A cleaner Anacostia River: a "blessing and a curse"

DC residents Latisha Atkins and Rhonda Hamilton express hope and a little angst over development and the resulting interest in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

"Rhonda Hamilton has spent her entire life in affordable housing near the Anacostia, and has watched as development has reshaped the city west of the river over the past 20 years while the water grows steadily cleaner.

It's more of a coincidence, she says, but it's one that's making both sides of the Anacostia increasingly attractive. There's 'a domino effect,' she says.

'You have developers building around water that's becoming cleaner,' she adds, 'so they're jumping in for the benefits.'

Sitting in one of the several new cafes in Ward 7's Deanwood neighborhood, Latisha Atkins sees both the promise and the risk for her neighborhood.

'We're pretty much one of the last frontiers where you can grow. Housing is still somewhat affordable,' says Ms. Atkins, president and chief executive officer of Bridges Inc., a Ward 7 group specializing in community development. 'Any time you beautify an area, make it a place that's more welcoming, you make it a place that people are attracted to. That's kind of a curse and a blessing.'"

As rivers get cleanups, can city residents still afford to live nearby? explores the tension between cleaner and safer communities and new development.

"After a century of neglect and pollution, cities around the world have been restoring their rivers and riverfront areas. Cities from San Antonio and Pittsburgh to Seoul and Bilbao have already restored their rivers. Chicago and Cleveland are exploring doing the same.

But cleanups under way here in L.A., and across the country in Washington, D.C., show how the success of one form of advocacy is giving rise to a whole other kind of advocate: those trying to ensure that river-linked development plans benefit working-class residents, not just upscale newcomers.

In some cases, new alliances are being forged between environmental groups, housing, and economic development advocates. The goal is a balanced plan that's not about just fighting for cleaner rivers – or fighting against development that comes with cleaner rivers.

'What we've tried to do is put together several pieces that have been approached by others elsewhere, but we've tried to roll them into a package here that's not common,' says Doug Siglin, executive director of the Anacostia Waterfront Trust, a Washington group that's involved in one of these coalitions. 'I can't think of any other close examples of what it is precisely that we're doing,' he adds. 'There's a vacuum here.'''