A proposed park on Washington, D.C.’s 11th Street Bridge is set to bring together two neighborhoods of distinctively different socioeconomic classes. Currently, the 11th Street Bridge in Southeast D.C. still carries traffic, but a new bridge is being built for vehicles, offering an opportunity for developers to plan a park to connect the city’s Capital Hill and Anacostia neighborhoods, with the intention of revitalization.
Creating a park on the bridge will also allow for easy pedestrian access between the two neighborhoods. This is important because the Capital Hill and Anacostia neighborhoods are vastly different in regards to the economic conditions of residents. The Anacostia River that runs beneath the 11th Street Bridge is a dividing line between class and race. NPR notes that “The [Anacostia] neighborhood on the eastern side is more than 90 percent black and is relatively low-income in comparison with the western side.” While a park built atop the 11th Street Bridge would create open access between the two neighborhoods, there is consideration as to how the revitalization could raise property values, resulting in displacement for some of the area’s lower-income residents.
Oramenta Newsome, who works with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation told NPR that the result of the park would likely raise property values, however, she defended gentrification and believes the improvements can benefit everyone. NPR notes:
Newsome calls the east side of the river the “last frontier.” Gentrification is only just starting to happen here. In order to keep a mix of incomes in the neighborhood, Newsome says, the city needs the right mindset about how the bridge fits with other development plans.
Consideration for the effects of gentrification on the surrounding area is a good start. The mindset Newsome mentions isn’t always part of infrastructure decisions. For example, New York City’s High Line elevated park resulted in increased properties values, with a 103 percent increase between 2003 and 2011, according to the New York Times (the High Line opened in 2009, but property values spiked after it’s opening). Such drastic increase resulted in reduction of diversity and even decreases in profits for area businesses. Jeremiah Moss, writing for the NY Times adds that “[i]t’s easy to forget that until very recently, even with the proliferation of art galleries near the West Side Highway, West Chelsea was a mix of working-class residents and light-industrial businesses.” Not anymore. The High Line has created an elite neighborhood with condos only the rich can afford.
On the effects of gentrification on communities, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Kaid Benfield writes:
My own belief is that we should be working for revitalization that encourages mixed-income neighborhoods in which new residents and businesses are welcomed while displacement is avoided or minimized. But make no mistake: that revitalization must continue to take place in America’s cities. It is absolutely essential if we are to have any hope of a more sustainable tax base to fund civic restoration and improvement, a more equitable civil society, and a more environmentally sustainable pattern of growth that reduces sprawling consumption of the landscape while bringing our rates of driving emissions down (central locations with moderate or greater density and nearby conveniences facilitate walking, transit, and shorter driving distances).
Gentrification, even with it’s weaknesses has the potential to revitalize neighborhoods for all residents. The key point with Benfield’s belief is that displacement needs to be “avoided or minimized.”
A park built on the 11th Street Bridge will act as a connector between two divided neighborhoods. With consideration to the effects of gentrification and planning for the benefits of all of the area’s residents (both rich and poor), officials may be able to create a vibrant neighborhood connector, while improving the lives of both rich and poor. As Benfield said, we should be working toward “revitalization that encourages mixed-income neighborhoods.” If the 11th Street Bridge project is successful at reducing or preventing displacement, while also revitalizing the neighborhood, it will be an example for future developments to follow.