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Posts in category Smart Growth


We're building apartments to be far smaller than we used to

The average size of new apartments is shrinking in major cities all around the country. In DC alone, new apartments built between 2010 and 2016 are on average 9% smaller than those built in prior years. It's a trend that is both caused by and that helps to relieve high rent prices in the District.

Graphic by the author.

This is according to a recent analysis from RCLCO, a Maryland-based real estate advisory group. RCLCO gathered data from 20 urban apartment markets across the country between 2000 and 2016 to see where apartment size was changing the most and why.

According to the report, the average size of new apartments has decreased in almost all cities, nationwide. The largest decreases are seen in high- and moderate-cost markets like Washington, Los Angeles, and Chicago, due to a combination of market forces:

Aggregating the markets by relative housing cost shows how pricing economics have influenced the change. Average unit size shrunk the most in moderate- and high-cost markets, where there has been an attractive combination of strong demand fundamentals for new product in general and larger base unit sizes relative to the very high cost markets. As a result, new supply in high- and moderate-cost markets today is sized much more comparably to that in very high-cost markets—the gap in size between the average new unit in New York and Washington, DC, for example, has closed quite a bit.

The report indicates some of this shrinking of the average apartment is due to smaller floor plans; the average 1-bedroom apartment in 2016 is smaller than its 2000 counterpart. However, the majority (~73%) of the decrease in average size is due to a shift away from multi-bedroom apartments in favor of studios and single bedrooms units.

In DC, "micro-units" are at the extreme of this trend. Micro-units are apartments under 600 square feet that have sprung up in high-demand areas such as the 14th Street, Dupont Circle, and the Southwest Waterfront. These units aim to use clever design, shared amenities, and compact appliances to offer a comfortable living situation in a small area. According to the report the nationwide prevalence of such units has doubled in recent years, despite efforts in cities like Seattle where some residents have banded together to fight them.

It would be wrong to characterize smaller living space as a completely new trend, when in at least one way, it's closer to historic norms. In terms of square feet of living space per capita, DC has been far more crowded in the recent past. In 1950, over 14% of the population lived in a residence with more than one person per room. The present rate is a third of that.

Where the present differs is in the trend towards more studios and one bedrooms. Developers are responding to an unprecedented number of individuals who, for any of a few reasons, want to live on their own. In 1920, 5% of the US population lived individually, a figure that is 27% as of 2013. For those who want to live on their own in DC, a smaller apartment for less rent makes a lot of sense.

The benefits of this shift are primarily economic: smaller apartments mean more people can be sheltered for less resources. In fact, DC's building boom in smaller apartments seems to have slowed rent increases—at least for luxury apartments. While this seems inegalitarian, it's only in the short run. Over time these benefits should eventually spread across all tiers of comparable housing, assuming enough new housing is being built.

On the other hand, more small apartments means that DC will be relatively less friendly to families in the long term. While small expensive apartments tend to eventually turn into small cheap apartments, they're still small. No matter how well-designed a single bedroom unit is, it's not going to work for a family. Making cities friendly for families is an important and complex issue, well beyond the question of how large an apartment should be.

Public Spaces

A record number of people petitioned for a dog park at the Takoma Rec Center, but it's still not happening

In December 2015, dog owners across Ward 4 submitted the largest petition ever to build a dog park in DC. But a small group of neighbors put up a big fight, and last week the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) made it official: no dog park. Here's what happened.

Image from Wikipedia Commons.

In late 2014, a group of dog owners that live around the Takoma Recreation Center started meeting regularly to let their dogs play together in one of the fields.

It turns out the closest canine closure was at Upshur Park, which is the only dog park in Ward 4, and is about 2.5 miles away from the rec center. With the goal of getting a dog park built closer to them, the neighbors organized into the Northern Ward 4 Dog Park Group. The full list of DC's 13 dog parks can be found here.

Here's how DPR decides whether to build a dog park

The application to build a dog park in DC is a gauntlet of work. It requires the applicant to gather lots of signatures of support from their neighbors; it requires a letter of support from the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC); it also requires applications be posted in DC Register for a 30-day public comment period.

After the public comment period, a Dog Park Application Review Committee reviews the entire application and provides the DPR Director a recommendation, but DPR's regulations give the DPR Director the sole authority to decide whether to approve or reject applications.

The criteria for making that ultimate decision? The preamble for DPR's regulations on dog parks states that flexibility is required when making decisions about where to put them because DC is dense and parkland is scarce.

DPR's regulations also state that dog parks should be placed on under-utilized land where possible, but not in areas specifically designated as playgrounds or children's play areas, including athletic fields and courts.

Neighbors found all kinds of options for a dog park, but they keep getting shot down

In early 2015, the Dog Park Group started talking to DPR and neighbors of the rec center about possible locations for a dog park. If you look at the map below, you'll see the corner of 4th and Whittier Streets, NW marked as Site #1, as that's where the Dog Park Group initially proposed that the park be located.

Satellite view of the proposed sites for a dog park at the Takoma Recreation Center. On this map, north is to the right. Image from Google Maps.

All that sits at that site is an abandoned shuffleboard court and some trees. Across the street, there are a few single-family homes.

Close-up of the Dog Park Group's first proposed site. Image from Google Maps.

I interviewed Michael Cohen, a representative from the Dog Park Group, and he said DPR initially agreed to this site. But, he added, after they gathered almost 300 signatures for their petition, a DPR official told him that a few neighbors that lived across the street objected to the proposed site because it was too close to their homes and DPR advised picking another site.

I asked DPR about this claim, and Communications Director Gwendolyn Crump told me the first site was rejected by the Department of Energy and Environment due to concerns about stormwater runoff.

