Victoria Markovitz
A New Way to Transform Old Spaces
Victoria MarkovitzOctober 21, 2014

A rendering of OMA and Olin's 11th Street Bridge Park design

A rendering of OMA and Olin’s 11th Street Bridge Park design

When people talk about revitalizing old infrastructure, they typically mean repairing the failing bridges and roads that are scattered throughout the United States. However, there is another approach that benefits communities and the environment — the adaptive reuse of urban infrastructure.

Cities around the world are transforming abandoned infrastructure into thriving parks and community centerpieces. The parks provide sought-after open space, serve as venues for community events, and bring visitors and businesses to new neighborhoods.

Nexight’s metropolitan neighbor, Washington, D.C., recently unveiled proposed designs for the future 11th Street Bridge Park. The park will rest on a decommissioned vehicular bridge that connects the Capitol Hill neighborhood to historic Anacostia.

The D.C. government, the local nonprofit THEARC, and private donors are sponsoring the project, and launched a competition to solicit designs for the park from top landscape architects around the world. A design by the firms OMA and Olin beat out 80 other contenders to win the bid.

Along with flexible performance venues and areas where visitors can relax, the winning design features rain gardens, urban agriculture, and an environmental education center. The sponsors also hope the park will support economic transformation in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia, and promote physical activity and public health in the city.

However, the space needs to be developed responsibly.

The Bridge Park project draws a lot of inspiration from New York City’s High Line park, which sits on a mile of once-abandoned elevated train tracks on Manhattan’s west side. The park has drawn millions of visitors, boasts beautiful green space, and spurred economic development in surrounding neighborhoods. However locals, and even the city’s mayor, criticize the park for negatively impacting the community in which it sits.

They state the High Line led to rapid gentrification, replacing local businesses and art galleries with luxury development. And instead of being a spot where city dwellers can connect, the park is now clogged with tourists.

Steve Kratz, director of the Bridge Park project, addressed these concerns at a news conference for the winning design. The Washington Post reported on these comments: “Kratz said the key thing is to address the problem now, before any kind of speculation begins, and while property values are still low enough that the city and the neighborhoods have options. Those may include having the city invest in cheaper properties, hold on to them, and then drive a hard bargain when it comes to affordable housing ratios; using historic tax credits to enable residents to maintain and stay in their properties; creating some kind of ‘artistic overlay’ that would steer development toward cultural uses and encourage diverse populations to remain in the area; and create hiring guidelines that would benefit local and city workers.”

If done well, the Bridge Park can serve as an example of how neglected spaces can become beautiful, urban gathering places that promote public health and environmental awareness. As cities continue to complete these ambitious projects, it’s important to keep the focus on using infrastructure to create community amenities that will benefit those most impacted by its development.