Greater Greater Washington

Posts by David Alpert

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

We're hiring! Come work for us or help us find great people!

Greater Greater Washington is growing and working more on housing. We're looking to grow our team with two new, amazing people. Is that you? Or do you know someone who fits the bill?


Hiring photo from Shutterstock.

Our new Community Engagement Manager will develop our new housing program by building relationships with people in a wide range of neighborhoods, planning in-person events, recruiting people to write for the web, and organizing people to get involved directly in pushing for solutions to rising housing costs in their communities.

Our Managing Director will strengthen our organization by handling all of the necessary and vitally important pieces of actually making a nonprofit tick, including managing staff day to day, fundraising, handling things like computers and office space, and working with the board to develop clear goals for programs and staff.

The detailed job descriptions are below, or you can download a PDF. Consider applying, and we'd also really appreciate your help spreading the word, especially to people and communities who don't already read Greater Greater Washington. Thank you!

Managing Director

Do you passionately enjoy growing small nonprofit organizations and thinking about how to make them sustainable? Do you also care deeply about walkable urban places, transportation options like transit and bicycling, and increasing housing choices for people of all incomes? Do you want to take Greater Greater Washington to its next level of growth?

Greater Greater Washington is growing from an organization with one part-time employee to three full-time employees. This opens up exciting new possibilities but also requires us to build our organization and sources of support to make that level sustainable, and hopefully grow beyond as well. We need a Managing Director to take primary charge of fundraising, staff, and day-to-day office operation.

The Managing Director will:

  • Develop, supervise, and mentor the Staff Editor and Community Engagement Manager on a day-to-day basis to ensure that they have a clear work plan and the resources they need to succeed; write regular performance reviews in consultation with the Board of Directors
  • Create plans to increase contributed and earned revenue, track existing sources of revenue, and execute on plans with assistance from the Board of Directors and other volunteers
  • Manage the daily operations of the organization such as monitoring spending and income, and securing office space, computers, and other basic needs of the organization
  • Guide, encourage, and recruit volunteer members of our editorial board to continue to steer the website's direction, contribute content, and handle specific portfolios of responsibilities.
  • Work closely with the Founder and President as well as other board members to guide the strategic direction for the organization
  • Staff meetings of the Board of Directors and assist the board in recruiting new members
Candidates must have:
  • At least four years of experience in small nonprofit organizations including experience with organizational development
  • At least three years of experience with fundraising for nonprofits including creating and implementing fundraising plans, ideally including experience fundraising from foundations, corporate sources, and developing earned revenue. Experience with Washington-area philanthropy is a strong plus.
  • Proven ability to work with board members and volunteers with a wide range of personalities to keep them engaged and interested and mediate interactions as needed
  • Excellent interpersonal skills and strong communication skills
  • Talent for thinking strategically and ability to balance immediate and long-term priorities
  • Ability to work independently, without day-to-day direction from others, and to work occasional evenings and weekends
  • Understanding of and experience with multiple parts of the Washington region in DC, Maryland, and Virginia
  • A passion for urban planning and transportation, a deep desire to see more vibrant walkable places in a growing and inclusive region, and some understanding of the policy issues behind it; having regularly read Greater Greater Washington for a substantial period of time is a strong plus
This is a full-time, salaried position. The position involves working with a small team of four people in office space that we will soon secure somewhere in central DC. Women and people of color are strongly encouraged to apply.

To apply, please send a resume; a cover letter explaining your interest and qualifications for the position, and why you want to be a part of our team; and two work samples (fundraising, media, marketing, or other written materials) to jobs@ggwash.org with "Managing Director" in the subject line.


Community engagement photo from Shutterstock.

Community Engagement Manager

Are you as alarmed as we are that Washington, DC is rapidly turning into a place that poor, middle class, and even many upper middle class people cannot afford to live in? Do you want to help us ensure that DC has room for everyone who wants to come live here or stay in the communities where they've long lived? Do you enjoy talking to people face to face? If so, you might be perfect to be Greater Greater Washington's Community Engagement Manager.

The Community Engagement Manager will be able to build an exciting new program for Greater Greater Washington that will involve building relationships, convening conversations, and organizing residents across divides and barriers in DC. The role involves working with people in communities all around the city in person and also helping elevate their voices to a higher level by working with them to create content for the Greater Greater Washington website.

The Community Engagement Manager will:

  • Build relationships with neighborhood leaders, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, civic association leaders, faith community leaders, and other stakeholders in all eight wards of DC to discuss housing capacity and displacement issues and build coalitions to pursue solutions
  • Organize and facilitate conversations and educational events in communities around DC
  • Cultivate existing grassroots supporters and locate and engage new supporters through online and offline grassroots outreach techniques
  • Experiment with ways to generate content for the website from in-person events, such as written summaries, audio or video, social media roundups, or other content
  • Identify people who can and are willing to effectively write about their experiences, their visions, and/or development projects in their neighborhoods from all parts of DC
  • Mobilize people to contact District officials and councilmembers, attend community meetings, council hearings, zoning hearings, and other events
Candidates must have:
  • At least three years of experience organizing in electoral or issue advocacy campaigns
  • Experience working in traditionally underserved communities, ideally including District of Columbia wards 7 and 8
  • Ability to attend many community meetings during evenings and weekends
  • Proficiency in using social media to reach a wide audience
  • An outgoing personality and comfort speaking with people from a range of backgrounds
  • Strong writing skills. Experience in media or communications is a plus
  • A strong commitment to walkable, inclusive communities and the transportation networks and other infrastructure needed to support them
  • Experience in economics, housing finance, community development, or related fields also a plus
This is a full-time, salaried position. The position involves a lot of time in the field and working with a small team of four people in office space that we will soon secure somewhere in central DC. Women and people of color are strongly encouraged to apply.

