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Our River, The Anacostia

Over the decades there has been an unparalleled effort among the general public, interest groups and a vast range of city and federal agencies to restore and make better the Anacostia River.  It seems a shame not to share the lessons and the results with other parts of the metro area, other states and even other parts of the world.  We all need to think through how to make that happen.

I have a couple of ideas we might build on. Oddly enough, it all starts with the idea of bringing the professional football team, the Commanders, back into town from the suburbs. Many think they should return to the RFK Stadium that is at the west end of the bridge carrying East Capitol Street over the Anacostia River. That stadium is in very poor shape after years of neglect and would need to be rebuilt. More important is that the surrounding neighborhoods give a strong sense that they do not want the activity to return with all its effects on local parking and congestion. 

So if the team were to decide to settle elsewhere in DC, the most obvious place would be in the area on the west side of the Frederick Douglas Bridge, which carries South Capitol Street over the River. The new stadium could be placed in the area to the south near the soccer stadium, in a broad area where parking and other services could be shared and impacts on residential areas would be marginal.  Not only would this be an efficient and attractive addition to the area, it would be an attraction to further development along the River south of the bridge. 

This move would free up the site of the old stadium to build a welcome center for the Anacostia right where East Capitol Street comes over the bridge. This would be a place to come to learn what has been accomplished, to celebrate it, and to plan what more is needed. It would be a great benefit to the effort to celebrate and broadcast the successes in the restoration of the Anacostia River.

The site where the current decayed stadium sits is a perfect location for a facility that can teach the public what has been accomplished, how it was done by getting all to work together east and west of the River and far up into its origin among the streams and marshes of Maryland and DC. The new facility would serve as a center of knowledge and learning from classrooms to outdoors, with direct connections to the projects carried out and in the plans for the adjacent islands of  Kingman and Heritage.

How could this happen? How could the success of the restoration of an urban stream be set out in a way that taught lessons for all who came by? That is a critical question.

One possibility would be to engage the Smithsonian to work with local groups and agencies to design a facility and programs to achieve these results with the public. They are experts in taking difficult subjects of science, nature and even aircraft design, and making them understandable to the public. This would be a natural extension of their efforts in the Natural History Museum, and would add the opportunity to learn from what has been done on the ground and in the water. This would be a place for local folks to learn and help reach consensus about what more we can do together. But it could also be a place for us to learn from others and help others draw from our on-the-ground experiences.

Please let me know what you think of either (1) getting the City to give priority to a new stadium site near the others at the base of the Frederick Douglas Bridge near the other stadiums; or (2) setting up on the site of the old stadium, with the help of the Smithsonian and/or others, a facility to inform and teach all who stop by and to provide support for the ongoing River restoration efforts of Federal and City agencies, non-profit volunteer groups and citizens of Maryland and DC. I would also like to hear your ideas about the value and role of those staffing and supporting such a facility.  Maybe the current level of effort and cooperation among participants is likely to be more fun and more effective, and I am dreaming nonsense.

“If you have something to say, please e-mail me at: bmatsedc@gmail.com and tell me if I can quote you or not. Thanks!”  

Bill Matuszeski is a member of the Mayor’s Leadership Council for a Cleaner Anacostia River and the retired director of the Chesapeake Bay Program. He also serves on the board of the Friends of the National Arboretum and on the citizen advisory committees for the Chesapeake and the Anacostia.

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