DC’s first elevated park will connect neighborhoods divided by rivers – The Washington Post | Gmx Pharm


When the 11th Street bridges were being reconstructed, Harriet Tregoning, the district planning director at the time, attempted to save the piers and pilings of one of the old bridges. It reduced demolition costs and left open the possibility of one day repurposing the infrastructure.

More than a decade later, their vision comes together as DC finalizes a $90 million plan to build a new deck atop these pilings and piers, where the city plans to create gardens, public art spaces, and a platform for community events with a view of the Anacostia -Flow. It would be the first elevated park in the nation’s capital owned by the district and managed by Ward 8-based nonprofit organization Building Bridges Across the River.

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

“I couldn’t be happier that it’s being realized,” said Tregoning, a DC resident who has followed progress over the past decade. But the credit isn’t hers, she said. “A lot of people have ideas. That’s not the hard part. The hard part is making something as wonderful, complicated and difficult as this happen.”

At the beginning of the process, Tregoning asked Scott Kratz, who was working as a museum educator at the time, for help researching the possibilities of reusing the old bridge piers. The city had considered adding a new walking trail or streetcar line on top of the piers. Those concepts quickly faded, but Kratz said the community had become more enthusiastic about a park to create a common space between the Navy Yard and Anacostia neighborhoods.

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

Kratz volunteered to lead community meetings on park planning until he joined Building Bridges in 2014 and led the effort through an organization with roots in Southeast DC. However, the park turned out to be just one part of the project.

In 10 years, Building Bridges has raised $122 million from corporations, foundations, private donors, and federal grants. The district is providing US$45 million from general funds for the construction of the park. Building Bridges is paying the other half and is about $9 million short of its fundraising goal, Kratz said.

Most of the money Building Bridges has raised, $85.4 million, has been used to support residents east of the river as part of a program to combat displacement. An economic analysis showed the project’s potential to create jobs and boost development, but also warned of a likely rise in property values ​​and the risk of evicting residents.

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“We’ve seen that these types of parks can generate tremendous value across the country, and often that value is deprived of the community,” Kratz said. “The last thing we want is for the same residents who have helped shape this park for the last 10 years to be inadvertently evicted. We saw this truly unique opportunity to be one step ahead.”

Several programs are on the spot to support the community, said Vaughn Perry, director of equity for the nonprofit. He said more than 150 residents have secured jobs through a construction apprenticeship program and some of the graduates are expected to help build the park. Down Payment Assistance has been paid to more than 100 Ward 8 tenants to help them become homeowners. Black-owned businesses have received technical assistance, low-cost loans, and grants.

“It was very important to us to make sure that local residents were a part of the process at the park,” Perry recently told residents walking the banks of the Anacostia River.

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

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

With most of the construction funding secured, the District Department of Transportation plans to bid on the project this fall, meaning construction could begin next year with a 2025 opening. The project is expected to receive final approval this fall from the US Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission, which have review oversight.

Project officials say they are also creating artwork on either side of the bridge to lessen the impact of the freeways that have separated communities. In addition to transit on the 11th Street Bridge, two Southeast Freeway spans intersect the area.

The district replaced the two 11th Street bridges with three spans to ease traffic flow across the river and added ramps and intersections with the Anacostia Freeway. The project was designed to create a separate intersection for local traffic, carrying motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to connect with neighborhoods on either side of the river while providing a better connection for commuters on the highway.

When the park opens, residents can gather at a café, children can learn about the river at the environmental education center, and visitors can kayak and canoe in the river. A 250-seat outdoor amphitheater would house local artists, while the park would house artists’ works near a grove of trees where visitors could enjoy city and river views. 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, has helped curate art that will go to the park. He said local artists will have a platform to perform and display 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 been there.

“I see a lot of people connecting through this bridge in great ways,” Woodard said.

Tregoning said she was hoping for the result will be what was envisioned a decade ago: “a space where people who wouldn’t otherwise be in the same place can meet and do things together.”

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