Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Chris Dickersin-Prokopp

Chris Dickersin-Prokopp spends his days in Anacostia and nights in Petworth. He studied Latin American Studies and Urban Planning. He runs the blog R.U. Seriousing Me? and occasionally contributes to the Washington City Paper

A city can be diverse but its neighborhoods may still not be. (And DC scores poorly on both measures.)

How do you measure a city's diversity? If a city has a lot of different racial and ethnic groups in their own segregated sections, is that diverse?

A blog called priceonomics recently ranked major American cities on diversity by looking at the percentage of major racial and ethnic groups within the city's limits. The District of Columbia came in 21st, slightly less diverse than Oklahoma City.


Photo by Eric Hews, erichews.com posted with permission.

However, while this analysis is useful, it it doesn't reveal whether the neighborhoods in each city are themselves diverse, or whether the city boundary just encompasses some all-black areas, other all-white areas, and so on.

If we modify this methodology to measure the average diversity of a city's neighborhoods, rather than of the city as a whole, we are able to quantify how integrated these place are. On this new measure, the District performs even worse.

A neighborhood-level calculation changes the results

Consider Chicago. With roughly equal-sized black, white, and Latino populations, the Windy City ranks as the fifth most diverse city in the country on the priceonomics scale. However, if we instead use priceonomics' same methodology (it took the percentage of black, white, Asian, Latino, and other people in the city, then used a Herfindahl-Hirschman Index to combine those numbers into a single score) for each of Chicago's individual census tracts, then take the weighted average, Chicago suddenly drops to 38th out of 45.

Chicago, as a whole, is diverse, but its neighborhoods are not. The average Chicago census tract is less diverse than a typical tract in Portland or Colorado Springs, both relatively homogeneous cities that scored near the bottom in the original citywide index. Both are close to 70% white, but the non-white population isn't all clumped in a small non-white area.


Chicago's diverse population is largely segregated. Sacramento is diverse, and so are its neighborhoods.

Here are the scores for all of the cities in the analysis. You can click on a column in this table to sort it. Click on the name of any city in this table to see a map of that city's Census tracts and their diversity levels.

NameNew rankDiversity index
(neighborhood)
Original rankDiversity index (citywide)Rank change
Sacramento10.32477820.2493451
Oakland20.36768210.234220-1
Long Beach30.40482440.2853671
Fresno40.419840150.33261611
San Jose50.41991260.2959631
San Francisco60.42005080.3118102
Las Vegas70.439887170.33810610
San Diego80.46835190.3127091
Fort Worth90.478435130.3246714
Albuquerque100.482462270.39906417
Charlotte110.495846160.3369055
Boston120.49635170.310615-5
Austin130.500739190.3712116
Oklahoma City140.502493200.3743756
Virginia Beach150.510308330.45543618
Raleigh160.512390220.3810926
Houston170.518201100.313724-7
Tucson180.518248260.3990558
New York190.52082730.260531-16
Jacksonville200.524788250.3985755
Los Angeles210.526386180.339228-3
Dallas220.531520120.321215-10
Denver230.536938240.3874161
Nashville240.538537290.4088575
Seattle250.545698370.47687612
Mesa260.553278380.49269412
Phoenix270.556085230.384986-4
Indianapolis280.565431310.4226303
Columbus290.565687320.4305333
Colorado Springs300.565902410.52823311
Portland310.569062430.53941712
San Antonio320.574919350.4746363
Kansas City330.579408280.399368-5
Milwaukee340.589951110.320661-23
Philadelphia350.599411140.331147-21
Washington360.611801210.378045-15
Omaha370.613333390.5010412
Chicago380.63299350.290745-33
Louisville390.656964400.5181451
Memphis400.670075340.474338-6
Atlanta410.670933300.416675-11
Baltimore420.681552360.475331-6
El Paso430.706141440.6633451
Miami440.732796420.536259-2
Detroit450.795764450.6741850
Note: Priceonomics used the 2013 1-year American Community Survey estimates for their analysis. This analysis uses the 5-year estimates, because it is available at both the Place and Census Tract levels. As a result, the citywide index scores may vary slightly from the data presented by Priceonomics.

California cities dominate the adjusted rankings, accounting for the top six spots: Sacramento, Oakland, Long Beach, Fresno, San Jose, and San Francisco. Virginia Beach moved up 18 slots, representing the largest jump of any one city.