Cohen told me his group worked with members of the ANC covering the rec center, ANC 4B, to find a better site. As shown in the map below, the second site was not adjacent to any streets or housing, instead bordering the Takoma indoor pool and was just north of Coolidge High School.

Close-up of the Dog Park Group's second proposed site. Image from Google Maps.

Cohen told me DPR again initially supported the site location, so the group again began conducting outreach and collecting signatures. But, again, prior to making a formal application to DPR, he claims that DPR told them that the principal for Coolidge High School objected to the location.

I also asked Crump about this, and she said that a nearby church objected to the site over noise concerns.

Cohen said the Dog Park Group was disappointed but again worked with ANC 4B to find another alternative site. As shown on the map below, the third chosen site was near the intersection of Underwood and 3rd Streets NW, wedged between a baseball/soccer field and a parking lot.

Close-up of the Dog Park Group's third proposed site. Image from Google Maps.

Again, DPR initially supported this location for a dog park, so the Dog Park Group began to conduct outreach to their neighbors. The group collected 563 signatures in favor of building at this site—the largest dog park petition ever recorded by DPR.

The people petitioning for a dog park made a strong case for one

The group's December 2015 application made a pretty clear case for why northern Ward 4 should have a dog park. The zip code of the Takoma Rec Center, 20011, has the second-highest number of registered dogs in DC; DPR's own master plan, Play DC, designated a future dog park around the rec center; and finally, the rec center has more than six acres of unutilized land.

Also in December 2015, the group managed to secure a written endorsement of support from ANC 4B. As required, the application was published in the DC register from February 26 - May 1, 2016 (even though DPR's regulations only require 30-days of public comment).

DPR was not required but held community meetings in July 2015, October 2015, March 2016 and April 2016. The Dog Park Group is opposed primarily by a small, opaque organization known as the "Friends of the Takoma Recreation Center". That group is one of many community advisory groups created under Mayor Anthony Williams to help DPR manage its facilities.

The Dog Park Group made repeated attempts to work with the Friends of the Rec Center toward a compromise. I attended a public Friends meeting in March of this year to observe the discussion and wrote about it on my blog, but here's what they put in writing to the Dog Park Group as their bottom line:

Our mission is to support a clean, safe and fun environment at our park. The Friends' focus is and has always been programs and activities for children. We hope you find a community that is interested in supporting your cause.

Despite opposition, on September 12, 2016, the Dog Park Application Review Committee voted 5-3 in favor of the third chosen site.

Map showing some of the addresses of the Petitioners seeking a Dog Park at the Takoma Rec Center. Image from Google Maps.

This month, the dog park effort received a formal "no"

On October 16, 2016, DPR Director Keith Anderson formally denied the Dog Park Group's application. Mr. Anderson noted that he considered the application, community meetings, the public comments and various letters and emails in support and opposition. Despite a positive endorsement from the DPARC, Mr. Anderson's denial rested on three reasons:

  1. Its too-close proximity to nearby residences' front porches
  2. Its failure to streamline with the existing use of the open space where adults and children play, walk, and rest
  3. Its location between two heavily used athletic fields
Mr. Anderson ended his denial letter with the following statement:
Please note, however, this does not foreclose the possibility of a dog park being located in an alternative site within the community. DPR is committed to collaborating with the community to ensure the needs of dog enthusiasts are met.
Dog owners need a place to let their dogs play

I have reviewed Mr. Anderson's stated reasons for denying the Dog Park Group's application and find them to be curious when you consider that DC's other dog parks are mostly on DPR parks and adjacent to housing and athletic fields. The larger issue, however, is that DPR completely ignored the preamble to its own regulations, which requires flexibility and compromise. Playgrounds can and already do co-exist for both kids and dogs.

According to some reports, there are now more households with dogs (43 million) than with kids (38 million), and urban dog parks are the fastest growing. That's because urban dog owners usually lack the outside space needed to let their dogs exercise and play with other canines.

Image from Wikipedia Commons.

The Dog Park Group proposed using unutilized land at the Takoma Rec Center to let their dogs exercise and socialize. They followed all of DPR's rules, made multiple attempts to find a site that DPR would support, conducted extensive outreach with the opposition group and received a positive recommendation from the review committee. What more could they have done?

Where do we go from here?

I contacted Keith Anderson and posed a few questions to better understand his denial letter. DPR's communications director politely responded to some of my questions, although I was told to submit a Freedom Of Information Act request to answer others.

My final question to DPR was "is Director Anderson willing to reconsider his decision?" DPR responded basically no, but that they have already contacted Mr. Cohen and plan to collaborate "to find an area within Takoma that is best situated to handle a dog park while not impacting use of the park by those without dogs."

I confirmed that DPR did indeed contact Cohen to discuss an alternative site. But the entire experience is ponderous - why is building this dog park on unused land so controversial? Could the Dog Park Group have done more to alleviate concerns by the Friends group?

If you think DPR's director should support the Dog Park Group application, you can let him know by sending an e-mail to and copy Mr. Cohen ( If you live in Ward 4, please copy your e-mail to Councilmember Brandon Todd at (I contacted Brandon Todd to get a comment for this post and he did not respond).

Full disclosure: The author lives in Maryland and has no "dog" in this fight, but has a dog that loves to play with other dogs.

Cross-posted at Takoma Talk.


Our endorsements for ANC in Ward 4

A series of hilly neighborhoods at the top of the District, both in terms of geography and elevation, comprises Ward 4. Residents here are from Petworth, Manor Park, Brightwood, 16th Street Heights, and Takoma, among other places. We found five candidates running in contested Ward 4 races for Advisory Neighborhood Commission to endorse, and we hope you go vote for them.

Map created with Mapbox, data from OpenStreetMap.


What are ANCs, and why should I care?

