L'Enfant and Washington


Worthy of the Nation

Worthy of the Nation: Washington, D.C. from L'Enfant to the National Capital Planning Commission (2006, 430 pp) Available from Johns Hopkins University Press



L'Enfant Plan
L'Enfant Plan of 1791

Since 1791, when Pierre L'Enfant set out to create a “magnificent city, worthy of the nation, free of its colonial origins, and bold in its assertion of a new identity," our nation’s capital has been a planned city. Washington, DC’s urban design is its defining characteristic, and the National Capital Planning Commission, as the federal government’s planning agency for the capital and the surrounding region, continues a 200-year legacy of planning.

L'Enfant’s plan expressed in physical form the ideas of federalism and the separation of powers. He located the U.S. Capitol on the highest point between the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers and envisioned broad avenues—named after states—connecting important public buildings.

Uneven development throughout the first century of the capital city’s existence prevented the full realization of Pierre L’Enfant’s vision, but its broad avenues, commanding views, and neighborhoods centered around public parks and squares remain the foundation of today’s city.

McMillan Plan

1901 McMillan Plan

The city’s 100th anniversary prompted the formation of the Senate Park Commission, under the chairmanship of James McMillan, to restore the grandeur of L'Enfant's vision to the capital. The 1901 McMillan Plan made a distinctive imprint that endures today in the city's architecture and public spaces, particularly in the open greenway of the National Mall, the monumental core of federal buildings, and the comprehensive public park system.

The U.S. Congress established the National Capital Park Commission, the predecessor of today's National Capital Planning Commission, in 1924 to ensure the implementation of the McMillan Plan. Over the next several years, Congress expanded the Commission's original mandate, endowing it with responsibility for the "comprehensive, systematic, and continuous development of the park, parkway, and playground systems of the National Capital and its environs."

The 1952 passage of the National Capital Planning Act gave the Commission the name it bears today and established it as the central planning agency for the federal government in the National Capital Region, with its current form and functions. Congress also reiterated its charge to NCPC to preserve the region’s important natural and historic features.

The 1973 District of Columbia Home Rule Act delegated the District’s planning responsibility to the city's mayor. The Act maintains NCPC's role as the central planning agency for federal land and buildings in the National Capital Region, with an advisory role to the District for certain land use decisions.

Thanks to its tradition of planning, Washington, DC is one of the world’s finest urban achievements.  NCPC promotes a long-range vision for the development of the District and the surrounding area that respects the L’Enfant and McMillan legacies while meeting the needs of future generations.


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