To apply, please send a resume; cover letter explaining your interest in housing capacity in Washington DC, your qualifications for the position, and why you want to be a part of our team; and two short writing samples to jobs@ggwash.org with "Community Engagement Manager" in the subject line.

What we hope to do on housing

Greater Greater Washington will be growing thanks to a generous gift and foundation grant, and increasing our focus on housing. Here's what we have in mind for housing.


Welcome mat photo from Shutterstock.

Rising housing prices in DC and many in-demand parts of the region is one of the biggest challenges our region faces. With rising prices comes displacement of longtime residents, while people who want to move to walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods find themselves priced out and shut out.

We've talked about these issues on Greater Greater Washington since the site began, but we hope to do much more, including discussions about more neighborhoods and featuring voices of more residents (and potential residents).

We also hope to bring the discussion offline. Greater Greater Washington has been able to bring together a community of people who want to discuss the shape of the neighborhoods in the Washington region and how they are changing, but not everyone sits in front of a computer all day at work with the freedom to click over to non-work websites every so often (which, face it, is the way most of you read the site).

Finding solutions to housing problems that are truly inclusive requires having a conversation beyond just the website itself. We want to foster more conversations in person, so that more people can participate and so that members of our current community engage more with neighbors with different backgrounds and life experiences.

At the same time, we're still a media site and our biggest strength is sharing information with a wide range of people. Therefore, as we convene offline discussions, we'll look for ways—maybe text, maybe video, or who knows—to let those who can't attend an event still hear from the people who could.


Multicolored houses image from Shutterstock.

Let's make sure there is enough housing for all

Our region must build enough housing for the people who want to come here without displacing those who are already here. That includes enough housing at the top of the market, lower-priced but unsubsidized housing in cheaper areas, and guaranteed "affordable housing" as well.

The San Francisco Bay Area is in the middle of a major housing crisisfar, far worse than here—because it didn't build nearly enough new housing. We can't let that happen in DC.

Building enough housing is going to require every neighborhood to do its part. It's simply not fair for some neighborhoods, especially wealthy and powerful ones, to tell other neighborhoods that the brunt of all new housing construction must fall there.

That doesn't mean residents should have no say in how their neighborhoods grow. Maybe some places in a neighborhood aren't the right ones for new housing, but other spots are. We'd like to spark conversations, both online and offline, about the best and most sustainable ways for neighborhoods to grow. We want all residents (and prospective residents) to be able to participate in those conversations, no matter their backgrounds.

We don't expect to come in with all of the answers for each neighborhood. The answers aren't one-size-fits-all. What can span across neighborhoods are some basic values. We'd start with "growing, inclusively." We should seek to welcome all people, not shut them out, and welcome greater diversity of background and income level.

We might have a good home in a neighborhood we love, but not all do. We might have good access to our jobs, but many do not. What we value in a place, we should wish to make available to others as well. When I started Greater Greater Washington, I wrote, "As the region grows, we must preserve what already works and expand what is possible, to ensure that there are enough great neighborhoods for everyone who wants to live, work, shop or play in one."

As it happens, "growing an inclusive city" is the tagline for the 2007 DC Comprehensive Plan. The District will soon begin the process of revising the "Comp Plan," which could be one excellent forum for this conversation and an opportunity to ask the District to clearly envision the growing, inclusive city of coming decades. This is also an issue that affects the entire region, and every jurisdiction needs to play a part as well.

If you would like to be part of this conversation, add your name here. You can help organize discussions, write articles about housing in your community, or just join the discussion online and offline. And if you would like to organize it as your job, check back tomorrow when we post our open positions.

Big news! We're growing and doing more on housing

We're excited to bring you big news for Greater Greater Washington. We've just gotten a donation and a grant which will make it possible to improve and expand our content and add a bigger focus on housing, an issue we've long hoped to cover in more detail.


Growing house image from Shutterstock.

Greater Greater Washington started out as a labor of love and a volunteer operation. I started this site in 2008 to write (and learn!) about the forces shaping our communities. It grew as more and more people wanted to read, comment, contribute articles, help edit, and run more of the site.

We will always be a community-driven site, but some things are difficult when your community is all volunteers. We need an editor to help our contributors turn great ideas into effective articles that inform and educate interested residents across our region and beyond.

Our annual reader drives bring in enough money to hire an editor part-time: first Dan Reed, now Jonathan Neeley. The fact is, though, that bringing you four articles every weekday and constantly recruiting new contributors needs to be a full-time job. And that's not to mention our desire to give our editor a decent living.

Unfortunately, it's very hard to be a nonprofit with just one staff member. It takes time to manage an organization, and even though we all wish this didn't have to be the case, it takes time to raise money as well.

In addition, while we've always written about housing issues such as the DC zoning update's efforts to legalize basement and garage apartments, there's a lot more to discuss about housing affordability. We also really want to expand this conversation to more communities all around DC and the region, including east of the Anacostia River.

Enter the Open Philanthropy Project

We recently spoke with the Open Philanthropy Project, an effort funded primarily by former Wall Street Journal reporter Cari Tuna and her husband, tech entrepreneur Dustin Moskovitz (Facebook, Asana).

"Open Phil," as they call it, is working to give away billions in a wide range of areas, like public health in the developing world, forestalling potential catastrophes that could wipe out the human race, and a number of US policy topics like criminal justice reform and labor mobility (all great causes!) You can learn a lot more about Open Phil from recent feature profiles in the Washington Post and Vox.

