The Fight for a Neighborhood: Flood Control and Race on the Anacostia Tributaries

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Paul Sabin
Essay Abstract: 
Lakeland, an African American neighborhood in College Park, Maryland, historically suffered from severe flooding. The neighborhood was located on Paint Branch, a tributary of the Anacostia River. In the early 1970s, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a channelization project to protect the neighborhood from floods. A vigorous debate emerged during the approval process. White environmentalists from College Park and the University of Maryland opposed the project on ecological grounds. Residents of Lakeland and local government officials argued that flood control for the neighborhood was a civil right and thus the Corps should build the project. The project served as a prerequisite for the Lakeland Urban Renewal Project, adding another layer of intrigue to the debate. Eventually, the project was approved, and the Corps finished construction in 1975. Urban renewal also moved forward, and Lakeland changed dramatically. The debate provides a case study to investigate the relationship of race and the environmental movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It serves as an opportunity to begin to bring race into dialogue around the campaign to preserve open space. The story of flood control in Lakeland is a tragedy, as both the proud neighborhood and the undisturbed stream ceased to exist after channelization and urban renewal occurred.