Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

How to Epitomize a City

BOND: You said to someone in answer to a question how you'd like to be remembered, and you mentioned the Anacostia project. Why is that so important?

WILLIAMS: Because I think that if you — I think a part of your job as mayor is you're the chief art director of your city. You're in all these different roles. You're also the art director. You have to envision what is the signature of your city so, for example, an example of a signature of the city is, I look at the city, what am I looking at, and how do I look at it? Okay. How do I appreciate the city? I appreciate the city in the neighborhoods. You know, I appreciate the city as, for example, in the downtown, and the sense of how I feel in the downtown.

I realize the city — an example would be if I drive down Market Street or Michigan Avenue and Chicago, that's an example of a great street epitomizing the city. The waterfront is an example of something that epitomizes the city. In Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania Avenue is an example of a street that epitomizes Washington, D.C. The waterfront, though, not so much, you know what I mean? Because it's not the kind of dynamic active waterfront that you think of in a great city. You think of the Thames River. You think of when you come in on a plane to New York — and they have discontinued it — but remember you used to fly into LaGuardia, you would fly down the Hudson River and make that turn and then come back into LaGuardia? That was an incomparable signature view of a city and the waterfront of the city.

So I'm saying to myself, how do we create the same excitement and dynamic expression of a waterfront for Washington, D.C? That's number. And number two, how can we do this in a way that creates an economic engine that number three, spills over with benefit for what is actually some of the poorest parts of the city, that so that number — I don't know where I am now, four or five — we're actually using this initiative to unite the city. I actually think that this is a much better way over time to powerfully unite the city than having a big conference and everybody talking about how we're divided, and we're going to have a taskforce, and then what're we going to do? We're going to have a task force that's going to actually do something, so why don't we just start doing it? That's my attitude.