DC, on the other hand, drops into the bottom quartile, neck and neck with Omaha. Like Chicago (well, not quite as bad as Chicago), the District's citywide diversity doesn't extend to diversity within most of its neighborhoods.


The diversity of each census tract in DC.

How citywide diversity relates to neighborhood diversity

There is a correlation between diversity in a city and diversity within its neighborhoods, although places like Chicago and DC remind us that it is not necessarily as strong relationship. Here's a scatter plot comparing the citywide and neighborhood average diversity indices for each of the 45 cities:


Diversity within neighborhoods compared to overall city diversity, with the most integrated and most segregated cities labeled.

Cities above the trend line have less diverse census tracts than the city's overall diversity would suggest. These are therefore relatively segregated. Chicago and DC fall into this category.

Miami is among the least diverse cities on the entire list (remember that according to this methodology, "diversity" only considers 5 distinct groups, lumping together, for example, everyone who identifies as Hispanic/Latino), but on a neighborhood level it's even more segregated still.

Cities below the trend line have neighborhoods that are more diverse than comparable cities at their level of citywide diversity. This group includes Sacramento, which is both diverse and integrated, as well as Portland, which is not diverse, but relatively well-integrated.

Diversity and integration are both important, and the District has a long way to go on both measures. What do you notice?

Cross-posted at R.U. Seriousing Me?

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12 maps show how American cities sprawl differently

Some big US cities are dense, while others are spread out. This affects the economy, quality of life, and the environment. Here's a way to visualize the residential density of the country's 12 largest regions and their varying levels of sprawl.


Images by the author.

Earlier this year, Smart Growth America released a report titled Measuring Sprawl 2014, finding that New York is the country's "most compact, connected large metro area," with an index score of 203.4, while Atlanta is the "most sprawling," with a score of 41.0.

But what does that gap really look like? The world's most iconic skyline on one extreme, contrasted with a highway full of motorists stranded overnight due to a snowstorm on the other? What about viewed through a wider angle lens, at a regional level? Next City recently published a series of GIFs illustrating regional sprawl over time, and this post tells a similar story from a different perspective.

The visualizations below show residential density (as one unit of height for every person per square mile), by census tract, for the nation's 12 statistical areas of at least 5 million inhabitants. The images show Combined Statistical Areas (CSAs) with the exception of Miami, which until recently was not part of a CSA. The regions are viewed from the same height and distance, but from different directions, most often from the south.

NYC

LA

CHI

DC

SF

BOS

PHI

DAL

MIA

HOU

ATL

DET

Note: One census tract, 307.2 in Chicago, was omitted from this visualization as its population density is off the charts. The tract essentially encompasses only the land on which these three high rises are located.

Cross-posted at R.U. Seriousing Me?

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Does public assistance affect private spending?

Yesterday, we looked at how our expenditures vary by income, and an important question came up: Do the income figures include government assistance programs? The answer is mostly yes.


Image by the author.

The chart above shows the percentage of total income by source for consumer units at different income levels. Income includes benefits from programs such as Social Security, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Unemployment Insurance. It excludes benefits that are paid directly to a service provider, such as Medicaid or Housing Choice Vouchers, but those amounts are also excluded on the expenditures.

The major source of income that is not accounted for here, or in yesterday's graphs, is refundable income tax credits. That mechanism helps close the gap between after tax income and expenditures slightly for lower income households, but there is still, on average, a significant shortfall that must come from a nongovernmental source.

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See how housing and transportation costs hold the poor back

Everyone's spending habits are basically the same. But rising housing and transportation costs hit low-income households hardest.


Consumer spending by income. All images by the author.

Data from the Bureau for Labor Statistics show that people of all income levels tend to spend similar percentages of their budgets on each expenditure category, with some exceptions. For example, as income rises, Consumer Units (defined as families living together, financially independent individuals, or groups of unrelated individuals who budget jointly) dedicate an increasing percentage of their budget to personal insurance and pensions.

Consumers at the lower end of the income spectrum spend a disproportionately higher percentage of their budget on housing costs. But on most other measures, including transportation, health care, and entertainment, the percentages across income levels are fairly equivalent, as shown in the graph above.

But these percentages represent share of total expenditures, and not all Consumer Units are operating with a balanced budget. A comparison of income and expenditures shows that lower-income families and individuals tend to spend more than they earn while higher-income units are able to stash some of their earnings away. The graphs below attempt to illustrate this:


Low-income households spend more than they earn.

