The 11th Street Bridge Park will be Washington, DC’s first elevated public park, built from the existing infrastructure of the old 11th Street Bridge spanning the Anacostia River. Paired with DC’s Ward 8 based nonprofit, Building Bridges Across the River, the park aims to become a “new venue for health recreation; environmental education and the arts.” The OMA + OLIN design team was selected through a seven-month competition in October of 2014. Pre Construction began in 2016.
- Development projects that focus on revitalizing decaying infrastructure can be used to empower marginalized communities through equitable development economic and environmental plans.
- Developing authentic and long-term relationships with impacted communities allows development projects to ensure that equitable development plans benefit these communities.
The plan for Washington DC’s new 11th Street Bridge Park is a trailblazer in more ways than one. Guided by the local organization Building Bridges Across the River, the project is marked by deep partnerships and collaboration with the local community and a commitment to blending both environmental and economic development outcomes.
The project began when the city’s Department of Transportation knew the 11th street bridges were nearing the end of their lifespan, and decided to save parts of the infrastructure for a new park. In the struggle to find available space within cities for new developments, many developers have realized the value of taking neglected urban infrastructure and redeveloping it for modern use. New York City’s High Line Park, one of the most celebrated urban reuse projects in recent years, showed the powerful influence of taking a decaying piece of infrastructure (in the case of this project, a former elevated railroad spur) and redesigning it as a green space for modern city life. Since the first section of the park opened in the summer of 2009, the High Line has attracted locals and tourists alike, has spurred new real estate development, and has helped to revitalize the area. Reviving these decaying urban spaces can reenergize entire areas of a city. Madrid’s Rio Park, another urban renewal project built along an old highway in a formerly neglected area of the city, connects two previously disjointed neighborhoods to the city center with a long park containing an urban beach, bike paths, cafes and cultural and sport facilities. These examples show the potential that urban renewal development projects have to create new opportunities for commerce and cultural exchange for city residents and become cultural and civic centers for entire communities.
The 11th Street Bridge Park, which is being built on an old freeway connecting the relatively affluent Ward 6 neighborhoods surrounding Capitol Hill with the much lower-income area of Anacostia in Ward 8, strives to connect these two deeply different communities. On the Capitol Hill side of the river, the unemployment rate is 6.6 percent and the child poverty rate hovers around 20 percent. On the Anacostia side, the unemployment rate is roughly 20.7 percent and the child poverty rate is 53 percent. In Anacostia, there was a deep lack of trust among residents with many previous projects that had made, and then failed to fulfill, promises to revitalize the area. Additionally, many residents feared the gentrification, rising costs, and displacement that often accompany development projects such as this.
To gain Anacostia residents’ trust, the 11th Street Bridge Park project partnered with the Anacostia-based foundation, Building Bridges Across the River, and has focused heavily on community engagement on both sides of the river. In the first two years of the project, 200 meetings were held with local civic groups, businesses and churches in order to include neighborhood residents in every step of the project. These long-term partnerships with the community were integral aspects of the process of equitably developing the project. First, the leaders of the project’s equitable development task force gathered data on resident and demographic trends, focusing on areas such as land-use, homeownership, and taxation conditions to try to determine reasonable equitable development goals and outcomes. Then, having determined possible goals, the task force sought, through those many meetings with the community, to collect and synthesize community feedback on equitable development goals. These conversations helped identify three major priorities for equitable development: housing, workforce, and small business development.
Although the project originally started simply as a means to constructively repurpose a decaying piece of infrastructure, it has evolved into a much greater project to help develop Anacostia and to better connect the neighborhood with its Ward 6 neighbors, building a park that can properly reflect both of their unique interests and needs. The project has attempted to engage in this development without creating the increases in property taxes that too frequently accompany these types of civic development projects. The task force’s plan focused on maintaining affordable housing, creating jobs with viable career paths and promoting the development of small businesses. A model has been put in place to ensure that these goals are connected with concrete steps for seeing them achieved.
The plan resulted in the creation of a Ward 8 home-buyers club, which has been operational for over a year and allows residents to capture rising equity by buying homes. The club also attempts to target renters in smaller units to promote tenant’s rights workshops. The leaders of the project have, additionally, started a community land trust for which they have raised over $500,000, and strategically timed the opening of the park so that residents of Anacostia can apply for construction jobs. To fund help fund the development and various initiatives, the leaders of the project have undertaken a $45 million capital campaign, funded by a combination of public dollars from the city, tax credits, federal funds and grants, and private donations. With this campaign, the leaders of the project are attempting to leverage additional financial resources so that residents of this area can thrive long after the park has been finished.
The 11th Street Bridge Park project started as a simple attempt to reuse decaying infrastructure. However, through the use of a model of engagement focused on developing authentic relationships with the community, equitable development of impoverished areas, and assistance in renting and home buying, the project has greater relevance and purpose as an effort to revitalize an entire community. The 11th Street Bridge Park is scheduled to open in 2019.