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, are neighborhood councils of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community. ANCs are very important on housing and transportation. An ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects. On the other hand, proactive and positive-thinking ANCs give the government suggestions for ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support.

Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes; Your vote—every vote—really counts.

Not sure which SMD you live in? Find out here.

Here are our endorsements

After reviewing the candidate responses from each competitive race in Ward 4, we chose five candidates to endorse. You can read their positions for yourself here, along with responses of many unopposed candidates.

Brightwood. Photo by las.photographs on Flickr.

In ANC 4A, we endorse Patience Singleton

ANC 4A is a long, narrow area that runs along 16th Street from the top corner of DC to Piney Branch Parkway. It's a place with a mix of churches, single family homes, parkland, and some apartment buildings, and one lots of people pass through as they commute down 16th Street from Maryland.

Transportation and the heavy commuter traffic are primary concerns for many neighbors here. Better bus service, both along 16th Street and nearby 14th Street, could make a huge difference to the area, but some proposed changes (for example, dedicated bus lanes) could require residents to sacrifice some on-street parking. We hope commissioners in this area will work through this situation with tact, but a clear preference for improving bus infrastructure and service.

One candidate in this area earned our endorsement: incumbent Patience Singleton. Singleton is running to keep her seat in 4A04, a small district on the eastern border of the ANC between Van Buren and Rittenhouse Streets.

Right away, Singleton was clear that "[a]s a commuter who uses the 16th Street bus lines most work days, [she] would support a dedicated bus lane along 16th Street" even if it meant removing some on-street parking. Similarly, she "strongly support[s] express bus options for the 14th Street corridor," and has worked closely with District agencies during her tenure to improve street and pedestrian safety around her SMD.

On housing, Singleton is positive and forward-thinking, something we wish we saw more of across DC:

ANC 4A will definitely add more market rate and affordable housing over the next decade; much of it will be placed on or near the Walter Reed complex. Additional housing will likely be available through the conversion and renovation of multifamily housing within our ANC. I am committed to ensuring the availability of various types of housing in ANC 4A.
Challenger Michael Bethea seems less amenable to change. When asked about his vision for the neighborhood in the next 20 years, he wrote: "I truly would like my neighborhood to look very similar to the way it looks now." Bethea avoided taking strong stances on many of the issues we asked about, and thought that the area has "sufficient" bike lanes and sidewalks. To us, giving Singleton a second term is the best option here.

Takoma Metro Station. Photo by RealVirginian on Flickr.

In ANC 4B, we endorse Natalee Snider and James Gaston III

To the east lies ANC 4B, a triangle formed by the DC/Maryland border to the east, Missouri Avenue and Riggs Road to the south, and Georgia Avenue to the west.

One long-standing and key issue for these neighborhoods has been the redevelopment saga at the Takoma Metro station. After years of back and forth, some in the community still are pushing to preserve the under-used parking lots there rather than build housing or encourage more neighborhood retail.

Nearly all of the races in 4B are contested, but we only found two candidates that clearly deserved our endorsement and hopefully your vote.

The first is Natalee Snider for ANC 4B06, covering the neighborhoods surrounding the Blair Road/Kansas Avenue intersection and nearby Fort Slocum Park.

As someone who frequently uses Takoma Metro station, Snider is cautiously in favor of redevelopment there, seeing "the benefit to both residents, commuters and local businesses [of] developing housing on an under utilized parking lot." She also had very specific recommendations for where housing could be added throughout the neighborhood to better accommodate new residents.

Snider is a self-proclaimed "strong proponent of a 'walkable/bikeable' neighborhood," and would advocate for the extension of both bike lanes and the Metropolitan Branch Trail within the ANC. Overall her responses were energetic, informed, and positive. As one reader wrote: "Thoughtful, responsive answers to the questions and she understands that increased density, more transit options and balance are all important if Ward 4 is to thrive."

Incumbent and current ANC chair Ron Austin has voted in opposition to many of the plans at the Takoma Metro stop over the years, citing traffic concerns and the needs to protect green space. We strongly encourage you to vote for Natalee Snider here.

Another candidate who earned our endorsement in 4B was James Gaston III, in the race for 4B07, along the DC/Maryland border. On the Takoma Metro station controversy, Gaston is clearly hesitant to take a firm side but says that the project proposal "has true merit" and later advocates for "more development near the Metro station."

Gaston's opponent, current commissioner Judi Jones, also responded to our survey but didn't reveal much in her short answers. In the end, we have a better idea of what Gaston's ANC term would look like and are willing to give him our support.

Petworth. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

In ANC 4C, we endorse Charlotte Nugent

If you live in Petworth or 16th Street Heights, you probably live in ANC 4C. Along the border of this ANC lies the Old Hebrew Home, which has long sparked debate over what to build there. A plan for redeveloping it is currently under review by the District government, and the new proposal could include large amounts of affordable housing.

Other issues for these neighborhoods include the previously mentioned proposals for express bus service on 14th street and the ongoing debate about condo redevelopments and "pop-ups" throughout the area.

Out of the ten seats in this ANC, only one has two candidates in the race: 4C01, near the intersection of Georgia and Colorado Avenues. Both candidates in this race are good, but in the end we decided Charlotte Nugent was the strongest choice.

Nugent's responses were thorough and at times incredibly in sync with Greater Greater Washington values (she is a long-time reader). She explains that she supports "100% affordable housing" at Hebrew Home because she believes there is a current unbalance in market-rate and affordable housing development in the neighborhood, and "we urgently need to build more affordable housing in the Petworth area to keep residents with average or lower incomes from being pushed out."

