NoMa Meander


The Meander is envisioned as a set of pedestrian-retail promenades between the “superblocks” between North Capitol Street and First Street NE. These large blocks are an artifact of the L’Enfant Plan street grid, which The Meander breaks up through a mid-block alley system. The 2006 NoMa Vision Plan and Development Strategy suggested the inclusion of a midblock alley along this space, in part to relieve pressure to create curb cuts on First Street NE for garage and loading dock access to the buildings that line it.

Early concept for the planned route of The Meander.

NPF reimagined this idea in service of pedestrians and retail and offered concept designs for The Meander’s north-south placement based on development plans on the drawing board at the time. These concept designs provided ideas about the look and feel of The Meander within the private sites, but focused more on the safety and appeal of the street crossings between the different blocks that would be included in The Meander. As development trended toward more residential development and finer-grained, more-vibrant retail in NoMa, developers saw the potential benefits of this pedestrian promenade. It would provide both retail opportunities and publicly-accessible private spaces in a north-south alignment between North Capitol Street and First Street NE. Several developers owning property along the envisioned corridor embraced the idea.

Skanska was the first to build improvements on The Meander. Its RESA building includes an apartment building with a main lobby entrance on The Meander as well as two retail spaces, one currently occupied by King Street Oyster Bar and the other by the Duncan Dog Hotel.

JBGSmith also embraced the concept of The Meander when planning its development at 51 N Street NE. Project plans for 51N included a retail courtyard along The Meander called Lacebark Alley that was anchored by a Chinese Lacebark Elm. Lacebark Alley was expected to include retail amenities like a Landmark movie theater and an art gallery, as well as residential building entrances. While revisions to JBGSmith’s plans for this development site are anticipated, those plans still include publicly-accessible space adding to The Meander.

Anticipating development of The Meander helped encourage Avalon Bay to include the retail space currently occupied by Streets Market in its mid-block location on M Street. Finally, and most significantly, MRP Realty has committed to extending The Meander to the block between M Street and Pierce Street NE as part of its redevelopment of the D.C. Housing Authority site.

Developers including The Meander in their projects as publicly accessible private space are giving up developable space at their projects and creating public improvements estimated to be worth more than $8 million as of 2022.

In the future, developers adjacent to The Meander are expected to create significant additional value in the form of more publicly accessible private spaces. While some of this forgone development might have occurred without The Meander, the vision for a passageway helped property owners align around an idea that they believed would serve as an amenity for their properties. It also helped encourage developers to design and construct these spaces as public spaces rather than private spaces, vastly enhancing their value to NoMa neighbors and to the District.

In addition to advocating for The Meander, NPF has focused on the quality and safety of the midblock road crossings between its various sections. The Foundation worked with DDOT and OP to identify and plan crossing conditions that would alert drivers about these midblock crossings and encourage residents and visitors to use them. Without highly visible, dedicated crossings, there was concern that pedestrians might cross randomly between sections of The Meander and that their safety would be compromised.

The first Meander street crossing will be built on M Street NE in 2023. The plans for this project include a “table top” section of pavers at the crossing with elements that will draw attention to pedestrians and slow down vehicles. It will also include seating, special lighting and signage, and bollards to prevent drivers from accidentally driving into these pedestrian spaces. Skanska is providing additional public space amenities, including bioretention areas, trees, and more seating to improve the public space.

This first crossing is intended to serve as a model to be replicated at other midblock crossings in The Meander at Patterson Street NE and N Street NE when the adjacent projects are built. Because the timeframe for construction of The Meander crossings is dependent on adjacent development and did not coincide with the grant period, alternative plans have been made for NPF to pay for The Meander crossing improvements at M Street. The private sector’s investments and the Foundation’s funding represent more value that will be added as a result of this public-private partnership.

© Tom Holdsworth Photography LLC

Lee and Associates design for the Meander crossing at M Street.