As I wrote last year, getting to the Anacostia River can be hard from some neighborhoods. Although the parks lining the Anacostia River make up more open space than Central Park in NYC, they perhaps don’t (yet) have the same value to DC residents as Central Park does to New Yorkers in part because there are highways and railroads separating neighborhoods from the waterfront.
The Anacostia Park and Community Collaborative, a network of organizations working to maximize the value that the river corridor can provide to District residents, prioritizes quality access to parks. We also recognize that there are a lot of reasons why residents might not make it to the Anacostia River regardless of the physical access points. People may simply have higher priorities than going to the park, especially in neighborhoods where some families work hard to put food on the table and keep their families safe. But as we work toward engaging on the broader issues related to how parks can support community priorities, we took this opportunity to work with members of the Resilient DC Anacostia River working group to look into the challenges of wayfinding and access at specific locations.
Many groups, including the National Park Service, District Office of Planning, District Department of Transportation, District Department of Energy and Environment and other agencies are well aware of the barriers to parts of the Anacostia waterfront. These agencies and many community organizations are working together to build a resilience strategy for the District, and the Anacostia River is getting a special focus in that effort. During this planning process, currently underway, working groups are looking at ways to build DC's resilience to crises like floods and storms and stresses like poverty and inequity.
Working together with these groups and more, APACC recently helped lead a tour of Resilient DC working group members to look at the challenges of accessing the waterfront. Art Slater of the Anacostia Coordinating Council created an interactive map of photos of some of the access points to the park. To help with evaluating specific sites, we also created the online survey so that the wider public could also comment on access issues (because people who use or live next to the park know better than anyone else).
The survey is meant to evaluate the quality of specific geographic locations and to inform the resilience strategy, but it will also inform APACC's next steps. APACC will publish an update about the issue of access in August or September and use the early results as the seeds for broader public conversations about how the parks and watershed environment relate to the daily lives of watershed residents.
Barriers to entry to the parks include limited underpasses/overpasses across Highway 295 and inconspicuous wayfinding signs. Although some parts of the waterfront see a lot of use despite limited entrance points, like the “central” zone of Anacostia Park near Historic Anacostia and the Fairlawn neighborhoods, other parts can feel empty or hard to get to. And although some areas are visited often, they aren’t well connected to the residents directly adjacent to them.
For example, the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a national gem, is right next to the Kenilworth neighborhood but greets residents with a not-quite-welcoming chain link fence. The entrance looks more like a restricted government facility than a national park. The Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens (an APACC member) partnered with students from the University of Virginia to look at ways to improve the gateway to the park, investigating possibilities like using public art and improved street crossings to enliven the entrance. The ideas are just proposals, but will hopefully inform steps that Friends of Kenilworth Gardens can take to improve the connection between the park and the neighborhood.
This is just one example of how access to the waterfront could be improved to benefit DC residents. I encourage you to check out the tool and share it with your community, and join APACC in further conversations about the Anacostia River, parks and communities.