One of Open Phil's priority US policy causes is expanding housing in supply-constrained metro areas. Restrictive zoning and other rules make housing far too scarce and expensive, particularly in the most desirable, highest-wage metro areas. This locks out all but the wealthiest people from the opportunity to live in good neighborhoods with easy access to the best jobs. These metro areas should be adding a lot more housing to meet the demand.

That's an issue we have worked on since Greater Greater Washington was founded, and when we heard that Open Phil was interested in supporting work on housing supply in the Washington region, we spoke with them. Based on those discussions, Tuna decided to make a personal gift of $75,000 to Greater Greater Washington (which is in the process of registering as a 501(c)(4)) for non-political use, and Open Phil made a two-year, $275,000 grant to our 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor, Smart Growth America. These contributions will help us expand our efforts and do much more work on housing issues.

We will be able to support the activities of three full-time staff. Jonathan will be converting to full time and continue editing the site while adding some more responsibilities. We'll be hiring two additional people, and we'll talk about that more in an upcoming post.

Open Phil, true to its name, openly posts an analysis of each grant it gives. You can read the summary of its thinking about our grant here.


Community growing photo from Shutterstock.

Some very important things won't change

We want to emphasize three elements of Greater Greater Washington that will NOT change.

First, we will always continue to be community-driven. Just as, say, Wikipedia has a staff and a foundation and raises funds to keep things going, but its content still comes from its community, the same applies to us (though on a far, far smaller scale).

Our articles will continue to be written by members of our community who want to tell stories about changes in their neighborhoods or policies they've learned about. Our volunteer editorial board will continue handling a lot of the site's day-to-day operation, like looking at emails, moderating comments, and organizing fun events.

Most importantly, the editorial board will continue setting our editorial policies to ensure we stay true to our community.

Second, we'll still need support from our readers and many others. This isn't the gravy train that'll set us up for life. Open Phil is not funding 100% of what we need for this growth, and is only promising support for two years.

That means we need to keep up and grow the reader drives, reach out to foundations, and much more. This makes it even more important to have support from all of you.

Finally, this new housing focus will not detract from our existing content. We'll still be writing about transit, parks and architecture, education, and many other topics our community members want to discuss.

Stay tuned

Tomorrow, we'll post more about our ideas and plans around housing, and then we'll talk about who we want to hire to execute on our exciting new plan.

We're really looking forward to embarking on this new phase of Greater Greater Washington's growth with you!

Muriel Bowser predicts DC holds 800,000 people in 20 years. That requires a lot of new housing.

DC mayor Muriel Bowser appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Tuesday. In response to a question about whether DC is "full," she said DC "is going to keep growing" to 800,000 people in about 20 years. A recent report from George Mason University says it'll take a lot of new housing, of all types and for all income ranges, to get there.


Bowser's appearance on Morning Joe. Click to view the segment.

Here's the exchange, which starts around four minutes into this video:

CNBC's Brian Sullivan: Over the last ten years a number of major corporations—pretty much all the defense organizations, by the way—are either based in DC or around it. DC's population has surged. I have a lot of friends there and I'll speak for you and them: What are you going to do about the traffic? Is DC full? Because it seems full when I'm on the Beltway.

Mayor Bowser: It's not full. We're going to keep growing. Keep in mind that in the fifties we had 800,000 people that lived in DC. We're at about 660,000 now, and probably in the next 20 years we'll get up to 800,000 again. Now we have to be smart, we have to invest in our infrastructure..."

Sullivan: The Silver Line Metro has been expanded. That's nice ...

Bowser: ... And it's going to continue to expand. We're going to invest in our Metro. And part of the things that all of us mayors are talking about is what the Congress can do to help us. It's important that we get a permanent transportation bill and fund it.

Disregarding the whole panel's apparent confusion between the District and the larger region (where the Beltway, Silver Line, and most of the defense companies are located), Bowser's statistic fits with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) recent projections.

How much housing does our area need?

The George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis recently published a report projecting the amount of housing needed in all the jurisdictions in the Washington region over the next ten years. This updates a 2013 report, which Aaron Wiener summarized as saying, "We Need More Housing. Lots More Housing."

Starting with projections including the COG population forecasts, author Jeannette Chapman estimated the numbers of new housing units that each jurisdiction will need, and broke it down among single-family houses (attached, like row houses, and detached), multi-family (like apartment buildings), rental units, and owned units. The report also looks at the need for people in different income ranges, from less than 30% of Area Median Income up to 120% and more.

The bottom line, in Wiener-ese, is: "We Still Need More Housing. Lots More Housing. All Kinds. And All Prices."

Here's a table showing just DC data, which I assembled from various tables in the CRA report:

District of Columbia, 2023
<30% AMI30-49.9% AMI50-79.9% AMIAll Low Income80-99.9% AMI100-119.9% AMI120%+ AMITotal
Total DC75,25041,33022,980139,55049,88023,450103,130316,020
Single-family16,84013,0108,06037,91017,7708,70049,590113,960
Multi-family58,40028,32014,920101,64032,11014,76053,540202,050
Owner13,27012,6407,61033,52021,08010,50066,270131,380
Renter61,97028,69015,370106,03028,80012,95036,860184,640
New units from 2011
<30% AMI30-49.9% AMI50-79.9% AMIAll Low Income80-99.9% AMI100-119.9% AMI120%+ AMITotal
Total DC12,6004,9601,92019,4907,4503,03017,38047,340
Single-family1,791-105-243,6961,3472534,4677,753
Multi-family10,8045,0691,94637,9166,0892,77012,91839,630
Owner3,2781,2421,28413,0814,12196310,01420,884
Renter9,3193,72063428,5793,3132,0687,39626,422
Percent Change from 2011
<30% AMI30-49.9% AMI50-79.9% AMIAll Low Income80-99.9% AMI100-119.9% AMI120%+ AMITotal
Total DC20.1%13.6%9.1%16.2%17.6%14.8%20.3%17.6%
Single-family11.9%-0.8%-0.3%10.8%8.2%3.0%9.9%7.3%
Multi-family22.7%21.8%15.0%59.5%23.4%23.1%31.8%24.4%
Owner32.8%10.9%20.3%64.0%24.3%10.1%17.8%18.9%
Renter17.7%14.9%4.3%36.9%13.0%19.0%25.1%16.7%
Numbers may not add due to rounding.
Sources: 2011 American Community Survey microdata, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and GMU Center for Regional Analysis

