The Bridges of D.C.

Although essential to our infrastructure, bridges are also symbols and inspiration for writers, artists and engineers. Neo-classic D.C. and modern sensibilities vie for funds, to maintain and change the face and functionality of D.C.
Additional Disciplines 

Two bridges. One formal in its neo-classic face. One informal and unadorned. 

One with nine arches and an “Avenue of Heroes.” One divided into three, utilitarian spans. One requiring $250 million to repair. One wanting $45 million to build a park.


Both constructed near historic first settlements: Georgetown on the Potomac River and Nacotchtank on the Anacostia River. Both providing access to two great men: The Emancipator and the Sage of Anacostia — fathers of civil rights.


Both symbolically linking contrasting ideas and conflicting economies. Memorial bridging North and South. The 11th Street Bridge connecting the nation’s center of power with one of its poorest neighborhoods. 


These two bridges and more than a dozen others spanning the Potomac and Anacostia rivers and the many others that dot Rock Creek illustrate the need to consider the many dimensions of our declining infrastructure, the controversial decisions that unite and divide and change the dynamics of places, and the symbolic and aesthetic benefits of each one.


MAY 2016

11th Street Bridge Park
Resource Graphic 

Develop Vocabulary
English, Reading

Terms used in “Can D.C. build a $45 million park for Anacostia without pushing people out?” are provided in In the Know. Review these terms with students before reading the Post Magazine article.


Map It
Economics, Geography, Political Science

Teachers may wish to present a brief history of the forming of the federal district and today’s Washington, D.C., boundaries before the map reading exercise. The D.C. history guide, Our Nation’s Capital Created, includes a map of the original boundaries of the District of Columbia with land acceded by Maryland and Virginia.


Project a road map of Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland so students can view it.
• Is it possible to travel to D.C. from Maryland without crossing a bridge?
• Is it possible to travel to Virginia from D.C. without crossing a bridge?
• Is it possible to travel between Virginia and Maryland without crossing a bridge?

Maps are also available in this curriculum guide.


How did people cross the Potomac River and Anacostia River before bridges were built?
Where are towns with “ferry” in their names located?

When bridge repair begins on Memorial Bridge, what alternative modes of transportation do residents have to get to work, sports and cultural events and other activities in D.C.? What if Metro repair work coincides with the bridge repair? Do commuters from Arlington and Fairfax and other western counties have an alternative?


Research the Bridges of D.C.
Art, English, Geography, U.S. History

There are major bridges across the Potomac and Anacostia rivers and additional ones crossing Rock Creek. Students may work alone or in pairs to research one of these bridges. Give them "Bridges of D.C." to guide their choose of a bridge.


Approaching Bridges of D.C. Research” provides teachers with background information and suggestions for introducing this research project. Whether they study 14th Street BridgeMemorial Bridge, Taft Memorial Bridge or one of more than a dozen other choices, students need to use reliable sources. Refer students to “Bridges of D.C.” The five questions at the beginning indicate the kind of information that students will find about the bridges of their study — locals’ adoption, statuary, history, type and material used for construction.

As students research the history of one of D.C.’s bridges, teachers should encourage students to consider the reasons for its placement as well as the benefits that occur daily from a bridge at that particular location.

D.C. Waterfront Neighborhoods
Resource Graphic 

Observe, Then Act
English, Photography, Visual Arts

This activity is divided into three parts: 1) Observation, 2) Written Composition and 3) Photographic Composition. The intent is to develop the use of all five senses to observe one’s environment — a skill that can benefit everyone. After the initial observation and first narrative draft, students are asked to revise their compositions taking into consideration control of spatial organization, the order in which details are perceived. Give students “Observe, Then Act.”


The photographic activity applies many of the elements of the best photographics in a series of images.


Draw a Bridge
Art, Geography, Visual Arts

This activity acquaints students with the bridges found throughout D.C. and its borders and provides them with a landscape painting project. They may select a bridge near their homes or school, a favorite of their family or one whose design interests them.


Give students “Using Bridges in Landscape Painting.” Discuss the ideas presented about bridges as the subject of a work of art.


Give students “Local Artists Capture Local Bridges.” Artists share their works and give insight into the choices they have made. Have student compare and contrast the techniques, materials and points of view.


Reflect on Infrastructure
Economics, Engineering, Political Science, U.S. Government

Design elements of the neo-classical architecture of Washington, D.C., and elements of modern D.C. were combined with structural materials to last many years into the future. Yet they do not last forever without care.