When you change the denominator in the first graph from Total Expenditures to Annual Income, a more accurate depiction of our spending habits is revealed. Consumers earning between $5,000 and $30,000 per year spend 62% of their income on Housing, 24% on Transportation and 23% on Food. That's 109% of their income gone just on these three basic necessities.


Low-income households are burdened by high housing and transportation costs.

This modified version of the first graphic presented gives a fuller representation of household finances at different income levels in the US. It paints a pretty bleak picture for low-income families and individuals.

A version of this post originally ran at R. U. Seriousing Me?


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Anacostia has changed a lot since 1892

Ghosts of DC posted an 1892 Map of Rural Anacostia earlier this week. I've made it into a graphic illustrating some of the other physical changes to the neighborhood and its surroundings in the last 120 years.

What first struck me about the map when I saw it was how close the banks of the Anacostia River were to the neighborhood. My knowledge of DC history is minimal, so I did not know that between 1882 and 1927 the tidal marshes along the edge of the Anacostia were filled in, creating what would today appear on a map as Poplar Point.

Clusters of single family homes were developed and remain intact in places such as north of today's Good Hope Road (in the Fairlawn neighborhood) and around Morris Road. In the next ring of development, south and east of here, small apartment buildings become the predominant land use. And over time (as early as 1900 with the development of the Nichols School, which is now the Thurgood Marshall Academy), larger footprint buildings sprouted up on and around today's Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road.

Future development plans suggest that the next phase of growth will follow a similar trajectory, with moderate densification of the main commercial corridors and substantial expansion into previously undeveloped land, in this case Poplar Point.

A version of this post originally ran at R. U. Seriousing Me?

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America's most efficient city is... Miami?

DC may be tops when it comes to green roofs, but the region stands out less on a more impactful environmental indicator: how efficiently our infrastructure is laid out.

The purpose of infrastructure is to connect people, goods, information, and services. When people live close together, less infrastructure is needed to make these connections. Consider one type of infrastructure, perhaps the most representative from an urban planning perspective: roads.

Roads cost money to build and maintain. Movement along those roads creates pollution and costs the users time. All else equal, it is more efficient to build, use, and maintain fewer roads per person.

Which of the 12 statistical areas in the United States with more than 5 million inhabitants has the greatest number of people per mile of arterial roads? That honor goes to the Miami Metropolitan Area, perhaps not by choice but rather by geographic necessity, tightly bound by ocean to the east and the Everglades to the west.

Statistical area2010 populationMiles of primary roadPeople per road mile
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL Metro Area5,564,6351,4623,807
New York-Newark-Bridgeport, NY-NJ-CT-PA CSA22,085,6498,0602,740
San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA CSA7,468,3902,9512,531
Chicago-Naperville-Michigan City, IL-IN-WI CSA9,686,0213,8382,524
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, CA CSA17,877,0067,6632,333
Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia, DC-MD-VA-WV CSA8,572,9713,9502,170
Philadelphia-Camden-Vineland, PA-NJ-DE-MD CSA6,533,6833,3491,951
Houston-Baytown-Huntsville, TX CSA6,051,3633,1271,935
Boston-Worcester-Manchester, MA-RI-NH CSA7,559,0604,2291,788
Detroit-Warren-Flint, MI CSA5,218,8523,0111,733
Dallas-Fort Worth, TX CSA6,731,3174,1271,631
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Gainesville, GA-AL CSA5,618,4314,0481,388
Click on a column header to sort the table.

In contrast, the Atlanta Combined Statistical Area (CSA), the most sprawling of the 12 regions, has roughly the same population as Miami, but its roads total a distance nearly 3 times as long. Wouldn't it be great if we could spend all the money that goes to maintaining those unnecessary miles of road on something more productive?

The DC-Baltimore-Northern Virginia CSA ranks right in the middle, at number six, just behind Los Angeles, a fact that local environmentalists probably won't find especially comforting. At least we have both Houston and Dallas beat.

Miami is the only one of the largest metro areas not to have multiple Metropolitan Statistical Areas making up one larger CSA. Does that account for the change? No; even if you look at the individual Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas that make up those 11 CSAs, Miami's still has the most people per road mile.

The gap between the Miami metro area and the second place, New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA, is closer, and without Ventura County and the Inland Empire, the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA metro area jumps to #3, but otherwise little changes in the calculation.

Cross-posted at R.U. Seriousing Me?

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Where were District home purchases in 2012?