Her answer on the spread of often unpopular "pop-ups" is worth quoting in its entirety, as it deftly navigates the issue to highlight solid arguments for increased housing at multiple affordability levels, multi-income neighborhoods, and smarter transit-oriented growth:

The greater Petworth area has seen many condo and "pop-up" developments in recent years that cater to residents with higher incomes. While we welcome these residents to our neighborhood, there has not been an equal increase in units of affordable housing. In order to keep residents from being pushed out of our neighborhood, we must build more housing to accommodate all who desire to live here. At the same time, business corridors such as Georgia Avenue and upper 14th Street have not seen as much development, while businesses on these streets sometimes struggle to gain customers and traction.

We are in this situation because the DC government has not focused on encouraging development in the locations where it is most needed. Instead of waiting for condos and pop-ups to appear haphazardly, we should encourage development on corridors such as Georgia Avenue and 14th Street, and in areas where zoning already allows taller buildings."


Nugent's answers on transportation issues are similarly balanced and thoughtful; she is a strong supporter of bus improvements and bike lanes, being that her immediate neighborhood is not closely situated to Metro stations.

Opponent Sean Wieland is a good contender. He wants to advocate for both retail and housing at the Old Hebrew Home, including a percentage being affordable, and hopes the same style of development can happen along Georgia Avenue. Wieland also has clear ideas for bike lane improvements, though he is slightly skeptical of the proposal to add express bus service to 14th street.

In the end, it's great this SMD has such good candidates to choose from. This term, we think Charlotte Nugent is the one who should get a chance to serve.

Brightwood. Photo by thebrightwoodian on Flickr.

In ANC 4D, we endorse Amy Hemingway

Directly north of ANC 4C is 4D, including Rock Creek Cemetery and the neighborhood of Brightwood. One particularly salient topic for this area is the concentration of vacant buildings there, an issue current commissioner David Sheon (running unopposed this year) took on this summer on our blog.

What is more, the area has seen a spike in crime recently that demands the attention of ANC commissioners, and neighbors are anxious to see the continued revitalization of Georgia Avenue as a place for businesses to thrive.

Amy Hemingway caught our attention for 4D06, a district west of Sherman Circle. Hemingway believes "all of us should be aware of... if not concerned" about the issue of vacant housing, and supports current legislation that grew out of the ANC's work on this issue.

She also proclaims that "local economic development is a passion of [hers]," and that she will work hard to encourage smart development and support businesses along Georgia Avenue, including the production of more housing along the corridor.

Hemingway's opponent is incumbent Bill Quirk, who did not reveal much about his positions in his short responses to our survey. When asked about the biggest controversy in the neighborhood, he responded: "Whether or not to have benches in Sherman Circle has previously been a contentious issue. While previously I've opposed them, there has been one placed there recently and it hasn't had a negative impact. It might be time to revisit the issue."

Oh, ANCs, the place where neighbors tackle everything from affordable housing and crime to... benches. Unless you're a single-issue voter and your issue is benches, we suggest voting for Hemingway.

Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 4 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 4. You can also see responses and our endorsements for all 8 wards on our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page, and we'll publish our rationale for those in upcoming posts.

These are official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this year's endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and presented endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.


Peter Shapiro is nominated for a seat on the powerful DC Zoning Commission

Mayor Muriel Bowser has nominated Peter Shapiro, a resident of the Chevy Chase neighborhood of DC, to the board that decides DC's zoning and rules on many large development projects.

Image from Prince George's County.

Shapiro would replace Marcie Cohen, a former affordable housing and community development professional. Cohen has been a strong advocate for zoning that allows more overall housing in DC, speaking about the need for more housing many times.

Shapiro's day job is head of the Prince George's County Revenue Authority, an entity which acquires and helps develop land in the county to boost its economy. He used to live in the Prince George's town of Brentwood, where he served on the town council for two years and then the county council for six.

He helped bring community members, developers, businesses, and others together around a vision for the Route 1 corridor just east of DC, which ultimately led to the Gateway Arts District spanning four towns (and including Bird Kitchen, the site of our extremely successful recent happy hour with County Executive Rushern Baker).

Left to right: Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, Chief of Staff Glenda Wilson, Communications Manager Barry Hudson, and Revenue Authority Executive Director Peter Shapiro. Photo by the author.

Shapiro later moved back to DC where he ran unsuccessfully for DC Council against Vincent Orange four years ago, winning our endorsement but splitting the anti-Orange vote with Sekou Biddle. (Our endorsed candidate Robert White beat Orange this year.)

He has long been a proponent of better transit and transit-oriented development. Way back in 2001, he endorsed the Purple Line and supported running it through existing communities with people who need to get to jobs, such as the area he represented.

He served on a Maryland "Special Task Force for Transit-Oriented Development (TOD)" in 2000, chaired the regional Transportation Planning Board in 2003, co-chairs the Urban Land Institute's Regionalism Initiative Council, and is part of a joint ULI Washington and Baltimore TOD Product Council. He is an elected member of his neighborhood's the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, but says he would resign that seat if confirmed to the Zoning Commission because both are very time-consuming, volunteer jobs.

Nomination, take two

Mayor Bowser initially nominated developer David Franco for the seat, but DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson refused to hold a hearing.

Mendelson told the Washington Blade that he's concerned about having developers on the commission. Franco is very civic-minded and more supportive of affordable housing than most developers, but according to the Blade, Mendelson opposed confirming any developers, period.

Shapiro does not have the potential conflicts of interest that a developer would, but as someone with long experience with how well-designed development can enhance communities and boost the economy, he would be a valuable member of the Zoning Commission. Mendelson will hold a hearing on Shapiro's nomination at 1 pm on Thursday, November 10.

What is the Zoning Commission?

