A new report celebrates 15 years of progress on the Anacostia, and calls for new focus on equity and resilience

BY ERIN GARNAAS-HOLMES. Erin Garnaas-Holmes serves as the current Anacostia Ambassador under the Urban Waters Federal Partnership and a Project Director with the Anacostia Waterfront Trust, a member of the Anacostia Park and Community Collaborative.

The Office of Planning recently released a progress report about the Anacostia Waterfront, highlighting the many, many ways that the Anacostia River waterfront has become an exciting destination and driver of all sorts of positive change in DC over the past 15 years.

The report also acknowledges that there is a lot more work to be done, especially to address equity and resilience along the river corridor.

The report serves as an update on how the District has been doing in implementing the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative and the Anacostia Waterfront Framework Plan that was launched in 2003, during Anthony Williams’ term as Mayor of DC.

A lot has changed on the Anacostia since 2003, and the report details how the river has become a central backbone for neighborhood improvement, environmental restoration, transportation investment, improving access to parks and recreation and creating new cultural destinations in Washington.

Once a forgotten and polluted dividing line, the District’s eight-mile stretch of the Anacostia River and Washington Channel is now unlocking social, environmental, and economic benefits.

For example, the AWI plan set the groundwork for the booming neighborhood growth of the Navy Yard area (the fastest growing neighborhood in DC, with more growth projected) and the recent Wharf development.

The AWI also led to a list of transportation improvements that the District Department of Transportation has steadily completed, including 20+ miles of the Anacostia River Trail, a new 11th Street Bridge, improved roadways and new transit routes.

And through a mixture of small and large environmental restoration and infrastructure projects, the AWI has led the Anacostia to now be on its way toward becoming a fishable, swimmable river far before the original goal of 2032.

The report lists DC’s accomplishments on the waterfront, culminating in this year’s celebration of the Year of the Anacostia.

But in addition to celebrating the great progress that the District of Columbia has made on improving the waterfront, the report also acknowledges that we have a lot more work to do.

“There is still more to be done to ensure everyone, including traditionally underserved populations, can benefit from Anacostia River revitalization,” the report reads. “District agencies and non-profit and private partners will continue to develop creative, community-driven solutions and leverage Anacostia waterfront investment to overcome the economic, physical, and cultural barriers that disproportionately disadvantage low-income residents and residents of color.”

The report also calls for more focus on resilience, or the ability of “communities to withstand the impacts of both climate related events as well as economic, security, and health shocks and stresses.”

I agree that in order for the Anacostia waterfront to truly become a leading, international example of excellence in resilient, sustainable, equitable and innovative urban design and development, it will have to address equity and resilience head on—not as an afterthought.

While the 15-year progress report is a fantastically informative retrospective on how far DC has come, perhaps it also serves as a call to action for the agencies, nonprofits, businesses and residents who live, work, play and pray along the Anacostia River corridor to come together again to create an new, updated, comprehensive vision for the future of the waterfront that addresses current challenges and opportunities.

The Anacostia Waterfront Initiative and its Framework Plan helped turn the river around in 2003, but now it’s time to direct the waterfront’s new momentum to ensure that the sum of improvements  directly serves DC residents—especially those that lived through the river’s less celebrated years.