August 5, 2019

7 steps to equity: Lessons from an inclusive park project in D.C.

The 11th Street Bridge Park will become a new anchor for equitable and inclusive economic growth in one of the District's poorest neighborhoods.

From the beginning, community engagement and feedback have driven the conceptualization and design of the new 11th Street Bridge Park. Photo courtesy of Building Bridges Across the River

The 11th Street Bridge Park, a project of the Ward 8 based nonprofit Building Bridges Across the River, will become the District of Columbia’s first elevated park, connecting the historic Anacostia and Capitol Hill neighborhoods that are geographically divided by the Anacostia River. From the beginning, community engagement and feedback have driven the conceptualization and design of the Bridge Park.

Throughout this community-led process, it became clear that the Bridge Park had the potential to be more than a park. The Bridge Park could symbolize a new unity and connection between a booming area of the city and one that has long been excluded from the city’s economic progress.

This is especially important for D.C. residents and small businesses located east of the river. Decades of disinvestment, coupled with the economic, racial and geographic segregation of Wards 7 and 8, mean that many of the communities east of the river are areas of low homeownership, high poverty, and unemployment.

Given this stark reality, a key goal of the Bridge Park is to serve as an anchor for equitable and inclusive economic growth. The Bridge Park’s design strategies will increase connectivity between those living on both sides of the Anacostia River, but more must be done to ensure that residents and small businesses nearby will continually benefit from the success of this signature new civic space.

To accomplish this goal, Bridge Park staff convened faith leaders, municipal officials, nonprofits and business owners to create strategies to ensure local residents could stay and thrive in place. The result was an Equitable Development Plan, action items in four areas: housing; workforce; small business; and cultural equity strategies. Partnering with a number of local nonprofits, the Bridge Park is now implementing these equitable development strategies with over $56 million of direct investments going into the community. These dollars nearly match the capital costs of building the Bridge Park.

To help inform the efforts of community advocates, park leaders and municipal officials as they lead inclusive economic growth in their own neighborhoods, we are pleased to share our seven-step process that we followed to create our equity strategies. You can also see an accompanying video along with an introduction to equitable development and answers to frequently asked questions.

The 11th Street Bridge Park target opening date is 2023. Illustrations courtesy of the architectural firms OMA and OLIN

Step 1: Listen to your Community. Identify key stakeholders such as residents, municipal leaders, NGOs active in the area, civic associations, and business owners. What roles and perspectives are important to have at the table? Include voices that aren’t always included and residents that might not already be in leadership positions. Include community leaders early to get their buy in about the process. Utilize the planning process to build deeper relationships and trust with the community.

Step 2: Establish your geographic area of impact and collect data on who lives and works in the area. For the Bridge Park we examined home values, racial demographics, renters versus home owners, household income, number and type of businesses, and existing zoning. Build an asset map of nonprofits already active in the community that can become your allies and help implement your equity strategies. Have residents define your key topic areas. For the 11th Street Bridge Park we focused on four key areas: affordable housing, workforce development, small business enterprises, and cultural equity. By creating a targeted geographic scope (Bridge Park’s area is a one mile walkshed around the park), it allows you to focus on your immediate neighborhood where to make greatest impact.

Community engagement never stops. Trust is something that needs to be carefully nourished, watered, and fed.

Step 3: Engage stakeholders as part of the planning process. If implemented correctly, this will be the community’s equitable development plan. Create multiple opportunities to listen to local residents, business owners, nonprofits, faith leaders and government representatives. Go to these meetings with a completely open mind. After you receive initial action items, continue to meet with the community to refine and prioritize strategies. At each step, ask residents what is missing and what ideas are most valued. It’s helpful to think about strategies that you can control directly or at least influence. If you can do neither, perhaps those suggestions are put to the side. Share draft strategies for public comment and feedback. Think beyond the typical ways to engage communities. Consider any digital divide, going door to door handing out flyers and go to where residents are already convening. Remove barriers for participation by providing child care, food and stipends for focus groups where appropriate. Bring in outside facilitator so you can focus on content and not running the meeting.

Step 4: Share Your Equitable Development Plan! Think about the many ways people might consume this document—digitally, in print and a one-page executive summary. Share with everyone who participated in the planning process including municipal leaders. Hold events and presentations to share your strategies with the community. And remember, this is not your last step!

Step 5: Begin implementation which is often done in partnership with other nonprofits, local organizations or city agencies already active in the community. You don’t have to do this work yourself! Often these communities have seen many planning efforts and rarely see action so it is important to think about early successes as you create strategies to build trust with the community. For the Bridge Park, we started a Ward 8 Home Buyers Club within one month of releasing the Equitable Development Plan.

Step 6: Continually Evaluate Your Impact to refine strategies / add new ideas. What gets measured, gets done. If possible, secure a third party to evaluate your work—a local university, think tank, or researcher. You will not get everything right and that’s OK! Solicit feedback and correct strategies when needed.

Step 7: Celebrate early wins to build confidence in plan, your organization and partners. Community engagement never stops. Trust is something that needs to be carefully nourished, watered, and fed.

We would like to thank the Kresge Foundation for generously supporting the creation of these videos.

Scott Kratz

Scott Kratz

Building Bridges Across the River

Scott Kratz is the Vice President Building Bridges Across the River. Scott has worked in the education field for over 20 years and began his career teaching at Kidspace, a children’s museum in Pasadena, California, and later as the Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of the American West at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles. Most recently, he was the Vice President for Education at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.
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