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Is Barry Farm going Dutch?

Here's something you don't see every day; a dozen urban planners from the Netherlands walking through Barry Farm, a large public housing complex in DC's Ward 8. Through a collaboration of the Dutch Embassy and the city, Barry Farm and Northwest One (the area around First and K Sts. NW) are receiving the attention of leading new urbanists.

Photo by author.

An amalgamation of six companies that combine the skills of architects, planners, and social scientists, members of the "GoDutch Consortium" were in DC to run workshops and meet with residents to develop a model of lasting sustainability. Urban renewal in the Netherlands is "not just about bricks but about the social" and is "three dimensional," according to members of the Consortium.

Diminished municipal budgets on both sides of the Atlantic have created a hard-edged reality where policy makers realize that to repeat the failed social policies of the past fifty years would be not only socially disastrous but financially ruinous.

The "national government's policy of building housing for poor people stacked all together, sociologically and culturally" has not worked, according to Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, who was subdued as he addressed the group.

Originally settled by emancipated former slaves, Barry Farm is a hilly 25 acres that holds 432 public housing units, more than two dozen of which were boarded up on the recent walk through. The neighborhood was selected as one of four New Communities during Mayor Anthony Williams' administration, making it the focus of a proposed public-private development partnership. But Barry Farm activists rejected the Fenty administration's effort to begin the redevelopment process.

Photo by author.
The first phase of the $550 million development plan is now underway. A total of 60 replacement units are planned to come online at Sheridan Station on Sheridan Road SE, and Matthews Memorial Terrace on Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE, within the next 6 months for Barry Farm residents.

Eventually each existing home will be replaced, with current residents of Barry Farm guaranteed the right to return, because "they have nowhere else to go," according to Bishop Matthew Hudson of Matthews Memorial Baptist Church. The redevelopment of Barry Farm is expected to deliver 1500 mixed-income units, according to Reyna Alorro, Project Manager for Barry Farm within the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

"Cities are continually interchangeable, because of the whole concept of cities changing," said Arie Vooburg. His native Rotterdam is similar to DC with its poor separated and "isolated on the southside" due to a waterway. "If you want to have a dynamic city, a city that can adapt to change, you must do it in a physical structure but also in its people."

Photo by author.
"One of the biggest challenges is the training of our people," Hudson said. This past Sunday he welcomed members of the Consortium to his church. He praised the group and told members of his congregation they "are here to work with you, not for you." Barry Farm residents embraced the planners at church, giving them hugs, and greeted the planners with pats on the back as they toured the neighborhood on foot Monday.

"How do you say? Ah, yes, merry-go-round," said Vooburg. "Each program on its own is good, but together they don't work." The Consortium seeks to maximize the triple bottom line in redeveloping Barry Farm. To do this, there must be a human capital program, a physical revitalization plan, and a redevelopment and finance strategy that can withstand fluctuations in the credit market and changes in administrations.

These problems have undermined the redevelopment of not just public housing in the United States but "social housing" communities across the world. For new urbanism to evolve and succeed, there must be a degree of certainty in planning that is repellent to political or market pressures.

Behind the United Kingdom and Japan, the Netherlands is the third largest investor in the United States and fourth largest investor in DC with $350 million in total investment, said Renée Jones-Bos, the Dutch Ambassador to the US. The city is not paying the Consortium; it has paid its own way, offering its services and expertise in an attempt to establish stronger connections with the city.

John Muller is an associate librarian, journalist and historian. He has written two books, Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC, Mark Twain in Washington, DC, and also writes at Death and Life of Old Anacostia


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What will happen to the Goodman League?

by Eaton Road Barry Farms on Nov 18, 2011 12:31 pm • linkreport

Great article, John. The whole city-to-country relations has an interesting turn to it. Speaking of which, I'd imagine Marion has been looking into making a diplomatic visit to Amsterdam for years...

by Phil on Nov 18, 2011 12:51 pm • linkreport

Thank you for this. I am encouraged by the idea that the residents of Barry Farms will be able to maintain their community just across the street at the new buildings. I wondered who was moving in there, and recently noticed "Sold" signs on some of the doors. I hope that the resettlement plan really does come through, and isn't just window-dressing as has sometimes happened. Glad you're on this story, and look forward to more.

by dclioness on Nov 18, 2011 1:05 pm • linkreport

I'd be interested in knowing what sort of things Fenty proposed that BF'mrs rejected and are they more open now than they have been.

There's a lot of shuffling going around. Residents of apt homes on Atlantic Street have been moved to BF. Some BF residents will move to Sheridan Station although I wish there was some other "unnew" community where they could live.