Read “Decaying D.C. bridge reflects state of thousands of bridges nationwide” by Ashley Halsey III that was published December 31, 2012. While the reporter focuses on the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, the article provides students with information to understand the importance of bridges in our infrastructure and the expensive repairs that must be faced throughout the U.S.


Discussion could include the following:
• What is “structural deficiency”?
• In what ways does congestion influence the cost of living?
• What is “corrosion”? In what ways is corrosion the “biggest threat to the service life of a bridge”?
• When is it better to repair a bridge? To replace a bridge?
• Summarize the main idea about our infrastructure presented by Halsey?


Understand Spatial Organization
Economics, English, Geography, U.S. History

In English class, “spatial organization” may be defined as how items are organized and grouped. For example, if you are writing about things to do in D.C., you may group them by area in the city (Georgetown, Penn Quarter, Connecticut Avenue), by type of entertainment (music, sports, outdoor) or by age (for families, college students, retirees). Spatial organization also refers to the order in which details are presented to control the reader’s point of view. Give students “Observe, Then Act” to present this concept.


“Spatial organization” in geography and economics classes can refer to geographic arrangement or place. For example, how do rivers, mountains and arid areas impact people, businesses and governments? How are culture, beliefs and social interaction influenced by population density and make-up, economics and politics? Natural, technological, social, cultural and political forces impact where people work, live, consume, worship and engage in leisure and recreational activities.


So what happens when a river separates a city into sections or wards? On one side of the river residents have higher employment and salaries; one side is more urban, the other more suburban. One side has many restaurant options, the other very few.


Consider how the 11th Street Bridge and Park is an example of spatial organization and reorganization. How might the addition of a park to a bridge that connects two disparate neighborhoods affect how people live, work and socialize?

Read About D.C. Rivers

Park on the Anacostia River?
Economics, Geography, Political Science, U.S. History

The proposed park on the 11th Street Bridge is billed as a “meeting place for locals and tourists” year round. Activities for families, the young and old, to enjoy a new vista on D.C.


Read “Can D.C. build a $45 million park for Anacostia without pushing people out?” In this Post Sunday Magazine, published in January 2016, Jonathan O’Connell addresses questions of whether the 11th Street Bridge and its approved park is good for Anacostia’s current residents.


Give students “What If the Bridge Has a Park?” to guide their reading and discussion. Consider the environmental impact, economic influence, and the need for services conflicting with gentrification of Anacostia.


Debate the Bridge and Park
Debate, Geography, Political Science, U.S. History
The question is provided by Post’s Sunday Magazine article, “Can D.C. build a $45 million park for Anacostia without pushing people out?" Form teams to take positions and to debate the issue.


An alternative might be to ask students to answer this question: If I had $45 million to spend on Anacostia and other communities east of the river, I would …. Post their written responses around the classroom and ask students to walk around reading each one. You might have students nominate responses for different distinctions, such as:
• Most innovative
• Most likely to make a change for the better
• Most controversial
• Great idea, but least likely to be done
• One to be sent to the mayor


Conduct a Case Study
Geography, Political Science, U.S. Government

The 11th Street Bridges Project provides a number of opportunities to study the impact of bridges on transportation flow; access to destinations, both within and around places; safety of vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle traffic in neighborhoods; failing infrastructure; and evacuation routes. The Federal Highway Administration provides the framework for advanced study of deficiencies in design and determination of the best solution.


Teachers might use this information to build a case study, create an independent study or offer alternative projects to students.


Think Metaphorically and Symbolically
English, Political Science, U.S. History
While this guide asks teachers and students to consider the physical bridges of D.C., the infrastructure that unites areas on both shores of the Potomac River, the Anacostia River and Rock Creek Park, teachers may also discuss other barriers that separate segments of D.C. and the metropolitan area. What attempts are being made to bridge disparities?


What gaps exist? What bridges need to be built to cross the divides of neighborhoods and wards of D.C.? What is the current reality? Where would we like to be in attitude, practice and interrelationships? Where would students begin?


Students might respond in prose or poetry, in a column or a letter to the editor. Perhaps, an ode to a bridge or a photo essay.The “Stars and Stripes Forever,” written by John Philip Sousa on Christmas Day of 1896, is the official national march of the U.S. Read Sousa’s lyrics to capture another level of what the flag symbolized to him. What does a bridge symbolize to students?



Consider America’s Housing Divide
Economics, Geography, Government, U.S. History

The Washington Post began a series on April 28, 2016, to analyze the economic recovery through home values, based on data spanning 2004 through 2015. See “America’s great housing divide: Are you a winner or loser?”

Teachers may use The Post’s series as an example of using data as well as anecdotes and observation to examine one of the divides. 


