As waterways and their environs undergo the process of being restored and deemed valuable in the eyes of a variety of stakeholders, the multitude of their “values” has become apparent as residents and other interested parties seek to define, solidify, and justify their connections and right to these natural resources. How do we utilize them? What roles can the natural world play in our lives? This issue explores education along waterways. Education can be defined as “the process of giving or receiving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.” It can also be defined as “an enlightening experience”. As communities look to a future in which equitable access to reclaimed natural resources is one of the foundational pieces to healthy, sustainable communities what kind of educational experience is owed the people living along our urban waterways? Do either of the above definitions suit the task before us or is it a combination of the two?
The contributors of this issue present a variety of models for how our natural resources can be used as an integral part of the transmission of skills and values needed to ensure informed civic engagement in the variety of issues facing communities as they work to create a sense of belonging to and equal access to their natural world. UW Newsletter 9
The Anacostia Community Museum seeks to be a gathering place for important conversations pertaining to urban communities. We devise our public programming and community forums with this goal in mind. This Sunday, September 18, we were pleased to present the work of two local photographers, Becky Harlan and Gabriela Bulisova, both members of the 501C3 non-profit, Women Photojournalists of Washington. Harlan and Bulisova have both been working for many years on the projects they presented.
Harlan’s project “D.C.’s Anacostia River” looks at the history of the Anacostia, from fertile native American fishing ground, to its status as a polluted river, the river keepers who take it upon themselves to maintain a better tributary, and the communities that have formed around the river. Below is a frame taken from her project, more work can be seen on her website here:
Gabriela Bulisova’s work Inside Outside and Convictions examines the lives of returning citizens, the formerly incarcerated, and the families left behind. According to the International Center for Prison Studies, the United States has the largest percentage of incarcerated people in its population in the world. Bulisova spent time getting to know returning citizen groups and the families of the incarcerated, making still photographs and short movies to record their experiences. She shared with us several short films which are accessible below and by going to Bulisova’s website here.
The discussion following the presentations was informed by the presence of several of the returning citizens with whom Bulisova has worked on her projects. They spoke to the administrative limbo many incarcerated DC citizens find themselves in because they are beholden to the laws of the federal system, even as in many states, sentences for many crimes, especially non-violent ones are being commuted or cut short. Because DC is not a state, prisoners find themselves trapped in a federal purgatory where they are literally stateless citizens.
The opportunity to hear an artist discuss her work will always further your understanding of the project. We are pleased at the Anacostia Community Museum to bring these conversations to you and hope you will join us in adding your voice to our community.
A third stop on our tour of the Mississippi/Alabama coast was the small town of Moss Point, Mississippi. A small community with a population less than 20,000 people, Moss Point was hit by the strong eastern side of Hurricane Katrina, when it passed 30 miles east of central New Orleans. Much of Moss Point was flooded or destroyed in one day, by the strong hurricane-force winds which lasted several hours and a storm surge exceeding 20 feet in some areas. You can see some of the devastation at Moss Point in the wake of the hurricane here.
We were coming to tour the Pascagoula River Audubon Center, a part of the National Audubon Society: a non-profit organization focused on promoting conservation and education about birds and wildlife and the habitats that support them. Perched on the watershed of the Pascagoula River, one of the last, large, free-flowing river systems in the contiguous United States, a state of the art green building houses the center. This place is a birder’s paradise, with over 300 species of birds enjoying the ecosystem there.
Mark LaSalle is the Director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center. Mark is responsible for coordinating the continued development of the Center and expanding Audubon’s educational and citizen science programs in south Mississippi. Mark is a wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.
Mark’s passion for his work is palpable as he shows us around the Center and the many sustainable environmental practices they have implemented. He also saved an original 1930’s boy scout cottage on the center’s site which is used for small group meetings. He was instrumental in helping the community leaders of Turkey Creek protect that body of water from further development.
Together, Audubon and community leaders in Gulfport, Mississippi are protecting Turkey Creek‘s rich cultural and natural history. When LaSalle became director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center, 30 miles from Turkey Creek, he brought with him a commitment to the community’s plight. With local activist Derrick Evans, Mark began small with simple events like Creek Sweep focused on getting people into the “creek” to remove decades of debris.
Promotion of the Great Backyard Bird Count and a one-day Biological Inventory of the creek helped to highlight just how special the area was as a refuge for common birds and wildlife and as an important stopover for migrating birds in spring and fall. The value of the site for birds led Audubon and the Mississippi Coast Audubon Society to recognize Turkey Creek as a site on the Mississippi Coastal Birding Trail.
“The Turkey Creek community has long recognized Audubon’s role in helping it raise attention about the value of our natural areas for birds and people and for being the first group of naturalists to do so. Being identified on Audubon’s Coastal Birding Trail by Judy Toups, Don McKee and Mark LaSalle, provided a pivotal boost to our credibility and confidence as a place that is important beyond our immediate borders.”– Derrick Evans
Many other organizations have joined forces with the Turkey Creek Community Initiative , established by Derrick in 2003 with a mission “to conserve, restore and utilize the unique cultural, historical and environmental resources of the Turkey Creek community and watershed for education and other socially beneficial purposes.”
