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Weekend links: Rent is too damn high

Photo by aboutmattlaw on Flickr.
Simple steps to help affordable housing: A new Brookings report looks at how DC is doing against its 5-year-old affordable housing plan. Besides stopping underfunding programs, the report suggests better coordination between agencies and better data collection by DMPED. (DCFPI)

Vancouver tackles homelessnes: Vancouver will offer $44M in land and grants to developers to create 38,000 units of affordable housing. The plan is to end homelessness, but will benefit many others, too. (Vancouver Sun)

Too much preservation?: Jane Jacobs advocated preserving old buildings to encourage diverse neighborhood life. Economist Ed Glaeser disagrees, warning that too much preservation makes cities unaffordable. (Governing)

Pharma company moves from sprawl to downtown: Usually pharmaceutical corporate moves involve going to exurban office parks, but Vanda Pharmaceuticals is doing the opposite, leaving Gaithersburg to locate in Foggy Bottom. (WBJ)

DC employees worried about transparency: Suzanne Peck, who is conducting a pro bono review of the DC government at the behest of the mayor, has required 100 employees to sign non-disclosure agreements. (Post)

EPA Smart Growth faces uncertain future: The House may eliminate EPA's Smart Growth office, which Harriet Tregoning once ran. The office assists localities minimizing the environmental impact of infrastructure investment. (Streetsblog)

Parking lot to become green space: Students and volunteers are turning a high school parking lot in Baltimore into a rain garden. The school hopes the garden will prevent pollution from washing into the Chesapeake Bay. (Baltimore Sun)

Grocery stores, "but for whom?": One LA columnist fears that gentrifiers will dull cities, citing an H Street grocery as an example of "what the newcomers want." He fails to note that all people, regardless of race or class, want and need grocery stores. (LA Times)

And...: Delaware passed a 3-foot passing law. (Streetsblog) ... If US metro areas were countries, where would their economies rank? (Atlantic) ... Graffiti is growing nationwide. (Post) ... Launching bike sharing, Boston's mayor says "the car is no longer king." (WBUR)

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Eric Fidler has lived in DC and suburban Maryland his entire life. He likes long walks along the Potomac and considers the L'Enfant Plan an elegant work of art. He also blogs at Left for LeDroit, LeDroit Park's (only) blog of record. 


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"Simple steps to help affordable housing". 26 hours, 46 minutes. That's how long the "Stop distorting the cost of living with public service subsidies" party lion was towed. (BTW, 'spend twice as much money' is the only thing I would deem as simple - the rest require multifaceted multistakeholder plans)

by Kolohe on Jul 30, 2011 1:38 pm • linkreport

The Suzanne Peck secrecy oath is ridiculous.

But even more ridiculous is Vince Gray's comment that he had no idea such an oath was being required.

Which raises all sorts of questions about how a non-DC gov't employee is mandating confidentiality agreements for DC gov't employees, who Peck reports to in DC gov't, and what the heck Gray's people tell him about what they're doing.

It seems like any time there's a scandal, stupid policy choice, or gov't embarrassment, Gray's response is ALWAYS the same: "Oh, that's the first I'm hearing about this."

But don't blame me, I voted for the other guy who was a big meanie.

by Fritz on Jul 30, 2011 2:04 pm • linkreport

"White flight — the decades-long trend of affluent Anglos leaving the urban core for leafier suburban cul-de-sacs — has run its course. And 'inner city' is about to take on a whole new meaning."

Has run its course - a good assessment... from 1978.

As long as cities like DC continue building quickie, get rich condos, families will not move in, and will continue to settle in the suburbs.

But the in-migration today is coming from the suburbs, whose denizens are relatively well-off and capable of wielding cultural power in their new neighborhoods. Another dated observation from the LA Times article. When did in-migration from the suburbs start? Again, I'm thinking the late 70s. Is this really news?

:By contrast, today, to satisfy the tastes of suburban newcomers, developers seek to tame stark differences and impose some standardization on the city. The primary example is the remake of Times Square in Manhattan. Once the epitome of the juxtaposition of grime and glitz, Times Square is now, in the words of geographers Neil Smith and Deborah Cowen, "dense with suburban, clean, white middle-class faces and bodies with the odd 'exotic' mixed in." Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin once called it a shift from hookers to Mickey Mouse. But it's really about the tendency to turn cities into what Smith and Cowen have called "suburbs with pizzazz."