Far from the City, far from recovery” provides a comparison/contrast of D.C. and the Loudoun County suburbs. This Business section article in the series takes a look at an area that was once pastureland and open space transformed into expensive dream homes and white-collar neighborhoods.



Analyze Media Coverage
Journalism, Media Literacy, Political Science

“America’s great housing divide” is looking at the nation and at D.C. through the lens of home values. When journalists write about D.C., how do they portray the city’s culture, beliefs and social interaction, their spatial location and organization? In what ways do they present the influence of changing populations, demographics and population density? How does the sports culture mix with the government climate and services milieu?



Post NIE Guide Editor & Writer | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Carol Porter


Resource Graphic 
In The Know 


Depressed price  
Economic development  
Land trust  
Pipe dream  
Spatial organization  
Found in "Can D.C. build a $45 million park for Anacostia without pushing people out?"  


Test Your Bridge Knowledge.

1. Residents of Woodley Park named the two restored lions after the original master sculptor, Roland Hinton Perry, and Reinaldo, the sculptor who used photographs and other clues to recreate the original lions.

2. “The Arts of War,” “Sacrifice” and “Valor,” statues by the sculptor Leo Friedlander. They were a gift from the people of Italy to the people of the U.S.; cast in bronze in Florence in 1950.  At the parkway two statues rise — “The Arts of Peace” by James Earle Fraser named “Music and Harvest” and “Aspiration and Literature.” These were erected in 1951. The cortege of assassinated President John F. Kennedy solemnly processed across the Memorial Bridge in 1963. The eternal flame at his grave can be seen from the bridge.

3Long Bridge that had guard houses and soldiers at both ends. Today’s 14th Street Bridge is located at this point on the Potomac River.

4. Key Bridge

5. Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge was built in 1950. It was redecked in 1974 and 1988; renovated in 2007.

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.

Visual Arts. Apply artistic processes and skills in a variety of media to communicate meaning and intent in original works of art (Production and Creative Expression, Strand 2)
Use various observational drawing skills to depict a variety of subject matter, to include sculpture, outdoors or in museum (8.2.3)
Plan and create works of art that reflect complex ideas, such as distortion, color theory, arbitrary color, scale, expressive content, and real versus virtual. (HSA.2.4)
Prepare floor plan and construct miniature building based on analysis and study of ancient buildings, obelisks, monuments, statues, and other architectural forms (HSA.2.5) 




Academic Content Standards may be found at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

Government, Political Science. The student will evaluate roles and policies the government has assumed regarding public issues (1.1.3). Public issues: Environment (pollution, land use), Entitlements (Social Security, welfare), Health care and public health (costs, substance abuse, disease), Censorship (media, technology), Crime (prevention, punishments), Equity (race, ethnicity, region, religion, gender, language, socioeconomic status, age and individuals with disabilities).


Government, Political Science. The student will evaluate the impact of government decisions and actions that have affected the rights of individuals and groups in American society and/or have affected maintaining order and/or safety (1.2.3).


Visual Arts. Students will demonstrate the ability to perceive, interpret and respond to ideas, experiences and the environment through visual art.
b. Compose and render from observation subject matter that shows 3-dimensional form, light and shadow, qualities of surface texture, detail, spatial relationships, and proportion. (Standard 1.0 Perceiving and Responding: Aesthetic Education. Grade.6)


The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

Economics and Personal Finance. The student will demonstrate knowledge of planning for living and leisure expenses by
a)  comparing the costs and benefits of purchasing vs. leasing a vehicle;
b)  comparing the advantages and disadvantages of renting vs. purchasing a home;
c)  describing the process of renting housing;
d)  describing the process of purchasing a home;
e)  calculating the cost of utilities, services, maintenance, and other housing expenses; (EPF.11)


Government. The student will demonstrate knowledge of economic systems by
c)   evaluating the impact of the government’s role in the economy on individual economic freedoms;
d)   explaining the relationship between economic freedom and political freedom (GOVT. 14)


Visual Arts. The student will employ elements of art, principles of design, and a variety of media to express meaning in works of art and design. (AII.8)


Visual Arts. The student will use a variety of perspective techniques (e.g., liner, atmospheric, and/or multi-point perspective) to create the illusion of space in works of art. (AII.9)



Academic Content Standards may be found at

Common Core Standards 

History/Social Studies, Grades 11-12. Evaluate authors' differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors' claims, reasoning, and evidence. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.6)


History/Social Studies, Grades 11-12. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7)


History/Social Studies, Grades 11-12. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9)



Common Core standards may be found at