"Honor the Anacostia" - Summary of the 100 Resilient Cities Phase 2 Working Group Kickoff

I recently attended the “Phase 2 Kickoff” of DC’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative. There were about 100 people in the room from all kinds of District agencies and non-profit organizations who are concerned about DC’s future. About 20 of them were there to talk specifically about the Anacostia River.

“Honor the Anacostia”

As a member of the 100 Resilient Cities, DC is now building a “resilience strategy.” This is supposed to be an action-based plan that helps build DC’s immune system and its ability to recover from shocks and stresses. (Shocks to a city like DC include floods, heat waves, power outages, and terrorist attacks while stresses include lack of affordable housing, racial inequality, food deserts/swamps and underfunded safety net services.)

 Image: Screenshot of top shocks and stressors listed on the Resilient DC  factsheet .

Image: Screenshot of top shocks and stressors listed on the Resilient DC factsheet.

Kevin Bush, DC’s Chief Resilience Officer, and his team created 5 major topic areas for the plan, and included “Honor the Anacostia” as one of them. This is in recognition of the fact that the Anacostia River corridor is a place where many issues collide—environmental issues like climate change, flooding and resilient park design intersect with social issues like housing, employment and education. The work plan for this research area this summer includes the following questions:

Vision question: How can DC fully achieve the potential of the Anacostia River to generate improved health outcomes, biodiversity, economic activity, connectivity, cultural amenities, and recreation opportunities for District residents?

  • How can DC invest in the Anacostia River and waterfront without involuntary displacement of existing low-income residents?
  • How can DC accelerate the restoration of the Anacostia RIver to improve its ecological health and the health and wellbeing of neighboring communities
  • What near-term pilot projects can DC complete that would serve as physical and inspiring examples of resilience?
  • How can DC combine diffuse community plans into one cohesive vision for the Anacostia River built off the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative (now 15 years old)?

I was thrilled to see these questions explicitly asked, because I have been asking them too, as have many members of the Anacostia Park and Community Collaborative. The conversation at the event led to several main takeaways:

Parks can be a venue to talk about and build “resilience” in meaningful ways with normal people.

Many workgroup members commented that the river corridor shouldn’t just be thought as an environmental or natural phenomenon, but also an important social place. Around the table, people kept coming back to the need to bring the conversation about “resilience” to normal DC residents, and to do it in a sustained way, not a traditional one-off public event often paired with new planning efforts.

The parks along the river could become a venue for this conversation, people argued, where programs and events could be designed not just to check the box that engagement was done, but to start to activate the parks to become neighborhood assets, and tools that build social resilience. They said there was a need to cultivate more citizen planners who can respond to this era of accelerated change in the city. Equipping youth with the tools to advocate for the future of their own built environment was repeated as one clear way for DC to build more social resilience. This could all be part of the same effort.

 Image: The  UrbanPlan  program by ULI trains young people to think like planners and was brought up as an example.

Image: The UrbanPlan program by ULI trains young people to think like planners and was brought up as an example.

A suggested quick and inexpensive way to start this kind of engagement was with a marketing effort highlighting the benefits of parks, green space and communal spaces to neighborhoods, and encouraging people to participate in programs and events. (Luckily, this is already starting to happen). This could evolve into more “pop-ups” and events that activate the waterfront and neighborhood parks, which could be opportunities to talk to people about what “resilience” means to them while simultaneously creating a few jobs and giving families healthy activities to participate in.

DC can create pathways to green careers via the Anacostia corridor.

The workgroup talked about the opportunity to leverage the improvement of the Anacostia as an investment in workforce development. By cleaning the river and improving parks and building cool, next-generation resilient landscapes like other cities are doing, the District will have an opportunity to identify green jobs and career paths within the watershed and create a pipeline for DC residents from service learning at young ages to apprenticeships and upward mobility.

DC can implement a mixture of housing strategies based on good baseline data and already existing good examples.

When the conversation turned to affordable housing, gentrification and displacement of residents by rising costs of living, the group called for the need for a clear understanding of the patterns of development and their impacts on people. Participants asked: What development projects are currently in the pipeline? What plans are being implemented, which have already been implemented, which are still in the works?

Meanwhile, we all named several sources of information that could be aggregated and made sense of, including DC’s vast datasets; data from the Eviction Lab; and findings from an ongoing study of housing in neighborhoods along the river by DC Appleseed (an APACC member). Understanding the situation of development in the District would help inform what kind of strategies would best respond. Projects like the 11th Street Bridge Park’s Equitable Development Plan have already provided a good example to follow in terms of strategies to reduce resident displacement.

DC’s resilience strategy could call for the use of many different anti-displacement strategies, like land trusts, limited equity cooperatives and other models.

The Federal government, in addition to the District, should provide resources to implement resilience strategies.

Since vast portions of the waterfront are Federal land, the group called for inclusion of the National Park Service (who manages Anacostia Park) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (who manages the National Arboretum) in the resilience planning process. Not only should these agencies be thinking about resilience, but they should also contribute resources to implementing the ideas generated by this phase of DC’s resilience planning.

Of course, the District should also plan to budget for the implementation of resilience strategies, not only because they will be important but because planning without implementation can breed lack of faith in government and planning like this in general, which is a common conception in some communities east of the river.

Next steps

Several members of APACC are on the working group to “Honor the Anacostia,” and we will continue to share updates about the process here.