Today is Earth Day, so we’re joining the global community in celebrating the planet we call home. And what better time of year to celebrate? With flowers blooming, hummingbirds buzzing and this season of growth in full force, we’re surrounded by reminders of our planet’s abundant gifts! In honor of today’s holiday, we’re shining the spotlight on a few of the many projects across the country that celebrate the vibrant intersection of greenspace, sustainability and art, re-energizing communities and the natural environment.
Across the U.S., barren concrete riverbeds, abandoned railroads, forgotten bridges and other forms of unused city infrastructure are being transformed into vibrant urban oases. Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington D.C. are a few of the many cities where city officials, organizations and community members are working together to incorporate sustainability and public art into exciting greenspace revitalization projects.
Los Angeles River Revitalization
You might recognize this historic Southern California landmark from its appearances in several hit films, including Grease (1978) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Once a lush, flowing artery of life that ran through the city, providing sustenance to those who lived on its banks, the riverbed was cemented over to control flooding in 1938—creating a stark, glaring, and in many places, empty river. It has been many decades since the Los Angeles River has evoked imagery of a beautiful natural resource teeming with wildlife and community gathering spaces. Many Angelenos only know this river as a lifeless concrete wash seen in fleeting glimpses out car windows while speeding over freeway overpasses. The City of Los Angeles and nonprofits such as Friends of the LA River are working to change that.
Created in 2002, the multi-year River Revitalization project is actively transforming what some have called an urban wasteland into a place for the community to gather and natural ecosystems to flourish. Through the creation of a pathway that stretches 51 miles along the bank of the river, urban planners aim to encourage bikers, walkers and joggers to use the river’s pathways for exercise and eco-friendly transportation. Additionally, the City plans to complete an 11-mile ecosystem restoration project that spans from the historic Griffith Park to downtown Los Angeles. In reestablishing a freshwater marsh habitat to support wildlife, this ecosystem restoration will also introduce beautiful and lush trees, greenery and flowers to the area, creating an opportunity for path dwellers to enjoy an abundance of nature in the middle of the city. The project will also incorporate public art into this greenspace. Installations from emerging artists and murals will line the river’s pathway while local studios will host art classes, serving an integral role in engaging the community and celebrating L.A.’s diverse cultures and creativity.
The Atlanta BeltLine
The Atlanta BeltLine has brought new life to a vacant railroad corridor that encircles the city. Now in its eleventh year, the project has already transformed 11 miles of abandoned train tracks into vibrant greenery, inviting pathways and cultural hubs. With soccer balls soaring over a multi-use activity field, skateboarders practicing their kick-flips at the two on-site, world-class skate parks and families enjoying lakeside picnics, everyone is able to find something to enjoy during a visit to this new cultural hotspot. Beyond the Atlanta BeltLine’s plethora of recreational activities, it’s also home to many public art exhibits and events. Colorful murals and thought-provoking sculptures line pathways and every September, the Eastside Trail is illuminated by a glowing procession of light, music and color, as part of the annual Lantern Parade.
While creating platforms for communal arts and recreation experiences, the Atlanta BeltLine project is also making significant sustainability strides. With an arboretum and a two-acre lake that captures storm water, the BeltLine is becoming the focal point of restorative climate action in Atlanta. Additionally, new residential rental units within walking distance from the BeltLine have been created to provide affordable and equitable housing options for more than 300 residents.
With inspiring progress already visible, the project will ultimately link 45 of the city’s central neighborhoods in a 22-mile loop, boasting 33 miles of multi-use trails, 1,300 acres of parks, 5,600 units of affordable housing and a pedestrian-friendly rail transit system.
Washington D.C.’s 11th Street Bridge Park
Washington, D.C. has bold plans for bridging the gap between the east and west sides of the city, with D.C.’s first elevated public park. Building upon the remaining concrete piers of the unused 11th Street Bridge, the new park will stretch across the Anacostia River—connecting Anacostia, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, with the much more affluent neighborhoods that surround Capitol Hill. When the project is complete in 2023, the park itself will be made up of three acres of plazas, public art and an amphitheater for performances. The project also includes plans to create kayak launch locations, an environmental education center and even affordable housing units.
At the project’s core is a deep commitment to ensuring that all Anacostia residents feel like the park is made for them. Nonprofit Building Bridges Across the River (BBAR) and architecture firm OMA+OLIN have engaged with key community members—ranging from faith leaders, to business owners, to local residents—to ensure that their goals for the park will come to life. With this community-based approach, the 11th Street Bridge Park project provides a promising future for a new, urban greenspace that uses public art to enliven and connect communities across the city.
Washington D.C., Atlanta and Los Angeles are just a few examples of American cities that are going above and beyond to celebrate art, greenspace and community through inspiring revitalization projects. Whether you choose to visit your favorite hiking trail, get your groove on at an outdoor concert, or simply enjoy a breath of fresh air, we hope you can celebrate Earth Day by spending some time in a local greenspace in your city!