The old adage goes that every journey starts with a single step. My adventure working to realize the 11th Street Bridge Park began nearly three years ago in April, 2011. At the time I was working as Vice President of Education at the National Building Museum – a position that lured me away from sunny Los Angeles to adopt Washington DC as my new home. I had invited the Danish planner and architect Jan Gehl to speak about how the nation’s capital could become a greener and more sustainable city. To prep for his talk, I arranged a breakfast meeting with Jan and DC Planning Director Harriet Tregoning. Jan was running a little late, and while chatting with Harriet, I asked what seemed like an innocent question at the time – “What was happening with all that construction on the 11th Street Bridges?” I inquired as I live just blocks away from DC’s largest construction project in its history replacing aged out spans crossing the Anacostia River. Harriet looked across the breakfast table and shared her vision to transform one of the old freeway bridges into a place of active recreation, environmental recreation and the arts – but she needed some help. Was I game? Looking back, perhaps I should have asked for another cup of coffee, but the more I explored this concept, the more I saw the potential to help build DC’s first elevating park supporting the community’s artistic, physical, environmental and economic health.
Harriet spent the first six months securing the support from the mayor, the city administrator, the National Park Service and the Navy Yard. Working nights and weekends, I started leading a series of community meetings with nearby residents and business owners asking if this was an idea with legs. We received skepticism at first – could we really pull something like this off? – but enthusiasm and excitement began to grow. Nearly 200 community meetings later, the number of 11th Street Bridge Park champions is expanding at a rapid pace. And with an army of supporters behind us, we’ve raised over half a million dollars to launch a nation-wide design competition and hire our first full time staff to lead the project.
That would be me. Today was my first day working with the amazing staff at the appropriately named “Building Bridges Across the River at THEARC” the non-profit supporting this effort. This journey will be a long hike, not a sprint, but we are patient and determined. Join this adventure by signing up for our e-mail list, attend one of our public meetings or make a donation. You just might even end up walking over a Bridge Park.