Research Report Equitable Development Planning and Urban Park Space: Early Insights from DC’s 11th Street Bridge Park Project
Mary Bogle, Somala Diby, Eric Burnstein
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A new public park for Washington, DC, is spurring collaboration between neighbors and planners to ensure benefits for all. Once completed, the District’s 11th Street Bridge Park will connect the relatively affluent communities surrounding Capitol Hill on the west bank to the much less well-off Anacostia neighborhood on the east bank. The project offers an interesting case study on whether and how local communities can reap the benefits of public urban spaces when stakeholders make that goal a priority.

This report is the first in a series of products that tracks the park’s creation and draws out lessons for cities on planning, measuring, and producing equitable growth.

For years, Anacostia has suffered from long-term disinvestment. Park planners have documented startling disparities between the communities to be “bridged.” The child poverty rate, for example, is 20 percent on the west side and 53 percent in Anacostia. The unemployment rate is 6.6 on the west side and 20.7 percent in Anacostia. Planners and neighbors hope that early emphasis on equity will connect east-of-the-river residents to more economic opportunity and neighbors on both sides of the bridge to one another.  

Yet, neighbors have been skeptical, having seen too many instances of gentrification, rising costs, and displacement following such improvements. The planners agree that the Bridge Park—slated to open by late 2019—will be a failure unless it serves the full interests of those already living in the surrounding neighborhoods and people of modest means who wish to move there. This has spurred the planners to set and pursue equitable development goals as avidly as the bridge’s construction itself.

Early and Frequent Resident Involvement
The planners involved the communities on both sides of the river in developing the plan for equitable development. Residents suggested programming ideas for the park, helped choose the winning design, and vetted the recommendations for equitable development.

On recommendation of neighbors, the design features outdoor performance spaces, innovative playgrounds, urban agriculture, classes about river systems, public art that tells the region’s history, and kayak and paddle boat access. The equitable development plan includes a focus on affordable housing, jobs with viable career pathways, and small business development.

Setting Goals and Tracking Progress
To guide and track progress, the Urban Institute has helped park planners develop a logic model and performance measures to track the equitable development plan’s three focus areas: housing, employment, and small business development. The logic model connects goals (e.g., ensure that residents receive priority in hiring for construction) to the steps for seeing that goals are achieved and to targeted outcomes. Outcome metrics include the number of residents hired and changing income for families in the area. A longer-term outcome is higher local employment rates. Other goals include increasing the number of businesses in the main business corridor and number of small businesses owned by residents, and reducing the share of renters with severe housing cost burden.

Early Lessons

  • Start early: “Hot” real estate markets can overwhelm efforts to inject equity in planning; pursuing equity goals before fundraising for the project can counterbalance such pressures.
  • Involve community in all phases: Set aside time to build trust among residents.
  • Leverage a wide range of local, regional, and national experts and partners: Bridge Park leaders used a wide range of experts to understand the state of equity in the impact area and to set realistic expectations for what inclusive economic development should be.
  • Engage government, funder, community-based, and other partners in tandem: Relationships forged in the planning phase are likely to fuel progress in the implementation phase.
  • Prepare actionable wish list: Developers often support various community benefits, but community members have to ask for them clearly and forthrightly.

From construction hiring to preserving affordable housing to resident-owned food kiosks on the bridge, the final plan aims to connect the communities along the Anacostia River.

Research Areas Neighborhoods, cities, and metros Greater DC
Tags Infrastructure
Policy Centers Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center
Cities Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
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