On Saturday, March 28th 2015, 30 panelists representing such organizations as Groundwork Anacostia River, The Anacostia Watershed Society, The District Department of the Environment, The Federal City Council , The University of the District of Columbia, The Louisville Waterfront Development, and LA’s The City Project gathered at Thurgood Marshall Academy for a day- long symposium to address the issues of: Education & Practice, Recreation & Environmentalism, Models in Grassroots Leadership, Collaboration Techniques, Waterfront Development, and Gentrification & New Urbanism.The gathering of environmentalists, community leaders, civic leaders, educators, scholars, and DC metro area residents was the culmination of one of the driving forces of the Urban Waterways Project whose primary goal is the exploration of the various relationships between urban rivers and the people living along their banks.
This emphasis on communities… people, proved to be a re-occurring theme throughout the day’s discussion. The very nature of water, a multi-dimensional element which touches past, present, and future, up-river, down-river, tourist and resident, Alexis Goggans of DC’s Office of Planning pointed out, requires us to reconsider how we envision the nature of cities. Such visions can and should be driven by the needs of those living in areas which are the most impacted by issues surrounding the redevelopment of urban waterways and their environs. Communities must appoint themselves as stewards, owning and taking the lead on issues in their own neighborhoods. The cultivation of community ownership best takes place in an atmosphere of trust in which engaged residents, educated in the issues which impact their lives, have a sense of place. Irma Munoz of Mujeres de la Tierra describes this as a sense of integrity and who you are. It is this sense of ownership and stewardship which allows communities to recognize and embrace their possible roles in the changes taking place along their waterfronts.
The power of residents’ ownership of such changes is reflected in the experiences of Louisville’s Waterfront Development Corporation which has recognized the importance of the inclusion of everyone from the beginning. “Build interest, engage the media … each step of the way must have things that appeal to the public… this is of interest to you.” The importance of such engagement was echoed by Baltimore Parks & People’s Lisa Schroeder who underscored the growing necessity of collaboration among the communities along urban rivers, as beleaguered cities have fewer resources to address all of the issues involved in creating and maintaining healthy, sustainable neighborhoods. If riverfronts are to be the centers of public and community life, stakeholders must take a multi-disciplinary approach, with the understanding that the traditional attitudes of “healing” communities from without doesn’t necessarily work in all situations.
If collaboration between stakeholders and the inclusion of all stakeholders is the key to success, both panelists and attendees understand the importance of paying attention to who is being served, and who has been denied access to urban waterfronts. The distribution of resources must reflect the communities sharing their lives along urban rivers. Polices are needed to provide a framework for change. Cultures of stewardship need to be created and maintained. The discussions which took part at the Urban Waterways Symposium should serve as the start of ongoing conversations and collaborations. The next practical step: getting people to the riverbanks.
Other images from the day.