Research Report

Equitable Development and Urban Park Space

Results and Insights from the First Two Years of Implementation of the Equitable Development Plan of DC’s 11th Street Bridge Park Project

The 11th Street Bridge Park aims to create a lively pedestrian span across the Anacostia River that adds recreational, cultural, and environmental value for the District of Columbia while bringing greater economic opportunity and inclusion to longtime residents of the surrounding neighborhoods.

The 1,200-foot bridge is slated for completion in 2023, and Bridge Park planners, nonprofit partners, residents, underwriters, and other city stakeholders are now entering their third year of implementing the project’s Equitable Development Plan. The plan’s goal is to ensure that the park drives inclusive development and provides opportunities for all residents, regardless of income and demography.

Here are some of the early results of the Equitable Development Plan:

  • 70 homes purchased by low- and moderate-income participants in the Bridge Park–sponsored Ward 8 homebuyers club
  • 31 Bridge Park–sponsored construction trainees from Wards 6, 7, and 8 in full-time jobs
  • 104 small businesses based in Wards 7 and 8 assisted by Bridge Park partner, the DC-based Washington Area Community Investment Fund, through loans and technical assistance

This is the second implementation study report tracking the Bridge Park’s progress toward its goal of inclusive development for the neighborhoods surrounding the park’s footprint. This report lays out the local, regional, and historical context for neighborhood development surrounding the Bridge Park; documents progress on the project’s equitable development activities and results over the past two years; and discusses how equitable development stakeholders and planners in DC and other cities might navigate the challenges and opportunities that often line the path to achieving equity for long-marginalized groups. The first report can be found here.

The Bridge Park presents a valuable case study on the challenges posed when a highly anticipated new public amenity takes shape near distressed neighborhoods in a rapidly gentrifying city. The park and its Equitable Development Plan also offer an opportunity to assess how and whether current residents of surrounding communities can reap the benefits of new development in their neighborhoods when economic developers make equity a priority.

Urban Institute evaluators find that Bridge Park leaders and their allies have been successful implementing their own equitable development strategies and aligning those strategies with those of others to drive inclusive development in Ward 8. The authors also explore key aspects of what it takes to achieve equity in the context of an equitable development effort, as well as the larger challenges facing any entity seeking to produce meaningful gains for historically marginalized groups. The authors offer several lessons for equitable development planners that arise from this phase of implementation of the Bridge Park Equitable Development Plan:

  • Develop a realistic plan. Bridge Park leaders and allies have been careful to develop their goal using strategies that reflect only the direct reach of their resources and the limited sphere of their influence with partners or other entities engaged in equitable development in Ward 8.
  • Engage a network of partnerships and key resource holders. Bridge Park leaders look for ways to link their strategies to similar and related efforts of other entities, such as employers, resident groups, lenders, developers, and District economic development agencies. They also look for ways to connect the influence and expertise of direct partners and other entities and to connect everyone’s work across sectors.
  • Set performance-level targets to coordinate effort and track progress for achieving equitable development results across partners. Bridge Park leaders are setting performance-level targets to hold themselves and their immediate partners accountable and to ensure transparency.
  • Hold multiple parties accountable for achieving equity in a measurable way. The Bridge Park’s performance-level targets for equitable development represent pieces of a bigger pie. Neighborhood- and population-level targets that clearly state thresholds for the number and types of people who will be assisted—either to remain in or move to the area—need to be aligned and owned across multiple resource holders, beyond just the Bridge Park and its current partners.
  • Be in it for the long haul. When speaking to funders, Bridge Park leaders frame implementation of their equitable development strategies over 20- and 30-year intervals, recognizing that success takes time.
  • Build resident voice and power. Bridge Park leaders have discovered that acknowledging, engaging, and empowering resident leadership may be the most important strategy they can pursue. Leaders from within and outside an affected community must commit to making equitable development an inside job, which is often implemented by those most affected by neighborhood change.