At the end of this strange and troubled year, it has been a time of reflection. 2020 was a time of anxiety, anger and grief. COVID-19 ripped through the District exposing the existing health and economic inequalities in the Black community. We saw an eruption of action spurred by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, David McAttee and so many others. Collectively, we had difficult conversations with the aim to bring change in our community. We partnered with amazing non-profits to address the centuries of systemic racism and its devastating impact on communities of color supporting housing, workforce training and small business preservation strategies. Read on for a year end recap – and stay tuned for our next blog post sharing our plans for 2021.
Responding to a global pandemic was certainly not on our workplan in January. And yet as March approached, it was clear that COVID-19 was going to exacerbate the existing health and economic disparities in the communities we serve. Over the past several months, the data reveals an unsurprising fact – the African American population has had a disproportionally higher rate of infection, morbidity and job loss during this crisis.
We quickly banded together with three other local non-profits: Bread for the City; Martha’s Table; and Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative to form THRIVE East of the River which has become one of the largest payments of short-term private emergency cash relief ever offered in the U.S. To date, we have distributed over $1.9 million to nearly 400 Ward 8 families along with weekly groceries and monthly dry goods. This condition free cash transfer collaboration will continue into 2021. From the beginning, senior researchers at the Urban Institute have documented and evaluated this work which has become a template for how to respond to future calamities. You can read the Urban Institute’s latest report on our efforts here.
Moving Towards Construction
We know that exposure to green space is essential to reinvigorating bodily and mental health through exercise and relaxation. We are seeing it right now, as people flock to parks and green spaces to relieve the anxiety of isolation, maintain a sense of metal wellbeing and physical presence. Although we’ve been working remotely for much of the year, we have made great progress moving towards construction of the Bridge Park.
In spring, we received unanimous approval of our design by an important federal review agency – the National Capital Planning Commission and in April led a virtual town hall that was attended by over 400 local residents. We’ve submitted construction permits to the Army Corps of Engineers and the US Coast Guard and our next $5 million task order is making its way through
the District’s approval process expected to be executed in January. By this time next year, we should be at 100% design and begin soliciting our general contractor. Special note of appreciation to our very talented design team at OMA, OLIN and WRA along with our partners at the District Department of Transportation.
Building A More Equitable Community
In 2015 we released our community driven Equitable Development Plan – affordable housing, workforce training, small business preservation and cultural equity strategies to ensure local residents can stay and thrive in place. Since then, we have secured over $60 million to implement these strategies, nearly the cost of building the actual park. In 2020, this includes providing pro bono accounting services to local small businesses that in turn received over $200,000 in local and federal COVIC-19 relief grants. Our partners at Skyland Workforce Center led their 17th construction training in October with over 70 Ward 6, 7 & 8 residents placed in jobs. Three graduates of our Ward 8 Home Buyers Club received $10,000 forgivable loans to purchase townhomes at Hunter Place building generational wealth. And our cultural programming went virtual with a panel exploring the defund the police movement, vegan cooking workshops attended by over 700 residents and two interactive performances led by Ward 8’s own Playback Theater.
This work has now gone national as we have advised similar park projects in Los Angeles, Dallas, St. Louis, Buffalo, Durham and San Francisco who have worked with their local residents to create equitable development plans inspired by our work in Washington, D.C. We are so proud of the hard work accomplished by the Bridge Park team and our partners.
As we emerge into a post COVID-19 world, civic spaces like the 11th Street Bridge Park will be places of mourning, healing, celebration and service to our community. The Bridge Park
will be an anchor for residents to rebuild social capital, improve public health and sustain equitable and inclusive economic growth. We will get through this. We will reconnect with each other. By acting intentionally and building on seven years of a community driven process – the Bridge Park can help stitch together Washington D.C. We ask that you join us to build a space that supports thriving neighborhoods and vibrant civic life – a place for all of us.
We so look forward to seeing you in 2021. In the meantime, wishing you and your family a very safe and healthy holidays and happy new year.
Scott, Jessica, Vaughn, Destinee & Mehvish