New Smithsonian Exhibit Highlights Worldwide Waterways

The Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum presents its groundbreaking exhibition "Reclaiming the Edge: Urban Waterways and Civic Engagement" on view through Sept. 15, 2013, which examines the consequences of the abuse of waterways worldwide and the efforts by communities to restore them.

The new "Reclaiming the Edge: Urban Waterways and Civic Engagement” exhibit at the Smithsonian explores the history of use, decline, and the movement to restore the Anacostia River in southeast Washington, D.C. The exhibit also references similar stories of these five urban waterways: the Los Angeles River; Suzhou Creek in Shanghai, China; the Thames in London; the Ohio in Louisville, Ky.; and the Allegheny/Monongahela rivers in Pittsburgh.

The exhibit was developed by consulting scholar John R. Wennersten, professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore and museum historian Gail S. Lowe. The “Reclaiming the Edge” portion of the exhibit is an ongoing research project on urban waterways initiated by the museum in 2010 and adopted by the Smithsonian as one of its Grand Challenges. The exhibition commemorates the museum's 45th anniversary and is the first developed under the context of the organization's expanded mission to focus on issues affecting contemporary urban communities.

"Experiences and points of view from men, women, and children personally involved with their rivers distinguish this exhibition from others," said Lowe. "It is not just about science, biology, politics, and industry, it is also about fishing, swimming, boating, drinking, and enjoying the bounties clean waterways provide and our individual responsibility for keeping them healthy and safe."

The challenges and visions posed by the impact of human settlement and industry on the Anacostia, such as the Navy Yard and the sports-stadium development, sewage/waste management, environmental justice issues and restoration of the environment, form the lens through which the approaches taken by other urban river communities are seen in the final section. Throughout the exhibition, viewers are challenged to consider their individual impact on the Anacostia River and specific ways citizens can do their part to clean the water.