New Elevated Park: A Bridge to Anacostia Development

11th Street Bridge Park plans lead to economic development for Anacostia

After a seven-month, nationwide design competition, DC residents are looking forward to their first elevated park, similar to the High Line Park in New York City. The selected design was created by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), an architectural firm based in the Netherlands, and Olin Studio, based in Philadelphia. The 11th Street Bridge Park’s foundation will be built on piers that remain from the demolished 11th Street bridge overlooking the Anacostia River. 

Not only will the bridge park set new heights for recreation in the city, it will continue a development uptick in one of the city’s most stigmatized neighborhoods. “One of the key goals of the 11th Street Bridge Park is to serve as an anchor for economic development,” says Scott Kratz, director of the project. “By creating a regional destination, this new civic space can become a magnet for new businesses on both sides of the Anacostia River.”  

While the Navy Yard and Capitol Hill communities bustle with restaurants and retail and residential development, Anacostia has been plagued with high crime and unemployment rates – factors that have derailed economic development for decades. When Charles Wilson moved into Anacostia in 2006, options for sit-down dining, retail shopping, and entertainment were scarce. Still he is proud to reside in a community rich in history and cultural heritage, especially among African Americans. “I really love the historic character and charm of the community, that’s what initially got me excited about the neighborhood,” says Wilson, who serves as president of the Historic Anacostia Block Association. 

When he heard of the bridge park project, Wilson was intrigued. “It’s going to be an exciting time for the neighborhood because of this project,” he says. “It’s going to create a whole new space in Ward 8 that most people haven’t been exposed to.” Wilson welcomed Kratz to association meetings that were among the more than 200 forums that Kratz attended to keep neighbors updated and engaged in the progress of the project.  

While Wilson has seen recent development along the Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road corridor, including restaurants such as the Big Chair Cafe and Union Town Bar and Grill, and cultural spaces like the Anacostia Arts Center, which includes retail shops and a cafe, he believes that the bridge park will plateau the neighborhood in a new way. “Historic Anacostia is starting to get national attention because of the proposed bridge park, so [the neighborhood] is definitely going to be much brighter because of this,” says Wilson. “I already hear from people who are interested in the neighborhood because of this proposed project.”  

Each team in the design competition received current community information, such as the fact that in Capitol Hill the average family income is $145,127, while in the Anacostia neighborhood it is $50,800 and 47 percent of children live in poverty. “From the initial brief, the competition organizers made it clear that one of the key missions for the new bridge park was to provide economic and social benefits for the east side of the river,” says Jason Long, partner-in charge at OMA. In a press release by OMA, Long described the design as “a literal intersection and a dynamic, multi-layered amenity … it simultaneously functions as a gateway, a lookout point with expansive views, a canopy that can shelter programs and a public plaza where the two paths meet.”  

The design, entitled “Anacostia Crossing,” includes a central plaza, enclosed café, and environmental center and other features that will form an X, a symbol of the city’s tradition of civic spaces. A report by HR&A Advisors Inc., a real estate, economic development, and energy efficiency consulting firm, estimates that the park will draw 800,000 to 1.2 million visitors a year and be completely accessible for all user groups.

The District has committed $14.5 million to the project, which demonstrates the backing of local government and the opportunity to immediately begin hiring consultants for a full-cost estimate, environmental assessment, rights of way, permitting process, and other procedures, says Kratz. The rest of the funding will be secured through sources including individuals, foundations, corporate support, and possibly federal agencies. “Now that we have a final design that folks can look, see, and touch, we are engaging and cultivating these kinds of potential funders,” says Kratz. 

As early as groundbreaking, Tendani Mpulubusi El, chairman of the Ward 8 Arts & Culture Council, foresees the park as offering advancements for Anacostia residents. “The construction, developing, and planning of the actual building will create economic stimulus and opportunities for people,” says Mpulubusi El, who has lived in Anacostia since 2004. Like Wilson, Mpulubusi El has seen signs of economic growth in Ward 8 through dining amenities and the entrance of public charter schools, the redevelopment of the St. Elizabeths campus, and projects created by the Great Streets Initiative and business improvement districts. 

Once construction is complete, employment opportunities will be provided through operations and maintenance, the bridge café, and the environmental center. Additional training and job opportunities could be provided through restoration technologies for the Anacostia River and urban agriculture. And with amenities such as kayak rentals, public art, and performances that will appeal to residents across the city, the bridge park will drive traffic to the neighborhood, stimulating outside businesses to set up shop in the corridor, says Mpulubusi El. “It definitely will be a catalyst for economic development.” 

Christina Sturdivant is a Washington, DC, native reporting on arts, culture, development, innovation, and revitalization in the District.