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Politics


DC will have 300 hyper-local elections this fall. Can you help us sort through the candidates?

150 candidates for Advisory Neighborhood Commission seats in DC filled out a survey about their views. You can read their responses, and we'd like to hear what you think as we decide on Greater Greater Washington's endorsements. Can you help?


Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.

Every two years, DC voters elect Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners in nonpartisan races on the November ballot. An ANC is a neighborhood council 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, while good ANCs give the government suggestions for positive ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes.

Each district averages about 2,000 voters; there are 40 commissions citywide, 296 districts, and 401 candidates on the ballot (some unopposed, some districts with no candidates, and some with four candidates). In the past, we've given reviews and made endorsements for many of the races. This year, we'd like to do an even more thorough job of evaluating candidates, but need your help to sort through the hundreds of them.

We created a questionnaire with a combination of citywide questions and neighborhood-specific questions, sent it to all the candidates, and already have 150 responses. We'd like your help to evaluate the responses and give us feedback which a team of staff and volunteers will then collate into a final "scorecard."

Here's what you can do:

  1. Find your ward and ANC if you don't know them yet here.
  2. Open up the responses for your ward:
    Ward 1 ·Ward 2 ·Ward 3 ·Ward 4 ·Ward 5 ·Ward 6 ·Ward 7 ·Ward 8
  3. Read the responses for a candidate and give your feedback on this form.
  4. Repeat for as many other candidates as you want to do. Try other ANCs, other wards—all input is helpful!
(One caveat: We copied & pasted the responses from the survey into these PDFs, and some of the formatting got messed up, like if someone had “smart quotes” (such as from writing their replies in MS Word and pasting them) or other special characters, bulleted lists, etc. Please disregard any strange underlines or other formatting quirks; the idea here is for you to see their words, not their punctuation prowess. Thanks.)

This isn't a vote—we're not going to decide an endorsement by tallying up the ratings. Rather, the ratings and text together will help us understand things like whether a candidate is being honest about his or her views or trying to play both sides of an issue, help inform us about factors we might not be aware of (there are, after all, a lot of neighborhoods), and otherwise evaluate the candidates.

If you are an ANC candidate and haven't finished the survey yet, or you know someone who is, or you are or know of a planned write-in candidate, it's still possible to fill out the survey (but hurry!)

Please get your feedback in by Friday, September 30. We'll then publish reviews and endorsements by mid-October. Early voting starts October 22 at One Judiciary Square, October 28 at early voting centers around the city, and Election Day is November 8.

Poverty


As DC has grown, so has its racial prosperity gap

DC's economy has grown substantially since the Great Recession, but the number of residents below the poverty line is actually higher than it was in 2007, and people of color aren't making more money. That's according to US Census Bureau data that came out last week.


Photo by darius norvilas on Flickr.

The median income in DC reached $75,600 in 2015, an increase of about $4,000 over the previous year, and $13,000 above the pre-recession 2007 level, after adjusting for inflation. This gain follows the nationwide trend that median incomes are increasing.

Yet this growth has not reduced the city's poverty rate. Overall, 110,500 District residents lived below the federal poverty line in 2015 (income below $24,000 for a family of four)—that's 18,500 more residents living in poverty than in 2007. The city's poverty rate stands at 17 percent.

DC's black residents are bearing the brunt of the city's persistent poverty—moreover, they are the only racial or ethnic group to see an increase in their poverty rate since 2007. Some 27 percent of the city's black population lived in poverty in 2015, up from 23 percent in 2007. And nearly three-quarters of all District residents who live in poverty are black.

There also is a growing gulf between the incomes of white and black residents. The median income for white DC households was $120,000 in 2015, compared to just $41,000 for black households. While incomes have risen for white residents since 2007, the income of Black residents has been stagnant.

Education plays a huge role in shaping inequality

The large differences in poverty and income mirrors the city's racial disparity in educational attainment, which in large part reflects the history of discrimination and limited educational opportunities for African-Americans.

While nearly 90 percent of white DC residents have a college degree, just 26 percent of black residents do. Black residents are also much less likely to have a high school diploma: 15 percent of black residents aged 25 and older do not have a high school credential, compared to less than two percent of white residents.

Poverty is correlated with educational attainment, because without a high school diploma or a college degree, it is difficult to find and hold a good quality job. The poverty rate for DC residents with less than a high school degree was 33 percent in 2015, versus just five percent for those with a bachelor's degree, and twice the rate of the population overall.

These differences have been largely unchanged over time. DC residents without a college degree have seen falling wages, while college-educated residents have experienced an increase in pay, previous DCFPI research has found.

