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In a few years, the District plans to have its very own High Line: a redeveloped 11th Street Bridge spanning the Anacostia River that will serve as a park. But as a report released on Wednesday by the Urban Institute lays out, some worry that residents east and west of the river won’t benefit equally from the site.
Expected to open no sooner than 2019, the $45 million project has presented both a hope and a challenge for design-minded urbanists and longtime Washingtonians alike: how to revitalize a vacant bridge into a recreational oasis without displacing low-income residents who live nearby. In part to address that tension, the project’s organizers published an “equitable development plan” in November, setting goals and strategies for preserving affordable housing, creating jobs, and incentivizing entrepreneurship for those most vulnerable to displacement and gentrification. The Urban Institute’s report highlights this plan as a reason why the 11th Street Bridge Park could ultimately include, rather than push out, District denizens.
“It is too early to say whether Bridge Park planning has secured equitable results for current residents of the Bridge Park impact area,” the white paper’s authors write, referring to the roughly 40,000 people who live within the study area associated with the project. “We only know that Bridge Park leaders have laid a strong foundation for results by engaging a wide range of stakeholders in designing the park and in setting equitable development goals.”
The x-shaped park will feature art installments, agricultural plots, and performance spaces. Project leaders hope these amenities will be accessible to east-of-the-river communities where the unemployment rate is more than three times higher than it is immediately west of the river, and where roughly half of children live in poverty. The report’s authors have a few recommendations for equitable development based on the project so far, such as establishing equity goals before fundraising begins, and building trust with “intensive and consistent” community engagement.
Still, some Southeast residents doubt that there’s much they would gain from an eventual bridge-park. Schyla Pondexter-Moore, the public housing organizer for advocacy group Empower DC, says many locals would be displaced in the long run. She adds that developers in Anacostia have started promising the park as well as a planned Busboys and Poets on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE as amenities to attract white homebuyers.
“Saying that the bridge park is going to be an amenity, to me that goes hand in hand with gentrification,” Pondexter-Moore says. “I feel like any public land anywhere now in Southeast should not be handed over to any more outside developers. … The thing is, it wasn’t a concept of the community.”
Whether “the project’s ‘get-out-in front’ approach” benefits Southeast community members “remains to be seen,” the Urban Institute authors conclude.
Read the full report here. The organization says more reports on the development will follow.