Except for single-family housing for people making between 30% and 80% of AMI, DC needs more housing in every box.

The top-line number is 47,340 new units from 2011 to 2023. That's 3,945 units a year over 12 years. But according to this data, DC added only 3,226 units a year on average from 2011-2014, and that was during a massive boom. The average from 2005-2014, which includes the previous boom and the intervening recession, was 2,153 units a year.

Plus, most new units were not in the lower-income affordable ranges, where DC needs to be adding 1,050 units for people under 30% AMI a year and 573 a year for people making 30-80% AMI.

This challenge is not just in DC. Here's a table from the report for the whole region:

Housing needs, 2023
<30% AMI30-49.9% AMI50-79.9% AMIAll Low Income80-99.9% AMI100-119.9% AMI120%+ AMITotal
Dist. of Columbia75,25041,33022,980139,55049,88023,450103,130316,020
Montgomery43,23045,94033,350122,52077,77036,560170,760407,610
Prince George's57,02055,38037,830150,22079,36032,44081,350343,370
Rest of Sub. Md.140,73031,71019,98092,42056,79027,23081,490257,930
Suburban Md.140,980133,03091,150365,160213,93096,220333,6001,008,910
Arlington13,8607,5605,79027,21020,78010,31056,950115,260
Alexandria city9,7108,4506,31024,47016,0906,94032,07079,570
Fairfax241,07036,48024,640102,19086,39042,880213,590445,050
Prince William319,50022,26015,36057,12043,94020,08070,780191,920
Rest of No. Va.440,73038,01028,500107,24071,25035,130154,060367,680
Northern Va.124,860112,76080,600318,220238,460115,350527,4501,199,480
Entire Region341,090287,110194,740822,940502,270235,030964,1802,524,410
Increase from 2011
<30% AMI30-49.9% AMI50-79.9% AMIAll Low Income80-99.9% AMI100-119.9% AMI120%+ AMITotal
Dist. of Columbia12,6004,9601,92019,4907,4503,03017,38047,340
Montgomery5,2906,5503,12014,9607,4004,86020,90048,110
Prince George's13,45011,0906,99031,5405,1901104,78041,620
Rest of Sub. Md.114,7106,7401,81023,2508,8904,98014,45051,580
Suburban Md.33,45024,38011,92069,75021,4809,95040,130141,310
Arlington4,7401701,9106,8204,4401,51011,10023,870
Alexandria city2,7602,3205205,5902,7404906,03014,850
Fairfax22,2404,7601,0308,0209,7506,91015,69040,380
Prince William33,6106,4002,48012,4909,6904,72015,72042,610
Rest of No. Va.411,7907,9107,14026,84012,1908,78052,200100,010
Northern Va.25,13021,55013,08059,76038,80022,420100,740221,720
Entire Region71,19050,89026,920149,00067,73035,400158,260410,380
(1) Includes Frederick County, Calvert County, Charles County, and St. Mary's County
(2) Includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church
(3) Includes the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park
(4) Includes Clarke County, Culpeper County, Fauquier County, Loudoun County, King George County, Spotsylvania County, Stafford County, Warren County, and Fredericksburg city
Numbers may not add due to rounding.
Sources: 2011 American Community Survey microdata, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and GMU Center for Regional Analysis

This is still a lot of sprawl

The GMU report considers the Washington region to be very large, spanning all the way to southern Maryland and Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, while the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' definition ends at Prince Wiliam. The report estimates a lot of housing and job growth out in those mostly-undeveloped areas; it would be far better to concentrate job and housing growth in the built-up counties and cities, but that would require even more new housing than the high numbers in this report.

On top of that, the GMU report forecasts that a lot of the new workers who fill new jobs in the region will actually live outside of its definition Washington region and commute in. A lot of them commute to jobs outside the more central jurisdictions, but by far the most job growth is in Fairfax, Montgomery, Prince George's, and DC, plus a lot in Loudoun and Arlington, in this forecast. Again, people commuting from so far away to these jobs is not ideal, but adding even more housing will reduce the sprawl pressure.

It's not impossible

The region can certainly accommodate these new people. As Bowser noted, DC once had that many people, though this was in an era when people lived in much smaller spaces and had larger families. The bigger obstacle is the widespread opposition to nearly any growth anywhere.

If that continues, displacement will increase and new jobs and housing will get pushed to the edges of the region. The report suggests, however, that it's not just poor workers who will lose out: it's seniors. Baby boomers will retire in great numbers and without jobs, and then make up many of the lower-income households.

DC and the other jurisdictions in the region will need to proactively plan for where this new housing can go, and get community buy-in ahead of time, to make it possible to build the housing the region needs.

Neighborhood commission catches "height-itis" on a Dupont Circle church and condo project

If a building is taller than 59 feet but you can't see it, does it make a sound? In Dupont Circle, it makes a big racket in one ongoing development controversy.


