Current Issue: Vol.33, Num. 3 July 2019
This Issue, Vol.33 No.3, of In Situ, Information Bulletin relates information on the Amazon.com‘s plans to locate its second headquarters, known as HQ2, in Arlington County, Virginia. Its impact will be amplified because of its close proximity to the city of Washington. Also in this issue, we review recent publications to explore the need to popularize and appreciate gardens, forested areas, and planted sites.
Consumers know that Amazon.com is a multinational e-commerce company based in Seattle, WA. It is considered to be among the giants of e-businesses along with Google, Apple and Facebook.
In November 2018, Amazon announced that it had selected a site in Queens, New York and another in Arlington County, Virginia as potential locations for its second headquarters, known as HQ2.
The Arlington site was favored after strong public outcry from New Yonkers deterred Amazon from choosing that site. Amazon’s plan is to build and renovate 4 million square feet of office space in the now branded “National Landing” area paralleling the George Washington Parkway by the Potomac River and across from the Reagan National Airport in Arlington. National Landing will encompass portions of the already built Pentagon City, Crystal City, and Potomac Yards areas, and it will house some 25,000 employees.
An article in The Washington Post, Sunday, June 16, 2019 graphs of polls results suggest that the new headquarters will have a positive effect on the area by creating needed jobs and activi-ties. (Disclaimer: Amazon founder and chief executive officer, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post, but the polls were independent.)
To better understand the effects of the National Landing proposals, we relate here some historic facts about the area:
In the now-famous 1794 Ten Mile Square map, the engineer Andrew Ellicott defined the 100 square miles area of land ceded by the states of Maryland and Virginia, and traversed by the Potomac River and its tributary the Anacostia River, to become the District of Columbia, the setting for the new city of Washington.
It is also well known that by 1846 the western portion of that area, nearly one third of it, was returned to the state of Virginia because, at that time, it was considered unnecessary to conducting the affairs of the Nation. That portion is what today encompasses Arlington County and a portion of the old city of Alexandria.
Arlington County is now best known for the location of the Department of Defense Pentagon Building, the National Arlington Cemetery and the Reagan National Airport. It is also a residential and commercial area with a well run planning department providing excellent services to its constituents. Its proximity of the city of Washington cannot be ignored and became more evident in the second part of the 20th century after the construction of the beltway transportation corridor encircled the entire metropolitan area, and Metro subway lines, which has the only tunnel connection under the Potomac River between Arlington and Washington, linked the urban and suburban areas.
Modern Arlington, unlike the District of Columbia, does not operate under many of the planning restrictions imposed to enhance the historic value of the L’Enfant Plan and the monumental National Mall. This deviation is quite obvious as Arlington broke away from the building height restriction imposed to make the U.S. Capitol more prominent. As a result, Arlington has developed Rosslyn and Crystal City areas among others to promote commerce, allowing modern, taller office and apartment buildings. Many of these structures are of mediocre architectural value but with great views of the river, the Mall, and surrounding areas. Recently, new developments were added the Potomac Yards area, north of the old city of Alexandria, also paralleling the Potomac River where the railroad trains had extensive track facilities. These area now being transformed into housing projects, offices, shops and a proposed facility for the Virginia Tech University.
How Amazon will integrate into these extensive areas, now referred to as National Landing, is not well known. At this time the public has only been presented with ideals that may or may not be realized. In a recent enthusiastic talk at the Cosmos Club of Washington, Holly Sullivan, Amazon’s head of economic development, Victor Hoskins planning official for Arlington, and Matt Kelly, of JBG Real Estate proposed people oriented places reminiscent of new town planning ideals, even if so far e-commerce has prospered without such planning goals. The announced HQ2 is already increasing housing resale values in those areas.
Environmental issues don’t seem to have been addressed by Amazon, but they will have to be in order to comply with existing regulations and to maintain the high quality of urban development expected by Washingtonians.
The National Park Service is responsible for the preservation of the Potomac River shores and the old forts that surrounded and protected Washington, now converted into parks, this will not change. However, environmental concerns have spurred new landscape treatments in many urban areas world wide which could be applied to National Landing. There is room for innovative approaches which could introduce more vegetation into those built areas such as planting on structures, rooftops and walls. It will be possible to develop pocket parks in reduced pedestrian are-as and special vegetation in enclosed courts and glass structures with adequate climatic conditions to grow plants, potential small botanic gardens that would add cultural interest to this urban situation.
The relentless growth experienced in urban areas today makes us more aware than ever of the need to consider the use of vegetation as one the most important ways to improve our environment.
We look forward to future projects.
Beatriz de Winthuysen Coffin, FASLA
American Eden, David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic by Virginia Johnson
461 pages, hard cover b&w illustrations Liveright Publishing Corp., New York, 2018. $30.
American Eden was published at a precise moment when there is growing interest in all human aspects of the United States founding fathers. American Eden’s author, Professor Virginia Johnson, successfully converted her doctoral research thesis on the life of David Hosack, a gifted physician of the Age of Enlightenment, into a fascinating book, where historic medical facts, plant research and political situations intermingle with the urban environment of that important 18th century moment.
Doctor Hosack was a friend of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), who was the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. Hosack had saved the life of Hamilton’s son when he seemed to be dying of fever and years later assisted in Alexander Hamilton’s death in the historic duel.
Dr. David Hosack (1769-1835) was a physician trained at the University of Pennsylvania and in Edinburgh England. He later lived and worked In New York City. He used this broad set of skills and knowledge to create innovative ways to cure his patients’ ailments using plants. He became famous for his successful, almost miraculous cures. Based on his European experiences, he proposed and created the first botanical garden in the U.S. He succeeded in his endeavor by personally acquiring 20 acres of open land in Manhattan, which was outside the city limits at the time. It is where the Rockefeller Center stands now.
Of course Hosack did not see this last development, but during his life time his garden became famous for the plants he collected nationwide and the ones that were sent to his garden from all over the world. Dr. Hosack named his botanic garden the Elgin Botanic Garden, after the town in Scotland where his father lived before coming to America. The Elgin Botanic Garden did not survive the urban pressure of the great metropolis, but while it was in existence it provided training for young botanists. They in turn founded botanic gardens in other cities of the expanding country.
The Hidden Life of TREES has become a popular best seller. It's author, Peter Wohlleben is a German forester who has dedicated his life to working and to understanding trees. Consequently, he has an intimate knowledge of the complex ways in which plants develop and interact with each other.
The book is divided into 36 topics/chapters describing plant behavior. He uses the same language that is used for human behavior, such as Friendships and Social Security, and he explains how trees function in chapters such as The Mysteries of Moving Water.
Because we depend on our nervous system to be conscious of our surrounding, it is difficult to realize that plants can do it in other ways. Plants use their chemical functions to relate to their surroundings, and since the author is a forester, his observations and remarks are accurate, well documented and based on his experiences.
Also, in his chapter Tree or not Tree?, page 82-83, he says:
“...For there to be something we would recognize as brain, neurological processes must be involved and for these, in addition to chemical messages, you need electrical impulses. And these are precisely what we can measure in the tree, and we’ve been able to do so since as far back as the nineteenth century...”
TREES has many admiring readers, but its critics, among them horticulturists, take a narrower, more empirical approach to the daily matters of plant function and behavior. Nevertheless, TREES is a good introduction to the plant world, especially for student trying to understand how our environment depends on the vegetation of our planet and how we can help and respect it.
Today, due to the devastating loss of vegetation by urbanization, deforestation, industrialization, agriculture and other activities this book appeals to many. It is possible to protect the flora and fauna that surrounds us by becoming aware of the way they function.