January 10, 2007 [LINK / comment]

River cleanup near the ballpark

Folks who have lived in the Washington metropolitan area know that the Anacostia River has a reputation as a filthy place in a dangerous part of the city. Decades of unregulated industrial waste poisoned fish and the birds that feed on them. Because of antiquated sewer lines, moreover, the stench often becomes unbearable after heavy rain storms. It's too bad, because it was once a prime habitat for birds and other wildlife, and I even saw a Great egret there, very close to the RFK Stadium parking lot in June 2004. The National Arboretum, Kenilworth Gardens, and Anacostia Park are just a few of the outdoor attractions along the city's "other" river. Tuesday's Washington Post reviewed the status of the Anacostia River and plans for its restoration. The new stadium being built for the Washington Nationals is a key part of the long-term development plans along the river. An official in charge of the project put it very well: "The whole purpose here is to think of the river as a great centerpiece of the city and not a dividing line."

Exactly. If the stadium does not serve to rebuild the fractured sense of community in Our Nation's Capital, all those millions of public dollars will have been wasted. It reminds one of the situation in Pittsburgh in the 1970s, when the steel industry was crumbling, and far-sighted planners pushed for a massive cleanup effort that turned the area around Three Rivers Stadium into a veritable tourist mecca, attracting yuppies by the thousands. In Washington, by the same token, the Nationals' future stadium could do wonders for the Anacostia River by drawing attention to it, making its cleanup a higher priority. When I was at the construction site a couple weeks ago I noticed across the street that there is pedestrian access to the shore and boat piers, which will presumably be spiffed up considerably once the construction is finished. Eventually, I expect that there will be boat taxi service to baseball games from Alexandria and Georgetown.

That article also mentioned the plans for building a new soccer stadium for D.C. United on the other side of the river at Poplar Point. That franchise has just been purchased, and the new owners are said to be more interested in stadium-related development projects than in soccer per se. Hmmm...