The town of Edmonston, one of the Washington, DC area’s lowest-lying communities, has had numerous clashes with its environment.  The Anacostia River splits the town in two, causing flooding during heavy rains. There have been four floods in the last decade. Two bridges, one for cars, bikes and pedestrians; and one for freight trains — reconnect Edmonston’s east and west sides. 

Located in Prince George’s County between much larger Hyattsville and Bladensburg, Edmonston is a middle class town of 1,400.  But Edmonston is now calling Decatur the “East Coast’s greenest street,” thanks to $1.3 million in stimulus money and a year of construction.

“We have no confirmation on that, but I will boast that it is the greenest street in the country,” said volunteer Mayor Adam C. Ortiz, who began working on revamping Decatur in 2007. “Block by block, from the tops of the trees to the stormwater system under the ground, it is as environmentally responsible as possible.”

Before the rain gardens were planted, dirty stormwater flowed through street drains emptying into the Chesapeake Bay. During storms, water would flood the streets. Now, the streets are clean and water-free, and the plants do most of the filtering work.

“This is the most important thing right here. These gardens — they’re low-tech, they’re affordable, and they’re completely sustainable,” Ortiz said.

“We wanted to show that there’s another way to build, there’s another way to prosper, that accepts full responsibility and does not pass problems downstream, and that it can be beautiful and livable.”

Edmonston officials unveiled the new Decatur Street in November 2010. Running three-fourths of a mile, it is now lined with about 30 maple, elm, sycamore and oak trees and energy-efficient, wind-powered streetlights. Crews installed a bike lane made of permeable asphalt that reduces storm runoff and pollution. They also narrowed the roadway by about eight feet, reducing the amount of pavement. The new sidewalks are made of permeable concrete blocks and landscaped areas, or “rain gardens,” that filter water naturally through the ground.

The Bigger Picture

Green streets have been built before, in Seattle and Portland, Ore., but they’re hard to find in towns like Edmonston, which has no stormwater filtration system.

Decatur Street has already won its admirers. The Chesapeake Bay Trust, which provided the initial $25,000 grant for the Edmonston project, plans to announce eight other green-street initiatives in Southeast Washington and the Baltimore area Wednesday, said Associate Director Jana L.D. Davis.

“If this can be replicated, many of these surprisingly inexpensive features can really help the environmental health of the bay,”  she said.