According to data from the DC Office of Tax and Revenue, 5,372 single family homes or condo units were purchased at fair market value in the District of Columbia in 2012. The geographic distribution of these homes and their sales prices follows some generally unsurprising patterns.

Homes are expensive west of Rock Creek Park; Condo sales are concentrated in the core of the city and along certain major arterial roads; and the markets for this specific type of residential real estate lagged east of the Anacostia River and along Eastern Avenue.

These maps make a statement about where mobile homeowners and investors are choosing to live and risk their money in the District, which in turn reflects the perceived existing or potential quality of life in those neighborhoods. They also provide insight into the District's housing stock.

Neighborhoods with high concentrations of apartment buildings, whether 4 units or 400 units, will not have a dominant presence on the maps. Turnover rates and neighborhood density also influence these visualizations, as do many other factors that readers will surely suggest in the comments.

Some notes about the data: The above total includes 2,286 condominiums (horizontal or vertical) and 3,086 single family homes (attached, detached, or semi-detached). Some of these may have been sold more than once in the calendar year, but because the figures only reflect the most recent sale, those cases only count once.

Cross-posted at R. U. Seriousing Me?

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Where could a small grocery store thrive in Ward 8?

The Yes! Organic Market in DC's Fairlawn neighborhood has struggled to survive, and Anacostia's only grocery store recently closed. Why can't grocery stores thrive here? Mainly, economics. But one spot could work.

There are many factors that determine the success of a retail enterprise, including marketing, accessibility, visibility, competition, demographics, and location. Yes! Organic may have been difficult to access for westbound drivers, and it could certainly have benefited from an improved outreach campaign, but the fundamental challenge for the store is that it is located in an area with low aggregate income, a result of relatively low household incomes and the presence of relatively few households.

Much of the area around Fairlawn's Yes! is undeveloped (Anacostia Park and River, Fort Dupont Park, etc.), and the developed blocks are low- to medium-density. The graphic above helps illustrate how the purchasing power the store's service area compares with those of other grocery outlets in the city.

The Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket closed its doors because the former owner sold the property. The buyer is optimistic about the site's potential, but in a presentation to the Historic Anacostia Block Association in February of this year, he all but ruled out the possibility of bringing in another grocery store. He said that the potential grocery tenants he spoke with were deterred by the presumed arrival of Walmart at Skyland, just up the street.

Does the eventual presence of two full-service grocery stores at the top of the hill mean that Ward 8's flatland neighborhoods will be forever without their own market? If there is a location best suited for a store to fill the gap, it is at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE and Howard Rd SE, immediately adjacent to the Anacostia Metrorail station and Metrobus hub, and the meeting point for the Anacostia, Hillsdale, and Barry Farm neighborhoods.

The ideal, and most feasible, site for new development at this intersection is the vast lot owned by Bethlehem Baptist Church, currently used as parking. It is not uncommon for churches, often major landowners, to develop the land they own for a purpose consistent with their mission.

Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, two blocks from Bethlehem, recently oversaw the development of a new affordable housing complex on one of their parcels. Across town, at 10th and G Streets NW, the First Congregational United Church of Christ was part of a redevelopment team that delivered a new facility for the church on the ground floors of an office building.


Bethlehem Baptist lot. Photo by the author.

By developing their vacant land as housing, office space, or a community or spiritual facility, with ground floor retail including a grocery store to replace the shuttered Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket, Bethlehem Baptist Church, and its pastor Reverend James E. Coates, DC's inaugural Ward 8 councilmember, could cement a legacy in the District while doing a huge service to their neighbors in the heart of Ward 8.

Cross-posted at R. U. Seriousing Me?

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Who’s commuting to east of the river DC neighborhoods?

WMATA's latest data release confirmed what we already knew: most Metrorail riders take the train from the suburbs into DC. But relatively few ride to the District neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. Where are they coming from and going to?

About 75% of total trips in the AM peak terminate at one of the 42 stations in or immediately adjacent to the District (within 500 feet). Only 2% of these riders, or 1.5% of all trips, get off at one of the 7 stations in or bordering the portion of the District east of the Anacostia River.

Of the more than 3500 riders who make up the numerator of this statistic, 40% get off at Anacostia and 20% at Minnesota Ave, affectionately known as the downtowns of their respective wards (8 and 7). The reason nearly 5 times as many people take the train to Farragut North as to all East of the River stations combined is obvious: Land use.

