Extreme Makeover: Infrastructure Edition

Written by Scott Kratz

On Friday, June 27th, CG/LA and Autodesk gathered approximately 100 top industry leaders together for a symposium on the current state of United States infrastructure. The event was organized around the central question raised by the recently published Making the Grade report: How can the U.S. once again become a leader in the field of infrastructure?

At 11th Street Bridge Park, this is a question we are also considering. All across the country, cities are being confronted with aged-out infrastructure—bridges, roads, and railroad trestles  of past eras. What should we do with them to provide a public benefit? What can we do with them to engage the public with our built past?

In response to these questions, several cities are setting powerful precedents, recognizing the potential to create a new civic space where others might see an ugly railroad track in a state of disrepair. The most familiar of these examples include New York City’s  High Line , where co-founders Joshua David and Robert Hammond transformed a discontinued freight rail line into an elevated public park, which now receives millions of visitors every year. Or in Chattanooga, Tennessee where a joint public-private effort helped avert the demolition of the Walnut Street Bridge, (a former automobile bridge), and instead reopen it as the world’s longest pedestrian span  and an economic development anchor in the surrounding area.

The 11th Street Bridge Park is working to accomplish similar goals in the nation’s capital. We don’t see the old 11th Street Bridge as a piece of infrastructure that is slated for the wrecking ball; rather, we see it as the future site of DC’s first elevated public park, an iconic landmark in our city’s landscape that will connect residents on either side of the Anacostia River and enhance the area’s economic, physical, cultural and environmental health. As more pieces of infrastructure reach the end of their life span, opportunities to re-envision these spaces and bring them into the 21st century abound. It has been done before, and we plan on doing it again in the nation’s capital.

To regain U.S. competitiveness in infrastructure, though, we need to take more steps as a nation—not just as individual cities—to encourage the adaptive reuse of outdated infrastructure, and so we offer our deep gratitude to the terrific teams at CG/LA and Autodesk for working tirelessly to place infrastructure leadership on the national agenda.

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