More than a Park

Written by Scott Kratz

What does affordable housing have to do with a park?
Our non-profit is transforming an aged out freeway over the Anacostia River into a new civic space – a pretty ambitious effort. But years before we open what will be the first elevated park in the nation’s capital, we are working to radically shift the geopolitics of Washington D.C. east of the Anacostia River by promoting a public-private collaboration that ensures our most vulnerable residents can stay and thrive in place. We started an east of the river Home Buyers Club that has helped 53 local residents purchase their own homes. We are standing up a Community Land Trust providing permanently affordable housing. We are partnering with a non-profit advocacy group to hold monthly tenant rights workshops. And this month we are kicking off a workforce training program to ensure local residents have the skills and capacity to build this new park.

But why, you ask…
Our investment must be more than bricks and mortar of the future park. It is just as important to invest in the residents who live and work in our adjacent neighborhoods. In 2015, the Bridge Park team worked with the community to create an Equitable Development Plan so that local residents can thrive in place. Working collaboratively with hundreds of residents, faith leaders, civic associations and District government agencies, recommendations were multi-sector in approach including our investments in housing, workforce development, small businesses and cultural equity strategies.

Where we work
The Anacostia River has long divided Washington, D.C. On one side of the river lies Capitol Hill and the booming area around the Nationals baseball stadium. On the other sits the neighborhoods of Anacostia and Fairlawn. This is more than a physical separation though – there is also an economic divide through a historic lack of investment and resources. Median household income east of the river is $33,400 compared with $112,500 west of the river. 73% of housing units east of the river are renters (who are at greatest risk of displacement) with more than half spend more than 30% their income on housing. Finally, there is also a racial divide – 92% of residents east of the river are African American compared to a more mixed population of 28% African American and 65% white.

Our east of the river non-profit – Building Bridges Across the River – is working to bridge this divide with the creation of a transformative new civic space – the 11th Street Bridge Park, a new venue for environmental education, culture and recreation. Extensive community engagement that includes over 1,000 stakeholder meetings to date determined park programming (an environmental education center, urban agriculture, performance space and public art that tells the rich history of the region) and even selected the park’s design team.

By keeping long-time residents at the center of the decision-making process, our equity-first approach of community development has become a national model for how we invest in places of need. We are deeply grateful for TD Charitable Foundation’s grant to the Bridge Park that is fundamentally changing the way cities make investments in their most under-resourced communities. TD funds will support a community advisory committee that ensures our Land Trust is driven by local residents, our Home Buyers Club allowing residents to create wealth that can passed along to future generations and building the Bridge Park’s internal capacity to meet the growing needs of nearby residents. Thank you TD for fostering and helping create collaborative opportunities that brings partners together for community enrichment. Thank you for helping us bridge D.C.
Watch how people are being impacted through the Major Grant Initiative, view here.