These data underscore the fact that the city's new and growing prosperity has left many poor residents and people of color behind.

What would help change all this?

DC should do more to ensure that all of its residents—including communities of color—share in the city's recent economic growth.

Potential policy changes could include:

  • Improving the quality of jobs for all working residents. This would mean mean requiring employers to offer additional hours to existing employees rather than hiring additional staff, giving workers advance notice of their weekly schedules, and creating a system to provide paid leave to workers who take time off for a personal illness or to care for a family member.
  • Expanding early childhood education subsidies. DC helps child care providers serve families who can't afford to pay full tuition rates, yet the subsidies rarely cover the full cost of high-quality childcare. Ramping up the amount of assistance will improve the ability of providers to serve infants and toddlers in DC while sustaining their businesses for the long-term. This will benefit low-income working families by helping to prepare their children for success.
  • Reforming the city's job training system. The District's education and job training programs must adapt to meet the growing need of DC residents and employers. Efforts should focus on offering entry-level jobs and career pathways for workers without advanced education. Given the large number of residents without a high school credential, reforms should focus on adult literacy as well as training and credentialing.
  • Take care of those who can't work. For people facing significant barriers to work, programs that give cash assistance, like Temporary Aid for Needy Families are extremely important. Right now, TANF has rigid time limits scheduled to go into effect next year. reforms are needed to keep vulnerable families keep from falling further into deep poverty.
Cross-posted from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute blog.

Housing


How can we know if DC is building enough housing?

DC could reach almost a million people in 30 years. What does that mean for the amount of housing DC needs? Or the amount you might pay to rent or buy a place to live? Current population forecasts still don't answer a few key questions that have to be answered to plan for the future.


Photo by E. Krall on Flickr.

DC planners are starting work to amend the city's Comprehensive Plan. Among other things, the Comp Plan sets basic policies for how much new housing can be built. And a recent court case blocked new housing because a map in the Comp Plan didn't show it. That means it's very important to get the plan right.

Everyone needs to live somewhere, so a very logical first step to understanding the city's needs is forecasting how many people want to live there. That's not quite so simple, however.

Forecasting is complex

Many variables go into population forecasts. Regional data analysts disagree about many of them. Still, they've had some success. When the current Comp Plan was first written, a decade ago, it estimated the city's population in 2010 and 2015. It got the 2010 population bang on the nosealmost exactly 600,000. But for 2015, it's wasn't so accurate; the Comp Plan guessed growth would continue to 630,000, but DC actually grew much more, to about 672,000.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) puts out annual growth estimates for all of the jurisdictions in the Washington region. Here's how the Comp Plan's growth estimates track with COG's past and most recent estimates and with reality.


Actual population data from US Census and American Community Survey estimates. Projections from DC Office of Planning, DC CFO, and Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

The DC Chief Financial Officer also makes some forecasts. The last one tracks closely to COG's, but in 2013 the DC CFO thought growth was about to slow. It hasn't, at least not yet.

The current forecasts answer some questions, but not all

How does COG come up with its forecasts? It calls them "cooperative forecasts" because the first step is for each local jurisdiction to estimate its own growth. Then, COG planners tweak the numbers so the totals better match the overall regional jobs picture, trends about how many children people are having, and so forth.

Those individual jurisdictional estimates mostly come from looking at how much development is in the pipeline and how much room there is under current zoning. It makes some sense—someone is not going to move to DC unless they have a place to live. If 1,000 new housing units will be created and 90% of them will fill up in 2 years with an average of 1.5 people per unit (for example), that means 1,350 new residents.

That's a pretty good way to guess the population if you want to know what's most likely to happen under current policy. It helps with budgeting for the amount of trash pickup you'll need, say, or how many schools to build.

But if you use that number to set zoning policies, you'd be making a circular argument:

  • We think developers will build x housing units.
  • X housing units hold Y people.
  • Therefore, DC will grow by Y people.
[later]
  • We said DC will grow by Y people.
  • Y people fit in X units.
  • We're building X units.
  • Therefore, we're building enough units.

Photo by Tom Magliery on Flickr.

It doesn't work that way. Let's consider a hypothetical city that really doesn't want to grow much but has a booming job market. Call it Atherton.

Atherton has about 7,500 people and very little opportunity to add new housing under zoning. It's zoned for enough new development for 100 new people and that's it. If that policy continues, the new units for those 100 people will get built in the next five years, and then perhaps nothing for many years after that.