I left inspired by the good work that Mark LaSalle and his staff do at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, Mississippi: from preservation to education, advocacy and coalition building, the center is doing good work to preserve the environmental resources for future generations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
In early December the Anacostia Community Museum Urban Waterways project headed to Gulfport, Mississippi to continue fieldwork on communities facing a myriad of issues on the Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coasts. Long before Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil spill created environmental havoc on this major urban waterway of the Gulf Coast, communities like Turkey Creek, MS, and Africatown, AL, were being formed by newly freed slaves (Turkey Creek), and by slaves that were brought to this country and released before they were sold (Africatown).
Today the damaging legacy of the Jim Crow south where racial inequality informed urban planning has been compounded by natural and man-made disasters which threatens the communities researcher Katrina Lashley and I visited.
Turkey Creek, Mississippi is the subject of a documentary by Leah Mahan, Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek. The film follows local Derrick Evans’ struggle to defend the coastal Mississippi watershed where his ancestors settled as former slaves. Following his journey for ten years, Derrick and his allies confront blatant racism of city officials and short-sighted plans for development that would destroy the ecology and culture of Turkey Creek only to face our nation’s most devastating, natural and manmade disasters: Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil disaster.
By finding community stakeholders, like bird lovers, Turkey Creek was able to tell its story on the national level, by partnering with migratory birds and the Audubon Society, awareness was raised and action taken to protect the watershed.
Today, Turkey Creek is a small community sandwiched between the Gulfport International Airport, and strip malls. Like many successful communities, Turkey Creek negotiated a livelihood for its residences when it established a Creosote Plant to employ its residents. The Creosote Plant is long gone, but we toured one of the buildings associated with the plant that the community is seeking to preserve.
Listening to the stories of what these communities struggle with, and witnessing their coalition building as they gather support among like-minded communities along the Gulf was a powerful lesson before the winter holidays. I was poignantly reminded about how fragile our history is, the depth of human suffering, and the power and necessity of partnership in speaking truth to power. It is through recording and disseminating stories like those of Turkey Creek and the Gulf Coast that the Anacostia Community Museum seeks to share and store history and culture for the betterment of communities in the future.
This forum aims to bring residents together to explore the traditional image of environmentalists, the assumptions made about communities of color in regards to environmental and sustainability issues, and the truth behind such prejudgments. Do minorities feel represented? Is there a lack of trust between traditional environmentalists and communities of color? How do communities define environmentalism and their relationships to urban waterways? What steps have been taken to make the table more inclusive? What are the possible social and political consequences of such inclusion?
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 Corporationwhich 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.
One of the central goals of the Urban Waterways project has been to provide means for the collaborators in our network to share their concerns, practices, and accomplishments with communities facing similar challenges. On March 28, 2015, the museum will provide a space for our collaborators as they gather for the Urban Waterways Symposium.
Panelists from Baltimore, Chicago, D.C., Hawaii, Los Angeles, Louisville, and Turkey Creek will gather to share their experiences, best practices, and next steps regarding such issues as Education & Practice, Environmentalism & Recreation, Grassroots Leadership, Collaboration, Waterfront Development, and Gentrification & New Urbanism.
The symposium will help to further the project’s long-standing goals of creating a cross-disciplinary dialogue among scholars, government officials, activists, and scientists, eliciting first-hand information from residents of local communities, and engaging all who are interested with on-going activities that will enable their participation in reclamation, restoration, and appropriate redevelopment of their urban waterways and their communities.
The ARC, which hosts a community gallery and ArtReach workshops for youth and adults at it’s 1901 Mississippi Avenue SE location is planning something special for the annual Anacostia River Festival. The festival, on April 12, 2015 held at the Anacostia Waterfront Park will be the site of the first Anacostia River Festival Fish Bike Parade. What is a Fish Bike Parade? Picture hundreds of bikes riding around the DC streets with colorful handmade fish windsocks like the one’s pictured above flying over the heads of the cyclists and convening at the festival to create an above water river display.
Over the next few weeks the ARTREACH will host workshops to create your own fish flags inspired by the Japanese tradition of creating carp-shaped windsocks known as “Koinobori.” The fish windsocks will then be attached to poles on the back of bikes for a flying fish performance at the festival. The workshops are free and open to all regardless of creative experience. :
Wednesday March 11 @ The ARC’s ArtReach studio 1901 Mississippi Ave SE 6-8 PM
Saturday March 14 @ The ARC’s ArtReach studio 1901 Mississippi Ave SE 1-3 PM
Wednesday April 1 @ The ARC’s ArtReach studio 1901 Mississippi Ave SE 6-8 PM
Saturday April 4 @ The ARC’s ArtReach studio 1901 Mississippi Ave SE 10-1 PM
In this article, activists Robert Bracamontes and Robert Garcia, collaborated to highlight the importance of engaging Native American populations in restoration efforts along the L.A. River in California. As the original caretakers of the watershed for hundreds of years, it is vitally important to include Native Americans in river renewal efforts. Having a seat at the table will ensure that native traditions will be honored as well as ensuring a healthy watershed for future generations to enjoy.
For a PDF of the full article, please click the below: