Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Ken Archer

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son. Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. 

Government


Where is the DC tech hub? It keeps moving

DC officials are trying hard to woo technology companies to DC, and one strategy to do that is to establish a place in the city with a critical mass of tech jobs. But the location officials say they are focusing on keeps moving.


Photo by Danja Vasiliev on Flickr.

Before 2002, DC offered a tax break to high tech companies, as long as they located in one of multiple "high tech development zones." Those encompassed the majority of land in the city, but excluded a lot of DC west of Rock Creek Park, some lower-density neighborhoods along the Maryland border in the north and northeast, and a few other areas.

In 2012, Mayor Gray pushed for legislation that removed these boundaries and let tech companies anywhere in the city get the tax breaks. Around the same time, Gray announced plans to turn St. Elizabeths East Campus into an Innovation Hub that would "stimulate formation of a technology cluster." The administration reached out to many universities and companies like Microsoft about establishing a significant presence there.

Then, in 2013, the administration invested $380,000 in a new coworking and incubator space, 1776, at 15th and M Street NW. Many small new businesses will definitely want to locate downtown even if and when there is a thriving tech center at St. E's, and St. Elizabeths is far from ready to be a center of tech jobs.


Left: Former "high tech development zones." Image from Google Maps with data from GeoCommons. Right: Locations of St. Elizabeths, 1776, and the Digital DC Tech Corridor. Image from Google Maps.

But last month, the Gray administration announced a new initiative, the Digital DC Tech Corridor, which runs along 7th Street and Georgia Avenue from New York Avenue downtown to Kansas Avenue in Petworth.

A new Digital DC Tech Fund offered venture funding to startups, so long as they locate in this corridor. This is the opposite of the earlier move to eliminate the requirement that tech companies locate within a "tech zone" to qualify for incentives. Georgia Avenue is also a part of the city that could benefit from new jobs and economic growth, but it seemed odd to have a fund that specifically targets one area that's totally different from the other two.

Tech startups in 1776 will not qualify for these grants. Neither will those in the Innovation Hub at St Elizabeth's, nor those at private tech startup hubs like The Hive in Anacostia or Canvas in Dupont Circle. District Cap Table pointed out how the new tech corridor misses the many existing incubator and coworking spaces:


Image from District Cap Table.

Finally, earlier this week and just before the Democratic Primary where the mayor is struggling to win renomination, he announced plans to build a $300 million hospital at St Elizabeths East Campus. This is a completely new idea that's nowhere in the 5-Year Economic Development Plan for St Elizabeths East, and doesn't seem that compatible with the walkable tech hub previous plans envision.

This isn't to say the city has to pick just one and only one spot within the entire District for tech jobs and only focus on that. There will be different kinds of tech companies that might want different sizes of office space, want to be near other companies of a certain type, and have workers who live in different parts of the city.

But all of these changesto remove a specific zone for incentives and then add one, to announce one tech hub, then create another, and change plansis creating whiplash. The city can only create and un-create so many tech hubs before tech policy looks more like a political football than a serious strategy to diversify our tax base beyond the federal government.

Parenting


Car-free family trip idea: Baltimore

If you have young children and don't own a car or just don't like driving, you know what a pain weekend trips can be. With the new weekend MARC service to Baltimore, Charm City can be a fun family car-free trip, especially when the weather calls for indoor activities.


Photo by Kevin Labianco on Flickr.

I've taken my 5-year-old son to Baltimore for car-free weekends about 6 times, and he is always asking to go again. It's easily done without the hassle of a car, because most attractions are within easy walking distance of the Inner Harbor.

Getting there and back

You can take the Amtrak or MARC trains 7 days per week between Union Station and Baltimore's Penn Station. The Amtrak Northeast Regional runs between the two stations with tickets as low as $12 and takes 40 minutes. The MARC Penn Line does the same trip in an hour for only $7.00 and now runs 9 trains each way on Saturdays and 6 on Sundays. You can also spend $70 per ticket on the Acela and arrive in only 28 minutes.

My son and I either take an afternoon train on Friday afternoon in time to get him in bed in a hotel on time, or an early morning Saturday train. Kids love trains, of course, and it's wonderful to arrive without the stress of driving.

When you get to Penn Station, you need to take a bus to the Inner Harbor, which is probably where your hotel and activities are. Baltimore has a Circulator bus just like DC, but theirs is free, which is nice. It's called the Charm City Circulator, and the Purple Line runs between Penn Station and the harbor every 10-15 minutes.

The Circulator will take you down the west side of the Harbor. If you are headed to Harbor East, which is where we usually stay, you can either transfer onto the Orange Line or impress your family by taking the local Maryland Transit Administration bus directly from Penn Station to Harbor East. Check out bus directions on Google Maps on your phone and you'll find the next 11 bus running every 30 minutes between Penn Station and Harbor East. Have $1.60 ready per passenger, including kids.

Where to stay

Inner Harbor accommodations can get pricey, but we've found a fantastic hotel option. The Homewood Suites in Harbor East is situated in between all the kids' activities, and has a kiddie pool inside. A large, good breakfast is included.

It's an all-suite hotel, which is a nice perk allowing parents to relax after kids go to sleep. Advance reservations start at $170/night, while same-week reservations start at $189/night. If you're flexible, they drop prices the day before your trip when the hotel isn't filling up, and I've paid as little as $120 as a result.

What to do

There are three big things for kids to do in the Inner Harbor: the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center and the Port Discovery Children's Museum. Here's our time-tested routine.

We arrive Saturday morning, and after taking the Purple Line Circulator bus to Pratt Street, we walk down to Miss Shirley's for lunch. Your kids will love the kids meals in giant bento boxes, and you'll love the crab cake fried green tomatoes eggs benedict.

It may seem like the only restaurants in the Inner Harbor are chains, but there are fantastic local restaurants as well. You just have to head to the east side of the Harbor to find them.

After lunch, we head to the Port Discovery Children's Museum, which is right behind Miss Shirley's. Port Discovery is awesome, and will help your kids get their wiggles out after sitting on the train and a bus.

After the Children's Museum we walk to the Homewood Suites Harbor East, which is an easy 10 minute walk. If we have time, we stop by Vaccaro's Italian Pastry in Little Italy for ice cream, which is right on the way.

We have a little resting time in the hotel, then walk back into Little Italy to get a pizza at Isabella's Pizza, the best pizza in Little Italy.

After a good night's sleep, we wake up Sunday morning and have breakfast in the hotel before headed to the hotel kiddie pool. The big decision to make is whether to then head to the Aquarium or the Science Museum.

The National Aquarium is a very pleasant walk over a couple wooden bridges from Harbor East, away from the tourists on the west and north sides of the harbor. At $35 for adults and $22 for kids under 12, it's a pricey attraction but worth the money if your kid is old enough to really take it in.

Don't head to the aquarium for dolphin shows, because those ended in 2012. By allowing all visitors to observe dolphins in an interactive space designed for dolphins, the Aquarium was able to ensure everyone can see them.

My son likes the Maryland Science Center more than the Aquarium, so we usually go there, which is nice because it costs just $19 for adults and $16 for kids under 13. He could spend hours in the interactive Kids Room.

And any trip across the harbor, like we take from Harbor East to the Science Center, is better taken on the Baltimore Water Taxi. After a long day at the museum, we hop on the Purple Line Circulator back to Penn Station to take the train back to Union Station.

People often tell me it must be great to raise a kid in DC with so many museums. But I've wondered why all neighboring East Coast cities like Philadelphia and Richmond have both a top-tier children's museum and science museum, and DC has neither. That's why it's great to have Baltimore within such an easy reach.

Know any other car-free family trip destinations? Mention them in the comments. You can also read about Harpers Ferry for a car-free family trip.

Politics


Most mayoral challengers oppose reducing parking minimums

At a forum last month, four candidates for DC mayor argued against a proposal by the Office of Planning to relax minimum parking requirements in transit-rich areas of the city. Andy Shallal and Tommy Wells didn't address it directly, though Shallal argued for more parking capacity while Wells argued for reducing parking demand.

The Office of Planning (OP) is proposing changes to the zoning code that would let property owners choose the right amount of parking in the highest density downtown neighborhoods, including developing areas like NoMa and Capitol Riverfront. Elsewhere, the zoning code would require one space per three units in apartment and condominium buildings away from transit corridors and half that near transit.

This proposal is the result of multiple compromises by planning director Harriet Tregoning to satisfy opponents' concerns. If the response of mayoral candidates is any indication, Tregoning's compromises have resulted in only more demands for compromises, an outcome that many predicted.

At the forum, moderator Davis Kennedy, editor of the Northwest Current, asked the following question:

Some have criticized our city planners for reducing the amount of required parking in new apartment buildings in some neighborhoods and for allowing apartments in single family homes. The fear is that it will substantially reduce on street parking availability. Others feel if we did not reduce the new apartment parking requirements, as underground parking is so expensive, it would contribute to much higher rents. What do you think?
Kennedy asked a good question that fairly represented both sides of the issue. Here are the answers of each candidate, with the portions that directly answer the question in bold:

Muriel Bowser:

Bowser directly opposes OP's proposal, then argues that expanding alternative transportation is the better solution:

I think that the Office of Planning got this one wrong, and that's why I introduced emergency legislation that in some cases would limit the expansion of visitor parking. Walking in Georgetown neighborhoods, walking all around ward 2, people tell me that DDOT got it wrong and we stopped it working with your councilmember who joined me in that effort.

This is what I know: our city's roaring. We'll have 200,000 new people here by the year 2040 and not everyone will be able to drive. I approach our transportation system in a balanced way. We have to have excellent public transportation. We have to have excellent bikeshare or bike parking, bike lanes. And we have to have roads that work and the ability to park.

It's very important that we approach our entire transportation system with a balance. We asked the Office of Planning not to eliminate parking minimums, because that was their first plan, but to look at a way to manage it in a better way.

This has become the standard way for elected officials opposing OP's proposal to frame the issue, and Evans and Orange follow suit. But fewer parking requirements and more multimodal streets solve different problems. Reducing parking requirements prevents regulatory-driven overbuilding of parking, which induces greater demand for parking and streets and makes housing less affordable. Bike lanes won't do that.

What's also concerning is that she sees alternative transportation as needed because "not everyone will be able to drive." Everyone I know who uses bike lanes, buses and so on also is able to drive and does whenever they want to.

Jack Evans:

Evans goes the furthest in opposing OP's proposal, saying he would keep the 1958 minimum parking requirements currently in place:

The Office of Planning definitely got this wrong. I agree with keeping the parking requirements just as they are, and I'm joining with Councilmember Bowser and Councilmember Cheh to address that with the Office of Planning. Taking away more parking spaces in this city is a terrible idea.

What we have to do is focus on alternative means of transportation, something I've done in my 22 years on the Council. I served on the Metro Board and was the advocate for not only completing the 103-mile system that currently exists but for expanding Metro and someday we hope to have a Metro in Georgetown.

Secondly, bike laneswe have more bike lanes in Ward 2 than in all the other wards combined and we will continue to promote bike as another alternative transportation. Light railagain something this Council has supported, building the light rail system that will connect Georgetown to downtown and to the eastern parts of this city. So the alternative means are very important but keeping the parking as it is is also very critical.

He repeats Bowser's framing by saying that "what we have to do is focus on alternative means of transportation," taking credit for bike lanes in Ward 2 that everyone knows would have happened without him.

Reta Jo Lewis:

Lewis addresses the issue the least directly, offering general arguments for more parking. She says it would be "unacceptable" to "eliminate any parking inside of buildings," but minimum parking requirements apply to new buildings.

I served as the chief of staff in the Department of Public Works when it used to be called DPW. I want you to know that parking is one of the most important things any agency does when it deals with transportation.

Now I live right downtown, right on 5th and Mass. And I've watched everything get built. And what I've watched is not any more parking spaces coming on. And it would be unacceptable to allow our offices of administration to eliminate any parking inside of buildings.

What we have to do is continue to offer a comprehensive strategy, a comprehensive plan, of how residents, not just downtown, but in all of our neighborhoods, especially like Georgetown. In your 2028 Plan you specifically talked about parking. It is fair for us in communities to have parking spaces.

Vincent Orange:

Orange, like Evans, specifically supports the existing minimum residential parking requirement of one space per unit. His unique bit of unhelpful framing is to pit new residents against long-time residents:

I also think that the Office of Planning got this one wrong. There needs to be a proper balance. If you're gonna keep building units, then there at least should be a parking spot per unit. Clearly there needs to be a balance here in the District of Columbia. We're getting more and more residents.

But also that balance has to include those residents that have been here during the bad times, to still be able to be here in the good times, and allowed to travel throughout this city and be able to find parking. So there has to be a balance.

I applaud those that really are really studying this issue, to make sure there are bike lanes, there's light rail, there's transportation needs being addressed by Metro and others. But there has to be a balance. And I believe that balance can only be maintained by when you build units there should be parking associated with those units.

It's at this point that one notices none of the candidates have responded to Kennedy's argument for reducing minimum parking requirements, that it promotes affordable housing that enables long-time residents to stay in DC. Bowser and others have complained about the high rents on 14th Street for example, but part of those rents are needed to pay for minimum parking requirements.

Andy Shallal:

Shallal doesn't address minimum parking requirements, but offers complaints about insufficient parking:

I agree there's a problem, obviously, with parking. Owning a business in the District, it's very difficult as it is. And when my customers tell me they're having a hard time parking, it really makes it even that much more difficult to attract business and keep business.

It's very interesting: often times I will get a lease for a space to be able to open a restaurant, and then all the neighbors get upset because there's no parking there. I have nothing to do with the way that it was zoned and suddenly I am the one that's at fault and needs to find parking for all the people that have to come in.

The other I think we can't really address parking unless we address public transportation. I think that's one of the major issues is the fact that a lot of people want to see the Metro open later, especially on the weekends. They want to see it later. Maybe we can go for 24 hours. A lot of my patrons and my customers, my employees, would like to be able to see that.

The other thing is that increasing the hours of the parking meters is not working for many of my customers and I think we need to bring it back to 6:30.

This is concerning given that Shallal has made affordable housing a central tenet of his campaign. His platform doesn't include any positions on transportation.

His only position on parking that he offers in his response is that parking meters shouldn't be enforced after 6:30pm. However, this a peak period of demand for scarce on-street parking, and pricing on-street parking according to demand would be a better solution.

Tommy Wells:

While Wells is the only candidate to not offer arguments against OP's proposal, he also doesn't argue in support of reducing parking requirements. Instead, he uses the opportunity to argue for his bill to give OP the power to not allow residents of new buildings to receive residential parking permits:

I think that on something like parking, like everything else, we have to work smart. First thing is that if a building does put the parking space in there and everyone gets a residential parking sticker, we're going to wipe out all the neighborhood parking in Georgetown if they have the neighborhood right to park in the neighborhood. We have to be a lot smarter than that.

You know you've adopted a plan in Georgetown that does say that there be a new Metro station here. We'll bring in a streetcar system which I've been a champion of. As the city grows if our businesses are going to survive, and our local businesses, people have to come into Georgetown and out and they all shouldn't come in a car.

One of the bills that I've proposed (which I proposed last time, and this Council killed, and I've re-proposed) is when we have infill development and we put a building in there and they want anything from the government they negotiate that the residents at the building will not get residential parking. We can't build any more residential parking. And so, on the streets, we cannot add more spaces. So its more important to be smart.

While Wells' bill is good, it's disappointing that none of the candidates offered any arguments in support of scaling back parking requirements. Georgetown is a difficult audience with which to discuss minimum parking requirements, but if we are serious about affordable housing and not allowing our city to turn into a car sewer we have to address parking requirements directly instead of changing the subject.

Politics


DC will gain statehood by acting like a state

Councilmember David Grosso has called for Mayor Gray to pay DC employees during the federal government shutdown and to implement DC laws without submitting them to Congress for approval. His actions show us that the path to statehood isn't through protest, but by simply living as free citizens of a state.


Photo by Lost in Transit [Keep St... on Flickr.

Until this point, DC residents relegated to second-rate status have had two options. First, we could meekly submit to the humiliating rituals imposed upon us by federal law. Remember when a US Senator put a hold on our budget because they didn't like our taxi fares?

Second, we could protest as we have for decades. Mayor Gray was arrested for sitting down in traffic to protest our status. Grosso offers a third way, and the best part is that we cannot lose.

Unlike every other jurisdiction in America, during a federal government shutdown the District of Columbia cannot spend its own locally-raised tax money. That's because Congress treats DC's budget as part of the federal budget.

Mayor Gray has responded to this obvious injustice by going back and forth between our two traditional options, protest and obedience. Last week, Gray confronted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at a press conference, and has staged protests on a nearly daily basis.

But ultimately Gray says that he is prepared to obey this unjust law if protests prove unsuccessful. Mayor Gray said in a speech last week that paying DC employees during the shutdown would undermine our "moral authority."

Gray's speech shows a lack of understanding of the moral logic of nonviolent disobedience in the face of unjust laws. Nonviolent disobedience isn't simply protesting by breaking the law. It's avoiding protest altogether and instead living one's life as a free citizen, even if innocent activities of daily life are illegal.

The central appeal of disobedience is that it cannot lose. Protests only work when those in power concede some of their power. Disobedience always works, because you deny to anyone authority over your freedom to live as a full human being.

That's why disobedience always works. It immediately undoes the most harmful effect of unjust laws: when a community internalizes its second-rate status.

Statehood isn't about budgeting, though that is one important benefit. It's true that DC residents bear a heavy fiscal burden, to the tune of about $1 billion a year, because of a structural deficit that Congress would likely fix if DC was a state.

But statehood isn't about the budget. It's about dignity and ridding much of our community of decades of internalized disenfranchisement. So many of our social and economic challenges in DC stem from a deep lack of agency, what many call a spiritual disenfranchisement. In his landmark book Development as Freedom, Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen calls this internalized disempowerment the true source of poverty.

When our mayor claims the dignity of self-governance and simply governs as any other freely-elected mayor would, we can expect a larger percentage of our city's remarkable talent will stand up to govern too, as Kojo Nnamdi so eloquently explains. In fact, disobeying laws denying our self-governance engenders far more civic dignity than the civic pride of a thousand professional sports franchises.

So, breaking unjust laws doesn't undermine moral authority. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. broke unjust laws. Jesus broke unjust laws. And, of course, so did Mahatma Gandhi.

Czech dissident Vaclav Havel called this "living in truth." Under communism, Czech dissidents split between activists planning petitions and artists who simply wanted to do their art. Havel unified them by explaining to activists that attending a banned music concert was more effective than any protest.

Mayor Gray faces a huge decision whether or not to disobey federal laws. But the right choice is clear, and if he doesn't make it, another mayor ultimately will.

Government


What drives the growth of DC's tech sector?

DC has lavished attention and subsidies on a few tech companies to bolster its economy. But the growth of tech firms in and around Dupont Circle suggests that investing in an attractive urban space is a more effective way to grow a local tech scene.


Mayor Gray visits 1776. Photo by the author.

DC has a flourishing tech scene, as seen in the growth of several coworking spaces, where startups can get work done and find community. There are 5 in DC, 4 of which are in or near Dupont Circle, as are several other tech companies and the Acceleprise incubator.

Mayor Gray has visited one of these spots, 1776, 4 times, and given it $380,000 in grants. 1776 is a fantastic coworking space whose leadership is committed to supporting startups.

But does the District attract tech companies because we subsidize firms like 1776 and LivingSocial that claim to be hubs of talent and capital? Or is it because we have invested for a decade in urban amenities and density that attracts talent and capital to places like Dupont Circle, as Richard Florida argues?

Dupont Circle has emerged as the hub of the DC tech cluster. Besides Canvas and 1776, Affinity Lab on U Street, and PunchRock in Adams Morgan provide coworking space. Several tech companies and the Acceleprise incubator also reside in the Dupont Circle area.

This cluster emerged without government assistance or backing. 1776 is an exciting coworking space that I hope is successful, but the startups laboring in these other coworking spaces seem to be just as critical to diversifying our tax base.

Florida, who opposed Gray's subsidy to LivingSocial last year, argues that our urban core is responsible for attracting the talent and capital that have made our tech sector thrive:

Today venture capital investment and startup activity also reflect the turn back to the urban core; nearly half of the [Washington] region's total (47.5 percent), or $600 million, went to the District of Columbia proper. Most of that was concentrated in a single zip code (20005) that spans McPherson Square, Thomas Circle and Logan Circle.
While Gray expresses support for DC's tech sector, it sometimes looks like a search for a North Star he can follow, like Living Social, by providing subsidies and personal encouragement. Rather, tech clusters naturally emerge in dense urban areas that attract smart young people, with no single company as the hub.


Dupont-area Tech Firms. Green: Coworking spaces. Blue: Incubators. Red: Tech Startups.

I work 2 days per week at Canvas, a coworking space in Dupont Circle. I see startups there working all-nighters to build their businesses.

At minimum, it would be incredibly encouraging for more of DC's startups to get a visit from the mayor. After all, we are relying on all of these startups to diversify DC's economy beyond dependence on the federal government. After a recent tweet from Gray about visiting 1776, I replied asking why he hadn't visited any other coworking spaces.

However, DC angel investor and entrepreneur Glen Helmen recently questioned whether Gray's involvement in the tech sector is broad enough.

It's great that Mayor Gray is looking for investment opportunities in DC tech. And we all want 1776 and LivingSocial to be wildly successful, as they are prominent contributors to the local tech sector.

But most startups came here or decided to stay here because they like DC, not because of subsidies or Living Social or 1776. Doesn't that tell us what our strength is that we should build upon?

A better way to support and nourish the city's tech scene would be to encourage the creation of a great urban environment, by continuing the same investments in transportation and public amenities and housing and commercial space that the city has been doing for the past decade. That way, companies will have even more reasons to come here, and those who already like it will have more reasons to stay.

In the meantime, Mayor Gray would do well to show his support for all local tech companies, not just those he has strategically invested in. If he wants to visit other coworking spaces and tech firms, the mayor has a standing invitation from Canvas, and presumably from every other coworking spot.

Poverty


Workforce development can solve poverty in DC

The challenge of poverty in DC can feel overwhelming. What can any one person do? Experts largely agree that workforce development is the solution, and the good news is that you can have a big impact.


Photo by mnd.ctrl on Flickr.

Workforce development is the systematic removal of barriers to employment, whatever they may be, that jobless residents face. There are many stereotypes about the causes of poverty in DC. Examining the true causes of poverty shows why workforce development matters so much, and why it deserves far more attention than it gets.

The initially-apparent causes of poverty are unemployment and underemployment. But what personal or systematic barriers to employment do jobless people face? You may be surprised to learn what they are.

The root problems of poverty may not be what you think

Joblessness in DC is due to poor workforce readiness, not lack of jobs. Martha Ross, a Brookings Institute fellow who leads research on DC, notes that the city has more jobs than residents and is located in an economically strong region. That means our primary lever to reduce unemployment and poverty isn't adding more jobs, it's workforce development.

"We're in a relatively fortunate position: we have jobs to connect people to or train them for," says Ross. "We're not like other cities or regions that are hemorrhaging jobs."

Despite this, elected officials talk about creating jobs for DC residents far more than they talk about workforce development. We could do so much to improve our broken workforce development system if we only had the will to do it.

So, what needs fixing? Some people assume that the issue is those who provide workforce training, but that's not true. If a lack of skills were the only barrier to employment faced by poor people, DC would not have a poverty crisis.

Most jobless and underemployed residents have more obstacles to full employment than occupational skills. Major obstacles to employment are lack of child care, lack of literacy and basic adult education, soft skills, lack of transportation, addiction issues, and barriers to hiring citizens returning from prison.

Unemployment is an assault on one's dignity. All of these barriers may cause unemployed people to lose their sense of agency and empowerment, something that most working residents take for granted. This creates the greatest challenge to public policy, but it is one for which there are proven solutions.

How can workforce development help?

It's understandable that we would want to focus on helping the unemployed who are motivated to help themselves. The reality, though, is that doing so won't solve the crisis of poverty. But there are proven solutions to addressing the poverty of hope that holds back those with multiple barriers to employment.

  1. Integrating literacy, basic education with skills training
  2. Literacy and adult basic education are usually considered prerequisites to occupational skills training. Not surprisingly, completion rates for literacy and basic education courses are low. They take a long time to complete, and people struggling with a loss of empowerment may be reluctant to put in the effort.

    There is a better way. In 2004, Washington state piloted a new model: integrated basic education and occupational skills training. It's more expensive, because it requires two instructors. Literacy and basic education are taught in the context of a specific occupation. But it works.

    The program, called I-BEST, greatly improved completion rates for basic education and was expanded statewide in 2006. Many states have created their own I-BEST programs, which are often provided through community colleges. In Maryland, both Montgomery College and Prince George's Community College have successful I-BEST programs.

    Meanwhile, the University of the District of Columbia Community College (UDC-CC) still provides separate basic education and occupational skills training according to the old model. And literacy services, which are contracted by DC's State Superintendent of Education, are also disconnected from occupational training.

  3. Pre- and post-employment wraparound services
  4. DC agencies offer many services to address obstacles to employment, like childcare, literacy, transportation, and skills training. Unfortunately, they are often hard to find, require repeated visits at all hours to offices around town, and require providing duplicate paperwork that is sometimes lost. As a result, these services often go to the jobless who need them the least because they possess the drive to navigate this system.

    The unemployed poor need a one-stop delivery model of wraparound services. Federal law requires every state to establish One-Stop centers to disribute federal training grants to the unemployed. But DC's One-Stops are in desperate need of reform.

    Numerous studies point to long waiting times for services at DC's One-Stop centers. And a report leaked earlier this year showed the consequences: lots of jobless come to the One-Stops for help, but very few receive services.

    "Effective One-Stop centers often have strong partnerships with social service providers", according to Brooke DeRenzis of DC Appleseed, who led a study of DC's One-Stops this year. "In some cases, partner organizations that provide services like public assistance or housing may even locate staff at the One-Stop center", an arrangement that doesn't exist in DC's One-Stops.

    In addition, UDC-CC has been unwilling to provide any user-friendly wraparound services. The UDC-CC president actually told a Council hearing last month that "job placement is not part of our mission". Unfortunately, even their core services of class registration have proven inaccessible, with reports of lost paperwork and long waiting periods.

  5. Outcomes reporting
  6. There are dozens of workforce development programs spread across 13 DC agencies, but little reporting on the outcomes of those programs. Reliable reporting would expose the ineffectiveness of isolated point programs that don't follow the models described above.

    Outcomes reporting should focus not in individual job training programs, but on the One-Stops and UDC Community College. (See Update below for UDC-CC reports.) That's because these are the agencies that should coordinate training with other services to help jobless overcome all barriers to employment.

    The lack of outcomes reporting is particularly tragic given how readily available it is. The employment status and salary of every employed DC resident is easily accessible in DC's unemployment insurance database, which is integrated with those of neighboring states.

What you can do

How can you take effective action to help solve poverty in DC? For starters, you can volunteer with organizations that use best practices. Look for organizations that provide integrated basic education and skills training, wraparound services, and report their outcomes.

One example is So Others Might Eat, or SOME. This organization uses the I-BEST co-teaching model in their Center for Employment Training, and provides wraparound services to clients and tracking of graduates for reporting purposes.

You can also advocate for reform of OSSE literacy services, UDC Community College, One-Stops and our outcomes reporting system at many venues. You can email your councilmember or testify at one of several hearings each year on workforce development and adult education.

The next hearing, on September 27, concerns UDC. Come testify about the urgency of reforming the UDC Community College as described above. You can follow DC Council hearings on their online calendar, or email me and I'll keep you informed of upcoming hearings on workforce development where you can testify.

Update: While UDC-CC is not required to produce outcomes reporting, it turns out that they do anyway and, to their great credit, posted the reports to their site yesterday.

Parking


Most Ward 2 neighborhoods oppose visitor parking passes

Most of the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions in DC's Ward 2 have passed resolutions saying they don't want a free visitor parking placard program in their neighborhoods. The commissions went on record on this issue up to a year ago, but last week, transportation officials announced that they'll expand the program citywide anyway.


DDOT decided not to listen. Photo by sokabs on Flickr.

Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans also opposes the plan. He citing the opposition of "most of the ANCs" in his ward, while saying he only has gotten a few messages from constituents who support the program.

Georgetown's ANC hasn't passed such a resolution, but that doesn't mean they support it, either. Its chair, Ron Lewis, told residents and the media that "this came as a total surprise to us." Lewis has been working for years with Georgetown residents and DDOT parking planners to find agreement on a set of parking proposals that everyone would support.

Shortly before DDOT's announcement, the agency's planners in charge of parking, Damon Harvey and Angelo Rao, left or were fired. Harvey and Rao had led two parking town halls in Georgetown and dozens of meetings of an ad hoc Georgetown Parking Working Group made up of residents and business representatives. I was involved in these meetings, and all parties felt that the group was very close to a set of consensus proposals after years of negotiation.

Free visitor parking passes for all Georgetown RPP holders was never a serious proposal in these discussions, and community leaders communicated concerns about expanding these passes into Georgetown several times.

We've been here before

Last year, a similar process played out. DDOT spokesperson Monica Hernandez told reporters that the agency intended to expand the trial citywide. In response, ANCs throughout Ward 2 passed resolutions opposing the idea and sent the resolutions to DDOT.

For example, here is Dupont's ANC 2B resolution from last October.

DDOT ultimately pulled back and did not expand the program to these neighborhoods in 2012. Rao promised to devise a replacement system before this fall. However, with no new program on the horizon, DDOT announced it would offer visitor passes to all neighborhoods by October 1 and proposed regulations making that possible.

You can provide feedback on DDOT's expansion of the visitor parking program through the mandated 30-day comment period for all such regulations. To tell the agency how you feel about their regulations expanding free visitor parking placards citywide, email publicspace.policy@dc.gov before September 8.

Poverty


Workforce, business development creates jobs, not Walmart

Last week, the DC Council passed an act that requires big box retailers to pay a living wage, and Walmart threatened not to build 3 of 6 planned stores here. Opponents say it's proof that the Large Retailer Accountability Act will kill jobs, but there are better, proven ways to encourage economic development.


Photo by dno1967b on Flickr.

Economic development experts know what works: a long term coordinated strategy around workforce development and business development. This approach has successfully revitalized downtown and other once-blighted corridors what works. But Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Victor Hoskins has focused on cutting deals that get headlines, whether or not they produce results.

We don't need Walmart to revitalize DC's underserved neighborhoods, and we can still reduce unemployment while insisting that large retailers pay their employees enough to make a decent living.

Requiring a living wage won't increase unemployment

Earlier this month, I met with Mayor Vincent Gray for 45 minutes to discuss unemployment. He's one of the foremost experts in unemployment in DC, and he understands that unemployment in DC is caused by poor workforce readiness, not a lack of jobs. Only 28% of DC's jobs go to DC residents.

Gray is responsible for several initiatives that will help reduce unemployment in DC, like starting UDC Community College, reconstituting the Workforce Investment Council and One City One Hire. The job prospects of unemployed residents relies more on these initiatives than it does on Walmart. After all, even if Walmart offers new jobs, residents can't fill them if they're not trained to be good employees.

One challenge in addressing unemployment is job retention. DC has a far lower job retention rate than other states. Economists have demonstrated that low wages have a significant impact on job retention, and that raising the minimum wage increases job retention.

This is particularly true with low-skilled service class jobs. Leisure, hospitality, and retail jobs are the fastest growing source of jobs in DC and nationwide for low-skilled workers. But they are usually crappy jobs that offer little to no path to a living wage, let alone the middle class.

Urban researcher Richard Florida says part of the answer is to make service jobs better by requiring employers to pay a living wage:

Two kinds of jobs are growing in great cities - highpaying knowledge, professional and creative jobs, and low skill low pay contingent service jobs. Inequality is growing and our cities are increasingly divided. A higher minimum wage is an important part of a badly new urban social compact which values workers and raises wages. It can be a first step toward viewing workers as a source of innovation and creativity.
To that end, Mayor Gray has launched several little-noticed initiatives to train unemployed workers for hospitality and retail jobs. They produce the kind of workers that retailers who pay living wages and require a low-turnover, high-value workforce want to hire.

But there's a disconnect between Gray's workforce development strategy and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development (DMPED), the city's economic development agency. For all its merits, DMPED's 5-year economic development plan says little about workforce development. The reconstituted Workforce Investment Council, while technically housed in DMPED, does not actually collaborate in DMPED projects.

Gray's workforce experts would tell DMPED that the city needs businesses that have re-engineered their retail and hospitality positions for higher value, who will use the pipelines we are creating to train workers who can deliver that value. Many studies show that a higher minimum wage results in higher-quality service jobs, which lead to greater job stability and less unemployment.

Economic development of Ward 7 doesn't depend on Walmart

Walmart says they will cancel 3 proposed stores if LRAA is passed: one at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE in Ward 5, and one each in the Capital Gateway and Skyland Town Center developments in Ward 7. Residents have anticipated all 3 projects for years, especially Skyland.

Ward 7 resident Charles Crews says there is much more that the city could be doing. "It's horrible how they aren't working on beautification of the ward," he says. "There's trash, and the buildings are not maintained at all. This creates an attitude among residents that Walmart is the best we can do".

But do these neighborhoods, especially those in Ward 7, need Walmart for economic development? According to councilmember and mayoral candidate Jack Evans, who led the economic development of downtown DC, 14th Street NW, and other distressed and blighted corridors, they don't. "People are looking for the silver bullet," Evans said, "but there is no silver bullet. You need a long term plan."

Evans cites Georgetown as one example. "Georgetown used to be the same, trash everywhere. The way you change that is the BID concept," he says, referring to Business Improvement Districts. He proposes creating publicly-funded BIDs in Ward 7 neighborhoods to make them more attractive to businesses, while hiring local residents to keep streets clean.

From there, he would offer targeted subsidies for retailers who want to locate there. This was hugely successful in Ward 2 and produced both economic and non-economic returns for the city. Today, Ward 7 receives fewer economic development subsidies than nearly any part of town, according to a report from the CFO's office.


Ward 7 gets few economic development subsidies.

Ward 7 resident Kendrick Jackson says that the city has been unwilling to partner with small businesses, like a coworking space and a coffeeshop, who could really make a difference in his community.

"The city should be working with them with incentives and assistance, but instead they are having to deal with obstacles at DCRA [the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs]," he says. "I would rather see attractive small retailers that would draw people to the area than something like Home Depot that brings a giant parking lot. But the city doesn't see small retailers as part of their plan for ward 7."

Evans says that after a city-led beautification and public space project, he is confident he could provide subsidies to the right retailers to set up in Ward 7. This is the type of long-term planning that results in sustained economic development, and it features prominently in a document put together by the DC Office of Planning and Bethesda-based retail consultants Streetsense last year called the Vibrant Streets Toolkit, which offers advice for DC's struggling business districts.

Edwin Jones, pastor of Living Faith Baptist Church and resident of Ward 7, supports Councilmember Evans' proposal. "That's how the plan should work, instead of just accepting Walmart," he says. "It's that kind of plan that improves the community and includes the residents in the community."

Will Gray challenge his economic development team to give him a real plan for Ward 7 that combines business and workforce development? Or will he perpetuate a culture in his economic development agency that reduces development to dealmaking that produces headlines?

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