Walkability through Challenging terrain: Connectivity between Frederick Douglass National Historic Site and Anacostia Community Museum

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Virginia Tech

This thesis is an investigation of how to achieve walkability over steep urban topography greater than Americans with Disabilities Act accessible 8.33% standard. I studied how landscape architects and architects have overcome challenging topography in a variety of international cities and how to increase connectivity in the steep terrain of Washington D.C.'s Anacostia neighborhood. Specifically, this thesis explores the roles of staircases in the city and how staircases can enhance the experience of moving through the city.

Topographic changes can be an obstacle to walk on: the steeper the path the harder it is to move through it, which in turn may encourage a person to use a car to travel between low and high points in the city. My hypothesis is that steep topography can be an enhancement to walkability in the city.

The experience of traveling through steep terrain is unique as it can provide visually engaging environment of walking, including expansive views of the city, engaging architecture, and physical exercise. To test this hypothesis, I designed two distinct routes over steep topography to connect the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, the Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum, a sports field, and the Fort Stanton Recreation Center. The paths respond to L'Enfant's method for laying out the city in "diagonal avenues superimposed over a grid system" (Nps.gov, 2018) and the very steep terrain of Anacostia, which seems to defy in places the orthagonal and axial relationships underlying L'Enfant's plan.

Drawing on both L'Enfant's ordering scheme of the city and the given form of the two hundred foot escarpment above Anacostia, the design demonstrates that paths through steep terrain can be a great asset, revealing the larger order of the city through views to the monumental core, bringing people through the native forest, making more direct connections between the civic infrastructure, including the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site and the Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum. It shows that expanding the notion of walkability to include terrain that is not ADA accessible is important, and can be the impetus for the strategic inclusion of accessible paths where the topography permits.

walkability, slope, stair, connectivity, topography