In Washington, DC, the Anacostia River has long been a de facto border, splitting communities along economic and racial divides. But an ambitious new park project breaking ground later this year aims to overcome those boundaries by building a bridge that’s both physical and metaphorical.
In the process, the 11th Street Bridge Park intends to reimagine the river crosses as a focal point for recreation — just as water quality improvements are beginning to bear fruit.
“For the last hundred years, we’ve really turned our backs to the river. We’ve done a pretty good job of building as many barriers as we can between humans and water,” said Scott Kratz, director of the park project and senior vice president of the nonprofit behind it, Building Bridges Across the River.
“We’ve told people for decades, ‘Don’t go down to the river,’ and they listened,” he said. “[But] the river is ready for a comeback.”
The $92 million project, scheduled for completion by late 2025 or early 2026, will be the first elevated park in the nation’s capital. Stretching the length of about three football fields across the Anacostia River, the “bridge park” will connect the city’s Navy Yard with the Anacostia neighborhood in Southeast DC.
On the southeast side of the river, the park will connect to the U.S. National Park Service’s Anacostia Park, which already offers bicycle and walking paths. Here, the bridge park will add a 250-seat amphitheater, an environmental education center run by the Anacostia Watershed Society and plots for urban agriculture. A dock for kayak and canoe launches will stretch into the river near the existing walkways.
Viewed from the downstream side, the bridge will strike an X-shape across the river, with wide walkways that rise from each side to crisscross at the center. The Navy Yard side will add green space to a heavily developed landscape. Elevated “river gardens” will grow along the path.
Plaza areas with views of the river, a café and community room will occupy the center of the bridge. The Anacostia end will feature an 11,000-square-foot play space called “mussel beach.” Large concrete climbers there will be shaped like mussel shells and driftwood.
“The entire park will be a place of environmental education,” Kratz said.
About half of the funding for the park came from the city. The nonprofit has raised the rest, with about $10 million to go to reach the $92 million needed to complete construction, Kratz said. That’s in addition to $86 million the nonprofit has already invested in the local community to help ensure it thrives alongside the future park.
Looks like an invitation to an open air drug market to me, not that the Anacostia neighborhood needs another one. But that's not the neighborhood's concerned. No, they're worried it might make the neighborhood too prosperous, and raise the rents.
That study and others call the phenomenon of property values rising in the wake of new space and parklike amenities “eco-gentrification.” As often as not, housing prices rise dramatically in and around “improved” neighborhoods, and the original residents can no longer afford to live there.
DC residents have seen this happen across the city, most recently along its H Street and U Street corridors. And it’s the very thing Kratz wanted to avoid with the 11th Street Bridge Park, which will bring green space, parkland and amenities within walking distance of neighborhoods on both sides of the river.