More and more cities are recognizing the value of transforming underutilized or obsolete infrastructure into vibrant civic spaces. Visionaries in Washington, DC saw the opportunity to create a new urban park with the old 11th Street Bridge which spans the Anacostia River in Southeast DC. A new 11th Street Bridge Park will be built on the piers of the old bridge and will provide a venue for healthy recreation, social interaction, and community culture.
ULI Washington received funding from a ULI Urban Innovation Grant, as part of the Building Healthy Places Initiative, to support a series of engagements by the District Council around the creation of the park. An event on April 30 explored the possibilities for a Bridge Park, and what it could mean for the health of DC residents.
At the April 30 event, Scott Kratz, Director of the 11th Street Bridge Park, gave an overview of the project and emphasized the importance of parks in communities. Kratz referenced studies showing connections between parks, trails, and health. Proximity to parks, he said, can have positive impacts on community engagement, physical activity, and mental and physical health. Kratz also noted that access to parks within DC in particular is uneven based on where people live: the 11th Street Bridge Park is an opportunity bridge the relatively park-poor communities on either side of the Anacostia River.
From the beginning, the 11th Street Bridge Park has been a community-driven project. Two design charrettes in December 2013, convened by ULI Washington, attracted over 100 residents to give input on what the new park should feature. Current leading ideas include a 21st century playground, urban agriculture, a canoe launch, an environmental education center, a performance space, public art, and a café. These ideas have informed a nationwide design competition which was launched in March and already has over 40 entries from across the U.S.
Kratz also presented a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation map that showed life expectancy in years within DC and at various points of different Metro lines. Where you live can have a serious impact on your health and your life expectancy, and the 11th Street Bridge Park and other projects that enhance community health have a big role to play in reducing these large gaps in life expectancy.
A panel discussion following Kratz’s presentation picked up on these themes. Diane Caslow, Vice President of Strategic and Business Planning and MedStar Health, moderated the panel, which included:
- Maureen McAvey, Senior Resident Fellow for Retail at ULI
- Marcee J. White, MD, FAAP, Medical Director at Children’s National Health System
- Michael D. Abrams, President at Foulger-Pratt Medical Properties, LLC
- Susan Piedmont-Palladino, Curator at the National Building Museum
Key takeaways from the panel included:
- Healthy places help make people feel better and more valued.
- Density and diversity can get us to healthier environments and communities.
- The market is shifting toward more dense, diverse, and urban communities with a mix of uses.
- Communities need to ensure that they are creating places that everyone can access, including children, the elderly, and the physically impaired.
- Disparities in chronic disease rates can be attributed to the built environment, including access to affordable housing and access to nutrition.
- The changing preferences of Gen Y and Baby Boomers towards compact and walkable communities give us the opportunity to build differently.
The panel also emphasized the importance of partnerships and breaking down silos between disciplines in improving health outcomes. If everyone works together, we can create places and communities that provide a variety of opportunities for improving health: all place-making decisions are, in effect, decisions that can have positive or negative impacts on health.
For more information about ULI’s Building Healthy Places Initiative, click here.
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For information about future ULI Washington events, click here.
For information about the 11th Street Bridge Park, click here.