CITYSCAPE: THE OTHER RIVER : The Anacostia Waterfront Initiative
The Ripple Effect
An $8 Billion Development Plan Promises Payoffs Far Beyond the High-Water Mark
By Benjamin Forgey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2004; Page C01
First in a five-part series
Washington has two rivers, and one of them the world knows. The other remains a well-kept local secret.
Yet it is the other river, a mere tributary of the broad Potomac, that holds the keys to the city in the first half of the 21st century. The Anacostia's time has come.
Yes, the dirty, slow-moving, undervalued, overburdened, poorly used Anacostia River. Change is coming its way, guided by one of the most ambitious plans in this planned city's 214-year history -- the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative.
The plan is impressive in its territorial reach, complexity and cost.
It takes in both sides of the river's seven-mile wander through the District of Columbia, along with goodly portions of inland terrain.
It requires the coordinated efforts of powerful, turf-conscious agencies in both the city and federal governments, not to mention the enthusiasm and money of dozens of private developers. And ultimately the people of the United States also will have to approve, because the support of Congress is essential.
It will cost, more or less, $8 billion in public investment alone.
Skeptics will say it can't happen, cynics will insist that it won't. But this is what smart cities do these days: Baltimore. Barcelona. Boston.
And that's only the biggest of the B's. To the great benefit of their citizens and economies, cities worldwide have reclaimed waterfronts ruined by pollution, greed, stupidity and neglect.
And it is what Washington needs at this point, for much of the change is going to occur, plan or no plan.
Why? Because the old downtown is practically full. With nowhere else to go, real estate capital is flowing eastward. Vacant or underused private land is abundant near parts of the Anacostia. Living near urban waterfronts is a proven global trend. Residential demand in the city is on the rise.
In a sense, the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative is two things at once. It is a plan to revitalize the actual waterfront, the neglected edges of a neglected river. And it is a vast urban development scheme, a realistic strategy to harness private development for important public goals.
Right now, however, it may be hard to believe strongly in the plan's possibilities because, after four years of talking and writing and talking some more, there have been so few tangible results. This is about to change, says Andrew Altman, director of the city's revamped Office of Planning.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company