Late last week, the four finalists in a nationwide design competition seeking proposals for a park-topped ped/bike bridge spanning Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia River were unveiled to the public. Inevitably, a whole lot of somewhat lazy mentionings of the High Line followed. After all, it would seem that any time an innovative park/urban renewal project involving obsolete infrastructure (bonus points if it's elevated) is pitched in a particular city it automatically becomes "[Insert Philly, Chicago, Jersey City, St. Louis or another city here]'s very own High Line."

Sure, both the High Line — the third and final phase of New York City’ most vegetative tourist magnet is due to open to the public later this month — and the 11th Street Bridge Park are urban revitalization projects and, yes, both boast the distinction of being elevated. But whereas the High Line is a more straightforward adaptive reuse project built atop a decommissioned railway that snakes through the far west side of Manhattan, the 11th Street Bridge Park will be an aerial greenway largely built from scratch on the foundations of an old freeway bridge. Essentially, the High Line transforms a specific structure while the 11th Street Bridge Park has set out to transform a specific site.

It’s also worth pointing out that 11th Street Bridge Park, once completed with an estimated price tag of $25 million, will, first and foremost, be a park for the roughly 76,000 residents living within 2 miles of the site. Although it will undoubtedly attract a fair amount of much-welcomed tourist foot traffic (the French excluded), this isn't a park necessarily geared toward camera-wielding out-of-towners looking to veer away from the National Mall and environs. A means of encouraging foot and bike traffic between two disparate and long-divided Southeast D.C. neighborhoods, the Washington Navy Yard area of Capitol Hill (Wards 6 and 7) and historic Anacostia (Ward 8), the project is a bridge in the truest sense. It's a project that connects:

The Anacostia River has been a dividing line for generations in Washington D.C. The 11th Street Bridge Park can be a new civic place where residents on both sides of the river can gather to experience the river, the arts and each other.
It's best to view the 11th Street Bridge Park — “a new venue for healthy recreation, environmental education and the arts” that “supports the community’s physical, environmental and economic health” — as an entirely different elevated creature than the High Line even though the former was, in some regards, influenced by the latter, which, in the eyes of some critics, has evolved from a grassroots-y park-in-the-sky to a "tourist-clogged catwalk and a catalyst for some of the most rapid gentrification in the city’s history." An although it may prove to be less "destination-y" than the High Line of the small army of in-development High Line-esque copycats when it opens to the public in 2017 or 2018, the 11th Street Bridge Park's potential to promote social and environmental change, not unchecked gentrification, is far greater.

Below is a quick look at the four final design schemes in the 11th Street Bridge Park Design Competition including excerpts from each design overview. While each offers a completely unique vision, the proposals all incorporate various features — an environmental education center, kayak and canoe launches, urban agriculture and performance spaces, public art, etc. — specifically requested by the community.

Each proposal also touches down on the four ultimate goals of the project: promoting environmental stewardship of the polluted/neglected Anacostia River; stimulating economic activity and job creation in the neighborhoods along both banks of the river, particular the blighted-but-improving eastern bank; encouraging healthier lifestyles and exercise; and, of course the biggie: unifying two long-isolated neighborhoods. Finally, unlike the narrow and at times anxiety-inducing confines of the High Line, each 11th Street Bridge Park proposal is big — about the size of three football field placed end to end.

The finalists will now be presented to a jury of architects, engineers, public health specialists, urban planners and other experts later this month; public input will also play a crucial role in the selection process. The decision will be announced in mid-October.

Scott Kratz, director of the 11th Street Bridge Park which itself is a project of The Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC), tells The Washington Post: “These are some of the best designers in the world and their work reflects that. We were hoping that the proposals would not just be shades of gray and we received reds and blues and greens and purples. They are all so different while still responding to the community’s vision.”

OLIN/OMA

“Our design for the 11th Street Bridge Park—the Anacostia Crossing—is a place of exchange. The park at Anacostia Crossing will connect two historically disparate sides of the river with a series of outdoor programmed spaces and active zones that will provide an engaging place hovering above, yet anchored in, the Anacostia River. To create this place—more destination than elevated thoroughfare—we have designed the bridge park as a clear moment of intersection where two sides of the river converge and coexist. Anacostia Crossing will offer layered programs, presenting a new neighborhood park, an after-hours destination for the nearby workforce, a retreat for residents and a territory for tourists to explore.”

OLIN/OMA rendering of 11th Street Bridge Park

OLIN/OMA

Balmori Associates/Cooper, Robertson & Partners

“Bridge Park will function as much as a civic center as it will as a park. It is more than a river crossing; it is a place. It will be a pioneer by strengthening the communities that give it life. Through the design of Bridge Park, we believe we can help re-connect the diverse neighborhoods on both sides of the river, re-engage the Anacostia River, improve the general quality of public health through physical and social activity, and generate new jobs for local citizens of the district. Three concepts have shaped our design. Our goal is to create a Bridge Park that is: inclusive, memorable and symbolic.”

Balmori Associates/Cooper Robertson & Partners rendering of 11th street bridge

Balmori Associates/Cooper, Robertson & Partners

Wallace Roberts & Todd/NEXT Architects/Magnusson Klemencic Associates

Welcome to Anacostia Landing, a 25-acre park centered on the Anacostia River, gateway to historic Anacostia and extraordinary perch from which to view the District of Columbia’s emergence as a waterfront city. The WRT/NEXT design fulfills this vision by giving coordinated and exciting form to the goals set forth in the competition brief: reconnect diverse communities, reengage people with the river, improve public health through recreation and play, and expand economic opportunity.”

Wallace Roberts & Todd/NEXT Architects/Magnusson Klemencic Associates

Stoss Landscape Urbanism/ Höweler + Yoon Architecture

“Historically in Washington, small boats and rafts, then ferries, provided vital links across the city’s rivers, including at places along the Anacostia River. In the not so recent past, ferries shuttled workers living in the Anacostia neighborhood across the river to their jobs in the Navy Yard. These ferry crossings became as much places of congregation and assembly, places of social exchange, as they were places of passage. Our proposal for the 11th Street Bridge Park puts in place a new crossing, one that establishes new connections across and to the Anacostia River and to the burgeoning and socially / culturally rich neighborhoods along its banks.”

Stoss Landscape Urbanism rendering of 11th Street Bridge Park

Stoss Landscape Urbanism/ Höweler + Yoon Architecture

Head on over to the competition section of the 11th Street Bridge Park website where you can read more and view additional renderings of each proposal. If inclined, you can also watch a series of short intro videos from each design team and take a survey.  

D.C. residents: Which proposal do you fancy the most? Which one makes the most sense to you? And do you think a dramatic park-bridge hybrid will be able to pull tourists away from their normal haunts to a less-trafficked part of the District?

Via [Designboom]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.