Atherton therefore estimates its population will be 7,600 in 2035. Is that right? Well, maybe. That doesn't mean that policy makes any sense if the surrounding area has demand for thousands of new jobs a year and prices in Atherton are going through the roof (as they are, because Atherton is real!)

DC isn't Atherton, and we shouldn't be—but needs more data to avoid it

DC is, of course, not trying to stop all growth, and its forecast predicts some substantial growth. But that forecast still primarily answers the question of what the population will be under current policies. It doesn't tell us a few key things we need to know:

  1. If we don't change current policies, will prices rise faster than people's incomes can keep up?
  2. If we did change policies, what would happen? Would more people move in?
  3. What policies should we pursue if we want both new residents and longtime ones to be able to live in DC, without too-fast price rises or displacement?
These are the questions that DC must explore for the Comprehensive Plan, because the Comp Plan is the ultimate font of the policies that create the pipeline that drives the population estimates.

There aren't official numbers on most of this yet, but I've talked to forecasters who are trying to figure it out. It's not easy. If more housing was getting built, some people would move to DC who otherwise would live in another county or region entirely. Some wouldn't be displaced who otherwise would be. On the other hand, some people might not like the changes and move out.

Will DC run out of room?

DC (and the whole Washington region) is highly desirable, and many people would like to live here but for high and rising housing prices. Others who have lived here for many years are finding themselves priced out through rising rents or taxes associated with swelling real estate appraisals.

There's a growing body of evidence that when cities don't build enough new housing to keep up with demand, that exacerbates the price rise. In DC, proposed new buildings constantly have floors and units slashed off or have strict limits on their size in the first place.

You don't have to believe that removing regulations will magically make housing suddenly affordable for all—I don't—to worry about all the people who can't live in the units that don't get built and the displacement it can cause elsewhere.

Beyond prices rising and displacement happening today, there's reason to worry it will get worse. DC does have a number of large undeveloped sites now, like Walter Reed, McMillan, St. Elizabeths, and Hill East, which can and hopefully will provide a large portion of DC's housing need for the next decade or so. But if demand to live in the city remains strong, these will fill with housing soon; what then?

An Office of Planning 2013 report warned that DC was approaching its maximum buildable limits. The city could run out of space for new housing between 2030 and 2040, the report said.


Graph from the DC Office of Planning's Height Master Plan report, 2013.

It would be helpful for OP to update this graph based on changes since then. The zoning update allowed people to rent out basements and garages ("accessory apartments") in some zones, which added some potential housing; at the same time, DC made zoning more restrictive in many row house areas and downzoned the Lanier Heights neighborhood, which might have moved the red dotted line down somewhat.

Where are the lines now? How has the city's growth tracked against the three scenarios in the above graph? Under various assumptions, how much time is left until the problem gets even worse than it is today?

DC needs an inclusive housing strategy

DC needs a Comprehensive Plan that ensures enough housing so that prices don't rise faster than they need to. Public policies must also ensure that new housing benefits a cross-section of income levels, from the very poor to the middle class and beyond, to prevent displacement and built a city welcoming to all—as Mayor Bowser likes to say, for those who have been here for five generations or five minutes.

To get the policies right requires good data. What do you see in the above analysis? Are there other data sets you think would be helpful? Are there other questions that an updated Comprehensive Plan should address?

Public Spaces


When you turn parking spaces into parks, it looks like this

On Friday, September 16th, greater Washington gave some parking spaces a facelift and converted them into miniature parks for Park(ing) Day, an imaginative international event to show what else could be done with curbside parking spaces.

Thanks to readers who tweeted pictures and uploaded to our Flickr pool. Here is some of what you submitted:


Photo by Joanne Pierce.

The Anacostia Waterfront Trust collaborated with the DC Council and several other organizations to create a superblock-long parklet at the John A. Wilson Building along the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue otherwise reserved for councilmember parking.


Photo by the author.

Councilmember David Grosso biked to eight DC parklets. Above, he's pictured at center, with Greater Greater Washington contributor and chief of staff Tony Goodman to his left. They're talking to BicycleSPACE co-owner Erik Kugler at the shop's Mount Vernon Triangle parklet while a staff member lunches.


Photo by @bestpixelco.

The National Park Service turned asphalt to water for imaginary canoe trips along F Street NW.


Photo by Payton Chung.

GGWash editorial board member Payton Chung enjoyed the Urban Land Institute's effort to strike the right balance between the natural and built environment.


Photo by Jim Chandler.

GGWash reader Jim Chandler took this picture to say aloha from Hyattsville's University Town Center, where the city created a "temporary tropical oasis."


Photo by Melissa E.B. McMahon.

