Building on the success of the BeltLine in Atlanta and the High Line in New York, cities are recognizing the value of transforming underutilized or obsolete infrastructure into spaces and places that can have major economic and health impacts on the community. Visionaries in Washington, DC saw this opportunity with the old 11th Street Bridge which spans the Anacostia River in Southeast DC. Two new bridge spans were constructed recently, leaving the piers from the old bridge. The planned 11th Street Bridge Park will be built on the piers of the old bridge and will provide a venue for healthy recreation, social interaction, and community culture.
As part of ULI’s Building Healthy Places Initiative and as part of an Urban Innovation Grant, ULI Washington convened an event on April 30 to explore the Bridge Park and what it means for the health of DC residents. Scott Kratz, Director of the 11th Street Bridge Park, gave an overview of the project and emphasized the importance of parks in communities. Kratz referenced studies showing connections between parks, trails, and health – proximity to parks can have positive impacts on community engagement, physical activity, and mental and physical health. Kratz also noted that access to parks within the District is uneven based on where people live: the 11th Street Bridge Park is an opportunity to bring together the communities on either side of the Anacostia River and will be especially important to help improve the health statistics of the residents in the area. To illustrate this point, Kratz presented a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation map that showed life expectancy in years within DC at various points of different Metro lines. Where you live can have a serious impact on your health and your life expectancy, and the 11th Street Bridge Park and other projects that enhance community health have a big role to play in reducing these large gaps in life expectancy.
From the beginning, the 11th Street Bridge Park has been a community-driven project. Over 200 community meetings in Wards 7 and 8, where the bridge will be located, have been held to date. Two design charrettes in December 2013, convened by the 11th Street Bridge Park project and ULI Washington, attracted over 100 residents to give input on what the new park should feature. Leading ideas include a 21st century playground, urban agriculture, a canoe launch, an environmental education center, a performance space, public art, and a café. These ideas have informed a nationwide design competition, which was launched in March and already has over 40 entries from across the U.S.
The possibilities for the Bridge Park are endless. Rendering by Ed Estes, Courtesy of DC Office of Planning.
A panel discussion following Kratz’s presentation picked up on these themes. Diane Caslow, Vice President of Strategic and Business Planning at MedStar Health, moderated the panel which included:
Maureen McAvey, Senior Resident Fellow at ULI
Marcee J. White, MD, FAAP, Medical Director at Children’s National Health System
Michael D. Abrams, President at Foulger-Pratt Medical Properties, LLC
Susan Piedmont-Palladino, Curator at the National Building Museum
Key takeaways from the panel included:
Healthy places help make people feel better and more valued
Density and diversity is a path that can get us to healthier environments and communities
- The development community can locate projects in places that have transportation infrastructure and follow the market of where people want to live to create dense, diverse, urban communities with a mix of uses
- There is a need to ensure that we are creating places that everyone can access, including children, the elderly, and the physically impaired
- Disparities in chronic disease rates are due in large part to the built environment, including access to affordable housing and access to nutrition
- The changing preferences of Gen Y and Baby Boomers towards compact and walkable communities give us the opportunity to build differently
The panel also emphasized the importance of partnerships and breaking down silos between disciplines in improving health outcomes. If planners, architects, community health specialists, physicians, developers and other professionals work together, places and communities can be created that provide a variety of opportunities for improving health: all place-making decisions are, in effect, decisions that can have positive or negative impacts on public health.
Article written by Sara Hammerschmidt courtesy of ULI Washington
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