Bridging the Forgotten River: the 11th Street Bridge Park

When considering what to do with the old piers of the 11th Street Bridge in Southeast Washington, DC, Harriet Tregoning (LF ‘04) formed a simple yet inspired vision: an elevated civic space that would both physically and metaphorically connect the two sides of the Anacostia River. This seed of an idea by Tregoning, then director of planning for DC and now director of the HUD Office of Economic Resilience, has sparked  widespread interest, and the city and its residents have joined the movement to build the 11th Street Bridge Park. The project has often been compared to the scope and design of the High Line in New York City. A design competition for Bridge Park began earlier this year and includes many members of the GSD community and several Loeb Fellows. The finalist will be announced at Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus–THEARC–in DC on October 16.

The nation’s capital has seen extensive growth and change in recent years. Projections of future growth have led to a heated debate over raising the long-standing height restriction on city buildings in order to accommodate the growth with an adequate supply of local housing. This debate was largely led by Tregoning and National Capital Planning Commission Executive Director Marcel Acosta (LF 01), who will play an important role in the final approval of designs of Bridge Park. As the city continues to grow, there is also a need for increased open space and amenities, which this project will provide.

11th Street Bridge Park has four stated goals:

  • Create a healthy community by establishing a safe place for residents to exercise and play
  • Connect the community with the Anacostia River
  • Reconnect the neighborhoods of Anacostia and Capitol Hill
  • Generate new jobs and economic activity.

Often termed the “Forgotten River,” the Anacostia has long been a dividing line between the city core and some of the poorest neighborhoods with some of the highest levels of obesity in the country. Its slow-moving current exacerbates the accumulation of high levels of pollutants, and access to the riverfront is cut off so that residents who have spent their entire lives within 6 to 8 blocks of the river may have never visited it. Tregoning says that the 11th Street Bridge is the “perfect place” to help remedy these issues and that the park can “help to make the divide disappear.”

Community engagement has been an integral aspect of the development of the park and unique in its scope. There have been over 300 public meetings, and ideas for programming and activities have come exclusively from the community. Scott Kratz, director of 11th Street Bridge Park, describes the process they’ve undergone as a form of “asking for permission” from the community to shape the park, and that it has been “extraordinarily powerful” and helped to garner strong support from both sides of the river. He also acknowledges the historical tensions between the city and neighborhoods along the Anacostia, and says, “There is an enormous trust deficit, especially east of the river. The only way to build trust is through time and shared experiences.”

While the High Line formed its own nonprofit–Friends of the High Line–to administer and raise funds, Bridge Park has chosen to align itself with an existing local nonprofit, which helps to integrate its goals and resources with the community’s. The 501(c)3 is appropriately named Building Bridges Across the River at THEARC, and its partners also include The Washington Ballet. Planners hope that construction will be completed by 2018 with a $40 million capital campaign in the coming years.

The 4 finalists in the design competition, a list of high-caliber architectural teams announced in early September, have had the challenging but exciting task of incorporating the community’s many suggestions into their respective designs. Stoss Landscape Urbanism, the firm of GSD Associate Professor in Landscape Architecture Chris Reed, has joined forces with Eric Höweler’s (assistant professor of architecture) firm Höweler + Yoon Architecture to design “The Crossing,” which they describe as “a new place of convergence, of congregation, of cross-breeding.” Wallace Roberts & Todd, NEXT Architects, and Magnusson Klemencic Associates have teamed together to create Anacostia Landing, which includes many diverse programmed spaces, ranging from a trampoline park to a permaculture forest.

Balmori Associates along with Cooper, Robertson & Partners have created a design with 3 main concepts: “The Thread” “The Walk” and “The Clasp” which features a wide central plaza over the river. Finally, the team of OLIN and OMA (the firm of Rem Koolhaas, professor of architecture and urban design) presented “Anacostia Crossing,” which also features programming quite prominently in its design, along with multiple levels and a waterfall that acts as a filtration system.

The jury has already convened to choose the design finalist, but the winners will not be publicly announced until October 16 at THEARC. Loeb Fellows and GSD alumni represent the majority of the jury and include Toni Griffin (LF ‘98), Patricia Zingsheim (LF ‘96), Michaele Pride (MAUD ‘00), and Harry Robinson III (MCP ‘72). Designs of the four finalists will be on display at THEARC Gallery, the District Architecture Center, and Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum until October 11.

Whichever design is chosen, locals and visitors alike are eagerly looking forward to the creation of the 11th Street Bridge Park and to the continued transformation of the Anacostia River and Washington, DC. Harriet Tregoning envisions a space that will become part of people’s daily lives and will be the first place that residents take visitors to see. She hopes the park will serve to “visibly, notably make life better.”

The design team selection announcement on October 16 is open to the public. Learn more and RSVP.

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