Anacostia River Park: DC’s first elevated park will connect neighborhoods

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While rebuilding the 11th Street Bridges, then-District Planning Director Harriet Tregoning sought to salvage the piers and piles of one of the old bridges. He reduced demolition costs and left open the possibility of one day repurposing the infrastructure.

More than a decade later, his vision is coming to fruition as DC concludes a $90 million plan to mount a new terrace on those pilings and piers, where the city plans to build gardens, a public art space and a platform for community events overlooking the Anacostia River. It would be the first elevated park in the nation’s capital, owned by the district and operated by the nonprofit Building Bridges Across the River, based in Ward 8.

The design of 11th Street Bridge Park is nearing completion, a milestone for an atypical transportation project that will connect the district’s poorest neighborhood to one of the wealthiest, and which city leaders and supporters say will would stimulate economic growth east of the river. While discussions are underway in several cities to connect communities separated by highways, the DC project is unusual in that it aims to connect neighborhoods over a natural river.

“I couldn’t be happier to see this happen,” said Tregoning, a DC resident who has tracked progress over the past decade. But the merit is not hers, she said. “A lot of people have ideas. That’s not the hardest part. The hardest part is making something as wonderful and complicated and difficult as this happen.

Early in the process, Tregoning asked Scott Kratz, then working as a museum educator, to help explore the possibilities of reusing the bridge’s old pillars. The city had considered adding a new footpath or tram route to the top of the piers. Those concepts quickly faded, but Kratz said the community grew more enthusiastic about a park create a common space between the Navy Yard and Anacostia neighborhoods.

“These communities are separated by 900 feet of water. They have been divided for generations,” Kratz said. The park, he said, could bring residents of both sides together while serving as an “anchor point for economic and environmental justice.”

Kratz volunteered to organize community meetings on park planning until he joined Building Bridges in 2014, leading the effort through an organization with roots in southeast DC. . The park, however, turned out to be just one part of the project.

Over 10 years, Building Bridges has raised $122 million from corporations, foundations, private donors and federal grants. The district is investing $45 million in building the park using general funds. Building Bridges is paying the other half and is about $9 million away from its fundraising goal, Kratz said.

Most of the money Building Bridges raised, $85.4 million, went to support residents east of the river as part of an anti-displacement program. An economic analysis showed the project’s potential to create jobs and kick-start development, but also warned of likely increases in property values ​​and risks of resident displacement.

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“We’ve seen that these kinds of parks across the country can generate an enormous amount of value, and often that value is extracted from the community,” Kratz said. “The last thing we want to do is see the same residents who helped shape this park for the past 10 years unwittingly displaced. We saw this real unique opportunity to get ahead of that.

Several programs are in place to help the community, said Vaughn Perry, the nonprofit’s chief equity officer. He said more than 150 residents have found jobs through a construction training program and some of the graduates are expected to help build the park. Down payment assistance was provided to over 100 tenants in Ward 8 to help them become homeowners. Black-owned businesses received technical support, low-cost loans and grants.

“It’s been very important to us to make sure local residents are part of the process in the park,” Perry recently told residents visiting the shores of the Anacostia.

Other cities planning similar parks see the DC project as a model, said Kratz, who has advised officials in Los Angeles, Dallas and Buffalo on anti-displacement strategies.

The new park, which will be built next to the westernmost of the three 11th Street bridges, was inspired by projects such as New York’s High Line, an elevated rail line turned promenade of garden. The DC project will be an X-shaped green ribbon above the Anacostia, featuring an open plaza, an amphitheater, children’s play areas and a solar-powered environmental education center run by the Anacostia Watershed Society. .

With most of the construction funding secured, the district’s transportation department plans to kick off the project this fall, meaning construction could begin next year with an opening in 2025. The project is expected to receive approval. final this fall from the United States. Fine Arts Commission and the National Capital Planning Commission, which are in charge of the review.

Project officials say they are also creating artwork on both sides of the bridge to reduce the impact of highways that have separated communities. In addition to local traffic on the 11th Street Bridge, two spans of the Southeast Freeway pass through the area.

The district replaced the two 11th Street bridges with three spans to ease traffic on the river, adding ramps and interchanges with the Anacostia Freeway. The project was designed to create a separate crossing for local traffic, carrying drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, to connect to neighborhoods on both sides of the river while providing a better connection for motorway commuters.

When the park opens, residents could gather at a café, children could learn about the river at the environmental education center, and visitors could launch kayaks and canoes into the river. A 250-person outdoor amphitheater would host local artists, while the park would house the works of artists near a grove from which visitors could admire views of the city and the river. It will also include a sculpture of the native plants of the Anacostia River.

Ahmad Woodard, 24, an artist who grew up in Anacostia and still lives in the area, helped organize the art that will go to the park. He said local artists will have a platform to perform and exhibit their work while the amphitheater will host performances and festivals that would put Anacostia on the map for people in the area who have never visited it.

“I see a lot of people connecting across that bridge in a great way,” Woodard said.

Tregoning said she hopes for the outcome will be what was envisioned ten years ago: “a space where people who wouldn’t otherwise be in the same place could mingle and do things together”.

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