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194 Chapter 10 COUNTERING ENVIRONMENTAL GENTRIFICATION THROUGH ECONOMIC, CULTURAL, AND POLITICAL EQUITY The 11th Street Bridge Park Dennis Chestnut and Marianne E. Krasny The Anacostia Freeway went up the same year as the Berlin Wall. It meant about the same thing. (Washington, DC, blues musician Nap Turner, quoted in Williams 2001, 420) Olin partner Hallie Boyce said the design would encourage interaction between both sides of the river and become a destination for people from around the city. “We knew it had to be both connector and place,” she said. (O’Connell 2014) Even before the Navy Yard was constructed along the west shore of the Anacostia River in 1799, tobacco farmers had cleared much of the native forest in the surrounding watershed. Rain washed soil off farm fields, clogging up the river and reducing its navigability (Haynes 2013). By 1883, modern warships could no longer wend their way up the river, so the Navy Yard abandoned ship manufacturing and began producing guns and ammunition. As it expanded to meet the demand for armaments during World War II, the Navy Yard displaced hundreds of Anacostia residents and spewed chemical effluent into the river, eventually leading to the Navy Yard’s designation as a Superfund site (Wennersten 2008). Today, manufacturing has ceased, and the Navy Yard site has been cleaned up and converted to housing and office space for government , nonprofits, and private incubator firms. The Anacostia River is often referred to as Washington’s“other river,”bordered by the city’s “forgotten neighborhoods.” As wealthier and whiter neighborhoods along the more prominent Potomac River received the bulk of the public’s CHAPTER 10 195 attention, Anacostia neighborhoods were neglected. Although the abolitionist Frederick Douglass bought a home in Anacostia in 1877, it wasn’t until after WorldWar II that manyAfricanAmericans moved into and eventually became the majority of residents in the area.The construction of a freeway in the 1960s cut off Anacostia residents from the river, which at the time had become so polluted as to be avoided in any case. Yet in the face of exclusion and environmental deterioration ,AfricanAmericans attempted to reclaim the river starting in the 1940s.Today kayakers can enjoy a leisurely paddle along the river. But as the river transforms from an eyesore to an amenity, it carries with it the threat of environmental gentrification and of changing the face—and faces—of Anacostia’s neighborhoods. How have Anacostia’s African American stewards, more recently joined by environmental nonprofits, helped transform the river and its neighborhoods? And what might be done to avert displacement of low-income African American residents living in a gentrifying Anacostia? We begin with the black Seafarers Yacht Club in the 1940s, and follow the story of stewardship and cleanup in what is now considered “green-space-rich” Anacostia. We end with a look at the 11th Street Bridge Park—an initiative that from the beginning set out to tie the greening of derelict infrastructure with equitable urban development, and thus avoid the environmental gentrification that has accompanied other greening efforts, ranging from community gardening to New York City’s High Line. As we trace the history of environmental stewardship and activism along the Anacostia River and its tributaries, we demonstrate how communities excluded from the river created their own ways to access and to care for the river and its humans, fish, birds, and other inhabitants. We also explore how communities negatively impacted by the river’s use as an industrial, defense, and sewage dumping ground and as a transportation corridor have joined forces with environmental organizations and government agencies to transform pockets of the watershed and its neighborhoods. In this way, we examine environmental justice issues of “inclusion” in environmental degradation and “exclusion” from environmental goods, as well as how nonprofits, government, and community members respond to these issues. Finally, we explore efforts to thwart physical displacement of long-term lower-income residents. We use the case of the 11th Street Bridge Park and how it is creating new strategies to ensure housing, cultural , and political equity. In addressing the issue of environmental gentrification, this chapter adds a cautionary tale about civic ecology practices and larger-scale urban greening. The fact that an urban neighborhood, still pockmarked by vacant properties and stricken by industrial contamination,is becoming a desirable place for people to live reflects how civic ecology practices can be one factor among others in revitalizing U.S. 196 MOVEMENT BUILDING cities. Partly as a result of...


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