CITYSCAPE: THE OTHER RIVER : The Anacostia Waterfront Initiative
Popularizing Poplar Point
Plans Would Make Anacostia's Neglected Parkland Accessible
By Benjamin Forgey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 16, 2004; Page C01
Last in a five-part series
Poplar Point. Ask any taxi driver to take you there, ask any longtime Washington resident where it is, ask almost anybody. Chances are good, you'll draw a blank.
This is because Poplar Point, a prominent bend in the eastern shoreline of the Anacostia River, has been treated for decades as if it were invisible.
Technically, it is public parkland, but much of the territory is fenced off. Much of the land is polluted. Traffic roars by on Interstate 295. The Frederick Douglass Bridge soars overhead. It's drive-by terrain.
Yet this particular piece of ill-used riverside, with nearly a mile of unimpeded access to the water and spectacular views of the Capitol and downtown, could be one of the most pleasant places in the entire city.
And will be, say the authors of the city's Anacostia Waterfront Initiative.
This bend in the river will become, they predict, "a showcase of ecological restoration, culture, history and community," and also "a catalyst for neighborhood economic development."
Transforming Poplar Point is but the most dramatic action proposed by the city's wide-ranging plan for the areas east of the river. The whole plan is predicated on the idea of mitigating perceived and actual inequalities between the west and east sides of the Anacostia.
Two unavoidable facts conditioned the plan's approach to the eastern side. One is that the eastern edge of the river is predominantly parkland owned by the federal government.
This long strip of federal parkland is both a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand, it saved the riverfront from the industrial depredations familiar in other cities. On the other hand, it prevented the growth of lively waterfront communities.
This is why, with the exception of Poplar Point, all of the intensive urban development anticipated by the plan will take place on the western side of the river, as we have seen.
To overcome this imbalance, the plan's chief tactic is to use west-side growth to help finance east-side improvements, such as "housing, commercial revitalization, public parks and community facilities."
"The basic idea is that a portion of the revenue generated on the waterfront should stay on the waterfront," says Andrew Altman, director of the city's Office of Planning. "That way, we're always reinvesting in the neighborhoods and vitality of the waterfront."
Great idea. Altman is understandably fond of pointing out that the building of Battery Park City in the 1980s generated 20,000 units of affordable housing in other areas of New York City.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company