The Anacostia and Minnesota Ave station areas offer fairly similar non-residential uses, which include a limited number of destinations one would commute to on a weekday morning. Both have a few schools nearby, one relatively new District government office building, a smattering of small retail stores and restaurants, mostly carryout, and a number of light industrial sites.

Anacostia has a couple additional office or medical buildings, while Minnesota Ave boasts a grocery store. For those who do commute to work or school in these neighborhoods, parking is cheap or free, and buses often offer a superior option to rail for those who are traveling between East of the River neighborhoods.

But what about the chosen few who do take Metrorail to these 7 stations? In contrast to the system-wide statistics, 63% of trips ending east of the river originated in DC, 28% in Maryland, and 9% in Virginia. The share coming from the suburbs is certain to increase when the federal Department of Homeland Security campus at Saint Elizabeths is completed.

Interestingly, 9% of riders traveling East of the River boarded at the Columbia Heights or Georgia Avenue-Petworth stations. Without additional data, one can only hypothesize why so many people (relatively) are making this specific commute. One driver may be the schools. For example, Thurgood Marshall Academy, a high performing public charter high school across the street from the Anacostia metro station, draws students and teachers from all over the city.

Perhaps WMATA could release a subset of their data showing trips made with discounted student passes? That would make it possible to further explore this hypothesis.

Cross-posted at R.U. Seriousing Me?

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Can Big K catalyze commercial development in Anacostia?

Today, we have 2 articles on the Big K site in Historic Anacostia. Also see John Muller's piece.

Named for a defunct corner liquor store with an enormous "K" painted on its side, the true significance of the Big K site in Historic Anacostia lies in the three decrepit but once majestic wood-frame historic homes that sit on contiguous lots adjacent to the Big K itself.

Last week, the DC Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) released a Solicitation for Offers for the development of the Big K Site in Historic Anacostia. A Solicitation for Offers (SFO) is essentially the same as a Request for Proposals (RFP), an equally bureaucratic but slightly more familiar term.

The first Agency Goal listed in the solicitation is, "Consistency with the recommendations of the Big K Community Advisory Group." The Community Advisory Group was guided by two relatively conservative DHCD-commissioned market studies (housing & commercial). For the most part, the recommendations are straightforward and predictable:

  • Desire mixed-use project;
  • Project that will support/benefit the community;
  • Prefer commercial use over housing;
  • Full-service restaurant was top choice for retail; and
  • Interest in having cultural use / community garden on-site.
In this case, the desired mix of uses appears to exclude residential. The SFO states specifically that the Advisory Group recommends no housing at all. However, the solicitation also gives weight to the Comprehensive Plan, which values this type of metro-accessible site, located on a commercial corridor, as an opportunity for higher density mixed-use development that does include housing.

More importantly, adding households within walking distance of this site will increase the demand for retail goods and services, raising the feasibility of the project's commercial component.

Physically, the site has some constraints, though none are insurmountable. DHCD only owns 4 of the 5 properties on the block. The one that it does not control is currently operated as a used car lot. Prospective developers could sweeten their offers by gaining control of the car lot and proposing to pair it with the adjacent lot (2228 MLK) included in the solicitation that contains a historic single family home approved to be razed (Solution 1, below).

The Big K liquor store on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave and Morris Rd (2252 MLK) lies outside of the Historic District, but considering the historic nature of the overall site and the community's desire for preservation, it may be wise for a developer to save as much of the building as possible. With that said, there is still plenty of room for the structure to grow up and out (Solution 2), and even laterally behind the adjacent homes (Solution 3).

The two remaining detached, single family homes (2234 and 2238 MLK) are located smack in the middle of their respective lots and must be preserved. But why not move them up to the lot line (Solution 4)? If the additional density gained justifies the cost, this may be an option worth exploring.

Ultimately, what gets built at the Big K will depend on the creativity of the development teams that respond to the solicitation, particularly in their ability to lure commercial tenants and make effective use of the plentiful incentives available at this site. While DHCD does not explicitly offer a subsidy beyond, presumably, selling the property for less than the appraised value, the project may be able to take advantage of Historic Tax Credits, New Markets Tax Credits, and/or Tax Increment Financing. Plus, if a high quality proposal is received and championed by residents of Anacostia, the Mayor and Council may be able to find a way to make it work financially via grants or tax abatement.

Here's to hoping the Big K gets some visionary responses, and why wouldn't it? Developers, architects, and preservationists should be drooling over the opportunity to be able to say that their project triggered the revitalization of Historic Anacostia.

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