The Zoning Commission is far more powerful than planning boards in other jurisdictions. When DC got home rule, Congress did not want to give the local legislature full authority over land use. Instead, the Zoning Commission has the final say (other than potential court appeals) over zoning and development decisions in DC.

The DC Council can guide the future direction of growth through the Comprehensive Plan and smaller plans, which the Zoning Commission is required to follow. But when it comes to changing zoning rules or approving particular developments, it has no authority; all councilmembers can do is write letters expressing an opinion.

There are actually two zoning boards in DC, the Board of Zoning Adjustment and the Zoning Commission. Mainly, the BZA handles smaller individual projects; it grants variances and special exceptions to zoning rules for unusual circumstances. The Zoning Commission makes bigger-picture policy, like changing a neighborhood's zoning or a citywide zoning rule. It also reviews Planned Unit Developments, generally big development projects which need more flexibility and also provide more community benefit. The BZA is somewhat more legalistic, while the Zoning Commission focuses more on policy.

The Zoning Commission has three members nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the council, as well as two federal members, one from the National Park Service and one from the Architect of the Capitol. This makes DC's three appointees even more crucial.

While the federal representatives serve as part of their jobs, locally-appointed Zoning Commissioners are not paid for their service. Yet, they have to attend two (often long) meetings most weeks and also sit on some meetings of the BZA, which has a seat for a rotating Zoning Commission member.

This makes it tricky to find someone with experience and knowledge who is not also a developer. The city would be lucky to get Shapiro, with his regional perspective, experience with development, and positive vision for DC.


This map illustrates DC's new zoning rules

Zoning is the legal framework that shapes just what can be built where in most cities, and DC just enacted a new zoning code. It's pretty detailed, but we're in luck: the the District's Office of Zoning made this interactive map to illustrate where different zones are, what they mean, and why they're organized it that way.

Click to explore DC's new zoning map, including its quick descriptions of each zone.

The map is one of many the zoning office has published to explain the changeover. If you click the image above, you'll see a sidebar that shows the eight categories that define how land in DC can be used: Residential; Residential Flat; Residential Apartment; Neighborhood Mixed Use; Mixed Use; Downtown; Production, Distribution and Repair; and Special Purpose.

Clicking on the individual colored areas will bring up will bring up the specific "zone district," one of the three parts of zoning that regulate the use and shape of a building. The others are the rules that apply everywhere in the city and processes that give the regulations flexibility, like Planned Unit Developments. But zone districts are the rules that shape specific neighborhoods, and it's usually what people are talking about when they mention zoning.

Residential Flat (RF) is one of three types of Residential zones. Below, you can see examples of the others. Photo from DC's Office of Zoning.

By breaking down the official map into the big categories and color coding them, you can see patterns. For example, the yellow and orange shapes show areas where only houses, flats, or apartment buildings can be built. At a glance, over half of DC's residential land is zoned exclusively for detached single-family housesthat's conservative, since most other zones also allow single-family houses.

Image from DC's Office of Zoning.

The new code organizes zone districts for residential use by building type: single family houses (R), flats in small apartment buildings and subdivided rowhouses (RF), and large apartment buildings (RA).

Residential Apartment (RA). Photo from DC's Office of Zoning.

Residential (R). Photo from DC's Office of Zoning.

Zooming in on Historic Anacostia, the map below shows the denser RA and RF areas closer to Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave. SE, with the area uphill restricted to townhouse, duplex or detached houses by their R-3 zone designation.

It might also look like there's a lot of land across the city that's zoned RA. But looking closer, a lot of this land is for campuses like those of American University, the Armed Forces Retirement Home, or built out with low-rise garden apartments in areas like McLean Gardens and Congress Heights.

Commercial zones saw a bigger change

The new code has no purely commercial zones. The downtown zone districts (D), meant for the dense core at the center of the city, don't exclude apartments. Some even incentivize residential buildings by letting apartments be denser.

Downtown (D). Photo from DC's Office of Zoning.

Farther out, medium-density commercial areas are now called Mixed Use (MU), to reflect that the code encourages both commercial and residential in those areas. That's not new, but the name of old districts like "C-2-A" suggested otherwise.

Mixed Use (MU). Photo from DC's Office of Zoning.

A good example can be found around Mount Vernon Triangle and Northwest One: it's mostly zoned D and MU, and many of the new residences built there are not in residential zone districts.

H Street NE was one of several areas used to have "overlays" added to modify the standard zone districts in a geographic area. Sometimes those modifications were the same across commercial and residential properties, but often they laid out custom rules for every single zone district the overlay touched. To figure out what was allowed on a given property, you'd first look in one chapter of the code for the "base zoning," then flip to another chapter for the overlay.

H Street's old zoning.

Now, each of the existing combination of zones has been given its own subsection. Small commercial strips like H Street fall into distinct moderate-density neighborhood mixed use (NC) zones, meant to create a special character for individual neighborhood main streets, like Georgia Avenue and Carroll Street in Takoma.

Neighborhood Mixed Use (NC). Photo from DC's Office of Zoning.

Now, the overlay and base zoning information is all in one place, from the statement of purpose to technical restrictions. The same is true for the Special Purpose customized zones, used meant to give big areas like Uptown Arts on U and 14th Streets (ARTS), or at Walter Reed (WR) unique characteristics.

H Street's zoning under the new code.

Zoom in on the map and click on a parcel, and the map will show a quick description of the site's zoning. This little chunk of Howard University's campus is one of the few remaining industrial (PDR, short for Production Distribution & Repair) zones in DC's northwest quadrant.

Production, Distribution and Repair (PDR). Photo from DC's Office of Planning.

None of these have industrial uses anymore; this lots is a development called Wonder Plaza, with fast-food eateries and no heavy machinery.

Perhaps this PDR designation was just kept by inertia; I'm not sure I would have noticed that without this map.

