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Little-known Kenilworth-Parkside is neighborhood to watch

A typical DC resident may never have heard of the Kenilworth-Parkside neighborhood in Ward 7, but the federal government definitely has. It's betting that an $800,000 investment in a local placemaking initiative can put this small Northeast neighborhood back on the map.

A block of Kenilworth-Parkside. Image from Google Street View.

In 2010, Kenilworth-Parkside received $500,000 as one of the Department of Education's 21 national Promise Neighborhoods. Just last month, the Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded DC a $300,000 Choice Neighborhood planning grant for the same neighborhood.

With these grants in hand, and a major vote of confidence from the federal government, the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative plans to transform the educational, health, and wellness outcomes for the 7,000 residents living in the isolated, oft-forgotten neighborhood.

For a neighborhood that has been the recipient of two of the Obama Administration's most celebrated community development efforts, there's been little fanfare in the city outside this small patch of Ward 7. Fortunately, that's not holding the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI) back.

DCPNI is a new 501(c)3 organization led by Irasema Salcido, founder and CEO of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy, which has a Parkside campus. DCPNI organized a permanent Board of Directors in October 2011 and has been working since to pursue its goals for 2012. A January 2012 report by the Urban Institute outlines in great detail how DCPNI plans to transform the neighborhood.

Kenilworth-Parkside sits squeezed between the Anacostia River and DC-295 to the east and west, and a sprawling decommissioned Pepco plant and the District border to its north and south. The disadvantageous geography and years of disinvestment left Kenilworth-Parkside sinking further and further into disrepair.

Kenilworth-Parkside neighborhood. Image from DCPNI on Google Maps.

Despite having Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and its acres of green space in the neighborhood, Kenilworth-Parkside still shows all of the typical indicators of urban blight.

Statistics on the residents in the DCPNI footprint are dire. Median household incomes are barely half of the city's median. Rates of teenage births are some of the highest in the nation. Single females head 90% of families.

Yet, at least until now, it's lacked any kind of investment which many of DC's now "up-and-coming" neighborhoods have received.

Enter DCPNI. In 2008, Salcido launched the Initiative based on the principles of Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone. DCPNI launched their efforts after winning funding from the US Department of Education.

The 2012 plan is ambitious. DCPNI is proposing home visits to pregnant women and mothers of young children. They want to build a community library of children's books. For the neighborhood's school children, they will launching an experiential learning program to visits to local museums and monuments with directed classroom instruction.

DCPNI, which holds tours of the neighborhood on the fourth Thursday of every month, is perhaps the city's foremost example of a place-making initiative. They are taking all of the most current research on comprehensive, services-based community development and applying it to one unique geographic area.

DC should keep its eye on Kenilworth-Parkside. Stakeholders of the Choice planning grant will inevitably apply for implementation funding when it becomes available in an effort to revitalize more than 300 units of dilapidated public housing. In June, Educare, a brand-new early childhood education center serving 175 Headstart-eligible children, will open its doors.

Victory Square, a new senior affordable apartment building built by Victory Housing, began accepting applications this week and will open in the spring. And all the while, DCPNI continues to establish partnerships with local businesses and organizations and organize programs that aim to strike at the core of Kenilworth-Parkside's ills in just the way that Canada tackled a swath of Harlem.

Over the next few years, as the 21 Promise Neighborhoods get to work across the country, community development advocates will learn whether or not federal money can be applied to local community development initiatives successfully and efficiently to improve public health, housing and education outcomes.

Lucky for the DC region, there's a site right in our backyard to follow, support, and learn more about. You just have to know where to look.

Alison Crowley works in real estate development with a focus on drawing educational, health, and recreational resources to neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. 


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So what are the long term plans for the Pepco plant?

by Nicoli on Feb 17, 2012 1:31 pm • linkreport

I guess this is what they call a long-term play. Not a lot to pull the yupsters in.

by Dan on Feb 17, 2012 1:36 pm • linkreport

@Nicoli: wide open. It will take ~ 10 years to clean it up.

by goldfish on Feb 17, 2012 1:42 pm • linkreport

The Aquatic Gardens are quite impressive, the stories that were recently about the wildlife along the anacostia should be aware of that.

I'd like to see more on the access issue. That area is unknown because its so hard to get to especially if you're trying to do so without a car. Looking at ways to knit the communities back into the fabric on the other side of 295 would help a lot.

by canaan on Feb 17, 2012 2:07 pm • linkreport

I wish it were that simple. H Street e.g. is the culmination of 37 years of various public investment projects, supplemented by investments in Union Station and the creation of the New York Avenue Station.

But good plans are a good start. But as I say, a plan isn't an endpoint, merely the beginning.

by Richard Layman on Feb 17, 2012 2:28 pm • linkreport

Allison, this sounds like an awesome initiative. The grant money should definitely help. Do you know of any specific plans right now for improving the access across the highway (DC-295) to the Deanwood and Minnesota Avenue Metro stations? I know, from having driven around the area, that there's a rather convoluted and unfriendly access point to Deanwood from Polk St NE. That would be essential to a successful placemaking effort, I'd imagine.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 17, 2012 2:36 pm • linkreport

Been there. It's a nice residential neighborhood which is right on the orange line (Deanwood metro) so you can be downtown in 20 mins. I didn't see any signs of trouble there in fact I think the neighbours probably look out for each other really well. Maybe not for 'yupsters' and it'll never be like H Street (completely different type of areas) but for somebody wanting an affordable home with outstanding green spaces, it's a win.

by renegade09 on Feb 17, 2012 2:37 pm • linkreport

I haven't been down there on foot, only by car. My understanding is that it's really difficult to cross the train tracks and the freeway -- only one winding, dark underpass followed by an overpass, and no other crossings for 1/3 mile in either direction. Is this a correct impression? And if so, is anything being done to improve the Metro access?

by tom veil on Feb 17, 2012 3:08 pm • linkreport

They just missed a major grant deadline that left a lot of money on the table which would have helped with all this social engineering.