Images from CAS Riegler.

The St. Thomas Episcopal Parish, whose main church at the corner of 18th Street and Church Street burned down due to arson in 1970, wants to build a new church. To fund that, they want to use part of their property to build a new condo building.

The proposed church is not particularly controversial, especially now that the parish revised their design to a better one than they had first proposed. But many neighbors are fiercely fighting the adjacent condo building, which will be closer to nearby row houses. (Disclosure: My house is almost directly across the street.)

The building has now gone before the Historic Preservation Review Board three times, and will return for a fourth on Thursday. I've been fine with the condo building proposal since fairly early in the process, and the Dupont Circle Conservancy supported the version proposed in March. The HPRB and local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, however, have asked for more changes to further shrink the building.

The ANC reached what members thought was a compromise in March, where they agreed to support the condo building, but only as long as the perceived height for a pedestrian around the building was no more than 59 feet. And, in fact, on the recent versions of the proposal, if you are standing on the sidewalk across from the building, you won't be able to see any parts that are taller.

While I think it was unnecessary in this case, this can be a smart approach. Small setbacks on the upper floors of a building can do a lot to make a building feel shorter when walking past on the street, without actually taking away much of the opportunity to add housing. You can get a large building that feels small instead of blocking the building and the potential new residents it can hold.

Beware of "height-itis"

Unfortunately, many neighbors focus not on the human experience but the total number of feet at the building's highest point. Let's call this "height-itis." Some of this comes from the fact that developers often talk at early community meetings about the height that zoning allows, and present a "massing diagram" which depicts a large box filling the zoning envelope.

Even if the developers never considered building such a box, some neighbors get caught up in talking about the total number of feet. Later architectural plans also show elevations, where high floors are just as visible as low ones.

Other elements of a building, like materials, windows, landscaping, and street-level detail, ultimately will matter much more than height. Developers generally have some leeway to make design changes, but if forced to lop off whole floors from the building, it severely constrains how much they can "shape" the building lower down and still make the project work economically.

"Height-itis" often makes it harder, not easier, for residents to get changes that will actually affect their property, like setbacks on upper floors to minimize the shadows a building casts. It can also lead to buildings that look boxier and less appealing (just as DC's height limit does downtown).

The Dupont ANC gets stuck

This is where a tricky detail comes in. The ANC's resolution says the condo building (not the church building) should look to be no more than 59 feet from anywhere on Church Street, 18th Street, P Street, or the nearby alley. If you go far enough down a street, then set back parts of the building would become visible, but the whole building is also far away and much smaller visually.

That's why historic preservation standards generally look only at the appearance of a building from right nearby. For example, other neighbors are adding a fourth story to their row house, which I will be able to see from my upstairs windows, but it's set back so you can't see it from the sidewalk (and, honestly, I'd be fine with it even if they didn't have to set it so far back, since the design looks very well done).

But the ANC's resolution is stricter. And many HPRB members look not at detailed legalistic standards, but the overall tenor of community feedback. Just having the ANC say it doesn't support the project has held it up significantly.

Further, the HPRB is not immune to "height-itis." One member, Graham Davidson of Hartman-Cox Architects, is in fact one of its most acute sufferers. He consistently suggests that buildings take off a floor and is rarely satisfied with setbacks that simply make it look shorter, as in a contentious case at 13th and U in 2013.

So HPRB has sent the project back for revisions multiple times. Last month, board members had only very minor changes, which the developer made. But Davidson opposed a motion to let the preservation staff handle any further issues, and instead suggested the project return on what's called the "consent calendar," where the board can approve it without a hearing and vote.

The ANC, however, passed yet another resolution opposing the project, saying that it doesn't meet the letter of their March resolution. Opponents are pushing for HPRB to take it off the consent calendar and force yet another hearing because of this.

The ANC says make it shorter, but acknowledges making it shorter is silly

Their resolution is strange. On the one hand, it says the ANC won't support the project. But on the other, it says,

Whereas the ANC 2B Zoning, Preservation and Development committee acknowledges the current design with its limited visible elements above 59 feet subjectively creates a more textured and attractive building and removing the 7th floor altogether may lead to a subjectively less attractive building design.
In other words, they know lopping off the floor would make the building worse, but hung their hats on 59 feet before, and won't budge. The resolutions have also been unanimous, even though some members have told me privately that they don't actually object to the building at this point.

Unfortunately, the effect is for the ANC to force HPRB to eventually disregard their views, perhaps diminishing the ANC's credibility. It also has delayed this project and forced everyone to attend numerous hearings.

Asking to improve a project is fine, but neighbor requests and ANC resolutions are most effective when they're well-considered. Succumbing to "height-itis," and then being stubbornly unwilling to consider more creative ways to deal with concerns, is not a good way to represent neighborhood interests on complex development projects.

Update: HPRB voted Thursday morning to approve the project on the consent calendar. Davidson and fellow board member Nancy Metzger advocated for further delay and hearings, but other board members supported moving the project forward.

Construction is starting on a mixed-use building at Eastern Market. It took seven years to get this far.

In a ceremony on Friday, a mixed-use development formally broke ground at where the closed Hine Junior High School used to stand, across the street from Eastern Market Metro. This hard-fought project has been in the works since at least 2008, and is a good example of how long many of these projects can take amid community battles.


Image from the development team.

Here's a quick chronology of the Hine project that covers some, but definitely not all, of the steps:

1864: A beautiful building is constructed for the Wallach School along Pennsylvania Avenue between 7th and 8th.

ca. 1893-1938: Some other school buildings start filling in more of the square, including one for a new public high school and junior high, the latter called Hine.

