Friday, May 14, 2010

Most folks around Annapolis rarely go to Washington – maybe an occasional trip to a museum or to see the cherry blossoms – but other than New York Avenue and Monuments Mall, the rest of DC is a mystery.
I go into our nation’s capital pretty regularly and I have led many urban walks around places like Foggy Bottom, Sixteenth Avenue, and the Maine Avenue seafood market. But the one section of Washington that has always been terra ingognita for me is Southeast. The very name conjures up burned out tenements and street corner drug deals. I have often taken Kenilworth Avenue into town and driven by Benning Avenue thinking, “What would happen if I broke down and had to go looking for help over there?”

Well, my opportunity to find out came in early April when I was invited to be a part of the Cheery Blossom Anacostia Eco Tour. My friend Greg Drury, from Wholeness for Humanity, was teaming up with, Ed Brandt, from the Environmental Protection Agency, and the theme of the ride was: “One Bike Ride Closer To A Unified DC”.

The itinerary was intriguing: a 15-mile bike ride through the Anacostia Watershed.
The state of Maryland officially lists the headwaters section of the Anacostia, in PG County, as a scenic river, but my limited glimpses, usually from the seat of a passing Metro train gliding past Kingman Island near RFK Stadium, was of a trash-strewn, mud flat, oil-sheen mess.

Here was my chance to see the Anacostia up close and personal.

We began our trip at the new US Department of Transportation Building over by the Navy Yard. I had ridden my bike there last Fall, when the National’s new stadium was still an erector set hole in the ground surrounded by shabby shacks and vacant lots overgrown with weeds and littered with broken glass. In six short months, this sporty economic engine had magically transformed the blighted area into high-rise glass office buildings and trendy restaurants.
Our group was comprised of government wonks, crunchy young environmentalists, and DC bike police. The police were there to protect several DC big wigs.
We headed off with our trusty police escort, like George Bush on parade. When we came to intersections, the police stopped traffic and we pedaled through like dignitaries.
The area northwest of the Anacostia is mostly mixed neighborhoods where soccer clinics brought people of all races and colors together to watch munckins kick white balls across scraggly playgrounds. We visited the Virgina Avenue Community Garden where neighbors plant vegetables in a large field by the freeway.
After a stop at Judy’s Solar home, we pedaled back to Nationals Park for a grand tour of the nation’s newest baseball stadium. During our little excursion, our guide Maggie explained that this will be the first Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certified green ballpark in the country because of its energy-efficient lighting, 6,300 square-foot green roof, electric golf carts, bike racks, and unique underground water filtration system.
We left the shiny glass baseball palace and headed across the busy South Capital Street Bridge, dodging busted bottles and zipping cars. We were suddenly on the Anacostia River Trail, paralleling the muddy river and looking at small marinas, colorful fishermen, Navy ships, and stone-still herons.
We stopped at the Urban Tree House, where the Student Conservation Association (SCA) teaches urban children about the environment. As part of the Great American Cleanup local school kids were picking up trash along the banks of the Anacostia.
Our next stop was Marvin Gaye Park, where we visited a farmers market located in a building covered in glass murals made from pieces of colored glass, celebrating flowers, fish, and DC’s king of soul.
As we rode through Southeast, fifteen white folks on bikes, we got plenty of stupefied looks. But everyone was friendly. Many people laughed and waved.
What struck me the most was how pretty most of the neighborhoods were. This was no ghetto. In fact, Annapolis Gardens and Obery Court in Annapolis look worse than any place we rode by in Southeast. The houses were modest and a bit rundown, but folks were planting flowers and cutting their grass just like around Annapolis on a spring Saturday.
As I rode my bike across the Benning Road Bridge, past those places that had always looked so scary from a distance in my car, I realized that it is this chasm of the unknown that makes us fear the Southeasts of the world.
And I heard the encouraging words of Amchat Edwards, the dreadlocked young black man, leading the cleanup at the Urban Tree House. “The Anacostia flows into the Potomac, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
So I guess you could say we all really share the same watershed.”

No comments :

Post a Comment