The McMillan Redux and What Needs to Change

The big changes slated for the massive open space along McMillan Reservoir is ambitious to be sure. But they’ve neglected one crucial element of beautification—the actual water front!

McMillan Reservoir is bordered by the old McMillan Slow Sand Filtration Plant to the East, beautiful Howard University to the West and South, as well as Michigan Ave. and Children’s National Medical Center to the North. While I’ll leave my critique of that mistaken edifice for a future post, I believe we can at least save the natural match between the hospital and the reservoir.


This could be a great combo of world class hospital, trees, and nature… but there’s not one but two roads that separate all that harmony!

The problem with Michigan Ave. running right through there is that it completely isolates one of the world’s premiere medical centers from Mother Nature. Every hospital in the world is spending big bucks on bringing nature closer to the patient for the purpose of spiritual and mental healing, which in turn speeds the physical healing process. They plant trees and gardens, bring in dogs and cats, and everyone from the dawn of time has brought flowers to sick relatives.

With a massive green space right in front of a ward of sick children (likely) begging to play like any other kid, why would we separate them from this healing space? Why not leverage that space and bring them right in the middle of it? Why not use nature to heal the bodies and minds of some of the city’s and the nation’s sickest children?

So how do we actually get these children closer to nature and all the health benefits associated with green space and water? Move Michigan Ave.

Taking a cue from my beautiful hometown of Chicago, Illinois, I’ve got a way to do it that would both beautify the area and better traffic flow. If we move Michigan Ave. behind the hospital, you make Children’s National beachfront property (taking liberties with the definition of beachfront).


Thanks to Google Maps

The chance to redo the road would also give you a chance to make an underpass below/above Capital Ave. which would significantly better the flow of traffic in all directions at that (horrid) intersection. Both streets already have a labyrinth of bypasses, and this intersection bogs down both routes.

I know it sounds a little zany at first, but this would be a drop in the bucket compared to what Chicago did with its lakefront. In 1996, the city made the final alteration switching a parking lot into one of the world’s premiere parks.

Lake Shore Drive Old

Lake Shore Drive (Before), Chicago

To do so, they moved the 5-lane North-bound half of Lake Shore Drive on the other side of both the Field Museum and Soldier’s Field, home of the Bears. The $90 million project took several years, but left the town’s aesthetics greatly improved for posterity.

Museum Campus

Lake Shore Drive (After), Chicago

There is currently a massive swath of parking spaces on both the East and the West side of Children’s National, which can easily be converted into more space. Where it gets tricky is getting all four lanes of traffic in between the Children’s National and the MedStar Washington Hospital just to the north of it.

Currently there’s a 2-lane access road that brings emergency patients to Children’s. However, without moving the ER unit at Children’s, several industrial buildings on the North side could be trimmed and moved elsewhere to serve the MedStar Hospital.

The only on and off ramps would have to be well in advance of the buildings themselves, so that the narrow space between them would be a pure thoroughfare. Lastly (and not least) is cutting out McMillan Drive. The one-lane road along the North side of the reservoir would need to be taken out, though it appears vehicles for the nearby DC Fire Department and the water filtration unit that remains in service could rely on 1st Street NE and Michigan Ave.

All this would bring Children’s National to within a short walk of Mother Nature’s bounty down a (I imagine) well-manicured promenade. The reservoir certainly needs some TLC to be considered nature-preserve material, but it’s got the makings for it. All it really needs is some “over-the-counter” plantings, shrubs, trees, paths and shazam—you have a regular Zen garden. This would be an amazing boon to recovering patients, especially when those patients are kids!

While this seems like a tough plan to sell, there are a whole lot of new neighbors coming to this neck of the woods. Let’s say that there more likely to be exacting than the current population.


Thanks to EnvisionMcMillan

The 25 acre water filtration plant—defunct and degrading since 1986—is under what will likely prove to be one of the largest face-lifts of DC’s gentrification. Originally designed by Frederick Law Omstead Jr. as a memorial for Senator James McMillan, the plant saved countless lives from typhoid epidemics and other waterborne illnesses. It was also supposed to be a public green space that Omstead hoped would be part of a “String of Emeralds,” parks ringing the city (shame that didn’t work out for him).

McMillan_StreetSense.orgOnce the plant was replaced by the—get this—a rapid sand filter plant (across 1st Street NE) this plot became obsolete. However, there’s a serious plan that’s partially approved to completely renovate the area into a mix between urban and green spaces.

If all goes to plan, hundreds of new families will be moving in right next to this potentially beautiful site. I can only imagine that having beautiful green space in front of their eyes instead of a road would be helpful to the children recovering in the hospital. It would also give the area a beautiful recreation space that it so direly needs. And lastly, it would bring the hospitals into the neighborhood, as opposed to being on the other side of the street. It would all feel much more homey and relaxed for the thousands of sick people treated there every year.

It’s no cheap project, and no easy one. But Chicago did it, so I’m pretty sure the nation’s capital can stomach it, too.

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