1950: The Wallach building is torn down.

1966: The Hine school is built, covering most of the entire block from 7th to 8th, Pennsylvania to C. The parking lot on the north side also spans where a closed C Street used to be. Its design relates poorly to the surrounding streets and it forms a dead zone between the Eastern Market and Barracks Row commercial areas.


Left: Wallach School, 1864-1950. Right: Hine Junior High School, 1966-present.

1993: The flea market at Eastern Market starts using the Hine parking lot.

2007: The Hine school closes. Discussions begin about redeveloping the site.

May 2008: Councilmember Tommy Wells hosts a preliminary community meeting about the redevelopment proposals.

June 2009: Four development teams present their proposals. One proposal, from Stanton and Eastbanc, stands out, David Cranor writes. It's also the densest.


The "green blobs" plan, one of four proposals for the site.

September 2009: The DC government selects Stanton/Eastbanc's proposal.


The winning plan.

Early 2011: Stanton/Eastbanc go to various community meetings to present their more-detailed proposal. Some nearby residents focus on fighting the overall size of the project, which has sections ranging from four to seven stories (taller on Pennsylvania Avenue, shorter elsewhere). Others who are more supportive of new housing near Metro focus on architectural issues that wouldn't affect the overall opportunity to add housing.

The Advisory Neighborhood Commission creates a committee to work on Hine, which ultimately supports most of the overall size and advocates for a set of other changes based on community feedback.

April 2011: The project goes to the Historic Preservation Review Board, where many people oppose the height. Preservation staff, however, argue that a building of this size is appropriate for a prominent corner like this one.

2012: The project moves on to the Zoning Commission. The same debates over height continue to rage.

October-November 2012: Hine opponents try to unseat ANC commissioners who supported the committee's recommendations and didn't fight the project's size more fiercely. The incumbents win reelection.

November 2012: The Zoning Commission approves the project. The developers say they are hoping to start construction in summer 2013. Neighbors appeal in court.


Photo by Bill Walsh on Flickr.

August 2014: The DC Court of Appeals rejects the appeal. The opponents petition the court for a rehearing in the case.

November 2014: Some Hine opponents again run for open ANC seats in the two districts nearest the project, but are not elected.

January 2015: The Court of Appeals rejects opponents' petition and clears the way for Stanton/Eastbanc to begin construction.

June 2015: Demolition begins on the old Hine building.

July 17, 2015: The project formally breaks ground.

June 2017: The first building, on the south side along Pennsylvania Avenue, should open if all goes according to plan.

One thing that stands out from this timeline is how long opponents successfully blocked the project with their court challenge. It took about two years from when Stanton/Eastbanc won the bid until they had all of the necessary approvals; that's not quick, but not so unusual in DC, and this was a large and complex project with many small changes along the way. Then, the court case blocked progress for almost two more years.

It's clear that opponents primarily do not want to see mid-sized buildings like these on the site, but one of their arguments was that this site didn't have enough affordable housing. Unfortunately, the long delay ensured that needed housing, both market-rate and affordable, was not available for a long period of time.

Which Metro parking lots fill up, and which don't

If you drive to a Metro station with parking after rush hour, are you likely to find the lot full, or be able to park? Here's a diagram to help you.


Image by Peter Dovak.

A Montgomery County couple that lives in a car-dependent area, but is interested in trying to use Metro, asked this question recently. They're not going to use it for commuting, but might go downtown mid-day. The rush will have ended, which also means some parking lots might fill up, and they don't want to go to a station only to find no spaces.

Unfortunately, Metro does not have a real-time tracker to tell riders (or potential riders) exactly how full a lot is at any given time. It would be great if an app could show you, but given everything WMATA has to do right now, it's also understandably perhaps not the top priority.

We can, however, get a good idea from historical information. Metro does track how many people pay to park at each lot. Sherri Ly, WMATA media relations manager, sent this June 2015 parking report. It gives the parking capacity for each station and also the "utlization," which is the number of people who paid to park per weekday, divided by the number of spaces.

The numbers are below, and Peter Dovak visualized this data in the above diagram. On the image, each circle's area is proportional to the number of spaces in the lot, and the colored inner circle's area is proportional to the average utilization for fiscal year 2015.

Lot CapacityPaid Utilization
Station/RegionJune 2015June 2014June 2015FY 2015 YTDJune 2014FY 2014 YTD

MONTGOMERY COUNTY
Grosvenor1,8941,894103%98%103%98%
White Flint1,2701,27057%62%56%53%
Twinbrook1,0971,09765%61%65%60%
Rockville524524109%103%109%103%
Shady Grove5,7455,74591%85%91%86%
Glenmont2,9982,99882%81%82%73%
Wheaton97797731%29%31%31%
Forest Glen596596102%96%102%95%
Montgomery Total15,10115,10183%79%83%78%

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY
New Carrollton3,5193,51991%81%90%84%
Landover1,8661,86641%39%41%40%
Cheverly50050096%81%96%85%
Addison Road1,2681,26851%50%51%48%
Capitol Heights37237289%80%89%80%
Greenbelt3,3993,39981%72%80%74%
College Park1,8201,82066%55%66%57%
P.G. Plaza1,0681,06846%46%46%44%
West Hyattsville45345395%84%95%86%
Southern Avenue1,9801,98061%52%61%58%
Naylor Road368368107%98%107%100%
Suitland Garage1,8901,89067%61%67%60%
Branch Avenue3,0723,072103%94%102%94%
Morgan Blvd.60860889%88%89%84%
Largo2,2002,20089%84%88%83%
Prince George's Total24,38324,38369%69%77%71%
Maryland Total39,48439,48472%73%79%74%

