Until recently, you could go years without setting foot near the banks of the Anacostia or Potomac rivers. Even today, the water itself is no draw: The Potomac only just got a clean bill of health; the Anacostia failed nearly all sections of its first annual audit. The adjacent land is another story. D.C. in recent years has invested noticeably in the fantastic vistas afforded by the riverbanks. In 2011, with the openings of Yards Park and Georgetown Waterfront Park, these efforts reached critical mass. The parks are beautifully executed public spaces—so beautiful and so public, in fact, that their use hasn’t been stifled by the major thoroughfares (M Street SE and the Whitehurst Freeway, respectively) that might have choked off foot traffic. Next year, Yards Park will get retail and restaurants, including a brewery—just the sort of interesting, dynamic mix that makes folks think, “Man, it’s cool to be here.” And the success of both Yards Park and the Gerogetown Waterfront make it feasible to believe that, one day, Poplar Point will be more than a Superfund site candidate.

Great cities have great waterfronts. If D.C. continues to capitalize on the existence of its rivers, it could give Paris, Amsterdam, or Stockholm a run for their money. And wouldn’t that be a feat for the long-polluted, much-maligned Anacostia River?