For me, the new organization of the code and the Office of Zoning's map help with understanding not only what someone could build on some plot of land, but also how earlier planners shaped the the city and what might need to change. What does this map help you see?

Correction: An earlier version of this post said that over half of DC's residential land is zoned exclusively for detached single-family houses. That isn't the case; over half the land is zoned exclusively for single-family houses, but not detached single-family houses.


We know where most of DC's population lives. Does Metro run through those places?

The maps below show where DC's most densely-populated pockets are, as well as where its Metro stops are. It turns out they aren't always the same places, or in other words, DC isn't building enough around transit.

Highest density census tracts comprising 50% of DC population, with Metrorail overlay. Map by John Ricco, overlay by Peter Dovak.

Back in July, John Ricco created a pair of maps showing that 50% of DC's residents live on 20% of the land, and a quarter of the population lives on just 7% of the land. Peter Dovak, another Greater Greater Washington contributor, did me the favor of overlaying John's maps onto the Metro system.

Looking at the map above, which shows where 50% of the population lives, there are some obvious areas of overlap between density and Metrorail access, including the Green/Yellow corridor through Shaw, Columbia Heights, and Petworth. The southern area of Capitol Hill also has multiple Metro stops and is relatively dense.

But what stands out are the dense places that aren't near Metro. The northern end of Capitol Hill, including the H Street corridor and Carver Langston, as well as the areas to the west around Glover Park, a few tracts to the north near Brightwood, and two larger areas east and west of the Green Line in Ward 8, near Congress Heights and Fort Stanton Park.

All of these places show that DC's growth isn't being concentrated around its transit (its transit isn't being extended to serve dense areas either, but that's harder to do).

Of course, Metro is far from the only way to get around. Residents of high density, Metro-inaccessible neighborhoods rely on buses and other modes to get where they need to go; specific to northern Capitol Hill, for example, there's also the DC Streetcar). Also, some areas next to Metro stops are low density due to zoning that restricts density or land nobody can build on, like federal land, rivers, and parks.

Still, it's useful to look at where DC's high-density neighborhoods and its high-density transit modes don't overlap, and to understand why.

25% of DC's population lives close to metro... mostly

Really, the S-shaped routing of the Green Line is the only part of Metro in DC that runs through a super dense area for multiple stops.

Looking at the map that shows 25% of the District's population, the Green/Yellow corridor helps make up the 7% of land where people live. But so does Glover Park, Carver Langston, and a tract in Anacostia Washington Highlands near the Maryland border—and these places are a long way from a Metro stop.

Highest density census tracts comprising 25% of DC population, with Metrorail overlay.

There are historical reasons for why things are this way

According to Zachary Schrag in The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro, Metro wasn't meant to be an urban subway; it was always meant to be a regional rail system. It explicitly bypassed the relatively few people in DC's high-density areas, in favor of speeding up rides for the greater number of through-commuters. Apparently, DC had little say in that decision, which is evident in the map.

On the other hand, the citywide streetcar plan was meant to bring rail access to many more DC residents—partly because, well, it was to be built by DC's government, for DC's residents, which Metro was not.

The first version of this post said that a tract was in Anacostia, but it's actually in Washington Highlands.


Worldwide links: Does Seattle want more transit?

Seattle is about to vote on whether to expand its light rail, stirring up memories of votes to reject a subway line in the late 60s. In San Francisco, people would love to see subway lines in place of some current bus routes, and in France, a rising political start is big on the power of cities. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!

Photo by VeloBusDriver on Flickr.

Subway in Seattle?: Seattle is gearing up for a massive vote on whether to approve a new light rail line, and a Seattle Times reporter says the paper is, on the whole, anti-transit. Meanwhile, lots of residents haven't forgotten that in 1968 and 1970, voters rejected the chance to build a subway line in favor of a new stadium and highways. (Streetsblog, Seattle Met, Crosscut)

Fantasy maps, or reality?: Transit planners in San Francisco asked residents to draw subway fantasy maps to see where the most popular routes would be located. They got what they asked for, with over 2,600 maps submitted. The findings were also not surprising, as major bus routes were the most popular choices for a subway. (Curbed SF)

Paris mayor --> French president?: Sometimes labeled as the socialist "Queen of the Bohemians", Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has quietly moved up the political ladder, and she's now a serious candidate to be France's future head of state. Hidalgo did the unthinkable by banning cars from the banks of the Seine, and her ability to make change at the local level makes her believe cities are, in many respects, more important than the countries they inhabit. (New York Times)

How romantic is the self-driving car?: In the US, driving at age 16 was a 20th century right of passage. But what happens when we take the keys away? What happens to people's love affairs with cars if cars drive themselves? Does turning 16 mean anything in terms of passage into adulthood? In this long read, Robert Moor wonders how the self-driving car will affect the American psyche, and especially whether older drivers will ever recover. (New York Magazine)

Pushing back on art in LA: Local activists in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood east of downtown Los Angeles, are pushing back against artist spaces they feel are gentrifying the neighborhood. Research shows that the arts aren't necessarily a direct gentrifying agent, but planners do watch art spaces to analyze neighborhood change. (Los Angeles Times)

Quote of the Week

We've had this concentrated population growth in urban areas at the same time that people have been doing an increasing percentage of their shopping online. This has made urban delivery a more pressing problem.

- Anne Goodchild on the growth of smaller freight traffic in urban areas. (Associated Press)


Our endorsements for ANC in Ward 6

There's a lot to Ward 6. On one end, you can be standing in Navy Yard, outside of Nationals Park, while on the other you're in Shaw. And as you travel between the two, you might pass the Supreme Court! Ward 6's neighborhoods have experienced a lot of change recently, and many of its Advisory Neighborhood Commission races are hotly contested. We looked through these races and found seven candidates to endorse.

