Principle 9: Attract additional investment in the surrounding neighborhood in a way that sustains public spaces and benefits existing communities

Helping under-resourced neighborhoods find ways to capture value created by investment in civic assets can reduce displacement and create greater benefit for area residents.

In Anacostia, a historically under-resourced neighborhood in southeast DC, the 11st Street Bridge Park project is setting a new standard for inclusive development of civic assets. Refusing to accept displacement as an inevitable outcome of civic investment, the project team created an Equitable Development Plan to guide its efforts. The plan spells out how value created by the park will be captured and redeployed to benefit the surrounding community. Residents will benefit from a portfolio of investments in affordable housing, community leadership, small business support, workforce development, and other areas of critical importance, all supported by a series of strategic partnerships with private-sector firms, philanthropies, nonprofits and city hall.

Early on, extensive community engagement surfaced residents’ concerns about a whole host of issues, ranging from access to public space to a lack of affordable housing, workforce training and job opportunities. These issues informed the creation of the Equitable Development Plan, which calls for a community land trust to preserve affordable housing and guard against displacement, a First Source agreement to ensure that residents have access to job opportunities created by the project, and a sustainable funding source such as an endowment or capital reserve to keep the park’s programming affordable for all, regardless of their socioeconomic status. 


Implement a plan for capturing value for the surrounding community from the start. Putting value capture mechanisms in place early on helps ensure that current residents will get the greatest benefit from civic investments. For example, the Equitable Development Plan recommends forging community benefit agreements with developers in order to make sure that local businesses and arts organizations have priority access to new and redeveloped areas. Communities should investigate a range of mechanisms (e.g., community land trusts, special assessment districts, land value taxes) before selecting the one(s) best suited to their needs.

Control project scope and be intentional about the work. Over the course of the planning process, project teams need to determine which activities and investments are in or out of scope. In Anacostia, education came up repeatedly as a critical need but given that so many other organizations are already working on this issue in the area, the project team decided to make it out of scope to avoid detracting from their work in other areas. Feasibility, resource availability, and ability to address residents’ needs are important criteria for making these determinations.

Use data to measure performance. Data collected at regular intervals can help project teams better understand explore how well investments are performing and the impact on those living nearby over time. At the start of the 11th Street Bridge Park planning process, the project team sought out baseline data on who lived and worked within a one-mile walk of the proposed park site as well as metrics on the area economy. As the project gets underway, regular data collection on key indicators will help the project team track performance over time and introduce course corrections as needed.

Reimagining the Civic Commons has a suite of tools for civic asset managers to use to measure and improve the performance of public places. These include a set of DIY tools for collecting data about the use and perception of civic assets, reports on metrics from the five demonstration cities and a toolkit on how to capture the value of improved public places and put that value to work for the surrounding neighborhood.

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Case studies crafted in partnership with The Aspen Institute’s Center for Urban Innovation. With special thanks to Jennifer Bradley and Jessica Lee.

Lead photo provided by OMA+OLIN.