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Deanwood19419451%49%54%49%
Minnesota Ave.333333116%106%101%103%
Rhode Island Ave22122198%101%106%102%
Fort Totten408408107%110%115%100%
Anacostia Garage80880840%45%50%45%
District of Columbia Total1,9641,96474%76%79%73%

NORTHERN VIRGINIA
Huntington3,6173,61773%71%76%73%
West Falls Church2,0092,00962%66%104%95%
Dunn Loring1,3261,32685%85%106%92%
Vienna5,1695,16989%89%104%97%
Franconia5,0695,06974%71%77%72%
Van Dorn St361361103%107%114%108%
East Falls Church422422120%117%126%120%
Wiehle-Reston East2,300100%82%
Northern VA Total20,27317,97381%79%91%85%
 
System Total61,72159,42175%75%83%77%

Some lots show a utilization over 100%. That's because if someone parks in a station, then leaves, and another person pays to park in that same space, it counts as two people. For a lot that's totally full and has some turnover, the utilization can go over 100%.

Ly said that in the parking industry, an occupancy level of 90% is considered "full." Or to put it in terms that relate to riders, if a station is reliably over 90% filled, it's risky to try to park there unless you arrive early. Much lower, and there's a lot of space going unused, which is wasteful.

At stations that fill up, Metro and the area governments could look into ways to help more people reach the station other than by driving. At stations that don't, perhaps those are top spots to consider transit-oriented development on the parking lot, and where the developer doesn't need to rebuild as many spaces as there are today.

Metro is organizing a series of movie nights at Metro station parking lots, partly to engage with surrounding communities but also to bring attention to generally underused parking lots. Upcoming movie nights will be August 8 at West Falls Church, which Ly said "saw a drop-off in parking once the Silver Line opened," and August 22 at Twinbrook, both at 6:30 pm. Ly also said Metro will launch a campaign this fall to communicate where there is parking space in the Metro system.

DC's two futures

After a generation of losing population, the District is attracting people of all ages, and housing costs have skyrocketed as a result. While growth has slowed, costs continue ascending beyond the reach of not only poor residents but also many middle- and upper-middle-class families.


Photo by David Bailey on Flickr.

As long as this trajectory continues, the District faces two futures: A city inaccessible to all but the most affluent, with rampant displacement pricing out people in all corners of the city (as in San Francisco); or a diverse city that has planned enough housing to fit all of the new residents alongside longtime ones.

Which course the District takes depends on the foresight (or blindness) of its leaders. They can plan for a growing and inclusive city or ignore the dangers ahead.

Continue reading my latest column in the Washington Post.

What state has the best DC avenue?

There are rankings that compare states for all kinds of things—what state has the best economy, is the most bike-friendly, whose residents are most miserable, has the best beer. Now, you can compare which states have the best avenues named for them in DC.


Image from Google Maps.

There's a road named for each of the 50 states (and Puerto Rico) in the District. Matt Johnson explains the patterns behind where the avenues are located. You can also learn more about them with this video of someone biking them all.

To create a single ranking among state avenues, Michael Grass at Route Fifty tallied up scores on a number of criteria:

  1. How many quadrants the avenue passes through
  2. Whether the state is one of the 13 original colonies that formed the US
  3. If the road is in the original L'Enfant plan for DC
  4. If it radiates from the White House or Capitol
  5. How many important circles and squares it connects
  6. How many other state streets it crosses
  7. If it has segments missing or other interruptions along the way
  8. If it's not an Avenue (California Street and Ohio Drive)
  9. If it extends to Maryland with the same name
  10. How long it is
There's some overlap between #2, #3, and #4; Pierre L'Enfant assigned the streets radiating from the White House and Capitol to the states in existence at the time, most of which were original colonies, and all of those are naturally in the original L'Enfant Plan. But other original colonies, and states that joined soon after, got other diagonal avenues around the city, particularly on Capitol Hill.

There are exceptions, though: What's now Potomac Avenue used to be Georgia Avenue until residents of Brightwood lobbied to rename Brightwood Avenue for the state. As Matt wrote, "They had hoped to curry favor with senator Augustus Bacon, but he promptly died, and never had a chance to affect the fortunes of these suburban pioneers." Still, it helped Georgia Avenue get more points, since it now qualifies for points for going to Maryland, and for being really long, while losing out on being in the L'Enfant City (it's 7th Street south of Florida).

Here are the results:


Image from Route Fifty.

As a native of Massachusetts, I'm pleased that my state comes out on top, being really long, crossing a lot of other state avenues, passing through three quadrants and Maryland, being in the L'Enfant plan and an original colony, and topping the list of important circles and squares with a whopping 13 (Westmoreland Circle, Wesley Circle, Ward Circle, Observatory Circle, Sheridan Circle, Dupont Circle, Scott Circle, Thomas Circle, Mt. Vernon Square, Columbus Circle, Stanton Park, Lincoln Park, and Randle Circle).

California Street, on the other hand, is a four-block street in Adams Morgan that's even shorter than nearby Wyoming Avenue and doesn't even get to be an Avenue. On Matt Johnson's post, commenter Mike (not Michael Grass) wrote,

California Ave. (previously named Oakland Ave. and, before that, Prospect Ave. [or St.; it depends on the map and subdivision you look at]) was changed to T Street in Oct. 1905 when the Board of Commissioners renamed the streets in section 1 of the Permanent System of Highways. Residents on the street complained, and it was changed back in 1906, but only to California St. because the commissioners felt it was not wide or straight enough to be an avenue.
The road's stature definitely does not reflect the importance of the state with which it shares a name (being far less significant a street than almost any other state-named street, period). But Massachusetts definitely is the best.