Map created with Mapbox, data from OpenStreetMap.


What are ANCs, and why should I care?

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, are neighborhood councils of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community. ANCs are very important on housing and transportation. An ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects. On the other hand, proactive and positive-thinking ANCs give the government suggestions for ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support.

Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes; Your vote, every vote, really counts.

Not sure which SMD you live in? Find out here.

Here are our endorsements

After reviewing the candidate responses from each competitive race in Ward 6, we chose eight candidates to endorse. Here, you can read their positions, along with responses from many unopposed candidates.

Photo by Ryan Blanding on Flickr.

In ANC 6A we endorse Yair Inspektor and Stephanie Zimny

ANC 6A is the northeastern corner of Ward 6, including the neighborhoods east of 8th Street between East Capitol Street and Florida Avenue/Benning Road. Sections of the H Street Corridor and Lincoln Park are part of this commission. Maryland Avenue cuts diagonally across the ANC, meaning commissioners will have a chance to influence the outcomes of the ongoing Maryland Avenue Pedestrian Safety Project, a multi-year process by the District Department of Transportation to fix the corridor which has "a history of hazardous conditions for pedestrian travel."

For ANC 6A05, directly in the middle of this neighborhood, we endorse Yair Inspektor. Citing examples from many conversations with neighbors about the Maryland Avenue Project, Yair is cautiously "in support of the plan," though he does believe that"additional traffic mitigation and diversion strategies should be considered." He claims that as commissioner, his "aim is to build relationships with and between all of our neighbors, and to insure that Capitol Hill remains a home for people of various incomes and backgrounds."

Yair's opponent did not complete our survey despite multiple attempts to reach him, and our one complaint of Yair is that he seemed at times hesitant to take firm positions on an issue. Nonetheless, we are impressed by Yair's commitment to community and his willingness to learn and engage with neighborhood issues.

Just north is 6A06. Here, we support Stephanie Zimny. Stephanie is fully in support of the Maryland Avenue project, and has years of experience addressing development in the neighborhood, serving on the 6A Economic Development and Zoning Committee. She believes that "a good working relationship with all community members and business interests, as well as a knowledge of zoning rules and development insight can lead to smart development that benefits the whole community." We're with you there.

In general, all of Stephanie's answers revealed a reasonable, well-informed, and capable candidate. We did not received a response from either of Stephanie's two opponents, but our readers pointed out that one, Peter Grant, has "been leading the effort to halt the Maryland Avenue Pedestrian Safety Project," and in fact "[s]topping the project may be the reason why he is running." We see Stephanie as a solid choice in this race.

Union Station. Photo by on Flickr.

In ANC 6B we chose not to endorse, and in ANC 6C there are no competitive races

ANCs in Ward 6 are generally known for being positive, productive, and reasonable, as many have spent years deftly negotiating important developments across the ward. 6B in particular has proven home to strong neighborhood leaders over the years, moderating the debate about the redevelopment of the Hine school and incorporating smart opportunities for housing and transportation developments throughout the neighborhood.

There is only one contested race in 6B: K. Denise Krepp and Cam Norris are vying for the 6B10 seat, with Krepp being the incumbent. Both candidates' surveys had some good points and some vague sections, and we didn't feel that there was a clear choice. Please read their responses carefully and make your own decision here.

ANC 6C includes much the area surrounding Union Station and is also home to many talented commissioners. This election, all of these candidates are running unopposed, so we did not offer endorsements here as per our process outlined here.

Buzzard Point. Photo by Geoff Alexander on Flickr.

In ANC 6D, we endorse Gail Fast, Cara Lea Shockley, and Katelynd Mahoney.

If you live anywhere in the growing areas around the Navy Yard, Waterfront, and L'Enfant Plaza Metro stations, you probably live in 6D. These neighborhoods have experienced extraordinary amounts of growth and change in recent years, and commissioners there need to be sharp and active to keep pace and keep neighbors informed.

Two waterfront developments dominate conversation in these neighborhoods: the redevelopment of Buzzard Point around the new DC United Soccer Stadium, and the proposed 11th Street Bridge Park, an elevated park reminiscent of the High Line in New York City that will span the Anacostia River.

Four candidates are running for a seat in 6D01, the area in between 14th and 4th Street SW and from Independence Avenue to the Washington Channel. Out of the two who returned our questionnaire, we really liked Gail Fast.

Gail in unafraid of the many changes happening around the area, acknowledging that redevelopment in all of Southwest "is already in full swing, and done correctly should be a benefit to all the City, with increased tax revenue from new development, added housing, and better use of the waterfront for all of the community."

Gail is supportive of the plans for Buzzard Point but gives an entirely thorough explanation of why she believes "that there is a lack of monitoring and enforcement on the part of the city" and that "there could be (if there isn't one already) a public health threat" in the area, primarily from pollution.

Gail is also excited about the workforce development proposals incorporated into the 11th Street Bridge Park plan, seeing the project as a chance "new employment, for social integration, and for social equity." She vows to strongly advocate for more affordably housing among all the construction in the area, and has experience serving on many planning committees for the neighborhood.

Opponent Wes Ven Johnson also completed our questionnaire, but did not impress us as much as Gail. When asked about accommodating more housing in his district, Wes's primary concern was "that the new buildings blend in with current buildings and do not block out their views." He also was against the recent Bard development, which would have brought both cultural space and housing to the area. He says he advocated for the proposal that cut the buildings floors from nine to four or five. The other two candidates here did not respond to our survey.

