Landscape architecture firm OLIN and architecture firm OMA were announced as the winners of a national design competition to create a 900-foot-long bridge park spanning the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. According to 11th Street Bridge Park executive director Scott Kratz, the jury unanimously selected this team, and the majority of online public votes came in for their inventive, X-marks-the-spot design. Fundraising for the park, which is expected to cost more than $25 million, begins in earnest; the D.C. government has also committed $14.5 million for the project. Some 800,000 to 1,200,000 people are expected to visit the park each year, bringing in $75-200 million in an anticipated return on investment each year, said Kratz.
Jason Long, a partner with OMA, said the bridge’s X design will be iconic. It brings the Navy Yard’s “entertainment and retail” and Anacostia’s “arts and culture” together in a literal crossing. Also, the hardscape of the Navy Yard will mix with the “pastoral side” of the Anacostia. The X design creates an upper and lower deck so more layers can be added. Long said the upper deck will provide needed shade in D.C.’s blistering summers.
Hallie Boyce, ASLA, a partner at OLIN, told us: “This is an incredible opportunity to contribute to the fabric of the city and bring everyone together to strengthen the ecological health of the river and the overall health of the surrounding communities.” Indeed, the bridge is the central opportunity to focus all of our attention on the continuously-sorry state of the Anacostia River, which is among the most polluted in the country. As Kratz told us, the park will get more people to engage with the river and do something about the environmental problems. “If you go to our gorgeous bridge park and see a blue heron, but then also see a trash bag, you’ll know which doesn’t belong.” The park will be home to a permanent environmental education system designed to educate locals and spur more aggressive clean-up action.
Boyce explained their thoughtful plans for helping restore the ecosystems to health. New parks on either side of the bridge park will “enrich through plantings” the Piedmont and coastal plain ecosystems, which meet in D.C. Plantings are designed to be habitat for wildlife first and foremost, but the plants will also offer a “rich, varied experience” for visitors as well. She said, “the city celebrates cherry blossoms each spring;” at the bridge park, “they will celebrate fall foilage.”
There will be a series of waterfalls on the upper deck and then lower deck, two at each edge of the park. The lower deck waterfalls will recycle river water, aerating it, adding oxygen to the river, in the process. The upper deck waterfalls will serve as introduction to visitors entering on the pedestrian ramps, offering “a lovely gateway, with calming effect.” The design team also proposed using the waterfalls as canvases for moving videos about the history of the nearby communities. Here, again, OLIN and OMA meet both ecological and aesthetic goals through smart design.
Boyce said the river’s health is expected to soon improve. A new set of stormwater tunnels will come online in a few years, eliminating sewage overflows from the city into the Anacostia. Efforts are underway to deal with the massive amounts of contaminated soils found in industrial sites upstream in Maryland. That state is also looking into a bag tax, which will help reduce the number of plastic bag detritus. Still, so much more needs to be done in Maryland, as it’s responsible for much of the poor condition of the river, if the river is to be safe for swimming by 2025, as Boyce said.
The team behind the bridge park rightfully kept the focus on keeping the park rich with activities year-round. While there is talk of a streetcar going over the bridge, when the park gets built it will still be a big schlep from Metro stations on either the Anacostia or Navy Yard sides. The Anacostia Metro stations are both more than a mile from the bridge. There will be ample access along the waterfront — especially for bicyclists — and the pedestrian pathways through the parks and up the ramps seem pleasant, but the park will really need to be a destination to draw the 800,000 – 1,200,000 people a year they expect.
So to make the park a destination, the design team has added a sunken amphitheater — recessed to hide the noise of the cars passing on other 11th street bridge, a cafe and urban agriculture garden, and a grand, central plaza that may make the walk worth it. The plaza, situated near the cafe, will also provide spaces for wedding and events. In the winter, it can turn into an ice rink. Again, creating must-attend events on these spaces, and buzz about the park, will be critical.
Coming next is a feasibility study, including a structural analysis for the bridge foundation, as well as an environmental impact study, right-of-way analysis, and more conversations with the Coast Guard and Navy. At the press conference, some community activists expressed concerns about what the park would mean for neighboring property values — and whether it would advance gentrification, the displacement of existing communities. Kratz said their number-one concern was no displacement, and the bridge park team will be doing an audit of all the housing around the park before the project even gets constructed. “That way we’ll have real data to see what the impact of the bridge park is” and help the city government find a solution.