Sometimes likened to New York City’s High Line public park, the Bridge Park calls for a public plaza, amphitheater, environmental education center and other amenities to be built along a 1.45-mile stretch of bridge atop four piers that once supported the 11th Street Bridge. It would connect Anacostia, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, with the much more affluent neighborhoods in and around Capitol Hill.
Construction is projected to cost between $50 million and $55 million, about $25 million of which has already been raised. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2019.
Organizers are already concerned that the park project will drive up rents and property values to the degree that low- and moderate-income residents of the area will be forced out once the park opens, similar to what has happened when new development arrived in other parts of the city in recent years.
From the start, the project’s organizers have enlisted community members and housing experts to determine how to prepare low-income and mostly minority residents to prepare themselves for a possible economic turnaround. For instance, a home buyer’s club created by park organizers has already set 53 Ward 8 homeowners on the path to buying their own homes, according to Scott Kratz of Building Bridges Across the River. And the Anacostia neighborhood will see its first community land trust, a nonprofit organization that uses private and public money to create permanently affordable housing in an area with rising property values.
That larger mission has attracted big-name philanthropists from across the country interested in battling poverty and inequality, among them the Kresge Foundation of Michigan, the JPB Foundation of New York and the Horning Family Fund of D.C.
Last year, the Local Initiatives Support Corp., a nonprofit organization with offices in 31 locations around the country, announced that it would invest $50 million in neighborhoods near the park site to support affordable housing, early-childhood education and other services. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), in announcing her bid for reelection last week, emphasized the need to spread the city’s growing prosperity to a larger swath of the population.
JPMorgan typically donates $700,000 to $800,000 annually in the District. It is upping the ante in part because the firm sees problems — inequality and displacement — that are likely to worsen and an opportunity — the Bridge Park — it considers “a genuine opportunity to make a difference,” said Peter Scher, the firm’s chairman for the D.C. region.
“A lot of cities you go into and everyone is moving in 100 different directions. The nonprofit community is not aligned with the business community and the nonprofit community is not aligned with itself,” Scher said. When it comes to housing costs in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, he said, “in most cities they are waiting until after people have been displaced. Here we are seeing an opportunity to get in relatively early.”
Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan chairman and chief executive, said in a statement the firm was investing in Washington “because we see local leaders working together and innovating to make opportunity available to all Washingtonians no matter the neighborhood they live in.”
JPMorgan has been targeting its philanthropy toward cities, said Scher, who is also global head of corporate responsibility. He said that since 2012 the company had begun targeting its philanthropy toward job training, minority-owned small businesses, neighborhood revitalization and financial education. A few years ago, JPMorgan made a $100 million, five-year commitment to Detroit and announced Sept. 14 that it would donate $40 million to underserved neighborhoods in the South and West sides of Chicago.
The Bridge Park project is one of just four winners this year of a JPMorgan competition for the best ideas from community-based groups for revitalizing neighborhoods. Of the $5 million, $3 million will go toward a community land trust, $1 million toward support for neighborhood businesses and the remainder for construction-skills training and program evaluation.
“We can use this investment to test, pilot and evaluate some of our economic strategies to make sure local residents can remain in place,” Kratz said. “They see the ability to pilot some of this work and, as we’re successful, scale it” in other areas of the country.