Biophilic Cities Partner City Since 2015
Washington DC is known for its many parks and trees, as well as its monuments. Two great rivers traverse its quadrants to join and flow into the Chesapeake Bay. Over the last decade, the City has become known for its progressive environmental policies, especially in the areas of energy and the built environment. DC has one of the largest numbers of ENERGY STAR-rated and LEED-certified buildings in the country. In December 2015, Washington DC received a global leadership award for its extensive investment in wind energy.
Yet the City faces a number of significant challenges in human health and environmental quality. Nature access is not equitably spread across neighborhoods, and asthma and obesity are chronic problems in many parts of the city. Public health problems tend to coincide with poverty and poor connections with (or lack of) green space, and poor access to fresh, healthy foods. A vibrant community of nonprofits and DC’s local government have begun to address these issues. Urban gardens are springing up across the City, and just last year, Mayor Bowser launched the FitDC program to encourage physical activity.
With DC’s membership in the Biophilic Cities Network, Biophilic DC plans to work closely with City agencies and nonprofit partners to make their City ever more natureful, where people and other species thrive. “We’re especially interested in supporting nature-based public health efforts, and opportunities to promote citizen science. And of course, the creative possibilities of social media,” says Stella Tarnay. “I’d love for children to be tweeting about what amazing plant or lizard they just saw, and making nature experience part of the everyday conversation of our grown up, overworked federal workers—it would be good for everyone!”
City Contact: Mary Lynn Wilhere, Department of Energy and Environment
Biophilic DC Contact: Stella Tarnay, Co-Founder
The city’s Sustainable DC Plan has the goal to make DC the “healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the United States” within one generation. Among other measures, the Plan calls for the restoration of the City’s tree canopy to 40 percent, and access to parkland or natural space within a 10-minute walk for all residents.
In early 2016, DC finalized an update to its Wildlife Action Plan, which outlines a strategy for conserving critical wildlife habitat, and DOEE now has an active pollinator program.
DC has adopted a Green Area Ratio requirement for several areas of the city, which sets forth landscape and site design standards for new development to help reduce stormwater runoff, improve air quality, and keep the city cooler.
Further, through DOEE, the City has also instituted a Stormwater Retention Credit Trading Program to create financial incentives for private green infrastructure development within the City.
RETHINKING THE WAY WE DO GREEN URBANISM
An audacious piece of urban infrastructure is under way in Washington, D.C.: a $45 million pedestrian “bridge park” that will span the Anacostia River, running parallel to the car bridge replacement on 11th Street. Just a short distance from the U.S. Capitol, the 11th Street Bridge Park promises to be a popular new park and city destination, just like the High Line in New York City — except for one key feature.
The High Line has showed that displacement and gentrification are often a result of green urbanism projects. But in D.C., the park’s designers are working to neutralize that affect. By seeking the community’s input during the design process, they’re planning to minimize the negative — and maximize the positive — impacts on underserved neighborhoods east of the river.
I spoke to Scott Kratz, who coordinates planning for the 11th Street Bridge Park under the auspices of the nonprofit Building Bridges Across the River. Now in its preconstruction phase, the bridge’s innovative design is the product of a public design competition. The winning entry was a productive collaboration between OMA and the OLIN landscape architecture studio.