Reader Melissa E.B. McMahon captured the fun and games at one of Arlington County's five parklets.

Our write-ups from throughout the years of Park(ing) Days are here.

You can also view more Park(ing) Day 2016 scenes in Washingtonian, the Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock, Channel 4, and Channel 7.

Parking


For a day, we're getting a bunch of tiny new parks

Friday, September 16th is Park(ing) Day! Park(ing) Day is an annual, international event where people turn parking spaces into miniature parks for a day, prompting impromptu public gatherings and calling attention to our need for more open spaces.


Landscape architecture firm Oculus' 2013 Park(ing) Day installation in DC. Photo by Aimee Custis on Flickr.

Here's a list of where some of the miniature parks (aka "parklets") will pop up tomorrow:

District parklets

DC's official list of parklets is here. More than 25 locations will serve as pop-up parklets, including locations near Metro stations like NoMa, Dupont Circle, Eastern Market, Gallery Place, McPherson Square, and Shaw-Howard.


A map of where parklets will pop up in DC. Click for an interactive version.

The DC Department of Transportation is hosting a parklet and commuter spa at Farragut North, complete with a reading nook and a professional masseuse.

Several organizations promoting Anacostia River revitalization, including Waterfront Trust, Living Classrooms, Nature Conservancy, Washington Parks and People, and DC UrbanGreens will host a parklet in front of the Wilson Building.

Virginia parklets

Alexandria City will have five parklets throughout Old Town Alexandria, including City Hall and the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center of Virginia Tech.

Arlington will host five parklets, including one at Courthouse Plaza that will feature art by Kate Stewart.


A shot from Park(ing) Day 2013 in Arlington. Photo by Aimee Custis Photography on Flickr.

Maryland parklets

Montgomery County will host pop-ups in Wheaton, Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Takoma Park. Docs in Progress, a group that teaches documentary filmmaking, will be interviewing residents at its Silver Spring parklet.

Hyattsville will host four parklets, including an evening parklet from 6 pm to 8 pm at the City Municipal Building, which will have lawn games, food, beer, and live music.

Help us crowdsource PARK(ing) Day 2016

If you know of a parklet we've missed or if you see a parklet tomorrow, let us know in the comments. Share any photos of parklets and add them to the Greater Greater Washington Flickr pool or tweet it (#parkingday) and tag us (@ggwash). We'll post photos in a roundup next week.

Development


An old power plant in DC's Ward 7 is ripe for redevelopment. Let's not make it a trash and recycling plant.

Between the Anacostia River and I-295, a defunct power plant stretches along the north side of Benning Road. A plan for how to put the space to use just came out, and while some of the ideas could bring jobs to the community, others threaten to perpetuate a history of communities east of the Anacostia getting the short end of the stick.


Pepco's Benning Road site is desolate now, but it could turn into something great. Image from the DC Office of Planning.

The Benning Service Center is a 77 acre industrial campus located on the eastern bank of the Anacostia River. In 2015 Pepco demolished its 100-year-old oil fired plant on the site and after decades of community advocacy led by leaders such as George Gurley. Following the demolition Pepco began a DC Department of Energy and Environment supervised cleanup of PCBs and other contaminants in the soil and neighboring Anacostia River.

In the last decade the Kenilworth-Parkside community has seen the construction of 400+ homes, two schools, and significant reinvestment in the historic Mayfair Mansions Apartments. In the next decade the community is anticipating the construction of 1300 more homes, retail, an education campus and office space. Nearby Minnesota Avenue has seen the construction of Park 7 Apartments and the District Department of Employment Services building. To the south, River Terrace is increasingly drawing the attention of developers looking to capitalize on the extension of DC's streetcar.

Given the considerable investment going into the community, the Pepco site is looking increasingly anachronistic in its current state, but its proximity to Metro, the streetcar, and I-295 give it incredible potential. With the right changes, it could provide much-needed economic opportunities to Ward 7 residents and become the economic and social center that Ward 7 has long lacked.


The Pepco site and surrounding developments. Red highlights denote developments are completed or near completion. Blue highlighted areas denote proposed projects. The green line illustrates the route of the streetcar extension. Map by the author, using Google Maps.

In November 2015, DC's Office of Planning partnered with the Urban Land Institute to form a Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) on the future of the Benning Service Center with the goal of improving transportation access at the site, creating new community amenities, and providing economic opportunities for Ward 7 residents.

