On Location: Alexandria’s Own Park in the Sky

On a trip to Washington, D.C. this summer I stayed across the river in Alexandria. When driving into Alexandria my eye was drawn to vegetation draping over what appeared to be a normal car overpass. When we found that our hotel room was not ready yet, we decided to wander around the Rosslyn district. Upon consulting a map, I set out to find what appeared to be a linear park with a vague hope that it may be part of the vegetated overpass I had noticed on the way into the city.

As it turns out the linear park is called Freedom Park and it has a fascinating story. Just as it appeared from ground-level, Freedom Park is constructed on a large section of an elevated road that was meant to be part of the “Loop Road Bridge,” a project proposed in the 1970s to alleviate traffic from Rosslyn to D.C. This largely unnecessary infrastructure project finally fell through in the early 1990s at which point the city and the Newseum had the foresight to convert the space into a park.

When managed by the Newseum, the park was christened Freedom Park to commemorate “the spirit of freedom and the struggle to preserve it.” Since the Newseum relocated to D.C. proper in 2008, the park is privately managed by Monday Properties. Despite attractive landscaping and several seating areas, Freedom Park was desolate on the lovely summer afternoon that I visited. From some Internet research, I have found that Freedom Park may have been a more attractive destination when associated with the Newseum. The Newseum coordinated several installations on the structure including the largest collection of sections of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany (again illustrating the importance of freedom).

Although I thoroughly appreciate this unique reuse of an unused form of transportation infrastructure, I have a few recommendations that would make the structure more inviting. Most importantly, pedestrian connections to the elevated park could be improved from both the street-level and from the adjoining office and commercial buildings. Additionally, there is a vast opportunity to depave more of the impervious surface of the elevated park and replace it with vegetation that could capture rainwater, decrease the urban heat island effect, provide habitat for birds and insects, and make the park as a whole more inviting.

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Wikipedia. “Freedom Park (Arlington, Virginia).” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_Park_%28Arlington,_Virginia%29

ARL Now. “The Strange History of Freedom Park.” http://www.arlnow.com/2011/06/08/the-strange-history-of-freedom-park/