The five most frustrating things about Metro's problems

For a few years after the 2009 Fort Totten Red Line crash, public confidence in Metro's safety was growing. But a smoke fatality in January, a scathing federal report, and hearings last week have put safety back into the spotlight.


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

I talked about Metro's safety on the Kojo Nnamdi Show last Monday, with guest host Jen Golbeck and Greater Washington Board of Trade head Jim Dinegar. Wednesday, I talked with Mike Coneen on NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt after the first day of hearings.

During the first day, details emerged that the operator of the train in the smoky tunnel wanted to pull the train back out, but was told to wait.

A train behind it had already come into the station, and police decided to evacuate that train, which made it impossible to move it out of the way to make room for the train in the tunnel. There didn't seem to be a clear response plan for this kind of situation or someone in charge who could coordinate all of the first responders.

After the Fort Totten crash, it became clear that the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC), a group of safety officials from DC, Maryland, and Virginia tasked with monitoring safety, wasn't functioning well. Reforms supposedly set it up to succeed.

Apparently not, though. We discovered that the TOC wasn't able to issue many recommendations because it had to wait for higher-ups in DC, Maryland, and Virginia to agree, and then when it did, WMATA often didn't follow up.

WMATA and regional governments need to quickly address not only the specific failures of the L'Enfant incident, but also deal with the bigger picture issues. A few things stick out as frustrating for riders.


Smoke in a Metro car during the L'Enfant incident. Photo by Jonathan Rogers on Twitter.

1. Reforms around safety haven't fixed safety.

After the crash, some people argued that the WMATA Board had focused too much on service and neglected safety. Under political pressure, many long-serving board members resigned or were replaced. Instead of elected officials, who'd been more focused on what was frustrating riders, the board got a new crop of transit experts like current chairman Mort Downey and last year's chairman Tom Downs.

They brought in an old friend and old grizzled transit veteran, Rich Sarles, to be general manager. They said his experience should help get WMATA on a solid footing of safety and otherwise maintain a firm hand on the wheel. But it doesn't really look like the safety culture is so solid after all.

WMATA has other issues to deal with, too. Customer service is often pretty poor, and the agency is secretive not just with safety information but a lot more as well. It was pretty clear that Sarles was not the man to reform these aspects of the agency, but arguably getting a rock-solid safety foundation first was most important, and then Sarles' successor could tackle other needs. That's not possible now.


General Manager Richard Sarles testifies on safety in 2010. Image from WMATA.

2. Replacing the board didn't fix financial oversight, either.

WMATA also didn't follow procurement laws properly, which led the Federal Transit Administration to put WMATA in a "penalty box." WMATA now can't get its federal money until after it's spent it, creating a cash crunch.

Transit experts disagree on how much of an immediate crisis this represents—Downey and other insiders say it's just a short-term cash flow problem, while some, like DC CEO Jeffrey DeWitt, warn about WMATA being unable to repay its bonds.

Either way, however, it's maddening that this situation arose at all. As with safety, there was a whole push to get "experts" on the board of directors. Where were they?


Surprise image from Shutterstock.

3. All of these problems came as a surprise.

There were people who knew that these safety issues and financial issues created risks, but the public didn't, and neither apparently did many board members. The Inspector General was sounding the alarm on some of these problems, but IG reports tend to be opaque if they're even public.

This is just like what happened with the Fort Totten crash, where there were people aware the track circuits weren't working, but they didn't share that information widely enough. It's not okay to have a culture of hiding problems from superiors. It's not okay to hide this kind of information from policy-makers and the public, either.

Riders aren't so stupid that they can't be trusted to know about the various safety efforts underway. People know about the risks of roads and still drive. It's worse for the agency's reputation to have kept safety and financial pitfalls a secret and more disturbing when they then come to light.

4. Underfunding is a problem, but it's hard to fix now.

These management problems are infurating, but mismananagement is only half of the problem. Underfunding is the other half. WMATA didn't get enough money over decades to keep up with repairs, and now has to contend with a huge backlog.

The radios weren't working during the L'Enfant incident, which is inexcusable, but it would be a lot easier to criticize the agency for not fixing its radio systems if it hadn't been trying to fix the track circuits and a zillion other pieces, all of which work well enough day-to-day but might contribute to a safety problem at some point.

Unfortunately, it's even harder to get that funding when the news is so bad. Congress is planning to cut in half the money it promised for repairs after the 2009 crash. A lot of this might just be ideological opposition to transit from conservative members, but all of these problems, and the lack of honesty in the past, sure don't help.


A crowded train. Photo by philliefan99 on Flickr.

5. We need Metro to not only thrive, but grow.

Metro ridership has stopped growing, but it'll pick up again, and we need to be planning now to deal with the capacity crunches. Metro needs 8-car trains, but now the region won't buy enough railcars to make it possible, let alone upgrade power systems and add yard space.

Metro needs to solve the bottleneck at Rosslyn which now limits the number of Blue Line trains and will only get worse in the future.

Two years ago, we were talking about the Momentum plan to deal with Metro's needs first for 2025 and then beyond. Today, sadly, there isn't much momentum at all.

Which is sad, because Metro still is a very valuable transportation system. Our region depends on it—there isn't enough road space, or parking space, for all of the commuters otherwise. And it's actually quite a speedy way to get around, when it works and when you're going somewhere near a station.

We can't afford to let Metro stagnate or decay. Sadly, it turns out we didn't make nearly as much progress over the last six years as we thought.

You can listen to the Kojo segment here and watch the NewsTalk video below:

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