I agree with the writer there. The irony is that the suburbanites are not bringing smart living solutions with them - considering they came from space, they sure don't seem to be considering it. (Space as in room, not outer space)

Interesting article.

by Jazzy on Jul 30, 2011 3:02 pm • linkreport

Gaithersburg is considered exurban? Invective crap like that was the reason I stopped reading another site that will not be named. While Gaithersburg is not downtown DC I do not see how it could be considered exurban at all. Suburban yes but not exurban.

I love this site and agree with almost everything on it but sometimes it goes too far in its zeal. I think we can all agree that there is a mix of areas in the DC region and to assume that everyone can live in an urban environment or wants to is ridiculous.

Next time just say that a firm is moving downtown from the suburbs. It's far less invective and no less true.

by Craig on Jul 30, 2011 3:09 pm • linkreport

Rent is too high. You think? What happens is, people can't sell their condo units, so they try to rent them. In my area, rent for a one bed room is starting at 2,400 dollars. Next we'll be hearing that no one can rent at that price (which is obnoxious) and so it will turn into a concierge apartment, a place for traveling executives to stay. So that's been the route in my area. We can't expect to establish deep ties and establish a sense of community like that.

by Jazzy on Jul 30, 2011 4:12 pm • linkreport

@Craig, Gaithersburg is considered exurban? Invective crap like that was the reason I stopped reading another site that will not be named.

You must be new to the area ... ? I can see how if you moved here recently you'd think Gaithersburg were suburban and not exurban. I'd argue it's in between the 2. Twenty years ago it would inarguably have been exurban because it was farmland being built out and was effectively the latest spread out of the Washington metro area. I'd agree that now that spread has reached Frederick (and what defines it for me is that there are a lot of folks who live in Frederick but work either in DC or in the suburban or 'formerly' exurban areas such as Gaithersburg.) I haven't been up there in a while, so maybe it's matured enough to have lost that 'newness' which at least to me helps defferentiat exurban from suburban.

by Lance on Jul 30, 2011 4:29 pm • linkreport

P.S. Among those people who prefer suburban living to urban living, exurban has a far nice cache than does suburban. It means nice and new, no traffic jams, breathing room, and usually great schools. It's what suburbs were meant to be ... people on their own 1/2 acres lots. For example, Loudon County has a far higher per capita income than does Fairfax County which used to hold the honor of being the premier Virginian County. So, don't feel insulted that people would call Gaithersburg exurban. Actually, you should start to worry that people are calling it suburban. Lots of our suburban areas around DC have taken a nose dive in quality of life over the last 15 years.

by Lance on Jul 30, 2011 4:38 pm • linkreport


The invective is used because the GGW editors incorrectly think they know how everyone should live their lives. They get bitter when anyone disagrees.

by TGEoA on Jul 30, 2011 4:48 pm • linkreport

I'm not insulted by the comment I just feel that the companies move could have been noted without the remark. Regions change and areas that were considered exurban at one point in time will change as Lance noted. My point was just that while it isn't urban it certainly isn't exurban either and a comment like that isn't necessary.

by Craig on Jul 30, 2011 5:18 pm • linkreport

I think it's a stretch to call Gaithersburg an exurbs, but I guess it depends on how you define "exurb." I suppose the argument is there are a couple cities that separate DC from Gaithersburg. Still, the area between the DC line and Gaithersburg is nearly fully developed (except for parks), and the lot sizes in Bethesda, Rockville and Gaithersburg aren't that big.

I wouldn't call something an exurb until either 1) there are moderate-sized tracks of undeveloped land between it and the major city, or 2) average lot sizes get big (i.e. around 0.5 acre or more).

I'd call things like Clarksburg and Damascus exurbs. While it seems a little weird, I'd even say Germantown is a suburb,

The GGW editors just seem to use "exurb" when they want to emphasize how far out a city is from downtown DC.

by Andy R on Jul 30, 2011 5:34 pm • linkreport

So, ehm, if the debt ceiling is reached, and the federal government shuts down, will DC shut down?

by Jasper on Jul 30, 2011 5:45 pm • linkreport

I didn't know "exurban" was considered invective...

by thump on Jul 30, 2011 6:03 pm • linkreport


I reread the line and I can't see any sign of an invective. In fact, there's no value judgement at all. The company's move is noteworthy because it's unusual, especially since Montgomery County hosts numerous biotech firms, NIH, and the FDA.

by Eric Fidler on Jul 30, 2011 6:14 pm • linkreport

Vanda Pharmaceuticals is in a Rockville office park, anyway, not a Gaithersburg office park. Right by Shady Grove hospital.

