About the Initiative

Our goal: To develop policies that will improve the design of public spaces, and the buildings that shape them, in the national capital.

The National Capital Planning Commission is developing a new federal urban design element for the Comprehensive Plan for the National Capital. This new element will establish policies to guide the physical development of federal buildings, campuses and public spaces in and around Washington, and inform the Commission’s review of federal development projects throughout the National Capital Region.

The Commission has convened a task force of federal and regional stakeholders to help lead this effort. Over the next several months, the task force will discuss relevant urban design issues and work with staff to translate design goals into policy.

What do you mean by “urban design”?

Urban design is related to architecture, landscape architecture, and transportation and land use planning, but it is not any one of these. It is a separate design discipline focuses on "place making" by coordinating all of these other disciplines in the interest of achieving a vision for the future that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Why is the Commission developing a federal urban design element for the National Capital Region?

The Commission's work focuses on planning issues that have significant impacts on the character of the city — such as security, historic preservation, sustainability, and the design of public spaces and buildings. Unfortunately, when plans and projects are designed to achieve goals that are focused on only one of these issues, the result often fails with regard to the others.

The current Comprehensive Plan does not include any policies that are designed to improve the coordination among the various issues addressed in the rest of the document. The proposed urban design element will combine existing policies about design and physical character into a unified section of the Comprehensive Plan. It also will provide additional policies that will ensure balance and consistency in other aspects of the Commission's work, such as the review of federal development projects in the National Capital Region.

How will the new urban design element impact the development of new federal buildings, installations and public spaces?

Once adopted, federal agencies will be encouraged to follow the policies contained in the urban design element when planning and designing new projects in the National Capital Region. The Commission and its staff will also consider consistency with the new element’s policies when it evaluates proposed projects.

The new element will help federal agencies improve the interface between new buildings and their surroundings, and ensure that federal installations and public spaces are compatible with local urban design goals through the National Capital Region.

What is the timeline for the development of the new federal urban design element?

The task force first met in October 2011. A series of four meetings were held through spring and summer 2012. Staff prepared draft policies for the new element in late summer/early fall of 2012. The draft policies are expected to be released in November 2012 for a 90-day public comment period prior to review and adoption by the Commission.

How will the new federal urban design element differ from urban design element adopted by the District of Columbia?

The Comprehensive Plan for the National Capital Region consists of two parts – the federal elements and the District elements. The current Urban Design Element of the Comprehensive Plan is part of the District elements drafted and implemented by the District of Columbia. The new proposed urban design element will be part of the federal elements of the Comprehensive Plan, and apply to federal development within the District of Columbia and in the surrounding region.

Who are the members of the urban design task force?

  • Mina Wright, General Services Administration (task force chair)
  • Troy Brown, Architect of the Capitol
  • Tom Luebke, Commission of Fine Arts
  • Peter May, National Park Service
  • Dale Medearis, Northern Virginia Regional Commission
  • Bradley Provancha, Department of Defense
  • Harriet Tregoning, District of Columbia Office of Planning

Will there be any opportunities for the public to get involved in the development of the new federal urban design element?

A public forum on the draft policies will be held on November 14, 2012. Get more details about the event »

Prior to this, Commission staff hosted a public workshop on January 24, 2012 to gather public input. The public was also encouraged to provide input and comments online. These comments were used to help develop the draft policies.