Mayfair don't play fair

by Ear to the streets on Feb 17, 2012 3:34 pm • linkreport

@ Goldfish Thanks for the info.

Revitalizing the neighborhood seems like a 15 to 20 year project to me. Some great natural amenities, but real access issues and clear blight from the Pepco plant. Improving general access the to the area with better pedestrian access etc. seems like a good start. If you could turn the old pepco site into a large mixed income development with a grocery store etc. and provide safe walking access to the metro, I think you could transform the neighborhood. That might not be possible it it ends up being deemed a superfund site, which would be a shame, since it so hard now to find such a large amount of contiguous property.

by Nicoli on Feb 17, 2012 3:35 pm • linkreport

DDOT and NPS are finishing up environmental work for this trail project. Good non-motorized access to Benning Road and bridges south.

by Dog Walker on Feb 17, 2012 3:52 pm • linkreport

huh. $800,000 to help 7,000 people, most of whom are living in poverty.

I think they'd love to just split the money evenly.

by Tom A. on Feb 17, 2012 4:20 pm • linkreport

The access to the river, parkland, and other things that the neighborhoods here have going for them are BIG pluses. I've spent a lot of time exploring these areas, and I've found many beautiful houses, streets, and surprises all over.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Feb 17, 2012 4:55 pm • linkreport

The story is almost as bad as something from the Post in terms of lacking history. The area contains a variety of different neighborhoods. The namesake Parkside-Kenilworth public housing project which makes up a significant chunk of the population, was the subject of a failed effort by Jack Kemp and others in the late Reagan era to have residents buy their housing units. I would imagine that people in the neighbor have reason to be cynical about interest from another administration. The houses around the Aquatic Gardens is a mishmash of styles but appears to be a pleasant middle class neighborhood with children playing outside and people working on their homes (two things one rarely sees in even modestly well-off DC suburbs), albeit one where bars on the windows are common.

The question with these kinds of grand plans is who has the commitment to build the infrastructure and keep it going and and who can keep those people accountable to the communities. The conceptual question is whether the plans are based on proven methods for improving lives in communities with large pockets of concentrated poverty. This post would be more valuable if it asked questions, learned about the neighborhood and avoided this kind of well intentioned cheerleading.

by Rich on Feb 17, 2012 6:24 pm • linkreport

I live there, but let's be clear: there is no "Kenilworth-Parkside" neighborhood. There are four distinct--and quite different--neighborhoods circumscribed by the Anacostia River, 295, the PEPCO plant and Eastern Ave. The map in this article actually does a good job of color-coding the four neighborhoods. From south to north, they are: Parkside, Mayfair, Eastland Gardens, and Kenilworth. These four neighborhoods can't be lumped in together:

PARKSIDE-is a very small townhouse development surrounded by 26 acres of undeveloped land that CityInterests LLC is developing to be a "mixed-use/mixed-income transit oriented development" under a PUD approved by DC in 2007. Victory Gardens is just a tiny piece of the plan. The plan also includes: a pair of 130 foot office towers directly opposite the Minnesota Ave Metro station and connected with a new footbridge; a huge and ultra-modern new Community College of DC (CCDC) building, a clinic, and a bunch of apartment buildings. If the plan is implemented in full, the neighborhood will be unrecognizable from what it is now.

MAYFAIR-is a 569-unit apartment complex in which 409 are rented (mostly Section 8) and 160 condos. The brick apartments are on the DC and National Register of Historic Places...inside the long loop that had been the Benning Race Track. You can clearly see the shape on the map. More here:

EASTLAND GARDENS-is a very quiet little neighborhood of brick single-family houses built mostly in the 1940s and 1950s. Watts Branch and Nash Run divide Eastland Gardens from the adjacent neighborhoods. It's lovely here and I'm happy to call it home. Assumptions that all the neighborhoods over here are blighted and poverty-stricken have kept property prices here way down...which is fortunate for me, because there was nowhere else in the city I could dream of buying a 3BR brick house with a big yard in a safe neighborhood within easy walking distance of a metro station...and close enough to the river to portage my canoe from home.

KENILWORTH-is dominated by the Kenilworth Courts public housing project. Crime is a real problem here. The beautiful Aquatic Gardens are just across Anacostia Ave. from the neighborhood.

"Kenilworth-Parkside" is simply the name of the recreation center you can still see on the satellite map in this article...though it's no longer there. DC demolished the 1970s structure with the intention of building a nice new facility, but neglected to tell the National Park Service (which owns the land). No new construction can begin without first concluding a very lengthy NEPA process. The frustrating consequence is that we lost our rec center and are desperately trying to hang onto the city's funding to rebuild it ASAP.

by Dan on Feb 18, 2012 11:17 am • linkreport

@Dan Thanks for letting them know about our hood(s). I heard there's a new book out about Eastland Gardens, too.

by Ear to the streets on Feb 18, 2012 6:20 pm • linkreport

@Tom A
You realize that's only like 115 bucks each. That's not exactly a life changing amount of money no matter how poor you are.

by Doug on Feb 18, 2012 10:54 pm • linkreport

I was born and raised in the Kenilworth projects.. it was always a forgotten neighborhood and felt "different" from the rest of the city.

by Mike on Feb 19, 2012 8:25 am • linkreport

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