The Waterline?

James Corner Field Operations tapped to activate Georgetown canal network in Washington, D.C.

City Terrain East Landscape Architecture
James Corner Field Operations tapped to activate Georgetown canal network in Washington, D.C.. Image: People sitting by the canal in April, 2015. (Courtesy Bob Rives, via JCFO)
James Corner Field Operations tapped to activate Georgetown canal network in Washington, D.C.. Image: People sitting by the canal in April, 2015. (Courtesy Bob Rives, via JCFO)

Landscape architecture and urban design studio James Corner Field Operations (JCFO) has been chosen to develop a master plan for revisioning the canal network of Georgetown, a neighborhood in Washington, D.C. JCFO has an established pedigree when it comes to re-imagining infrastructure. The firm worked on New York’s much acclaimed High Line and is currently planning a similar ten-mile scheme in Miami called the Underline. The name for this project is yet to be announced, but the “The Waterline” wouldn’t be a bad guess given JCFO’s record.

Covering one mile of the Chesapeake and Ohio National Historical Park (C&O Canal NHP), JCFO will work with the National Park Service (NPS), Georgetown Heritage, the D.C. Office of Planning, and the local community to activate underused pedestrian paths through the site and tap into the canal network’s forgotten historical heritage.

In the coming year, Georgetown Heritage and the NPS will procure community info on how to maximize the site’s assets which include: stone structures dating back to the 1830s, locks, towpaths, plazas, and street crossings. These features will aid the educational and recreational aspirations that stakeholders have for the site as well as contribute to the area’s aesthetic appeal.

The chronology of events for the project is as follows:

  • Conditions Assessment: Documenting and analyzing the current state of the physical structures of the canal, as well as how people currently use the park.
  • Historic Preservation: Inventorying and developing a plan to preserve the historic elements of the canal.
  • Safety & Accessibility: Recommendations to improve access to the canal and make it a safer, more comfortable place to be through interventions such as lighting, ramps, signage, and seating.
    • Recreation Opportunities: In addition to the paddling dock to be built in Spring 2018, the Master Plan will create opportunities and inviting spaces for all kinds of recreation; from active recreation like cycling and kayaking, to passive recreation like bird watching or gongoozling (watching activity on a canal).
  • Transformative Designs: There are five nodes/plazas within this one-mile stretch of canal that are currently underused or not used at all. The Master Plan will explore concepts for transformative designs for these spaces:
    • Zero Mile Marker/Tide Lock
    • Lock 1
    • Mule Yard
    • Fish Market Square
    • Aqueduct Overlook
  • Programmatic Plans: In order to bring life and activity back to the canal, the Master Plan will include plans for interpretation, education, and cultural programming.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for Washington, D.C., and the Georgetown community to create a transformative public space that blends historic architecture with rich landscapes to create a world-class and unique destination in the heart of the neighborhood,” said James Corner, founder and director of JCFO in a press release. “The Georgetown section of the C&O Canal NHP should be a landmark park for everyone, a lively center for social gatherings, a continuous link for recreation and contemplation, a connector of neighborhoods and networks and a model for urban livability and human health and wellbeing.”

“The James Corner Field Operations team brings exceptional ingenuity, boundless energy and extensive experience partnering with cities, parks, and community groups to create stunning, lively spaces that reflect each site’s distinct character and maximize its potential to engage people of all ages and cultures,” said Alison Greenberg, executive director of Georgetown Heritage.

Also working alongside JCFO in the design and planning process is: MakeDC, Robert Silman Associates, ETM Associates, and Dharam Consulting. These firms will help to develop the Georgetown Canal Plan, which re-envisions this popular section of the canal.

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