And as for exurban -- where I live, when people talk about urban, they often mean Rockville, and it's not a compliment, either.

by Miriam on Jul 30, 2011 6:16 pm • linkreport


So why did you and other GGW editors love to throw out the term "sprawl" when describing any area that doesn't build to a density that only a sardine could love?

Craig is dead on target with his criticism. Use of terms like "smart growth" or "livable community" are derogatory, because it implies anything else is "dumb growth" or "un-livable".

by TGEOA on Jul 30, 2011 7:04 pm • linkreport

I reread the line and I can't see any sign of an invective.

I agree because the invective is actually in the previous line where the word "sprawl" is used. Here are google's relevant definitions of "sprawl", which I think shows that it is an invective:

noun /sprôl/ 
sprawls, plural

A group or mass of something that has spread out in an untidy or irregular way
- a sprawl of buildings

The expansion of an urban or industrial area into the adjoining countryside in a way perceived to be disorganized and unattractive
- the growth of urban sprawl

Such an area
- Washington's suburban sprawl

Whether Gaithersburg is "unattractive and disorganized" is largely a matter of personal opinion and not necessary to make what was otherwise an interesting point.

by Falls Church on Jul 30, 2011 9:19 pm • linkreport

I'd argue that the habitation patterns developed by man over the last 3 millennia, but abandoned by the US over the last 60 years were indeed "smart" and "livable". To argue that "sprawl" development is "smart" development ignores the cumulative knowledge of hundreds of generations about what does and does not work in human settlement.

by thump on Jul 30, 2011 9:37 pm • linkreport

I don't really get criticisms about times square unless you want to somehow prove that your tougher than your average american family. Times square used to be dingy and a degree more dangerous. Now it is a place where people can hang out and is much better suited to handle crowds.

by Canaan on Jul 30, 2011 11:07 pm • linkreport

TGEO and Falls Church,

I'm very familiar with the area in question and that cluster of office parks undeniably epitomizes what we commonly think of as sprawl: strictly separated uses, wide highways everywhere, and massive surface parking lots. In fact, it's distinctly different from much of the rest of Montgomery County.

by Eric Fidler on Jul 30, 2011 11:32 pm • linkreport

It's a shame that Boston will now spiral downward and become a third-world s***-hole. That's what bikes do to a place. Look at how DC has gone from the shining city on the hill to intergalactic latrine lately.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Jul 30, 2011 11:32 pm • linkreport

"strictly separated uses, wide highways everywhere, and massive surface parking lots."

I thought we were talking about Montgomery County not SW Washington :)

by Kolohe on Jul 31, 2011 11:20 am • linkreport

TGEOA- Serious question, and I'm not trying to be snarky, just curious. Every comment you make is critical of the blog. Why then do you keep commenting if you're opposed to everything here? Thanks.

by Brandon on Jul 31, 2011 11:45 am • linkreport


I can't speak for TGEOA, but I frequently disagree with the spin that GGW editors (and commenters) put on linked articles. But, I still find this site a valuable source of information. I don't frequently comment on articles, but when I do it is usually because I disagree with what is being said. If I agreed with everything being said I'd have relatively little reason to comment.

by Andy R on Jul 31, 2011 3:39 pm • linkreport

@ Andy R

Sure, that's a good point. And I'd say there are a lot of commenters who are like that. And I certainly wouldn't want the comments to become an echochamber. But it seems as if TGEOA is just interested in bashing GGW about everything, with little alternative suggestions. I could be wrong, though, and that's why I'd like to hear TGEOA's response. I do appreciate your answer though.

by Brandon on Jul 31, 2011 3:51 pm • linkreport

Fidler: I'm very familiar with the area in question and that cluster of office parks undeniably epitomizes what we commonly think of as sprawl:strictly separated uses, wide highways everywhere, and massive surface parking lots.

Really? Your link shows that you have zeroed in on an area that includes Shady Grove Hospital, which is adjacent to a Johns Hopkins campus and a Univ of Phoenix campus (Vanda and some other are businesses are sandwiched among them). Immediately on the other side of Shady Grove Road, within a 5 minute walk of this job center is the community of Fallsgrove Village. Here is a description of Fallsgrove:

Fallsgrove is a mixed-use neighborhood development on the former Thomas Farm, a site approximately 257 acres located east of Shady Grove Road opposite the Shady Grove Medical Center in Rockville, (Montgomery County) Maryland.