Can't wait to see more of the ever-changing Ward 8!

by HogWash on Nov 18, 2011 1:10 pm • linkreport

I've always wondered, is Ward 8's Barry Farm named after you-know-who??

by Bob on Nov 18, 2011 4:23 pm • linkreport


The namesake Barry Farm derives from James Barry, an early landholder in the city. According to The Anacostia Story: 1608 - 1930 by Louise Daniel Hutchinson, what would become the Barry Farm community was purchased by General Howard, under the auspices of the Freedmen's Bureau in 1867. A tract of 375 acres were purchased from Juliana and David Barry, heirs of James D. Barry. "Freedmen were hired at $1.25 a day to fell trees and cut roads through the area to be cleared and settled first."

But, yes, many people think the the name is connected to four-time Mayor and current Ward 8 CM Marion Barry.

by John M on Nov 18, 2011 5:43 pm • linkreport

History is important but cant save Barry Farms. In a couple years it wont exist as it is now. The land is too valuable. Time will tell what happens.

by noname on Nov 19, 2011 8:23 am • linkreport

The best thing DC can do with Barry Farms is raze it, sell the land to developers, and put current residents on Section 8. With the revitalization of Anacostia and incoming DHS headquarters, the only thing holding SE back is this slum. DC needs to turn Anacostia into a place people want to work *and* live in.

by Smoke_Jaguar4 on Nov 19, 2011 9:32 am • linkreport


Do you really mean that? If so can you elaborate? Do you really believe that it is the "only thing holding SE back?" What Sec 8 housing would residents go to? Your comment must be a joke.

by evan on Nov 19, 2011 1:42 pm • linkreport

This post indicates that "Barry Farm and Northwest One are receiving the attention of leading new urbanists." What specifically in Northwest One receiving ?

by Scott Roberts on Nov 20, 2011 10:26 am • linkreport

It's time for DC to stop subsidizing poverty. If you can't afford to live in the city, then perhaps you shouldn't live in the city. There are plenty of places outside of DC that these people could go live. There are thousands of people who commute hours every day, only to drive by this waste of valuable property. What contribution do the residents of Barry Farms make to DC that affords them such a privileged location? I'd rather replace them with people who'll contribute more than they demand from the city.

I'd like to see Barry Farms turned into moderately priced condos and townhouses to accommodate the new workers who'll be coming to SE. This will also have the benefit of eliminating a lot of the traffic that will come with these expansions.

by smoke_jaguar4 on Nov 20, 2011 7:46 pm • linkreport

@Smoke, Have you taken a look at the 2006 master redevelopment plan that is already underway in Barry Farms?

Beyond that, the assumptions you make are rather interesting.

by HogWash on Nov 21, 2011 2:26 pm • linkreport

There seems to be either some serious amnesia or inadequate research here. There already is a 2006 New Communities plan for the revitalization of Barry Farm and surrounding area, prepared for DC Government during the Williams' administration by a leading New Urbanist design firm, that maintained the same number of affordable units as currently exist, but mixed in several hundred more units that were market rate, and some that were at a workforce housing level. It was accompanied by a human capital investment plan, to provide literacy training, education, financial counseling, and other services to help the low-income residents of Barry Farm become financially independent. There was also a financing plan, but it, like all plans done before the capital crisis of 2008, needs serious re-thinking. Meanwhile, as the article mentions, the portion of the Barry Farm plan that called for units to be built on land owned by Rev. Hudson's church, and at Sheridan Terrace, so that Barry Farm residents could be relocated right in the neighborhood has gone forward. So, in short, there is an attractive, innovative plan to replace a decaying public housing project with a vibrant,well-designed mixed-income community, with a program of services designed to assist the former public housing residents to become economically independent. I'm a bit puzzled by what value can be added by well-meaning Dutch urbanists, unless they are also bringing capital to invest.

by DC resident on Nov 30, 2011 3:08 pm • linkreport

Smoke_Jaguar - moderately priced townhouses etc. have to be part of the plan, but displacing a population and a community is not the solution. Displacement will only cause more problems, and is fundamentally unfair to current residents of Anacostia. Besides, DC would be a very boring place if it was made up of a bunch of moderately priced condos. What you're proposing is basically NOMA. As DC resident says, the goal should be vibrant, mixed-income neighborhood that blends in with the current community (like U Street, Mt. Pleasant, etc.) rather than one that attempts to replace it entirely.

by Daniel on Dec 5, 2011 4:18 pm • linkreport

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