Most everyone is familiar with the High Line, the long-neglected elevated railroad on Manhattan’s West Side that was saved from demolition and transformed into one of New York City’s most innovative public parks.
Now, a group of Washington, DC, teenagers have proposed a similar second life for their hometown 11th Street Bridge, a 1960s-era twin-span structure currently being replaced as part of a $390 million improvement project.
Their vision: a multi-purpose landscaped public space that could include playgrounds, benches, water features, and a performance space. There might also be room for food and retail components (with more than 900 linear feet to work with, why not?).
Perhaps more importantly, say the teens in a Washington Post story, the park would transform what has been a transportation link across the Anacostia River into a social and cultural one, connecting neighborhoods that up to now have had little to do with each other.
A repurposed 11th Street Bridge would seem to complement other elements of DC’s long-term efforts to redevelop the Anacostia’s shoreline, which for decades has been better known for its environmental problems than its community development potential.
But with the establishment of Nationals Stadium and the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail), plus the local access improvements that will be part of the 11th Street Bridge replacement project’s second phase, the waterfront finally has some anchors to build around.
So, why not give some otherwise non-descript infrastructure the opportunity to shine in a way it never did in its previous life, and do what bridges are fundamentally supposed to do?
The DC Planning Commission, which solicited the teens’ input via a local art education program plans to use these ideas to guide a national design competition slated to get underway this fall. Though there’s no telling how or even if the park transformation will evolve to reality, it could inspire other cities with aging bridges to look at these structures as something other than scrap fodder.
(Then again, sometimes it’s best for bridges to pass into memory. You could probably count on one hand the people who miss the elevated Embarcadero Freeway along the San Francisco waterfront, for example, And a temporary stint as a performance space didn’t exactly spark a groundswell of support for Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct.)
Similarly, it may also behoove states, cities, and owners to call on today’s teenagers for ideas about what infrastructure should be like. After all, they’ll be the ones who will eventually be using and paying for it. They’re also at an age when anything seems possible, and not bound by real and imagined constraints that can limit the thinking of adult decision-makers.
In other words, when it comes to providing a new perspective to infrastructure, the kids are alright.