Fallsgrove Village Center includes up to 150,000 sq. ft. of retail space to accommodate neighborhood retail, restaurants, a major grocery store and other community retail services. The Village Center is immediately surrounded by dwelling units in a diverse mix including traditional single-family homes, townhomes, courtyard homes, patio homes, stacked townhouses and low and mid-rise multifamily units and over 850,000 sq. ft. of new offices.

I can understand that Gaithersburg is not Dupont Circle. No one is saying that it is. But, it's also not "sprawl" which is a divisive term with negative connotations. Just like calling Columbia Heights "crime ridden" is neither entirely correct nor incorrect but an entirely unnecessary sleight, the same goes for bandying about the "sprawl" invective unnecessarily.

by Falls Church on Jul 31, 2011 4:20 pm • linkreport

I'm still irked by the Suzanne Peck story.

How exactly does a non-DC government employee (a Virginia resident, no less!) have a confidentiality agreement drafted- and required to be signed by actual DC gov't employees - without the input of the Mayor or his general counsel?

Is there ANY accountability in this administration?

by Fritz on Jul 31, 2011 6:05 pm • linkreport


Since GGW supports public policy decisions of various aspects, and tries to influence others I will criticize them when they are wrong, which is often IMO.

And as Craig pointed out, GGW is the one that sets the tone in this blog. If they don't want to be paid back in their own coin perhaps they are the ones who should ramp it down,

However I agree with them on some campaigns, notably the effort to get Metro to release data for Google transit.

Heck, I even happily gave Alpert advice on selecting a bicycle so he wouldnt be a slave to CABI. I wonder if he ever picked one up?

by TGEOA on Jul 31, 2011 7:02 pm • linkreport

Since GGW supports public policy decisions of various aspects, and tries to influence others I will criticize them when they are wrong, which is often IMO.

So you know what's right and what's wrong? lol, I hope you don't hurt your back by patting it so fervently.

by Bob See on Jul 31, 2011 7:48 pm • linkreport

Hey Falls Church, Col Heights is, indeed, crime ridden.

by 20024 on Jul 31, 2011 8:16 pm • linkreport


IMO = in my opinion

by TGEOA on Jul 31, 2011 9:51 pm • linkreport

@Fritz, How exactly does a non-DC government employee (a Virginia resident, no less!) have a confidentiality agreement drafted- and required to be signed by actual DC gov't employees - without the input of the Mayor or his general counsel?

You haven't been in town long have you? Suzanne was the CIO under Williams --- just at the moment where the Internet was revolutionizing how cities did business with their residents, commercial concerns, and others. And Suzanne helped lead that revolution. There were newspapers articles and the like highlighting how DC ... believe it or not ... was not only leading the way here but setting the standards. This was at period when most Americans still thought of DC as 'crime capital of the nation'. She did a lot for DC, and was personally responsible for at least substantial (if not a majority) of the good things which her boss Anthony Williams got credited with.

Long story short, Gray would be crazy NOT to trust her with handling 'from a to z' whatever she's been tasked with. And I don't know if I get the problem with the confidentiality she's asking for. I know GGWers (myself included) like to think we should be able to participate in everything, but the reality is that organizations always get their ducks in order in private. It's not to say that matters shouldn't go before the public for vetting before becoming policy or law, just that the organization (including this govt org) needs to be able to 'speak with one voice' to the public, else you don't know what you're in favor of seeking support for. It sounds like that's all the confidentiality agreements are for ... It certainly doesn't sound sinister.

by Lance on Jul 31, 2011 10:27 pm • linkreport

Thou doth protest too much: Eric's write up called the Gaithersburg office park "sprawl." Unnamed other "usual" pharmaceutical companies in unnamed other places (New Jersey, maybe) the ones locating in exurbia.

by Payton on Aug 1, 2011 12:32 am • linkreport

The header about grocery stores is a little misleading. I'm guessing the point was more about the big box apartment bldg, not the grocery store underneath.

This is the exact quote:

"In Washington, it's a massive new apartment complex atop a big-box Giant grocery store on once-scruffy, quickly gentrifying H Street. The calculation is that this is what the newcomers want."

by chennanc on Aug 1, 2011 9:56 am • linkreport

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