facing Pennsylvania Avenue, experts were assembled from a variety of fields. The resulting Focus Group comprised:

  • Hany Hassan, Partner, Beyer Blinder Belle - Urban Design / Architecture 
  • Helen Marriage, Director, Artichoke Trust - Arts, Culture and Entertainment Curation
  • Laurie Olin, Founding Partner, Olin Studio - Urban Design / Landscape Architecture
  • Heather Arnold, CEO and Founder, Via Metrics, LLC - Placemaking and Ground Floor Activation
  • Anita Morrison, Founding Principal, Partners for Economic Solutions - Real Estate and Economic Development
  • Jeffrey Tumlin, Director of Transportation, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency - Transportation Planning

The multidisciplinary advisors articulated several opportunities for transforming the 1.2-mile stretch, which BBB Partner Hany Hassan sees as an “integral part of the city” that “does not exist in isolation.” The group’s ideas leverage significant research and analyses, both economic and physical in nature, that were previously conducted or commissioned by the Initiative’s organizational partners. 

“This could be an exemplary street….it has all the aspects of intrigue and challenge and flexibility and possibility.  And all the history of it makes it very ripe to be that exemplary street.”
—Hany Hassan, leader in Urban Design / Architecture

This summer, a dynamic summary of the Focus Group’s recommendations—which emphasize the exponential value of investments in public programming, multi-modal connections between urban neighborhoods, and inspiring vistas—was published as a StoryMap

"What a radical, bold, innovative, extraordinary initiative this is…. The idea that you might take this street which everyone recognizes isn’t really working and turn it into something exemplary…. I would say only in America.”
—Helen Marriage, leader in Arts, Culture and Entertainment Curation

Architectural Record’s Cathleen McGuigan also moderated a discussion among the Initiative’s leaders and Focus Group members, which provided further insight into Pennsylvania Avenue’s future. Watch the discussion and learn even more about the Initiative by visiting the National Capital Planning Commission online. 

UPDATE: During a special Commission Meeting in February 2022, NCPC's Elizabeth Miller and Karin Schierhold presented three Initiative-generated concepts for capitalizing on Pennsylvania Avenue's unique location, setting, scale, and views and reimagining it as a venue for pre-eminent outdoor events and enhanced daily use. The concepts, which are not stand-alone options and can be mixed and matched, explore different ways to “right-size” and realign the roadway to increase usable public space and provide transportation options that prioritize people, bicyclists, and transit, rather than primarily serving cars. View their presentation by visiting the National Capital Planning Commission online.