ULI forms TAPs to assist cities to come up with unique ideas on difficult sites, and the Benning Road panel brought together experts in from the fields of urban planning, design, transportation, real estate development, as well as the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

ULI recently released the TAP's recommendations. The panel issued short, interim, and long term recommendations based on a tour of the site, discussions with community leaders, and an analysis of similar brownfields in other cities. Short term proposals were primarily those that could be implemented immediately without altering the site itself, and interim proposals focused on temporary land uses. The long term proposals spoke to permanent changes in land use.


The TAP looked focused on the 19 acre site once occupied by the coal and oil fired powerplant. The remaining 58 acres was not considered. Photo from the Benning Road Service Center.

Changes in the near future could include better walkways and more recreational activity

The panel's short term recommendations for the site are largely uncontroversial. They focus on adding connections to the Parkside neighborhood by extending Anacostia Avenue around the site and linking it to River Terrace. Other recommendations focused on making the site more friendly for neighbors by improving the surrounding streetscapes with broader sidewalks, tree plantings, and public art.


Public art like "The Lego Bridge" could soften highway and other transportation infrastructure like this WMATA viaduct. Image from the DC Office of Planning.


Pedestrian infrastructure has long been neglected at the site. Despite these formidable barriers and high speed traffic, residents use this sidewalk everyday. Photo by the author.

The panel's Interim recommendations focus on engaging the community by partnering with an organization like Arcadia Mobile Market to bring a farmers market's to the neighborhood, as well as hosting events like BBQ battles.

The space would also be available for athletic events like Tough Mudders, paintball, and even an outdoor roller rink. Other uses focused on providing creative "maker" spaces for industrial arts and crafts.

The long-term recommendations focus on job creation

The TAP's long term recommendations were the most interesting and potentially controversial.

One thing the planners aimed to address were the community's concerns about the fact that there aren't many opportunities for blue collar employment in the area. The TAP made three suggestions for the site with that thought in mind:

  • First is an Industrial Business Incubator that would offer space to light manufacturing businesses.
  • The second, an "Eco Industrial Park," would feature recycling, composting, and bio fuel generation facilities.
  • The third proposal focuses on an energy research and design facility that would design and test new electrical generation and distribution technologies.

The first and third proposals would have a natural synergy with the District Department of Employment Services offices on Minnesota Avenue. Both facilities could form partnerships with community organizations and schools focusing on vocational training. A research and development facility could offer students in Ward 7's HD Woodson High School STEM program co-op and internship opportunities.

Both of these facilities could be a long term investment in the skills, creativity and talent of Ward 7's residents. They would create a one-of-a-kind destination for innovation unmatched in the District. They would create new businesses and opportunities that would have impacts far beyond the site.

Jobs are great, but this shouldn't become a trash-processing site

The second option, creating the Eco Industrial Park, has a lot less to offer for the community, and ignores a century of environmental racism inflicted by decisions to locate powerplants, dumps, garbage incinerators, highways and other undesirable infrastructure in Ward 7.

By its own admission, the TAP acknowledges that such a facility would face stiff resistance from the surrounding community. The proposed facility would be essentially be an expansion in the scope and scale of operations of the current Benning Trash Transfer station, which the surrounding community has rallied to oppose as recently as 2000.

The surrounding communities fought for positive change for decades and have gotten real traction with the numerous new developments in the area. Placing another trash handling facility prominently along its prime transportation corridor on riverfront property would be a step backwards for a community that has disproportionately borne the costs of facilities intended to benefit The District.

While the facility would potentially generate several hundred jobs, it is unlikely they would be the long term or high paying. In discussions TAP planners noted that growing automation would reduce the demand for low skilled labor over time undercutting any long term employment benefits that might be achieved by going with a low skilled, high employment option.

Does TAP make the most of a once in a lifetime opportunity?

The demolition of the Pepco plant is an opportunity to fix decades-old economic and transportation challenges. The report offers innovative and creative ideas to make the Benning Service Center a better neighbor, but is it an ambitious enough goal?

The TAP focused on only the westernmost nineteen acres of the site, leaving the remaining fifty-eight acres closest to the surrounding communities unaddressed. A process that included the entire site could offer much better solutions while working with Pepco to improve the efficiency of its operations. A more ambitious plan could have included a new Metro station, the restoration of the street grid between Parkside and River Terrace, as well as many more job opportunities for the community.

Despite its limits the report marks a seachange in thinking about the Pepco site. Previously there had been little serious discussion of the Pepco site that hadn't included a powerplant. The discussions started in the TAP should be revisited as the Pepco-Exelon merger continues and new investment facilitates the modernization of Pepco operations. The Mayor's office and the new Ward 7 Councilmember should be on the lookout for opportunities to use land swaps and other incentives to achieve the goals outlined in the TAP plan.

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