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District Bridges Becoming a Force for New Energy in Northwest Neighborhoods

Accompanying images can be viewed starting on page 1 of the November 2019 issue pdf

By Carolina Buitrago*

District Bridges is a non-profit located in Columbia Heights; its mission is to enrich neighborhood vitality by bridging community engagement and economic development opportunities so that individuals, businesses, and organizations can thrive together.

District Bridges was born out of a grassroots community effort to organize the first Columbia Heights Day festival in 2005 to celebrate the unity and diversity of the neighborhood. To keep the event inclusive and sustainable, the first board of directors formed the Columbia Heights Day Initiative (CHI).

In 2015, the CHI board of directors hired executive director, Brianne Dornbush. Under her leadership, the organization developed beyond a one-day festival into a robust organization serving the community year-round.

The organization receives funding from the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLDB) to manage the Main Street programs for Columbia Heights/Mt Pleasant and Lower Georgia Avenue. The mission of the city’s Main Street program is to promote the revitalization of DC’s commercial districts. The Main Street programs managed by District Bridges cover, in addition to Columbia Heights and Mt. Pleasant, the neighborhoods of Petworth, Park View, and Pleasant Plains.

District Bridges was recently awarded three new Main Street programs and is expanding its footprint to include Logan Circle, U Street, and Cleveland Park. The purpose of the Main Street programs is to revitalize communities by retaining and recruiting businesses, improving commercial properties and streetscapes, and attracting consumers. It serves as a community-based economic development program and connects local businesses to the assistance and resources they need to adapt to and thrive in changing local environments.

[Editor’s Note: Nearly 12 years ago we published a story on how the Dupont Circle neighborhood was benefitting from its participation in one of DC’s early-established Main Street programs;<> what was reported then provides insight into the worth of these programs even now.]

In addition, District Bridges organizes local events that draw people to shop, play, learn, dine, and build meaningful relationships in these vibrant communities. Some of these events include Columbia Heights Day, Celebrate Petworth, the lower Georgia Avenue chili cook-off, outdoor movie nights, community meet-ups, and community happy hours.

There is also partnering with local organizations to support other events such as community fitness classes (Past Tense and SWEAT DC), La Fiesta del Barrio in Mt. Pleasant (La Clínica del Pueblo), Civic Fest (DC Tutoring and Mentoring Initiative), and outdoor bookstore pop-ups.

Earlier this year the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) tapped District Bridges with awarded a grant to support its programming for the inaugural Open Streets DC event which took place on Georgia Avenue. [Ed.: see companion lead story in this issue.]

And soon there will be other events, first to be the Columbia Heights Holiday Tree Lighting Extravaganza which will take place on December 6th at 5:30 pm at the Columbia Heights Civic Plaza and where there will be caroling, complimentary hot cocoa, and a holiday vendor market.

The second holiday event will be one that is new this year: Lower Georgia Avenue Main Street will present “Holiday Lights,” designed literally to light up Georgia Avenue for the entire month of December. Small businesses along Georgia Avenue from Barry Place to Upshur Street and into the 800 block of Upshur Street will be competing for best light displays, including a chance for public voting for the People’s Choice awards. Saturday, December 14th, starting at 5pm, will be when the winners will be announced during the evening’s neighborhood “fun” event. For details and updates, check postings on the Holiday Lights website

As a non-profit, District Bridges is always looking to partner with local organizations in the community, volunteers to help them carry out their events, and neighborhood projects and contributing to the neighborhoods they support. Make sure to sign up for their newsletter and follow them on social media to learn more about what they are doing and how you can get involved.

*Carolina Buitrago, a resident of the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, serves as District Bridges’ program director for Columbia Heights & Mt. Pleasant.

Copyright © 2019 InTowner Publishing Corp. & District Bridges. All rights reserved.