A reoccurring question faced by the collaborators on the Urban Waterways Project has been “What are the end products?” “What will be the outcomes of your research?” While the project has produced an exhibition, citizen scientist program, a survey on local attitudes towards the Anacostia, a newsletter, a collection of oral histories and documentation, a surprisingly overlooked and misunderstood component of the project has been to provide a space.
A space for what? The Anacostia Museum, through our projects, exhibitions, and programs, provides a space in which personal experiences can be shared, frustrations and fears voiced, solutions explored, and victories celebrated.
The Urban Waterways’ exploration of the relationships of communities to local waterways is not confined to one city. Efforts to restore the Anacostia River, shape East of the River Development, reconnect residents to their river and surroundings, while taking place in DC, have much in common with efforts in Baltimore, Honolulu, L.A., London, Pittsburgh, and Turkey Creek. The seven cities in the Urban Waterways Network share similar histories and face similar challenges. Through the exchange of their experiences, the stakeholders in the communities along the seven rivers which make up the Urban Waterways network are reminded they are not alone in their efforts and answers may be found by looking at communities in similar situations.
The work of Raul Macias and the Anahuak Youth Soccer League highlights the importance of ensuring all communities provide safe, active, green spaces which serve as a focus of healthy, connected communities. Led by Irma Munoz, Mujeres de La Tierra serves as a reminder of the changes that can be wrought when residents are reminded of the power they can wield by giving voice to their demands for the communities they want for themselves and their children.
The respect for the natural world taught at the Hālau Kū Māna School in Honolulu will continue to influence how students define their places in the world and their responsibilities to the environment. Such values are echoed in the work of educator Tony Thomas, as he leads DC students in an exploration of the interconnectedness of the Anacostia Watershed and the possibilities that await them as they contemplate their next steps into the future. Patrick White’s memories of growing up in Turkey Creek are central to his commitment to protecting it from the pressures of development just as Dennis Chestnut’s experiences of learning to swim and ice-skate on the Anacostia River inspired a career in which he dedicated himself to the protection of the river and its environs and to the education of neighborhood youth through his work with Groundwork Anacostia.
If the stories of the partners in our network remind us of the commonalities in the experiences of those living along the nation’s urban rivers, their actions and successes can serve as examples. Robert Garcia’s efforts through The City Project in LA championed Environmental Justice as a civil rights issue and were essential in ensuring the development of green spaces along the LA River. Derrick Evans’ work with the Turkey Creek Community Initiative highlights the power of harnessing a place’s historical value to protect its environmental present. The successes of David Karem and the Waterfront Development Corporation and Lisa Schroeder and Riverlife, in redeveloping the Louisville and Pittsburgh waterfronts, serve as points of comparison and contrast to the successes of former Mayor Tony William’s vision of a redeveloped southeast waterfront in DC.
By providing a space for the histories, present, and futures of the various partners in its network, the Urban Waterways project is continuing the Anacostia Community Museum’s commitment to active engagement with communities both local and national. By celebrating the work and accomplishments of residents and organizations such as The City Project, Mujeres de la Tierra, The Anacostia Watershed Society, Groundwork Anacostia, the Turkey Creek Community Initiative, and the Waterfront Development Corporation, the project reminds communities of what can be accomplished and the next possible steps in efforts to reclaim urban waterways for the benefits of all living along them.
The resulting communities that can evolve out of such engagement were made evident to me on a research trip to LA in the summer of 2013. On a June afternoon after school the Rio de Los Angeles State park was the scene of a vibrant, healthy community. Parents and siblings cheered on Atlan and Los Santos as they faced each other in a soccer match. Other residents strolled or jogged by on paths. A paletera’s bells chimed in the distance and the basketball courts became crowded. Had it not been for the efforts of community members, leaders, and local politicians the scene could have been very different. The sound of cheers of encouragement, the chimes, and children at play…the vibrancy of community life could have easily been replaced by rows of warehouses. For many such a future would have been a poor substitute.