The area generally surrounding South Capitol Street south of Independence Ave is 6D02, and there we endorse Cara Lea Shockley. Like Gail, Cara is most excited about the job opportunities present in the 11th Street Bridge Park Equitable Development Plan, only she hopes these promises are made good this time around, as similar local hire proposals have not been upheld in the past. At Buzzard Point Cara was unique among candidates in sharing that she thinks "putting the soccer stadium there is a mistake," providing a dire analysis of the traffic impact she imagines it will bring.

Transportation is a key issue for Cara. She thinks "[b]ike lanes are extremely important," and wants "to see fewer cars" in the neighborhood, in part by advocating for adding more car sharing locations. On parking: "I've seen cities work which have little or no street parking, and I think it should be the direction we move in." We didn't get a response from Cara's opponent, and we like a lot of what we see in Cara's responses.

11th Street Bridge Park Proposal. Image from the 11th Street Bridge Park Equitable Development Plan (click for link).

Finally, the southern tip of the ANC encompasses much of Buzzard Point and Fort McNair. Here there is another highly-contested race, with four candidates running for the seat of 6D05. Three of these responded to us, and while two seem strong, we decided ultimately to endorse Katelynd Mahoney.

It's not every day that you find a commissioner who describes the "influx of housing coming to all corners of the neighborhood" as "[a] major blessing." You had us at hello.

But seriously, Katelynd's detailed and researched answers were good on a lot of points. She has particular recommendations for bike infrastructure and sidewalk improvements, and even though she claims both bus transit and parking are "severely lacking in ANC6D," she is willing to prioritize the needs of the bus system over more parking. Last, while she has some specific reservations, Katelynd supports both the controversial homeless shelter planned for the area and the redevelopment of Buzzard Point.

At least one reader is also very excited about the prospect of Katelynd winning this election: "Katelynd is the perfect example of what an ANC commissioner should be." That's a very high bar to clear, Katelynd!

In this race, Dana Lutenegger also seems like a reasonable candidate, but again, we felt that Katelynd was the strongest in the end. Dana wants to strongly advocate for more affordable housing, and had great answers on how to address crime and add new bike lanes. She He did seem reticent to remove any parking even to improve bus service, and was unsupportive of the the Bard development, saying it's too tall.

The incumbent, Roger Moffat, also responded to our questionnaire, but he did not articulate clear stances on many issues. What is more, many readers wrote in that they were unimpressed with Moffat's tenure, saying he did not always attend ANC meetings, was not responsive, and was more focused on parking than any other transportation issue.

All in all, we strongly favor Katelynd for ANC 6D05.

Photo by beautifulcataya on Flickr.

In ANC6E, we endorse Alexander Padro and Lily Roberts

This northwestern arm of the ward stretches narrowly out into Mount Vernon Triangle and Shaw. A large portion of this area is called Northwest One, and it's the former site of a collection of troubled low-income housing developments that was demolished to make room for mixed-income housing. Today it's mostly parking lots, though one remaining cooperative, Sursum Corda, is progressing with plans for redevelopment.

In the far northwest of the ANC, 6E01 is the neighborhoods surrounding Rhode Island Avenue between 11th and 7th Street. Incumbent Alexander Padro earned our endorsement for this seat.

During his tenure, Alexander negotiated to ensure Sursum Corda residents have a right to return after the redevelopment of their cooperative and was able to secure over $500,000 in community benefits for the surrounding recreation centers and service facilities. He is very experienced and knowledgeable (eight terms as commissioner), and had solid answers about housing and transportation in the neighborhood, including clear support for the controversial bike lanes along 6th Street.

We empathize with Alexander's characterization of parking as "[t]he 'P' word" in neighborhood politics, and while we get it that "[o]pposition to removal of on street parking is almost universal among residents," we hope he endeavors to try and find ways to ensure bicycle and bus infrastructure get appropriate priority as well as automobile needs. Alexander's opponent did not respond to our survey.

Truxton Circle and the district north of New York Avenue near Dunbar High School comprise 6E04. This is another four-candidate race, and we think Lily Roberts is the best of them.

Lily strongly advocates for "[a]dding housing at multiple price points," and wants to see the large surface parking lots throughout the area removed in favor of diverse housing and development options. She is excited about the work being done at Sursum Corda, though she thinks there are "far too many parking spaces (about 4x the required number)" included in the plans "in one of the most walkable parts of the city." Lily is also adamant that the government move faster this time around compared to how it acted with places like neighboring Temple Courts.

Her answers on transportation showed an in-depth understanding of the issues and her neighborhood, and she self-reports that she is not afraid to get wonky on things like "data-driven parking regulations." Join the crowd, Lily.

As one reader put it, "Lily's understanding of planning issues is both granular and global, and as both a social worker and a policy analyst, she has the right combo of brains and heart to do the job right."

One other candidate, Phil Tsolakidis, also completed our questionnaire. Phil had good and thoughtful answers to many of our questions, but he was unwilling to consider removing any street parking to improve bus service. Overall, we believe Lily is the best candidate between the two.

Last but not least, ANC 6E05 is Mt. Vernon Triangle, formed by New York Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue and 4th Street. Both candidates here responded to our questions, and we had a hard time choosing a clear winner for our endorsement.

Incumbent and chairperson Marge Maceda did not write much, but was generally supportive of bike lanes (including those proposed on 6th Street) and other transportation improvements. Challenger Alex Marriott clearly understands the benefits of, and favors, adding more housing. He also promises to increase communication between the ANC and residents. Both candidates were opposed to removing street parking under any circumstance.

We couldn't identify a clear choice here; both say some good things, and neither raised any red flags for us. We encourage readers to look carefully at their options and make what seems like the best choice to them.

Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 6 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 6. You can also see responses and our endorsements for all 8 wards on our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page, and we'll publish our rationale for those in upcoming posts.

These are official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this year's endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and presented endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.

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